Dear fellow practitioners,
I hope that this update notification finds you both healthy and in good spirits. The last year or so has been a challenging time for many, and so I do hope that your spiritual practice has been a source of comfort for you.
Here at Anandagiri I have been very ‘hands on’ with a new kuti and office project. Kuti is the word used in the Thai language to refer to a monk’s dwelling. With a combination of being sensitive with regards that many folks have experienced a reduction in income, as well as with having more free time available myself. (No traveling to teach retreats or lead pilgrimages this past year). I decided to help reduce the costs of the current project by contributing to it personally, in every manner that I could. With the designing, engineering, and quite a lot of concrete mixing and bricklaying. I even recently taught myself how to round the edges of granite shelves with a grinder!... (and only cut a nick out of one finger just once). The new kuti features an adjoining room which has been designed to be both a room for receiving guests formally, as well as very suitable live-stream teaching space.
On the subject of livestream teachings, I have actually been quite regular in keeping up with a fortnightly Zoom question and answer session. Which Neil, my webmaster has very diligently kept updating in the Zoom section of this website. Those of you who also subscribe to my YouTube channel will already be familiar with these sessions But some of you may have missed them. Neil’s updates are very useful inasmuch as he presents the exact questions which were asked and covered in each session in an easy to scroll through and read manner.
In recent weeks I feel that the question regarding ‘How to reduce attachment’ was a good session. As was the one where I was asked to share details of the results of decades of intensive practice. More recently, the question about transforming the joy of giving into inner peace is also potentially useful. So please do check out the livestream section and the various ways I’ve been making efforts to encourage fellow practitioners during this time.
I sincerely hope that you find something useful there!
With loving kindness,
Greetings fellow practitioners,
I recently gave a talk to a group of international students from a monastic university.
Since it was filmed I am happy to share the link here. I hope that something may
probe useful or encouraging to you.
Also, if you can be patient with the Portuguese translations, a Dhamma discussion
with Buddhists in Brazil actually covered some rather interesting topics.
Wishing you well!
With much metta,
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
The Peace Beyond Suffering websites ‘zoom’ section links to these uploads directly, and the subjects which were discussed are presented clearly alongside each link, so that you can identify and listen to subjects of particular interest to you. On average around 100 people have been joining in the sessions from ten different countries, then another 500 or so are viewing the sessions on YouTube in the week or so after. Seeing this good level of interest and having received feedback that many people find them beneficial I have decided to continue with the live-streams for a while longer. I’ve also decided to open up the opportunity for more people to join the actual live-stream, should you wish to. They occur every second Wednesday evening at 7:30pm Thai time. (GMT+7) The next one is scheduled for Wednesday 7th of October.
Please contact Joyce Lim, (email@example.com) mention that you are a subscriber of this website and request the password and ID. You will need to download the zoom app. The free version is good enough. Please write your name and country in your user name so that we can see where people are joining in from. Questions or subjects to be covered in a follow up session can be asked via the chat function on the zoom app once you’ve logged into the actual session.
Below are some of the subjects that were covered in recent weeks.
I hope something here is helpful to you at this time,
With loving kindness
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
What is asubha kammatanna, (nature of the body contemplation) why, when and how to do it?
If practice slips how do we restart?
How to death death contemplation in order to increase urgency for practice and deepen wisdom?
A 15 minute chanting puja where the words come up on the screen so that it is easy to chant along.
A discussion about Mudita Brahmavihara followed by a guided meditation upon gratitude and appreciation.
I sincerely hope that something I’ve shared is useful to you now.
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
Q and A - From July 1 zoom livestream
How can we truly forgive?
What is a good balance between breath meditation and other more reflective meditations?
Q and A - From July 16 zoom livestream
Part One - What are signs of a deepening of breath, metta and vipassana practices
Part Two - Please explain wholesome and unwholesome mind states and kammas
From 20 May, after some Q and A, I have shared some personal stories about encounters with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. On the 27th of May there is a follow up ‘part two’. On the 3rd of June, inspired by expressions of gratitude by some of my students on the eve of my 48th birthday, I relayed stories about who my main teachers have been in this lifetime, and what I have learned from them. And on the 10th of June there is a ‘part two’ to my Gratitude to Teachers reflections.
Contents are listed in the description for each upload. Some of the Q and A may be helpful as well.
I hope that something is useful to you!
With Loving Kindness
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
As many of you know, a little over two years ago I wrote a series of journal entries whilst completing the final 300 hours of a 3000 hour meditation vow at the Mahabodhi Tree in Bodhgaya. Last year while leading a traditional Four Holy Sites pilgrimage I also kept some journals. These have now all been nicely compiled and edited into a 270 page book, complete with excerpts from the sharings of many of the participants, and some of my own attempts at poetry. I’ve also added a third section titled ‘making life a sacred pilgrimage’ which contains some practical advice and suggestions with regards how to give rise to the spirit and attitude of Pilgrimage and integrate and apply this in daily life.
I hope that something contained within this book will be encouraging to you.
