Autumn leaves, shorter days, golden larches… this is usually the time when we report on the comings and goings of the monastery community after our annual three-months rainy season retreat has ended. Not so this year. All five monks, who have been here since the beginning of July, plan to stay together for the winter as well. That was partly planned, only Bhante Sukhacitto originally intended to move on after kathina in an as yet unknown direction. Covid-19 and the fact that we all got along very well here “threw this plan overboard” and we are happy to extend our invitation to Bhante to stay with us as a long-term guest until next spring.
As you already know, or can imagine, Covid-19 has also changed many of our other plans. This year’s rainy season retreat was particularly strict for all of us, as we had to cancel many of the short trips permitted as exceptions (for example to guide meditation groups or courses). After a brief “revitalization” of our summer guest flow during the “Corona doldrums” from June to September, we then had to also cancel events in the monastery again. Among them the meditation weekend for our Thai friends, as well as the originally planned format for the kathina celebration. In the end, the regulations only allowed a minimalist celebration in the monastery, which went very nicely though – gemütlich so to speak – and was also followed by some friends as a livestream.
The livestream experiment and the renewed restrictions then inspired us to make Saturday evening talks or question-and-answer sessions accessible via the Internet from now on. Our first attempt met with great interest with over 60 participants and, despite some technical difficulties, was well received. We think that this format, regardless of the corona crisis, offers many of you who live too far away to visit the monastery often, a welcome opportunity to keep in touch with Dhammapala. So, if it proves to be successful, we will probably continue these live streams indefinitely. So there we would then have at least one good thing that the virus brought us.
Otherwise, of course, it mainly brought us complications and trouble. Never mind! After all, it was very satisfying for us to find that here a the monastery we were able to spent this intensified time very harmoniously so far. We will endeavour to maintain the harmony through our “corona-extended retreat” during the autumn and winter.
Another particular pleasure for us was the understanding and unbroken support of our friends and guests. Since we haven’t had an anagarika in the monastery for a long time, we are particularly dependent on your support with regard to the kitchen and our “daily bread”. And this year, too, and especially after the outbreak of the pandemic, your support was extraordinarily generous. At no time did we experience the slightest shortage, but continued instead to be regularly supplied with food and other donations in kind. With protective masks we could almost “open a business” by now, which shows us how much you care about our well-being. Your generosity is a great inspiration for us. It culminated in our involuntarily small kathina celebration. Although we even had to cancel the reduced version with only 40 invited guests at short notice and in the end only the main sponsors, as well as Jaree from the festival committee and a few guests already staying at the monastery could be present, even this year in addition to the traditional robe material and numerous donations in kind a very generous amount of monetary donations were collected an offered by our supporters. Anumodana!
The above-mentioned cooperation in the monastery community also reached a high point in the kathina celebration. After handing over the robe material in the morning it was our traditional task to sew a robe out of it, to be finished at the latest by the next dawn, and to present it to a member of our community. But this year we didn’t have any particularly skilled seamsters on the team! The Thai monks, who are usually particularly skilled in the art, whose help we can often fall back on on these occasions, had canceled their visit due to the pandemic. That virus again! We had therefore practiced especially in the weeks before kathina and now quickly got to work. As usual with kathina robes, we chose the sabong, the smaller part of our robe set and actually managed to get it ready by midnight when we formally presented it to Ajahn Khemasiri. Midnight is already quite late by our standards, but by no means the latest finishing time in our collective kathina memories. The greatest achievement though, was that, despite some setbacks and unstitched seams, nobody lost their good mood. And at least we can say that we were much quicker over the finishing line than the Berliners with their new airport!
Another new thing in the monastery that has nothing to do with Covid, but fortunately was not sabotaged by the virus either, is our new heating system. We have replaced our venerably old oil burner with a modern pellet heating system. Our also ecologically meaningful efforts (we are now burning certified organic bio pellets from the Bernese Oberland) were even rewarded with a grant of CHF 10,000 from the Government. The installation was an enormous project by our standards, which we looked forward to with some concern. Mainly because, due to a lack of space, the pellet tank could only be buried under the parking lot. That took a truly huge hole! And since we are known to be on the overgrown moraine of an Ice Age glacier, which consists mainly of rocks of various sizes, we were concerned about what the construction workers would find under the parking lot and how well they could handle it. Well, they actually found three large rocks that were in the way of our planned tank location, but just so on the edge of the planned position that they were not really a problem for our excavator operator and his “toy” with a powerful jackhammer attachment. In the end, our skilled construction workers and craftsmen cleared all obstacles out of the way, we have an excellent heating system again and we can feel extra good thanks to our contribution to climate protection.
Due to the current uncertain situation, we are taking a little more time this autumn to plan our program for next year, but will soon start to publish the first planned dates on the website. In some cases it will only become clear next year to what extent and in what format (in the monastery or via video transmission) the planned events can take place.
We hope, however, that you will stay in contact in one way or another and that things will soon level out to the point where we can reopen the monastery as usual not too long after our winter retreat (from the beginning of January to the end of March).
With kind regards
and best wishes,