The Forest Hermitage Newsletter

Buddhist Teaching & Practice in the Heart of England

All gifts, the gift of the Dhamma excels.


Chanting at the Springhill Buddha Grove

Chanting at the Springhill Buddha Grove on September 20th.


1998 / 2541

From Venerable Ajahn Khemadhammo

In the portion of scriptures known as the Anguttara-Nikaya the Buddha is quoted as saying that there are three ways of making merit: by giving (dana), by practising virtue (sila) and by cultivating one’s mind (bhavana). As a rule these three are present in all of our Buddhist celebrations with perhaps on some occasions, one of the three taking precedence over the others, as in an alms-giving or a meditation course. To celebrate the conclusion of the Vassa we will be holding a merit-making here on October 18th. I realise it's rather short notice but I hope, nonetheless, that you will show up if you can.

I will excuse my tardiness by pointing out that I cannot seem to find the time to do all that I would like to. There are two ways in which I can try and get around this, one by trying harder and the other by cutting down. I keep trying harder but it doesn't seem to work so I'm going to attempt to cut down and high on the list for the chop, or at least a reduction, are my school visits and the number of school parties that come here, plus attempts at responding to requests from pupils and students for information on Buddhism or Angulimala. The schools are now supposed to teach Buddhism and other non-Christian religions in the classroom as part of RE and therefore the education authorities have a responsibility to properly resource this, to train the teachers and provide the literature. This should not be the responsibility of Buddhist or any other religious organisations, except perhaps to advise on and approve their material.

I feel much the same with regard to the prisons, the difference being, of course, that in the prisons we are involved with people who really want to practise Buddhism and who can and do genuinely benefit from what these teachings have to offer. And then, of course, the prisoners can’t come to us so we must go to them. But I must try and deal with things chronologically and before I tell you about our wonderful Buddhist night at Springhill Open Prison I'll go back to the last big merit-making at The Forest Hermitage in August.

Regular readers will remember that in my last newsletter I announced that we would be having a major alms-giving here on August 23rd and that the aim of Khun Rattana, Khun Yod and Khun Nit, Khun Tian and Lenny Mazzucca who were organising it was to raise enough funds to extend the tarmac from the car park all the way down the drive to the gate and the road. We modestly didn’t expect too much and so it was a terrific surprise when such a crowd turned up. People were wonderfully generous and we got all that we needed, £3,300. Now we’re just waiting for the tarmac people to fit us in and do the job. It’s been promised for the last week in October, at the latest. Perhaps next time you come you’ll be able to sweep in and up a perfect driveway. ANUMODANA!

We’d hardly got over that and it was time to be thinking about the annual Springhill celebration. Springhill is an Open Prison and Resettlement Centre where for the most part men are serving relatively short sentences or finishing off near the end of a long one and are being reintegrated back into normal society. Like most prisons it usually has only a very small Buddhist population but it does have the best, the most beautiful and the first of the Buddha Groves and every year we invite all the inmates, staff and some guests to join us in celebrating that presence.

This year, after I plumped for a date well into September, we decided that some attempt should be made to provide a little covering, at least for the visiting dignitaries, in case of a downpour. Happily, however, one bright and positive person suggested that by the third week of September we could be enjoying an Indian summer - and how right she was! Sunday, September 20th turned out to be warm and sunny, the sort of English summer’s evening you dream of for an outdoor event and the VIP’s pavilion had nothing more to do than decorate the occasion. We had Thai monks and Zen monks and one lone Western Buddhist Order member, and lay representatives from several Buddhist traditions. Thais in traditional dress came from practically all points of the compass. Vast quantities of Thai food were bussed in from London by Khun Dorkmai Nana and her group, from Amaranth Thai Market and Tawun Thai Supermarket, from Warwick’s Totally Thai and Coventry’s Thai Dusit restaurants, with more contributions from Khun Mukta and others. Sam, whose brainchild this Buddha Grove was came back for the evening and was our link-man on the mike and Ian who had partnered Sam in the building of the Buddha Grove also turned up. Angulimala’s patron, Lord Avebury was there with Lady Avebury. Assistant Chaplain General Tom Johns came, as did the Governor of Onley, the Area Manager and Martin Narey, the Director of Regimes. Tim Newell, the Governor, genially welcomed everyone, inmates, staff and guests. And amongst the many who had worked so hard and given so much were Khun Oot, Bob, Khun Moo and Khun Saang. Not present though were many contributors and one donor who had given £1000 towards it all.

