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.
Morning puja – hour long silent meditation followed by chanting.
Daily clean-up – chores in the main area of the monastery.
Breakfast – usually tea, porridge and cereal.
Work period – chores and general maintenance of the monastery, helping in the kitchen, etc.
Meal Offering (last meal of the day)
Washing up and tidying in the kitchen, followed by personal practice – individual meditation and study time.
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 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!
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:
- To refrain from killing any living being
- To only take what is offered to you (to not steal)
- To refrain from sexual misconduct (causing harm through your sexuality. Adultery is usually what it’s pointing to)
- To refrain from lying
- 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.
- To refrain from killing any living being.
- To only take what is offered to you. (to not steal)
- To refrain from any intentional sexual activity
- To refrain from lying.
- To refrain from taking alcohol or drugs that lead to carelessness.
- To refrain from eating at inappropriate times. (monastics don’t eat after 12:00, or 1:00 in the summer)
- To refrain from entertainment, beautification and adornment (meant to stear the mind away from outer things so that it can turn inwards)
- 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)