With loving kindness,
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
Unfortunately we cannot open up the meeting too broadly, as there are certain security risks and it is wiser to keep it at this manageable level, and to include only participants who are well known to the meeting hosts. But we are very glad to be able to share the Dhamma discussion via this website
and my YouTube channel.
Below is a list of the questions which were asked.
I hope that something shared is useful to you at this time, wherever you are.
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
Q and A - From May 13 zoom livestream
1 - How to resolve wishing beings well, while knowing that suffering is inevitable?
2 - How do you know if you’ve attained Stream Entry level of Insight?
3 - I like the idea that there are subtle bodied beings ‘out there’ who support us. Can Ajahn talk about this?
4 - How to practice with fear and worry?
5 - How can I be kind to parents and family during lockdown?
6 - Sometimes I don’t practice because my faith is not strong, please advise.
Q and A - From May 20 zoom livestream
1 - How to apply mindfulness when having to think a lot or when busy with activities?
2 - Can Ajahn talk about encounters with HH Dalai Lama and how these inform your practice and understanding.
3 - I have anxiety, should I practice breath meditation
This book contains a collection of twelve talks selected from intensive meditation retreats, teachings given at Buddhist centres and from pilgrimage in India. Covering a diverse selection of subjects including... Going for and understanding Refuge... the Threefold Training in generosity, ethics and meditation... Practising with the Four Foundations of Mindfulness... Cultivating the Four Brahmavihara... and Developing the Five Spiritual Powers. There is an emphasis upon developing Compassion as well as understanding, and harnessing the power of Faith.
I hope that something contained within these talks is useful or nourishing to you
during this time.
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
I sincerely wish that something shared here may prove to be uplifting and encouraging to you, wherever you are and whatever your current circumstances.
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
As many dear readers are aware, after being involved in establishing a monastery, teaching meditation retreats and leading pilgrimages for 9 years, I have been on sabbatical leave from teaching and abbot duties since around the 9th of December 2019. I had hoped to be able to do three intensive marathon meditation retreats in Bodhgaya, Bihar, Northern India. Doing around 750 hours of meditation, (8-10 hours per day) in three separate 250 hour sessions of 4-5 weeks, over a period of around five months. For I sincerely believe that the best way to recharge and refresh a heart and mind that has become too outwardly concerned is not through relaxing into leisure and comfort, but rather, through sharpening and clarifying mindfulness through a period, or through periods of sustained and focused effort.
Speaking of such intensive meditation retreats. Although soreness of muscles can arise while doing a lot of meditation, and a type of tiredness can occur from sleeping little, at the same time, if we are diligent, a different type of mental energy can arise which is very invigorating and even quite rapturous. The more diligent and consistent one can be with skillful efforts in meditation, the more clarity and serenity will arise. One’s mind becomes established in a serene quality of presence and clarity and feels detached and aloof from the tiredness and pain. This is of course difficult to explain, and seems a little counter intuitive, because it goes against the grain. But these things are, as Lord Buddha has said... ‘To be experienced individually by the wise.’ One must listen, study, consider and then practice a lot for oneself in order to experience such things directly. To date, I have been able to complete two of my proposed intensive meditation retreats. They were very difficult, and they were also great!
According to my lovely sabbatical plan. There would be the first meditation marathon in Bodhgaya, followed by a little break back in Thailand. Then a second marathon in Bodhgaya, followed by a another short break in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. And then the third and final marathon back in Bodhgaya once again. To someone who does not live in Southeast Asia, this probably all sounds rather exotic and even extravagant, so much traveling around! What most people may not know however, is that both Bodhgaya and Kathmandu are just short 3 hour flights from Bangkok, and the phenomenon of low cost airlines and online visas has made it’s way to Asia since many years ago already. From where I live, these places have become regional. And pilgrims guesthouses are quite affordable as well, particularly if the pilgrim stays for a month or longer.
For an abbot and a teacher, one of the best ways I have found to give yourself a head start in the ‘letting go and putting things down’ process, is to physically leave your monastery and your students. The heart instantly feels lighter! I am not saying that being an abbot or teacher is a bad thing necessarily, but I am saying that all things should be done with a balanced attitude and with a ‘middle way’ approach. Lord Buddha himself has instructed us in the Metta Sutta, that one should be ‘unburdened with duties,’ if we wish to grow in the master’s Way. We can do many things in order to practice generosity, cultivate kindness and produce merits, and to help others in the same ways that we have also been helped. But as you will all know for yourselves, people and projects are complicated things, and so supporting an engaged and generous lifestyle with specially designated periods for recuperation is sensible.
One of my earliest monk teachers, Ajahn Jayasaro, in response to being asked a question about practicing ‘Engaged Buddhism,’ once said the following. ‘Practicing engaged Buddhism is fine, but it has to be kept to the right amount. Because in my observation, many engaged Buddhists often wind up getting married!’ You see monks who are not yet Arahants do have to keep some distance from laypeople if they are to maintain and sustain their celibate and contemplative lifestyle with integrity. I’m not saying here that I was at risk of getting married, but I am saying that practice monks should make a lot of time for meditation.
The corona virus tsunami...
