My time in Hartridge Buddhist Monastery

Hartridge Buddhist Monastery is in the same tradition and has the same basic rules (8 precepts) as Amaravati.

However it varies in a couple ways:

  • It’s more laidback

At Hartridge allowables are always available. (cheese and chocolate, food you can eat on the 8 precepts after midday) The chore period before breakfast is a little more laidback. And for breakfast there is bread every morning! (freshly baked right there) which I loved.

  • It’s small

There were less than 10 monastics there, including an Anagarika and a Bhikkhuni (Buddhist nun) There were 4-8 or so guests at any given time. And I had a whole room to myself. It felt like a luxury after the 22 person hostel room and the 8 person dorm at Amaravati. It reminded me of Temple Forest Monastery in NH.

  • There’s a cat (two in fact!) 

Okay. I was more excited about this than you might expect. Winkie, a monastery cat, mostly hung around the main building and almost always made himself available to be pet. This was good for me because I really miss my cats at home. There was also a black cat with a german name (possibly Kushelige Katze?) that translated to cuddly cat. But he wasn’t around the buildings much.

I stayed there for just a week. The area was really beautiful, it’s near Honiton. I’m glad I got to stay and would definitely go back. I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I put my phone on airplane mode for the week and hardly touched it. But I did get a picture of the sunset on top of the hill above the monastery: 

And a picture of the two main buildings

A friend of mine also taught me how to make chai while there! 

Next: A couple days in Bath

My time in London

I had meant to post 2-3 times while in London. Alas I was far too busy and it simply slipped my mind. I attempted to write one blog post for my entire time in London while on the train to Hartridge Buddhist Monastery but didn’t have time. I’m finally posting it now. My apologies for the delay.

First day

On the first day the bus missed my stop, I found a tube station and took in to Willesden Green, where my hostel was. Google maps got the address slightly wrong,  and I ended up walking all the way around the block in the rain with no rain cover on my backpack. Not the best introduction to London. 

That night I went to Postcard Teas in Mayfair. I had a session of 2010 sheng puerh. And bought an oolong and a black tea for use while travelling. I decided that I’m going to be drinking tea no matter what and the only question is if it’s good or not. I had a good conversation with another fellow who came in. And stayed there relaxing for a couple hours.

Postcard teas

After the tea shop I headed to Woodlands Marylebone, a vegetarian Indian restaurant. And then headed back to the hostel for the night. I was staying in a large (22 person?) dorm. So I used headphones everynight to block out noise.

Second Day

I woke up at a bit past 8, far later than I had been waking up at the monastery. I wandered upstairs and checked out the complimentary breakfast the hostel offered. The had toast, apples and one croissant per person. Not the most nutritious breakfast 

During the morning I headed to Regents Park and meditated under a tree and saw the rose gardens

Rose in the gardens

After leaving the park I headed to Mei Leaf Teahouse in Camden Town. I got some delicious Da Hong Pao. And sat there for an hour or two

I wandered towards the river, passing the British Library, and going in but not going into any of the rooms. I got food in a restaurant in St Pancras station. And then   walked down to the river. I walked along the south bank of the river and took many pictures of Big Ben. And then asked a cafe for some hot water and made myself another steeping of the tea I had made in the morning. In a travel mug I bought on amazon shortly before arriving in London.

London Eye, Big Ben, and the Thames

After my tea I dropped my stuff at the hostel and went back into the city for some shopping. I was largely unsuccessful but I did manage to get cheese for the morning.

Third day

On the third day after breakfast that I augmented with a little bit of cheese. I headed down to Kyoto Gardens. A small Japanese Garden in Holland Park. While I was journalling there a peacock came within a foot of me. My phone wasn’t nearby to take a picture so I simply watched it until it wandered off. 

Kyoto Gardens

I headed through the rest of Holland park, passing through some beautiful gardens, and to Hyde Park, passing Kensington Palace on the way. After enjoying Holland park I went to find food. I ended up finding a street market in Soho on Rupert St. I got a yorkshire pudding burrito wrap thing, which was pretty good. And then grabbed some gelato and headed down to the river.

