It is the 22nd of December and I am at a monastery near the city of Mae Hong Son in Northern Thailand. At breakfast this morning the temperature was 19C, that’s plus, and the birds were singing their hearts out. I’m here at this forest monastery, 50km from Burma, at the invitation of Ajahn Cagino, the Dhammagiri foundation and Dhamma friends from Singapore who support this monastery and often come to visit. This evening we shall begin a 7-day retreat.
Among our forest monasteries, Ajahn Cagino has created a unique space for the practice of wisdom and compassion. It is a forest monastery, an orphanage and retreat centre set among rural villages and extensive forests. Some 12 years ago Ajahn Cagino was walking tudong in this area and came across an orphaned boy. Must do something. He contacted his sister in Malaysia who organised funds for this boy to be cared for. On subsequent visits Ajahn Cagino came across more kids in need so supporters bought a house, people were employed, volunteers gave their time and so it grew.
The lower part of the monastery has 60 children in residence, the upper part for monks has 20 bhikkhus, many visiting from Wat Pah Pong who have just returned from tudong. Our retreat will hold 50 people. You would think that all of this would require a huge campus with many buildings but the climate allows for an extremely minimalist design and much has been done with little. It’s inspiring.
Most of the kids are in their early teens. They go to local schools and when they return, rotating teams of kids cook, sweep the grounds, play – they look happy. It’s an active place with Burmese workers doing concreting work nearby, monks washing their robes, kids sweeping paths, and retreatants arriving from the airport. This morning the bhikkhus gathered for the fortnightly Patimokkha recitation in a nicely finished cave-sala (Ajahn Cagino likes caves). We were 19 bhikkhus, 3 samaneras and 3 anagarikas. I asked the youngest samanera his age – 14.
“Did you ordain from your own wish or did your parents ask you to ordain. ”
“I wanted to ordain on my own”
No problems with Facebook-self-identiy with this young fellow. His role models wear an ochre robe.
This has been a longish journey. I have been to New Zealand – visiting with Ajahn Kusalo and friends in Auckland and Wellington- in Bangkok getting teeth fixed, eyes checked, glasses made, and body examined for any possible problems – in Penang, teaching good friends and sharing time with Larry, Choolian and family – in Kuala Lumpur for a weekend of Dhamma talks in memory and gratitude to Ajahn Chah with 1500 people taking in the inspiring atmosphere – in Singapore giving public talks in different Buddhist venues and enjoying the warmth and generosity in that beautiful city – and finally here in the forests of Mae Hong Song and the good hearted people of this monastery.
After this retreat, my journey will take me back south to Pak Chong in central Thailand for another 7-day retreat, then some precious time with Luang Por Sumedho and the annual gathering at Wat Pah Pong. Finally, all being well, I will I touch down in Montreal on the 21st of Jan. and return to Tisarana.Would you believe it, I’m a bit homesick.
Such is news from this old fellow. I hope you are doing well. As always many thanks for all your support to the Sangha and the various activities at Tisarana monastery. May this coming year be kind to us all. May our friendships prosper, may our differences be minor, may our yearning for peace and well-being be realised.