New Venue, Same Mission

Tahn Pamutto has returned to Western Mass, and after a month of relative quiet Upavana is now back to having both in-person and online activities. The period away was a rich and fruitful time of visiting friends, encouraging communities, and reconnecting with traditional buddhism. It has allowed for a few transitions – namely, the offering of an apartment space for Tahn and for the hosting of modestly-sized sittings, sutta studies, and other activities.

Fellow Upavana board member Alex has helped greatly in getting together a rotation of friends in the area for a Dana calendar (Sangha – Upavana.org). Many locals are or have been affiliated with the Dhammadhara Vipassana Meditation Center, which is quite close. Tahn’s almsrounds will be to these local families, with enough gaps in the schedule for friends from further afield to grab a slot when interested.

The space is not only a very comfortable living space for a monastic but is also a great place to host the regular online offerings. Hopefully, it will also be welcoming venue for friends who would like to gather for meditation, chanting, and dhamma. The space was warmed up with an hour-long block of devotional chanting until midnight on New Year’s. From here, morning meditation and chanting will be a regular event open to friends, and perhaps more on the schedule in the coming weeks.

Many blessings to our friends who are graciously offering the space!

Back Online

Tahn Pamutto is back in the MA area, and the Upavana site and Facebook are likely to see more use after gathering a bit of dust over holidays. He’ll be settling down in a new space in Shelburne, MA, for the near future – more on that in the coming days.
Tonight, the weekly Tea & Meditation begins at 7pm EST as usual – all are welcome. Coming up this Sunday is the New Moon Uposatha. Both events are broadcast via ZOOM (see upavana.org for details)

Finding a Retreat

Winter is a good time for formal practice. The days are short; the nights are long. The weather is cold and encourages us to find cozy spaces to settle in. There is a natural momentum towards long sits in dark rooms, or finding ourselves getting up at odd hours and being wide awake. Traditionally, meditators have found this time to be a fantastic for formal practice.
 
We’ll naturally find ourselves in a quiet mood. Every time we sit by a windowsill or curl up on the couch might be cause for an hour to fly by in reverie. But we can also be more intentional with our practice. The rhythms we set up early can support us throughout the long winter and keep our resolve from weakening before spring arrives. And doing a formal retreat is a great way to set rhythms.
 
Few places have as many options for doing structured meditation retreat as the Pioneer Valley. In terms of institutions, Dhammadhara in Shelburne and the Insight Meditation Society in Barre are known internationally and are some of the oldest such centers in the West (at dhamma.org and dharma.org respectively, they CLEARLY got in the game early). The former offers heavily structured 10 day meditation courses completely free of charge, while the latter has three facilities offering a diverse array of programs at a range of costs. You can go for a weekend or a year.
 
Both of these organizations are in high demand, and booking as far in advance as possible is a good idea. But there are also many groups posting events on more short notice. Insight Western Mass in Easthampton and Vermont Insight in Brattleboro are smaller branches of the insight tradition that are constantly running programs. Our friend Mark Hart with Bodhisara has also been leading meditations and retreats in the area for decades, with many online and now in-person retreats through the pandemic. His latest upcoming posting is for a retreat the weekend of January 7th.
 
Our final option is to set aside time to practice and just go for it. If you’re taking this option, it’s best to be as clear as possible if we want solid results. Set a schedule and try to keep to it. Give yourself the best chance you can to be free of distractions. Actually turn the phone off. If you can gather a group for the same program, or if there is an online program you can follow, it can help to have accountability with other meditators. If at all possible, book a chat with a trusted teacher or mentor for mid-retreat to help clarify the questions that are likely to come up.
 
Tahn Pamutto’s time in NYC has already been very busy. Communities there were pretty sleepy during the height of lockdowns but there is a lot of enthusiasm for gathering and growth. After New Year, he returns to Shelburne, where a new space is waiting for living and offering practice opportunities. Until then, Happy Holidays!
 

Dear Season

The Upavana working retreat, themed around Mettā practice, has wrapped up. It’s always wonderful to dedicate time to sincere Mettā! It was not a time without challenges or work to be done, but everything is so much easier to hold when the mind is full of goodwill. The recordings of the hour-long morning and evening sessions (including 45 minute meditations) can be found at:

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhHe4p1yupnsjTLAFhFYqmovqwFIuc4dJ

The retreat coincided with the end of the formal ‘robe season’, the traditional time of making robes, in which Tahn Pamutto was able to sew not one but two warm new robes for the coming winter.

The time has come for Tahn Pamutto to mothball the mobile temple for a month. Deer season is a volatile time to be a wandering forest monk, especially one who wears deer-colored robes. Conversely, it’s a great time to head to the city to heal up, repair and acquire requisites, and spend time with family and friends. Tahn Pamutto will be in New York City at Vihara Parivara Dhamma Acala until just before Christmas. If you are in the city feel free to reach out to find out what dhamma activities he’ll be leading/joining. The usual online activities, including Wednesday tea times and Uposatha gatherings, will continue unaffected.

The new year will bring new opportunities to practice. For buddhists, every day is thanksgiving! Thank you for your support!

Dividing Time

The website and online front of Upavana have been pretty quiet and dusty the last two weeks. As when this has happened in the past, it’s usually a pretty safe bet it’s because Tahn Pamutto has been spending his time in the rustic mobile temple where local community is strong and loving, but cell and wifi signals are the not. This represents an important part of monastic life and the quietude most supportive for contemplation. The two Saturday ‘Days of Mindfulness’ have been incredibly quiet and productive! The small town of Wendell is also a great place to practice compassion and give and receive teachings on life.

The rest of the month though will be a period of dividing time, also spending time in Shelburne, MA, where most of the retreats and online teachings have taken place. Here the sangha can be accessible and have easy access to resources and communication, which increases reach.