As usual, we began with the chanting and speeches at the Buddha Grove, followed by the meal and the candle-lit circumambulation afterwards. In my talk I took the opportunity to tell again the story of the fearsome bandit, Angulimala and I stressed the comment made by King Pasenadi of Kosala when he discovered that Angulimala had abandoned his murderous career and joined the Sangha. He praised the Buddha with these words, ‘Where we with force and weapons have failed, you with neither force nor weapons have prevailed’. There are two important lessons to be drawn from the Angulimala story. The first is that even in the most extreme of circumstances a radical turning around of a person is possible. As I said that evening, we’ve all heard it, we’ve heard it from the hard bitten cynics, the Daily Mail and the Sun: ‘They’ll never change’. But they can and they do and those who say otherwise are wrong, wrong, wrong. We must never forget that Angulimala ended his life as an Arhat, an Enlightened being. Our second lesson from that story is contained in King Pasenadi’s praise of the Buddha. Angulimala, this dangerous and terrifying man had been subdued by the Buddha without weapons and without violence. You see there is another way and it doesn’t mean getting all soft and sentimental, it means just not hating, not seeking revenge, not perpetuating the damage while at the same time holding open a window of opportunity. I went on to describe how, when I’d been expected to hold a meeting in a certain prison in a pretty shabby room, one of the prisoners present had remarked how that shabby room showed on the part of the prison a lack of respect. I have thought a lot about this and I believe that this is a key issue: respect. The Buddha has said that it is a great blessing to respect those worthy of respect. And who is worthy of respect? Essentially anyone seeking to better themselves and move through that window of opportunity towards perfection. The potential for Enlightenment lies dormant waiting to be awakened in all of us and such a possibility is worthy of respect and encouragement by the Prison Service as well as by anyone and everyone else. Finally, I returned to where we were, the Buddha Grove - a sacred space. Unlike at Springhill, in some gaols where similar outdoor Buddhist shrines have been created access for reasons of security can be a problem. But so long as it is known to be there and seen to be there then the sacred space within to which it points, one’s Buddha nature, will not be overlooked. And it is that sacred space which needs to be nurtured, developed and expanded.

John Garrie Roshi Shortly before I set out for Springhill that sunny Sunday afternoon I had a call to say that an old friend of mine lay very ill and close to death in Taunton Hospital and so as soon as everything was over that evening I dashed off to see him. His name was John Garrie and he would have been known to some of you. When I saw him at around midnight he was clear and in good spirits. Thirty-six hours later on September 22nd he died. He was seventy-five. Our paths had first crossed more than thirty years ago when I discovered Buddhism at the old Hampstead Vihara. A few years later when I accompanied Ajahn Chah to London and Hampstead John reappeared on the scene and he and Ajahn Chah got on famously. By this time John was a respected Dhamma teacher in his own right with an established following known as the Sati Society. Later he was to become John Garrie Roshi. We remained in touch over the years. Our backgrounds were similar, both of us had been actors, we were both influenced by Kapilavaddho, we had both benefited by the kindness and support of Ven. Saddhatissa and we were both devoted to Ajahn Chah. I was glad to have seen him before he died and privileged to have known him while he lived. May he attain the secure peace of Nibbana.

Lord Avebury circumambulating the Springhill Buddha Grove.

A few days after Springhill, Lord Avebury, Angulimala’s Patron and a tireless champion of the oppressed, celebrated his seventieth birthday. I’m sure you will all want to join in wishing him a resounding Happy Returns.



Lower Fulbrook, near Sherbourne
Warwickshire CV35 8AS
tel & fax 01926 624385
another phone 01926 624564
The Buddha-Dhamma Fellowship, Reg. Charity No. 289913

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