A Visit to Amaravati Buddhist Monastery

September 2012. Some images taken while staying for two nights and a day to visit the Abbot and attend a ceremony. The monastery day starts at 4 am when a gong wakes everyone to prepare for the morning Puja. By 5 am everyone has entered the Temple via the cloister. Puja consists of an hour of totally silent mediation together with chanting. To take part in this corporate silence is extremely powerful and inspiring. The Temple is a beautiful building. Its architecture is both contemporary and traditional in design with great beams of oak. Dominating the interior is a gilded bronze statue of the Buddha, (a Buddha rupa), a gift of the people of Thailand to British Buddhists. At the front, leading the Puja sits the abbot, Ajahn Amaro, an English monk who has been a member of the Order, the monastic Sangha (community) for 33 years. In addition to the silent meditation the Puja includes the sonorous chanting in Pali and English of devotion to Awareness, (Buddha) Truth (Dhamma) and Community, (Sangha), and recollections of the key teachings of the Buddha Gautama. In additon to Morning Puja at 5a.m. there is Evening Puja at 7.15pm after which people go to bed! On coming out of the Temple in the morning light the cloister can be appreciated. And in the centre of the cloister there is a fountain. More views of Temple and Cloister The grounds of the monastery, a converted world war 2 army camp, have been refurbished and the buildings, gardens and grounds are carefully looked after by the work of the monastics and lay supporters. This shows the extent of the whole site with the Cloister in the Centre and the Temple and the main dining and meeting hall, the Sala branching off from it. There are seperate blocks for the Retreat Centre where many lay people come on the year round programme of retreats, accomodation for the monks, (bhikkhus) and the nuns, (siladhara), and lay guests and workers. There is also a large field and wooded area which provide ample space for walking meditation and some secluded huts, (kutis), for monks and nuns to practice on their own. This is the Bhodi House where the families of monks and nuns can come and stay, and sometimes other visitors. After the morning Puja there are basic tidying and cleaning tasks to do before everyone meets in the dining hall for a simple breakfast of tea and porridge. After that work is assigned for the rest of the morning. In particular lay guests and workers prepare the meal as the tradition is monastics must be dependant on the lay community for food and may not cook, grow or store it, so creating a symbiotic community based on generosity.  No food is eaten after noon by anyone in the monastery. On this occasion preparations were made for the blessing of the new shrine in the Temple. Here two visiting students, one an Israeli and the other a Sri Lankan prepare symbolic offerings of flowers, candles and incense. The main meal of the day is offered before noon and everyone assembles in the dining hall, the Sala. Statues at the lay end of the sala. The Abbot and the monastics come in before their meal and evryone is told about the special ceremony which is to follow. Ajahn Amaro greets a party of school students doing a Religious Studies course on Religion and Ethics who had come with their teacher to visit. This happens constantly. They brought their own packed lunches and offerings of fruit and food for the communal meal. On this special day much of the food was offered by a group of Thai ladies. The food is not all vegetarian. Certainly it was delicious and their generosity much appreciated. After the meal it was time for the ceremony. This was to commemorate a leading Thai monk, Ajahn Maha Boowa, who while not well known in the West, had been until his death in 2011, a leading figure in Forest Monastery movement within Thai Buddhism. This had been lead by Ajahn Chah the Thai master who had trained Ajahn Sumedho the founding abbot at Amaravati – now retired and living in Thailand – who had come to establish the Buddha’s monastic order, the Sangha, in this country. Ajahn Amaro had also trained under Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho. A reliquary containing some of Ajahn Maha Boowa’s ashes had been brought , together with a fine bronze statue from Thailand. The procession to the Temple, lead by Ajahn Amaro. Included in the procession are three donors who had contributed towards the shrine, all long standing Buddhists. John Groves had built the base for the statue and George Sharp had chaired the English Sangha Trust who had first invited the monks to set up in Britain some forty years ago. Ajahn Amaro leads the procession into the Temple. Inside the Temple the monks walked around the temple three times. There were no nuns at the ceremony for they were all at another monastery attending a conference. This gives a good view of the temple interior. The monks present come from many different places. Some from traditional Buddhist countries, others from Europe and America as well as Britain. And here is the shrine with its statue of the famous meditation master Tan Ajahn Mun (1870-1949) who was the teacher of Tan Ajahn Maha Boowa and for a short time, Tan Ajahn Cha, the latter of whose tradition is followed at Ameravati Monastery. Another view of the statue. Ajahn Amaro leads placing the symbolic offerings in front of the statue. Some of the lay people most closely involved with the ceremony. Outside in the grounds is the monastery bell. The housing for the bell. The Stupa in the field which contains some of Ajahn Chah’s ashes. Within it is a statue of the Buddha. An image of awareness and serenity. This photo catches George Sharp whose efforts were crucial in starting the establishment of the Forest Dhamma Order of Monastics in the West and Australasia. What looks at first like an abstract bronze sculpture, actually outlines a seated figure. The Buddha or a monk? A painting of Ajahn Sumedho.  To visit the Amaravati site where you can also download podcasts of the teaching go to http://www.amaravati.org/ and if you would like to read a personal introduction to Buddhist teaching and practice see my site www,johnbaxter.org

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