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.

New Instagram

Venerable Sumano has been kind enough to set up a new instagram for Upavana under the name upavanaorg.  It can be found with the link in the footer as well as here:  https://www.instagram.com/upavanaorg/

If you want to catch glimpses of what the monastics are up to this is a good place to look.  The summer has been fairly inhospitable to human life, with a repetitive cycle of intense heat and intense rain.  So there hasn’t been much in the way of wandering or taking advantage of the beautiful natural surroundings.

What’s harder to quantify in terms of words or images is the ongoing practice and discussion of dhamma.  The monastics have been gathering every morning for meditation and chanting, reviewing suttas, practicing for ordination, and studying the monastic rules intently.

Online programs and local meditations continue!

Meal Offerings / Visiting Venerables

While there’s not as much seclusion as when wandering, having an easily accessible campsite does have its perks – friends have been visiting regularly to offer food, supplies, and support.  See here is Bhante Sumano with Lusiana and her son Justin.  They even brought the table the food was offered on!

We also received a two day visit from Tan Santi, who is traveling before spending vassa at the Indonesian Buddhist Family vihara in Queens, NYC.  He and Tahn Pamutto overlapped there during the pandemic, and he has also spent time with everyone while at Empty Cloud Monastery in NJ.

Speedbumps and the Vassa

From Tahn Pamutto: “One of my root teachers, Luang Por Pasanno, once famously exclaimed, “It’s illegal to live simply in this country!” That became something of a running joke at Abhayagiri Monastery in northern California, where ever stricter building codes have made it incredibly expensive to build even the tiniest structure. You can’t just nail some boards together – everything must be able to simultaneously withstand both forest fires and earthquakes. That means concrete, metal rebar, and elaborate fire-suppression measures.

Yet, with a devout lay community and a long-cultivated spirit of compliance with the fussy Building and Planning Commission, Abhayagiri has managed to build everything they originally set out to (and survived said forest fires along the way). They are a model of steady growth and a stable monastic training environment.

Though I no longer live there, Abhayagiri Monastery’s long uphill battle to afford ever more expensive structures is part of my monastic DNA. I was there, watching and learning. Last year, when I set my mind to return to western Massachusetts to start a dhamma practice center, I knew what I would be up against. Every improvement has a cost.

It’s illegal to live simply here! You would think it wouldn’t be too hard for a couple of Buddhist monks to get together and practice diligently, but you would be wrong. Our laws and societal structures are built around a very narrow definition of living, and monasticism, to say nothing of forest monasticism, was not in the consideration.

There are these four requisites of life – Clothing, Food, Shelter, and Medicines. That is the simplest definition of human needs, and for years I traveled this area content with the bare minimum: almsfood placed in my bowl, three thick robes, sleeping in the forest, and only the supplies I could carry on my back.

I learned over time, though, that only individuals can aspire to live by the minimums. The moment you seek to bring others along for the journey, needs multiply and laws and societal structures start to kick in. Complications arise. And yet, curiously, in those places you succeed and the conditions for practice are stabilized, interested dhamma friends seem to show up as if summoned.

Thus, I’ve spent much of the last three weeks puzzling over the fate of Upavana’s ‘mobile temple’. There have been a number of requests by monastics and lay people to visit and perhaps join for the summer. Both the Leverett site and camper weren’t yet fit for the expansion. In every place I thought to expand, I ran across a lack of resources and even legal considerations. The more people, the more visible a movement becomes. But through perseverance and flexibility, I think the pieces of the puzzle are finally falling into place.

After one of the many speedbumps to finding a place to park the camper — a town Board of Health that wasn’t sure if camping on private property was even legal in their town — a friend who was frustrated by the matter turned to me and said, “Well, if I’m this upset, I can only imagine how you feel.”

Curiously, I didn’t feel anything. “Maybe I’m just in shock.” I said. “But it doesn’t seem like a big deal.” It was potentially a major setback, yet somehow I knew if I stayed on course, I would still get where I was going. It wasn’t about results, but having a clear trajectory that could tolerate the bumps.

All of this – finding a site, repairing structures, deciding who to live with — is happening like clockwork and occurs every year at this time. We are about to enter the period of the Indian calendar known as Vassa, the monsoon season [Vassa sure sounds a lot like Water, doesn’t it?]. During this time the intense rains make it impractical to travel. Monks are required to secure a shelter or shelters and determine a region to live three months of this four-month season.

We used to joke in California that we were keeping the Rains Retreat in the driest part of the year, but this is already the third wettest July on record and we’re barely half through the month. Nevertheless, two monastic friends are undaunted and arrive on Monday to see if Upavana might provide a place to train for the season.

More on them when they arrive. In the meantime, I’m set up in the town of Wendell, the densely forested hill-town with a warm and inviting community of less than a thousand people. This was the first place I came on my wandering in 2015 and the first place I spent a Vassa on the road. The ability to go almsround every day provided the perfect nourishment for my growth in the disciplines of wandering. How very circular that Upavana’s sangha should arrive here first to begin it’s own journey!”