Back to my retreat period. The first two meditation marathons basically went very well. Despite the challenges of very cold weather and especially heavy fog in early January, then a significantly injured right foot in late January. I was still able to plod along steadily and clock up an additional 501 hours of meditation at the Mahabodhi Temple and Sacred Bodhi Tree. My favorite place to meditate in this world. The formal meditation practice definitely benefitted from my having increased the effort and consistency, as well as having put down many duties and responsibilities. But a new flu, or technically a corona virus, which was later called covid19, had already started to spread to a few places by the end of January. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would have significant unforeseen consequences for my retreat.
People around the entire planet had become significantly aware of this stronger and more contagious strain of corona virus by late January, when the reported cases stood at around 12,000. At that time the infections appeared to be increasing by a few thousand per day, mostly in the Wuhan district of China. By the end of February however, just one month later, we appeared to be experiencing the beginning of a veritable tsunami of cascading illness, crashing against the shores of many nations all around the world. With 90,000 reported cases in over 100 countries and now with the death toll increasing by around 100 per day.
As well as health care workers, the researchers and statisticians were working overtime to map the rates of infection, the geographical spreading of the virus as well as the death rate. By the beginning of March, world governments began to recognize that unless they slowed the rate of contagion, this pandemic would soon become uncontainable. And with a level of contagiousness 4 times greater than what we’ve previously known as the normal seasonal flu, we are told, and a death rate perhaps 20 times greater, the early statistics suggest, there is not a single country which has a healthcare system and infrastructure that could accommodate such a great human health catastrophe.
And this is the point, after the first week of March, where this global tsunami affecting the lives of so many started to lap at the heels of my sabbatical plans as well. The shadow of the wave looming overhead, threatening to crash down on my friends and I wherever we found ourselves it seemed, impelling us to flee. Fortunately the dates I had chosen to return from Kathmandu synchronized most providentially with the last available flight before India completely locked down her borders to foreigners. That was lucky. We made it back to India with a 9 hour window before all foreign nationals were banned from entering the country. My plans for another meditation retreat in Bodhgaya were dashed however, as the risk of curfews as well as there being no available return flights became suddenly very real. So I had to abandon ‘round three’ in Bodhgaya, and flee from mother India.
Still eager to continue with both the theme and momentum of my intensive meditation retreat at ancient sacred Holy Sites however. One other monk, Tahn Anand, Mae Chee Aimee and I, seeing that we still had sufficient resources and the support to do so, decided to transplant the location of our retreat to the peaceful and remote site of Anuradhapura in central Sri Lanka. Just a three and a half hour flight from Delhi. With just 4 confirmed cases in the middle of March, and with less tourists passing through during this time, we were hopeful that we would be able to stay ahead of the curve and have a one month retreat.
But after just four full days in Anuradhapura, the Sri Lankan government proved much more quick to act than other countries, and started implementing mandatory stay at home curfews. On top of this, Thai authorities also announced that they were going to be implementing much stricter entry requirements for foreigners. My previous spacious and benevolent world of options, freedom and choices, suddenly came crashing in all around me. The choices and the freedoms were closing down. Many flights got canceled at these pieces of news. And so once again we had to abruptly pack up and relocate. Returning to Bangkok via Dubai, as there were literally no more direct flights. We arrived with just a 6 hour window before the entry requirements became almost impossibly difficult to comply with. The phrase the officials had used themselves in their announcement, was that they were raising the drawbridge to protect the Kingdom. We made it back into the Kingdom just before the drawbridge slammed shut!
Trying to be responsible towards our community and friends, we ‘three refugees’ settled into a voluntary 14 day self quarantine in Bangkok. As apparently it can take up to 14 days before symptoms appear, and during that time a person can be a carrier. Having passed through several international airports we thought it would be best to take such care. And so we tried to ‘start again’ and continue our attempts at retreat here. But then, yet again, after just 3 days of settling in, the Thai authorities announced that people in Bangkok were not going to be allowed to travel to other provinces at all for an entire month. Many businesses were ordered closed and people were encouraged to work from home, or in many instances, to stop work altogether and simply stay at home. To wait for this viral wave to crash and hopefully start to recede.
The Authorities gave people just 36 hours to get to wherever they prefered to be for a one month long period, with greatly curtailed freedoms. We decided that although we were content to stay in Bangkok for a fortnight, we did not wish to get stuck here for a minimum period of a month, which might actually be extended later. And so now I am writing this particular journal entry in the car going back to Anandagiri, in Petchabun province, Northern Thailand, on the eve of the curfew. The last journal entry having been written on the plane back from Dubai to Bangkok. By my counting, that is three abandoned attempts at intensive retreats in three different countries in just two weeks! ‘ Aniccam ‘ - Impermanence. Plans are uncertain indeed!
Rolling with the punches...
Fortunately for me, having had two successful meditation marathons in recent months, as well as very pleasant experiences in both Nepal and Sri Lanka, there is a high level of contentment and gratitude in the mind. And enough calm and spaciousness to be able to take this in my stride without feeling too put out. Yes, my life and plans have been repeatedly affected, but compared to very serious effects that both this strain of illness as well as governments responses to it are having upon the lives of many millions of others, I recognize that I got off lightly, at least so far.
