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:
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.