I walked along the river for a while, eventually making it to the Tate Modern, and spent about an hour there. Then I walked across Millennium Bridge and kept thinking about it being destroyed in one of the later Harry Potter movies. 

I headed back to the hostel and picked up groceries for dinner. The kitchen was packed and I didn’t end up being able to make food until almost 10. My sleep schedule was quickly moving later after leaving the monastery.

Fourth day

My breakfast was much better on the fourth day. With the groceries I had gotten the night before I made scrambled eggs with carmalized onions, veggie saisage and a bit of cheddar. Plus the complimentary croissant.

I was preparing to leave my new travel mug I had bought broke, I had foolishly bought one made of double walled glass, thinking that it’s protective sleeve would protect it. Alas, it broke after a fall of maybe 2 feet. I ordered a hopefully more durable replacement later in the day. 

mug on the second day, before it broke

I took the tube to Baker street to meet Boudicca, a friend of mine who happened to be in London. After she arrived we took the tube to Portobello Market in Notting Hill. We walked around for a long while, but didn’t buy anything except some samosas and falafel wraps. 

After the market we headed to Postcard Teas again and I had a 2017 sheng pu’er. Which was super tasty. Boudicca had a green tea. We took a tube back to Baker street as I had left my shirt outside of a shop there. Thankfully I noticed pretty quickly and called ahead. The store was closed when we got there but I looked theough the window and someone inside recognized me and brought me the shirt.  We saw a Dunkin’ Donuts on the way back to the tube and were somewhat surprised, both thinking that even in the US you can be hard pressed to find one outside of Massachusetts. However the guy working there told us that they are worldwide, and are everywhere in the Philippines. Huh.

For dinner we met up with a friend of Boudicca’s and without any prior research – went into the first Indian restaurant we found. The food was relatively good, though the service was poor. Oh well, this is why I use Yelp or TripAdvisor most of the time.

Fifth Day

Made a similar breakfast to Saturday’s. Plus some grandpa style brewed oolong (grandpa style is pretty much putting leaves in a mug and refilling it as needed. It works best with heavier/bigger leaves that will sink to the bottom.) I hung around the hostel for a while and then headed out sometime past 11
I went to Regent’s park again and meditated there under a tree for half an hour. Then practiced some Thai before leaving to meet Boudicca. (it was her birthday!) And later on a friend of hers. We had a picnic of bread and cheese out in a nice area near Boudicca’s hostel.
After the picnic we headed out to a rooftop bar in Peckham, which is a suburb nearby London. As we left Bouddica’s hostel we invited out another person in her room. It was on top of an old carpark. There we met a few more of her friends and spent a couple hours there. Including watching the sunset there. We also saw David Schwimmer at the bar, but he left shortly after we noticed him. 

After leaving the bar we headed to another one in Soho. At this point I knew I didn’t want to drink and was considering going back to the hostel. One of the other people I was with was feeling similarly and we ended up leaving to get gelato before we went back to our respective lodgings.

Sixth Day

On he sixth day I only grabbed a croissant as I was leaving the hostel because I had plans to have brunch with Boudicca and two of the other people from the night before. 

After meeting Boudicca at her cafe we went to Duck and Waffle, meeting up with one of her friends as well. The other slept in and we never saw her. Duck and Waffle is the highest restaurant in London, we had a reservation for 11:45, expecting brunch/breakfast. But unfortunately they stop serving that earlier during the week. 
The view from our table
Because it was expensive we only got a few things. However it was absolutely delicious. Worth it to treat yourself now and then when being frugal. 

After our meal we walked a short distance to Old Spitalfields Market. A small market that runs every day. We didn’t buy anything, but walked through the shops 2-3 times and got samples. One place was giving out naan! We happened upon a nice chocolate store nearby and I got a hot chocolate. It was amazing, though of course not as good as Burdicks in Boston. 