After having been quite unconcerned personally about the actual corona virus whilst in Bodhgaya, Kathmandu and Anuradhapura. Feeling that the risk of infection was actually very slight, even I am now wearing a face mask, along with most of the Thais. The health risk is very real it seems, and has finally caught our attention. My particular face mask model, given to me by a student in Bangkok is apparently from Japan. It has a vertical join in the middle and is somewhat pointy, looking a bit like a beak. And so even though I would generally identify as more of a naga or dragon in personality type, today I look more like a phoenix or garuda... with a very white beak!
Awareness of impermanence and unsatisfactoriness...
Perhaps unlike for many others, this virus phenomenon didn’t actually catch me completely by surprise. For when I was plodding away at trying to complete my ‘3000 hours of meditation under the Bodhi Tree’ vow, I often considered that I might not be able to complete it, should conditions in the world change. For there is always the possibility of war, natural disasters, personal injury, illness or even death. I have considered and do consider these things often. As a Buddhist monk, I am not only allowed to consider the possibility of change and impermanence, I am instructed by the Buddha and my teachers to do it constantly.
So it’s almost as though there is a part of me that is half expecting such things. I’ve often said while teaching retreats, that serious challenges and suffering are something that we should actually expect at some points in our lives. For that is in fact the theme of samsara. And it’s at the times when we don’t have a lot of serious challenges in our lives that we should invest a lot of effort and energy into meditation, in preparation for the challenges that are bound to come. But unfortunately, we all tend to be a little bit heedless when life is comfortable, especially in this age of busyness and easy distraction.
With regards unsatisfactoriness, I’ve experienced quite a bit of that in my own life already as well. And as a mentor and teacher to a number of other people, I hear about the pain of change, and the experience of being separated from the liked and having to be with the unliked fairly consistently as well. So the Truth and fact of ‘dukkha’ no longer really surprises me. And yet having said that, having not lived through a pandemic before, the scale of this particular catastrophe does seem quite amazing. Living through it seems both sad and surreal. And the cure, or efforts at prevention in many respects seem to be just as awful, or perhaps even worse than the corona virus itself.
A difficult time to laugh...
I’ve noticed that in many of my journal entries in the past I have enjoyed sharing a tone of levity, irony and joy. Laughing along at the absurdity and strangeness of life and the funny wackiness and eccentricity of both myself and my fellow human beings. A sense of humor definitely supports spiritual striving. But whereas I do feel both fortunate, blessed and grateful just now, it seems that it is a difficult time to laugh. For as a sensitive and empathic person who pays attention, I am very aware of the current scale of this big challenge that we are all now facing, as well as the fact that things might get quite a bit worse before they actually get better. This is a serious time.
No doubt we all feel sad for the chronically unwell and those who have or who are currently dying uncomfortable deaths. As well as for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones. I have also felt quite sad for all of the people who have lost their jobs. Many of whom are now in quite dire straits, with little or no savings. And those who must now live off of their hard won savings, which were intended for other things. The small and medium sized businesses that are going or that will soon be going bankrupt, due to forced closures. After years and sometimes decades of fighting to establish and sustain them. Most businesses have significant overheads and few businesses can get by for very long with absolutely no revenue at all. There are literally millions of hearts breaking all around the world now due to this illness and the spill off effects. As well as the terrible loss of life, so many dreams have been shattered in a matter of just a few short weeks. What can you say really? Other than that sometimes life is really very sad!
But don’t forget to smile... gratitude...
Although the following might not seem relevant for everyone, I’ll share some thoughts on the active cultivation of the qualities of gratitude and contentment. I hope these words will be helpful to some of you.
In difficult times when we are facing challenges and experiencing loss, or fear of loss, it is quite normal for the mind to focus upon and contract around the perception of those challenges and that loss. When this happens, the heart can become heavy with emotions such as grief, sadness and despair. Experiencing these emotions in an ongoing way for a period of time the mind can become depressed or even fall into an all consuming sense of despair. Like falling into a deep and dark well where the sun cannot shine. And so it can be important at these times to actually challenge some of our grief and despair, understandable as it may be, in order to keep things in a more healthy and less painful perspective.
Suppose you are currently experiencing loss. A sense of limitation and of being separated from the loved. While making space in the mind for the natural experience and process of grief, not denying it or pushing it away, we can at the same time ask ourselves a few questions. Such as. Despite these current challenges. Is there anything or anyone that I can feel some gratitude for or towards? We ask this question sincerely and consider it deeply. As gratitude is such a lovely emotion, it can be humbling in a very beautiful way. It can actually humble and temper the experience of grief and loss, and it can give us something else to hold in the heart at the very same time, making the experience bittersweet somehow, rather than just bitter.
