These days, when I look at the news and consider what kind of leaders are thriving and what agendas are being pushed, I can easily get a gloomy feeling about humanity and its chances to move into a harmonious future on our planet. However, it is also true that the news mirror our so called negativity bias, by which desasters and perspectives of doom draw much more attention than examples of harmonious functionality in our societies, which easily get taken for granted. It is good that for us as samanas this bias gets a constant corrective through the field of goodness we live in.
This autumn the goodness showed itself again in another very joyous and generous kathina time ceremony, for which about 250 friends and supporters came together at the community hall in Kandersteg. I had the impression that all who attended were enjoying the good company and the unfolding of the event. This time we were joined by Luang Por Sucitto, my first teacher in the Sangha. Ajahn Sucitto has been a bhikkhu for nearly 50 years now and had served for many of those years as the abbot of Chithurst monastery in England, the first monastery started by the Ajahn Chah Forest Sangha in Europe. Luang Por Sucitto was already in the country, leading a retreat at Beatenberg Meditation Centre just before coming to Dhammapala. He brought with him Tan Samvaro, a young English monk, whom I first met at Harnham Monastery, where I lived before coming to Switzerland, when he started to come as a visitor and later took up the anagrika training there. The Dhamma talk this year was given by Ajahn Go from Santacittarama, our Italian monastery, where he has been living for for many years now, since joining that community from Thailand. He also brought another bhikkhu with him: Tan Ice, also from Thailand and since three years ago a member of the Santacittarama community. It is a long time since we had so many monastic visitors and we all enjoyed a convivial week together, including some walks in the mountains, making use of the unusually warm weather. For the event itself we were also joined by the abbot of the Wat Thai in Ticino.
Anumodana for all the generous offerings made on that occasion!
This winter Ajahns Khemasiri and Kancano will go to Thailand until end of January and until April respectively. Ajahn Kancano hasn›t traveled abroad since early 2019, so these four months away seem a very well deserved break from serving the monastery so consistently over the last few years. Enzo, our much appreciated anagarika over the summer months, has returned to Santacittarama at the beginning of November. We will surely miss his enthusiasm and generosity. In exchange we have been joined by two other members of our Mediterranian communities for the winter. Anagarika Yegor came from Sumedharama in Portugal for three months and, after many weeks on the road, Tan Kahabodhi plans to finally arrive here on the 10th of November. Tan Mahabodhi walked up from Santacittarama over the last year. He plans to stay with us until April, when he intends to pick up his walking adventure again.
Two more retreats will be held at the monastery (both booked out) before the end of the year: one Insight Dialogue course, led by our friend Bhante Sukhacitto and the traditional New Year›s Retreat, led by Ajahn Abhinando. After that we hope to settle into another of our Winter Retreats until the end of March.
The program for next year should soon appear on our website. You will notice that we do not offer weekend courses anymore. Instead we want to try a new format, more specifically designed for newcomers: the Introductory Weekends. They will contain morning and evening sittings, but during the rest of the day, instead of a meditation schedule, a more thorough introduction into the various aspects of our tradition and into staying at the monastery. For those of our visitors already familiar with the monastery, there will still be the usual longer courses and, as always, the opportunity to stay at the monastery outside of organised retreats. In the future we intend to also rely more on invitations to teach at other venues. As well as the courses held at Dhammapala, all of these events will be announced on the events calendar on our website.
The main reason for replacing the weekend retreats with introduction weekends is that a lot of energy has been invested into these events by our secretary and various members of our community, with Ajahn Abhinando lately remaining the only one offering to lead them, while they were mostly attendeded by people looking for an introduction to meditation and perhaps Buddhism in general, or just a short retreat, without being particularly interested in the monastery as a long term ressource for their spiritual path. There is of course nothing wrong with that and teaching the weekends has mostly been very enjoyable. However, we do not want this to be the focus for so much of our energy anymore. It has also been observed that newcomers to the monastery often feel a bit lost or insecure in the new environment, hence the idea of offering more detailed introduction weekends instead, a format we are adopting from Tisarana, our sister monastery in Ontario, Canada. We›ll see how it goes.
We wish you all a peaceful winter and hope that also next year Dhammapala will be able to offer you adequate opportunities to further your practice.