The fact that practice and access is so different in these two locations, and that both are equally valid modes of building community, is precisely why Upavana exists as a non-profit rather than a single forest temple. What we learn from practicing Buddhism on the many frontiers of America is that the needs of each community, and sometimes each town, can be very different. People practice the dhamma everywhere, and everywhere Sangha is a support.

In the future there will be people and interest enough to manage both modes of practice and being simultaneously. Until then, learning how to properly manage time is the practice. Meditation teaches us the pain of multi-tasking we are sometimes eager to overlook – it’s never pleasant to do many things at once and the divided mind is far less effective. This doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish many things simultaneously. It just involves training ourselves to do one thing at a time with our complete attention, as in meditation, but be able to change what that thing is without sticking or getting distracted along the way.

The coming two weeks will see a renewed effort to build the online community. We’ll have our Tea Time Chat on Wednesday, and the online Uposatha Friday. Next week from Monday to Friday we’ll do our first ‘Working Retreat’, a chance to develop Mettā with meditation, chanting, and reflections at the beginning of the day before we head to work and the end to help us wind down and learn.

Following this period the mobile temple will go quiet. Deer Season begins December 1st– a great time for forest monks in fawn-colored robes to depart for the city. Tahn Pamutto will be joining friends in NYC and will be active there until Christmas.

Visit to BCBS

Today Pamutto Bhikkhu, Bhante Sumano, and Tahn Tānakāro were at Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. Their friend and neighbor Christopher Queen, a former director of the center, helped with transport.

A highlight of the visit was a chance to go for a walk with resident scholar monk Bhikkhu Anālayo. Bhante was very generous with his time, as he meets with few people and only had one opening this month. Still, the sense of enjoying the company of fellow monastics was palpable.

Bhante walked and along the country lanes with the Upavana monastics and talked for an hour, answering questions and asking some of his own. It was a great meeting of practitioners, with much mettā, delight in Bhante’s unparalleled seclusion and ability to practice at BCBS, and even an impressive impromptu joint recitation of SN 12.15 which by chance everyone had memorized!

Lunch was generously provided by staff members, several of whom are familiar with Tahn Pamutto from his previous incarnation as a monk who would wander unannounced out of the forest.

BCBS has been shuttered since the beginning of the pandemic but was more prepared than most centers to operate online courses and is doing well. It is poised to resume in-person courses very soon, many of which are already fully booked by practitioners who have been eagerly waiting its reopening.

BCBS, IMS, and the Forest Refuge are an invaluable Dhamma resource for the area!

Season of Connection

The ‘Kathina’ season is a particularly busy time for Buddhist monastics. After having spent three months in one location for the monsoon season, there is now a flurry of activity as travel resumes. Each monastery where monks have resided has the opportunity to hold a kathina festival, and it’s not uncommon for monks and laypeople alike to travel from one kathina to the next to interact with each temple and community.

The season of kathina hasn’t even arrived yet, and already the monastics are beginning to network and connect with the other communities of the Pioneer Valley. After months of seclusion extra potent because of COVID, the three Upavana monastics got the chance to walk to and visit the community at the New England Peace Pagoda and join in their morning puja ceremonies.

On Sunday, Tahn Pamutto, Sumano, and Tānakāro joined the Cambodian community at Wat Kiryvongsabopharam, in Leverett, in memory of their abbot for fifteen years who passed away June 21st this year. Dakun Phaep ‘Tejapañño’ came from Cambodia to run the temple, often being the only resident for long stretches. It was here that Tahn Pamutto met him in 2015, and over the years he was always kind and hospitable to his fellow forest monk. Often the language barrier was insurmountable, and they seemed to share more Pāli than either English or Khmer. But not being able to communicate was never an obstacle to sharing mettā and enthusiasm for dhamma.

The Wat Kiry sangha was very gracious to be joined by their American brothers in the holy life. Two monks are now at the monastery full time.

Anumodana!

Many blessings to all our generous benefactors, both local and abroad, who’ve provided funds, material and skills to get Upavana ready for the coming winter. Thanks to our local friends Rich and Jonathan, the mobile temple has a new woodstove installed and wood donated to ward off the coming cold. Our indonesian friends got together and made a collection to rent a portable toilet service for that space, certainly to benefit visitors in the coming weeks. And an offer has been extended of an apartment space for monastics to shelter during storms, bathe and do laundry. All of these things together mean that even when the snows fly, the practice can continue.

Even though they are practicing to be content with whatever comes their way, supporting three monks day after day is no easy task. Unlike many monasteries that overcome the uncertainty of almsround by running a kitchen, the monks are living together with no support staff. Gratitude to our many meal donors and friends in the town of Wendell who have consistently filled our bowls on almsround. We have not gone hungry!

Special thanks to the Indonesian Buddhist Family of NYC, the Wat Thai Thavorn sangha and community, the Cambodian community of Leverett, and our many friends on Facebook and Upavana.org who have made financial contributions! Last but not least, thank you to everyone who has been watching the wish list and donating needed items, often only days after they are posted.

Camping Retreat

The Upavana group camping retreat wrapped up last weekend.  It was a success!  The weather was great and the community of friends that gathered to meditate, eat, hike, and discuss dhamma together represented some of the friends that have done the most to help make Upavana work this year.  Many blessings to everyone involved!

The retreat was held at Savoy Mountain State Forest.  Morning and evening meditations (and even an impromptu yoga session) were held on a meadow hill overlooking the campsites all around.  Everyone pitched in together to offer food and the meals were far better than one should expect while camping!

The evening campfire discussion, with a generous amount of marshmallows, focused on the subject of Emptiness and the teachings on Not-Self.

You can see a few photos of the event on Upavana’s Instagram.

Upavana Foundation info@upavana.org

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