If the mind does fall into a dark hole. We might have to reach down deep and wrestle with the darkness a little. We can get attached to and stuck in the darkness. But if you can see the value of recollecting reasons or things to be grateful for, understanding that your own feelings of gratitude will bring some joy to your heart. Even a small gesture by someone else can be a cause for a big heart opening. We can ask ourselves. Do I have food, shelter and clothing today? Some people really may be being evicted from their homes and some people’s pantries and cupboards may be completely empty just now. But many people will still be able to answer yes to these questions. If you can, there is still some good fortune present.
Another thing to consider is whether anyone has or is currently helping you? We can all fall into the habit of making a list of the ways we think that people or the government should be helping us, but are not. And this can make the mind very bitter and heavy. So what about the people who did or who are helping you a little? Is there anyone? Anyone at all? Oftentimes there are. One family member or one neighbor at least. Or perhaps an emergency services or health care professional. Are there still some people being kind in the world? Sometimes holding up one kind gesture from another in the heart and truly appreciating it can be very encouraging.
Personally I was quite disappointed recently to have to abandon my retreat plans and situations both in Bodhgaya and then in Sri Lanka. As it is not easy to get the time and supportive conditions for such opportunities. I was very deeply committed. But seeing how well supported I had been in doing the previous retreat periods, as well as the fact that resources were available for me to move on, I was able to focus upon gratitude. Of course some people’s loss will be much greater than this, but I just offer this as a recent example of how I kept my own mind from falling into grief and bitterness.
Another thing that we can do to uplift the heart is to actually be the person who makes the kind gesture. We can ask ourselves. Is there anyone that I could be kind or generous towards today, to make that persons life a little easier or less painful? Generosity and kindness can be very effective in opening and brightening the heart. If you are practicing social distancing, sometimes kind gestures can be made over the phone. Or useful items can be dropped on a doorstep. Funds can be transferred electronically. If we are determined to be kind, oftentimes there are ways.
When I returned to Thailand, I called my teacher Ajahn Anan and asked him how he and his monastery and community are doing. As the government has recommended social distancing, for the first time ever the monks are not going on almsround and the monastery is closed to guests. Because of this just a handful of people must buy and then prepare all of the food for 50 monks. Ajahn Anan mentioned that if this goes on for a long time that he will need some financial help. I made a few calls and mentioned this to a few close supporters, and we arranged the funds to cover 50 days of food for Tahn Ajahn and all of his monks. I did this on my first day back in Thailand, and before the point where my Ajahn really needed or asked for any help. This is the result of training in generosity. My friends and I are literally ready to shoot from the hip. Of course not everyone will have financial resources at present. But we try to give what we can. This was not my money to give away, but I offered my connections and abilities to liaise with people who had both good hearts and plentiful resources.
For people experiencing a big loss. No one is saying that there shouldn’t be grief and disappointment. And if the loss is ongoing, the grief may well be too. I’m simply suggesting some things that we can consider in order to buoy up the heart and support it through the challenges.
What I’m about to say now might seem a bit extreme. But I’m simply sharing some of my own genuine reflections. We monks train in thinking like this. I have already deeply considered, that if I should catch the virus and then have to experience a painful death. I truly intend to be thinking of the things that happened in this life that I am grateful for, even if I may be coughing and gasping for air. Even if my lungs fill with fluid and consciousness begins to fade. I am determined not to focus upon that. But rather to be grateful for this entire lifetime and it’s opportunities, even while it slips away. I am determined to remember the happiest and most auspicious occasions, and will be determined to continue my practice in the very next life. If I cannot breath, I will pass from this life with the mental recitation of ‘Bud-dho’ resounding in the heart and mind. At least I have this firm resolution and aspiration. This kind of determination and multi life perspective makes the illness seem less scary. I’m simply not giving it the power to overwhelm me. Someone recently asked me if I was scared of the virus and I replied. ‘No, the virus is scared of me!’ Now I know that this is quite a stupid thing to say! But I refuse to live in fear.
26 March - Anandagiri... A different kind of retreat...
Forced to stay home... stuck inside... what a great opportunity!
Currently I am in self quarantine. Like many people around the world now, I am being asked to stay indoors and to practice social distancing. Now if we were to feel put out by this and resent the inconvenience, we will not see the potential of the situation. If we could see this as a gift or special opportunity however, then the whole experience could change. Generally speaking, we meditation monks actually really like having opportunities to pull back from communal activities and to have a retreat at our kuti. For it gives us the chance to deepen our meditation practice and refine and focus upon an aspect of the teachings we wish to study. When Ajahn Visalo returned from India to Wat Pah Nanachat recently, he had to go into quarantine. He wrote me an email saying that he was enjoying his ‘corona-retreat.’ And he wished he could stay alone at his kuti longer!
So if you are one of the people that lives in an area where you are being asked to stay home. You might ask yourself. Would it be possible to do more meditation and Dhamma study during this time? The most important thing that would make such a situation more like a retreat is committing to a fixed daily schedule. Make the times that you will chant or sit or walk, and the time that you will read some Dhamma or listen to a talk. There might be some longer and more intensive guided meditations that you could finally give some good attention to now. Both yourself and many others in the world could really benefit from the blessings which metta and compassion meditations generate. Once again, we can try to be grateful for the opportunity that this current situation affords. And then embrace the opportunity wholeheartedly. Of course if you’re in a house with kids or several other adults it might be harder. But there might still be possibilities. Can you get up before the others while it’s quiet and dive into deeper practice?