We headed across the river. I said by to Boudicca as she left for Barcelona. And then explored Borough Market, and got a little bit of cheese. I was told that the cheese I got would survive a few hours in my bag. But when I got back to the hostel it was a little melty and too warm. I used it in eggs but it wasn’t good to just eat plain.

I did a lot that day. I saw Buckingham Palace. I went on a long shopping trip for things I needed to buy for hiking and for staying warm. Once back at the hostel I did laundry and I went grocery shopping. By the time I made dinner it was around 10.

Seventh Day

I took the next day a little more easy. I spent a couple hours in the morning drinking Hojicha at Postcard Teas. For lunch I found a burrito place that was reasonably cheap and good. 

I headed to the National Gallery and spent an hour or so there. At first I paid a lot of attention to all the paintings and their stories. However I get museumed-out very quickly. And soon enough I was just focusing on the ones that called to me. I particularly liked the landscapes leading up and through the impressionist era. I spent a lot of time in the impressionist section. 

After leaving the gallery I hung out in Trafalgar Square for a while listening to a street preformance. Eventually I decided to go back to the hostel even though it was relatively early (5:30) On my way I grabbed some bread and had bread and cheese (and tea!) when I got to the hostel.

Trafalgar Square

When trying to go to sleep my bunkmate came in and was moving the bed a lot as he got ready for bed. Unfortunately headphones can’t block that out. I ended up reading more until he settled down, which felt like it took forever. 

Eighth Day

On the morning of the eighth and last day I made a quick breakfast and headed out around 10:45. I headed to the British Museum, but the line was huge and I didn’t feel like I really had to go. And I had other ideas of what I could do for the day. 

So instead I headed back to Old Spitalfields Market where I had been with Boudicca and her friend. I walked around a little bit and then got a naan wrap with paneer tikka in it. One of the best lunches I’ve had in a while

my wrap

After my lunch I walked across the river and saw globe theatre and wandered around the area for a bit. Then I took a tube to the Saatchi Gallery. They had an exhibit called from Selfie to Self-Expression. Which started off with self-portraits from impressionists and moved forward through time, eventually reaching selfies. And also featuring other cool things, sculptures, cool electronic representations, it’s sorta hard to explain some of them. I really enjoyed it.

I found a vegetarian pub that served ‘fish’ and chips. So that I could have the London experience of having fish and chips in a pub while staying vegetarian. The ‘fish’ was tofu wrapped in seaweed and fried. It was super tasty. The pub was The Coach and Horses

I headed back to the hostel, picking up some groceries for a late dinner and breakfast. I packed for a while and made dinner around 10. 

My stay at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery

Amaravati is a Buddhist monastery in the Thai Forest Tradition in the lineage of Ajahn Chah. Established in 1985. I believe it is now considered the headquarters monastery of the Thai Forest Tradition in the West. For more information visit their website.

I got to the monastery around 5:00 in the afternoon on July 19th after travelling for over 12 hours and getting very little sleep.
I was shown around by a lay guest who had been there for a few weeks because the Guest Monk (the monk in charge of the male guests) was busy at the time and couldn’t show me around. I was immediately struck by the beauty of this place 

I slept on a small bed in an 8 person dorm, with a side table with a few drawers and a desk lamp. Simple and comfortable.

 It wasn’t long before the desk was cluttered with books from their ‘free distribution library’ — In this tradition they hold the view that Dhamma (Buddhist Teachings*) should never have a price tag and should be available to everyone. As such all Dhamma books are free and generally have a notice inside telling you not to resell it in any way.

The schedule

4:00 am
Wakeup bell.

5:00 am
Morning puja – hour long silent meditation followed by chanting.

6:30 am
Daily clean-up – chores in the main area of the monastery.

7:15 am
Breakfast – usually tea, porridge and cereal.

8:15 am
Work period – chores and general maintenance of the monastery, helping in the kitchen, etc.

11:30 am
Meal Offering (last meal of the day) 

Washing up and tidying in the kitchen, followed by personal practice – individual meditation and study time.