The other important thing is to be ‘restrained in senses’ so that your mind can incline towards peace. Perhaps it’s possible to look at the news just once, at the end of the day to get up to date. And answer messages or make calls at set times. Then actually give yourself a break from these things outside of those times. Avoid wasting time watching TV or with endless youtube viewing. On the other hand, there might also actually be something you can study and learn about on the internet now. Be selective and discerning in the type media that you consume. If you’re having to work from home then these suggestions might not be so useful.
Disconnect from media... reconnect with nature.
When being asked to social distance, in many places this does not preclude going for a walk in the park if there is one. Or driving some distance alone to an area where you can go for a walk. Going to a place where there is a clear sense of the sky and of expansive views can be really very helpful. Going for a long walk, feeling the earth beneath your feet and sensing the sky above your head can be at once very grounding as well as consciousness expanding. It helps you to get out of your own head and remember the vast empty space that is all around us if we take the time to notice. If you need to take your phone in case there’s an emergency then okay. But put it on silent and return calls after your walk. Because truly allowing yourself to be completely alone might actually feel much nicer than you thought. Being alone doesn’t mean that we have to feel lonely. You can feel very connected with life and nature and the universe without having to talk to anyone.
All crisis also arise and cease. This too will pass. Life might be very different after this event. But our commitment to developing wholesome qualities and deeper mindfulness and wisdom should stay the same. We can deal with it and work with it one day at a time... one moment at a time.
Safely back at Anandagiri monastery now and confined to my kuti, I am settling into a different kind of retreat now. I intend to make the most of it.
Sincerely wishing you well wherever you are now!
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
A message ...
Ajahn Achalo is safe and, as far as we know is in good health.
This absence of postings and uploads of new Dhamma Talks and Guided Meditations are part of the planned time away as Ajahn has been so busy especially in the preceding year and has brought to us so many outstanding talks, meditations and a whole lot more. He will be back to us in due course.
His thoughts are very much with all of us and blessings to all our subscribers everywhere around the planet. As soon as circumstances allow, I am sure we will be posting to the website to reach out and offer support to the best of his ability.
In the meantime, I/we do hope you find some of the talks and guided meditations on the site useful, indeed beneficial. There is such an array of topics and situations which, in some form have been touched upon and which are relevant to the crisis we all currently face including, illness, isolation, death of a loved one, and so much more. If you have studied them before, you may like to revisit as they may perhaps take on a different, deeper meaning during this extraordinary time.
I feel sure the things Ajahn would recommend we all do if at all possible, would be to rest, some deep meditational practice especially into the impermanence of all things, loving kindness focused toward loved ones, neighbours, sending blessings out to humankind as a collective, and if your lifestyle permits schedule to self-retreat for a period of days or weeks for as long as - or as often as - you are able to. If possible, perhaps spend more contemplative time in nature.
For those sending messages through the website enquires, I am sorry this is perhaps not quite the response you wanted to hear, but these are exceptional weeks and months. As soon as we can, we will be doing more but in the meantime, I/we hope this will be of benefit and some comfort. Please rest assured that you are in our thoughts and prayers and we send our blessings to you. Could I ask you keep Ajahn in your prayers and also send him your blessings during this time.
Do also please understand that I, as your webmaster am just a lay-practitioner like yourself, I am not a monk and have absolutely no authority to advise, guide or help, other than as another human being.
That said, do please use the Index to browse, there is a wealth to chose from in the Nine Collections of all the Dhamma Talks and Guided Meditations we have developed and uploaded over the years here for you to use.
My personal sense, is that while we may feel geographically separate or isolated, we have each chosen to be part of this online community with Ajahn Achalo. We are therefore supporting each other spiritually and emotionally within this network irrespective of where we are around the planet and hopefully this will be of comfort to reflect on.
Lastly, ponder once more on the title of this website. We chose these three significant words for a very important reason!
With every good wish for your health, safety and your wellbeing,
your webmaster, Neil.
Greetings fellow practitioners,
When I look back at the year 2019, for myself it was a very full and rich year. With the leading of a pilgrimage to India, followed by some intensive practice in Bodhgaya. Then throughout the year there was a big push to finish the Chedi construction and the many details, liaising and logistics that needed attending to with regards to this. There were also five visits from some of our most beloved Teachers and the special ceremonies which they led. I also made my first two visits to Sri Lanka and one to Nepal.
Despite this being personally ‘the busiest year of my life thus far’ I did still however manage to share 17 new items at my website. There were 11 talks shared, one on Compassion, some from retreats, some from pilgrimage, some given at meditation centres, and my first teachings ever given in Sri Lanka, including a lengthy and detailed Q and A session. There are parts 2 and 3 of the ‘Developing Compassion’ series of Guided Meditations as well. I’ve also shared 4 slideshows. One of Pilgrimage and three pertaining to the Chedi construction and Relics Enshrining ceremonies. Indeed I have continued to share as much with you all as possible, as generously as I could, and this was all offered for free, as is everything at the site.