5:00 pm
Tea. (Mainly for the lay guests, a time to socialize and talk and relax)

7:30 – 8:40 pm
Evening puja – chanting followed by silent meditation.

Copied and editted from Amaravati’s website

This was the schedule most of the time. However once a week on Uposatha (Observance days) there was no morning puja, and no working meditation. And breakfast additionally involved toast, and croissants! And the evening puja gets extended until 12:00 midnight. After the normal meditation we would take the 3 refuges and 8 precepts.** Followed by a dhamma talk by one of the monks or nuns. After that it was walking/sitting on your own until 11:50 or so when we’d gather into the temple for the last 5-10 minutes and finish with some chanting.

After observance days was a quiet day, no morning or evening pujas, and no work period.

The temple

 The work period usually involved doing something outside, often quite physical. The first few days I was here it was going out into part of a forest that they own and uprooting and invasive plant. I also helped dig a trench for an electrical cable for heating a new kuti in the woods (A kuti is like a small hut), and moved boxes of books from one storage facility to a new one. As well as many other things. 

It took me about a week to really start settling in. I had some trouble with homesickness the first few days but it got mostly better after that. One thing that surprised me was that they allowed phones. This wasn’t the case at Temple Forest Monastery in NH, which is another branch monastery in this tradition. Having the ability to use my phone was nice. But it took some getting used to in terms of how to not over use it so that I could focus on my practice. It didn’t always work, but it was a good point of practice in it of itself. 

The area around the monastery had a lot of public foot paths as well. Which I frequented in the afternoons. There was a 4 mile loop that pretty much started and ended at the monastery. And walking paths all the way to one of the bigger towns nearby, Hemel Heamstead (about 3.5 miles). There was also a short path down to a cafe in the town the monastery is in. Which was useful for when I needed internet. There were also wild blackberries growing everywhere! 

Public footpath

I really enjoyed my stay at the monastery. I had some problems, I had an afternoon/evening where I went through somesort of a spiritual crisis and distracted myself until bed. But I figured out how to move through it the next day and it gradually got better. That’s life, up and down, up and down. 

I met some really wonderful people and got to listen to some wise people talk. I’m looking forward to the next leg of my trip. London! 
I’ll be posting more photos soon.

* Note: Dhamma is a Pali word that can be translated in many ways. 1. It can mean the truth, the way things are, reality. 2. It can mean the Buddha’s teachings, in which case it’s usually capitalized. 3. Sometimes its used in plural form (dhammas) just to mean ‘things, objects, phenomena’

** Note: The 8 precepts are an expanded set of precepts from the normal 5 precepts that buddhists typically take as lay people. Which are:

  1. To refrain from killing any living being
  2. To only take what is offered to you (to not steal) 
  3. To refrain from sexual misconduct (causing harm through your sexuality. Adultery is usually what it’s pointing to)
  4. To refrain from lying
  5. To refrain from taking alcohol or drugs that lead to carelessness 

It should be said here that in Buddhism the 5 precepts aren’t laws. If you break them nothing seriously bad happens to you. Instead you investigate the result of what you did and how it affected you and the ones around you. If you see it negatively affected you and or those around you you’re less likely to do it in the future.

The 8 precepts expand on this a little bit, changing the third precept to not engaging in any sexual activity and adding 3 that point towards renunciation. The 8 precepts were originally made for the first stage of ordination. And are often used when staying as a guest at a monastery overnight.

  1. To refrain from killing any living being.
  2. To only take what is offered to you. (to not steal) 
  3. To refrain from any intentional sexual activity
  4. To refrain from lying.
  5. To refrain from taking alcohol or drugs that lead to carelessness.
  6. To refrain from eating at inappropriate times. (monastics don’t eat after 12:00, or 1:00 in the summer) 
  7. To refrain from entertainment, beautification and adornment (meant to stear the mind away from outer things so that it can turn inwards) 
  8. To refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place (This means to refrain from over-indulgence in sleep. When the rule was made baxk in the Buddha’s time. People with money tended to have very lexurious beds)