Something which I often say while leading retreats, particularly towards the end. Is that it’s very important to try not to get too busy... and to make time for quiet reflection and practice. As I approach the ‘9 years of Anandagiri’ anniversary, I realise that I have been too busy and do in fact need to put some of my duties down. I don’t regret anything from the past years, in fact many dreams appear to have come true. But I must also now take my own advice. Outer activities must be balanced with formal practice and inner reflection. I never gave up on practice of course, it’s just that the many details of many projects have impinged more than is ideal.
Ajahn Anando (of Amaravati and Temple monasteries) made a generous offer to give me a break and come and help take care of Anandagiri. I have taken him up on his kind offer. So I will be taking a 5 month break from being an abbot, a teacher, a building project manager, a social worker, a forest regeneration project manager and an internet guru as well! I’m not sure if it’s because of close kammic affinity or a curious form of mental illness? But I will be spending around 3 months of this time in Bodhgaya. Having now made the vow to complete another 1000 hours meditating under the Bodhi Tree. In all likelihood’s it won’t actually be that quiet! But there will be many less duties and much more time for formal practice. I will in fact already be sitting in Bodhgaya by the time this arrives in your inbox. (samsara permitting)
I also plan to spend a more relaxing time in Patan, Kathmandu valley, and to climb Sri Pada (Adams Peak) in Sri Lanka as well. All the places that I plan to go are just a four hour flight to Thailand. So I’m not straying too far from home. I do indeed appreciate ancient spiritual centers and Holy Sites.
My desire to share Dhamma with fellow practitioners remains strong however. So during this period a skilled editor in Melbourne will be working on editing three Dhamma books, which I hope to share at my website upon my return. One will be a collection of my ‘most listened to’ Dhamma Talks. Assuming that those are the ones which people find most useful. Another will be a more readable and concise version of my ‘3000 hours meditating under the Bodhi Tree’ journal. With a significant ‘Afterword’ pertaining to how we can embrace our life with more faith and energy for spiritual practice. The book will be titled ‘Life as a Sacred Pilgrimage.’ The third will be the journal which I wrote while leading my most recent full Pilgrimage to the Holy Sites, with excerpts from the sharing of the other pilgrims who joined in as well. People learn through different mediums. I believe that these books will be a useful addition to the website.
And just as I will continue to dedicate merits to all beings kammicly connected to me whilst on my sabbatical leave. Your prayers and dedications for my physical safety and for success in the deepening of my own spiritual practice would be much appreciated. As well as for the smooth running of Anandagiri Forest Monastery. I do hope to return safely and to be able to share more with you all in a few months time.
Wishing you all well!
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
Kathina talk 2019 – given the day before the Relic Enshrining Ceremony
Greetings fellow practitioners,
This years' Kathina ceremony, an annual robe offering ceremony initiated by Lord Buddha himself, occurred just one day before our Relic Enshrining ceremony and the placing of the Chedi Spire. This being the case it seemed a good occasion to offer a little background information to the Chedi building project to our large group of English speaking guests, as well as some more general encouragements for spiritual practice. It is indeed an interesting talk!
A kind of 'classic Ajahn Achalo yarn' for the end of the year. For there are ghosts, devas, great masters with psychic powers, curious stories and synchronicities and thankfully a few quotes from the suttas as well!
I trust that you may enjoy the talk.
With metta and every best wish.
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
Greetings fellow practitioners
Here is the talk which I gave under the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya recently.
The talk starts at 44 minutes after a guided meditation.
With metta - Ajahn Achalo
Greetings Fellow Practitioners,
I am happy to share with you on this occasion a slideshow which captures many beautiful images related to the finishing of the 'Bodhgaya-Ananda-Chedi' project. The visits of wonderful senior monks and meditation masters, the joy of large numbers of laypeople, the beauty of the reliquary and parasol themselves, as well as a visit from my dear old mother. Mike our closest neighbour here at Anandagiri has also produced a soundscape which incorporates some of the actual chanting which was recited on the occasions – some of these being traditional Thai forms. I trust that you will enjoy these glimpses into some rare and beautiful occasions, some lovely bright points within our often fraught with challenges lives.
As well as the slideshow we also have some video footage presented very nicely as well, capturing the occasion from many different perspectives.
May All Beings Be Well!
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
Guided Meditation – Level 3 – Advanced
Greetings fellow practitioners,
I am very happy to be able to share with you on this occasion another Guided Meditation.
This guided Compassion Meditation is the 'Level 3 – Advanced Practice' in a three part series.
Here we add a greater number of beings as well as more diverse classes of beings to our meditation. Including enemies, or harmful beings, and even beings in hell. It is important to have listened to the two-part 'Cultivating Deep and Vast Compassion' talk and to have worked through levels 1 and 2 of the meditation before undertaking this advanced practice. I am very confident however that if you follow all of the steps outlined in the talks and meditations diligently, you are sure to develop Great Compassion!
I rejoice in your efforts and wish you every success!
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
Greeting fellow practitioners,
In a meditation retreat in Malaysia last year there were a good number of questions pertaining to the interesting kinds of phenomena that can arise while meditating. These questions inspired this talk about qualities such as rapture, tranquillity, radiance and peace. A sense of context and perspective for understanding these things is in fact vital in order to develop wisdom and understanding, rather than miss-interpret and compound delusion. Also for learning how to trust and relax into the process and derive even greater wonderful benefits.
I hope that something in this short discussion is useful to you.
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
… now 95% completed!
Greetings fellow practitioners,
In 2017 I shared an article about Chedi's (Chedi in Thai – Cetiya in Pali) at the Peace Beyond Suffering website as well as a slideshow which captured the first year of our Chedi's construction here at Anandagiri Forest Monastery. Last year I shared another slideshow update. In reviewing this year's developments I had to decide how to present things. Rather than add a third in the series I decided to shrink the two previous slideshows and then add this year's pictorial update and present them all as one combined unit. There are several benefits to doing it this way… and only one drawback. The drawback is that at nearly 500 photographs the slideshow takes about a half an hour! But what are the benefits?
The benefits are that you can now literally see the Chedi progress from the drawing stage, and then from holes in the ground, then gradually growing up through the various levels towards it's apex. As well as witness the sculpting and enshrining of the four 'Buddha's Life Panels'… 16 Buddha statues… and 12 Bodhisattva images. Not to mention the ten separate visits from highly respected elders and the eight occasions where blessed amulets were enshrined at each stage, bringing the total to 300,000 blessed amulets! Although it is indeed a long slideshow, it is also a very interesting and indeed rare phenomenon to be able to observe and learn about. Obviously this sharing won't be of interest to everyone, but for those interested in how sacred sites are actually manifested in the world, how beautiful Buddhist art is created, and the joyful ways that human beings can actually come together to accomplish something noble – then there is definitely something in here for you! I have also prepared a chanting with soundscape backdrop to enliven the visual. There is also now an ongoing commentary at the bottom left corner of some of the pictures which explains more about the project and process for those who are interested to learn and understand. Please remember also that rejoicing in the good deeds of others is one very powerful way that we can accumulate potent spiritual merits as well. There is a lot which can be rejoiced with here.
For myself it just seemed worthy to invest some more of my time, (around 30 hours in fact – to bring you just 30 minutes!) Sorting through literally thousands of pictures from many different sources, in order to compile a visual record of all of the wonderful occasions and special visitors, and the beautiful coming together of so many kind and talented people to create something both enduring and beautiful. Which is also a repository of very good blessings and energy for our beleaguered world and even for the unseen beings in parallel worlds as well. The sorting through, editing and uploading is quite a laborious and tedious task actually. But the finished result is really quite moving. I actually wept a few joyful tears myself when I was finally able to watch it all the way through. I gave this project one hour of my day for 5 weeks to make it happen and bring it to you. Neil our webmaster then added his hours of work as well.
All that is left for our Chedi project now is the enshrining of the sacred Buddha and Arahant Relics contained in the stunning reliquary set, into the uppermost portion of the Chedi. And then the placing of the Chedi spire on top of the body of the Chedi, sealing the relics securely within. This is scheduled to take place on November 10th. We are expecting it to be our biggest gathering to date. Naturally there will be a relic enshrining slideshow as well, when time permits.
I hope that you enjoy the slideshow!
With Loving – Kindness
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
Guided Meditation – Level 2 (intermediate)
Greetings fellow practitioners,
Some of you may remember that about 1 year ago I shared a two-part talk on the theme of Developing Compassion as well as the 'level 1 – Foundation Practice' Guided Meditation. In the talks we explored the many benefits of developing compassion and in that first meditation we practiced holding compassion in the heart for oneself… one dear friend… and one neutral person. In this level 2 meditation we are practicing increasing our abilities by including more friends… some heavenly beings (devata)… more neutral people… as well as one 'difficult person.'
In some respects I find it hard to believe that it actually took me an entire year to get around to do the audio editing for this meditation! But then again in reviewing the past year it is also not so surprising. There was the big Chedi Project, a retreat in Malaysia, a Pilgrimage in India and my second monk's health challenges earlier in the year, which were all requiring energy and attention. The timing and volumes… progression etc, do require a careful attention and so I prefer not to rush. Nevermind… better late than never! I am happy to report that I am half way through editing the 'level 3' practice and have committed to finishing it in the last few days of my solo retreat here at Anandagiri. So level 3 is also 'Coming Soon.'! (excluding unforeseen death )
I hope that this meditation supports you in your cultivation of Compassion and that this cultivation brings many wonderful benefits.
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
'Contemplating Not-Self with Understanding and a Kind Attitude'
When Teaching in Malaysia last year I was invited to give a talk at the beautiful
Nalanda Buddhist Centre in Kuala Lumpur. I’ve tried to give advice, encouragement
and admonishment as a support during this talk. There are also some interesting
Questions which I’ve answered.
I hope something in the talk is useful to you wherever you are now.
With loving kindness
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