Winter Retreat Time

Happenings Around the Hermitage

Ajahn Kovilo departed the Hermitage last week to return to his undergraduate studies at the Dharma Realm Buddhist University in Ukiah, California. Our community enjoyed his visit and wishes him well in his studies. Ajahn Cunda and Venerable Nisabho continue to be on their winter retreat, walking almsround on weekdays and receiving alms at the Hermitage on the weekends. Ajahn Sudanto will return to the Hermitage from Abhayagiri Monastery around March 1 to continue his sabbatical.

Welcome to the New Sanghata Board Members

The Sanghata Board members serve as stewards helping the community provide the requisites for the monks at the Hermitage. Two new members joined the board in 2020, Jay Harrington and Jessica Swanson. Jay lives in Seattle, and has been visiting the Hermitage since 2010. He will serve as the Treasurer. Jessica is a longtime supporter of Portland Friends of Dhamma. During her role as a board member there she helped make the Pacific Hermitage a reality, and served as the first dana coordinator. Welcome to the board Jay and Jessica!

With the new members, the board is now comprised of Scott Benge, Anna Siebenborn, Jay Harrington, and Jessica Swanson. Many thanks to Dave Forslund, Carol Melkonian, Krissy Martin and Debie Garner for their past service on the board.

Just a Reminder

The new meal offering protocols, are in effect through April 2, if you are planning a meal offering, please review the procedures here. If you have any questions, please reach out to the dana coordinator, Chevy at dana@pacifichermitage.org.

Connecting with the Sangha

Have you joined the Hermitage Conversations yet? On December 15, the Venerables began offering twice-weekly livestreamed conversations, Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m., and Fridays at 7:00 a.m. The conversations bring together discussions of suttas with answers to your practice and Dhamma questions. From January 22 until April 9 the venue will change slightly on Friday mornings with Venerable Nisabho offering Dhamma Talks followed by a Q and A.

Did You Miss…

These Conversations?

Harmony Part 1
Mindfulness of the Body

The Venerables Discuss:
The Worldly Winds & Wanting to Be Liked

[Selected excerpts from Hermitage Conversations with Ajahn Cunda, Ajahn Kovilo, and Tan Nisabho, 12.29.20 ]

The way the Buddha talks about wanting to be liked is in terms of the Worldly Winds, seeking praise and avoiding blame. These are worldly qualities – the Buddha didn’t say go and seek as much praise as you can and make sure everybody likes you. We need to be careful with this tendency to seek praise because we’re yearning for something that’s external and very conditional.

The Buddha talks about four pairs of Worldly Winds: pain and pleasure, fame and disrepute, gain and loss, praise and blame. In terms of wind being used as a metaphor, the Buddha would sometimes refer to a well practiced person like a strong, firm rock that is not blown around by the wind. Someone who’s not practicing doesn’t have a firm basis in wholesomeness or inner integrity and they can get blown away like a weak tree that doesn’t have deep roots.

It’s interesting that praise and blame and fame and disrepute are listed separately. It’s significant that the Buddha dedicated two pairs of these winds to qualities that seem quite similar to each other. I think he did this because they are such powerful motivators. We can look at pleasure and pain and gain and loss as more important qualities, but for many of us, praise and blame accesses a deep primal urge to be accepted, and it’s not any less than the others pairs.

I remember once when I was in a small monastery in Thailand, I felt very lonely and full of blame for about a year. And I found that practicing metta was one of the few things that really helped me. There is a natural tendency to think that approval is what is needed to alleviate a blame worthy feeling, but I found what really alleviates it is giving love, even to oneself. It might seem like a hole that needs to be filled from outside of ourselves, but when practicing metta we can alleviate feelings of loneliness [and blame] by giving to ourselves and others.

[In the Ajahn Chah tradition] there’s a real encouragement to help others. It is something that is quite beautiful and a cornerstone of the tradition. For example, monks will often take the position of being an upatak which in pali literally means “to stand close by.” In the Thai Forest tradition, this comes in the form of serving one’s elders, or preceptor, or others who have been in the robes awhile. But we can also think of this with serving our parents or friends. It is about being very attentive, circumspect and heartfelt while caring for another person.

When we are upataking, we may receive a lot of praise. And in some cases, rather than thinking we can automatically transcend praise and blame, we can, instead, incline our minds to receive praise by the wise for praiseworthy things. One of the reasons the Buddha places such a strong emphasis on good friendship is because this is what good friends do; they praise and encourage us in the right ways. So there is a wholesome way to receive praise without trying to seek it out.

Once I asked Luang Por Pasanno how he was able to deal with making unpopular decisions. I was specifically asking about how he dealt with being disliked or blamed by people who weren’t able to get their way due to a decision he had made. He answered: “That’s easy; I just think of all the suffering that is involved [when I make myself the subject of another person’s blame or anger] and I ask myself: ‘why would I want to be associated with that dukkha?’ And then I see clearly that I wouldn’t want to be, so I drop it.” It’s quite unpleasant to be worried about other people liking us or not getting enough praise. So that’s another way to think about it: the dukkha associated with wanting people to like us.

Moving Toward Winter

Comings & Goings

The season brings with it new monastic visitors to the Hermitage. Ajahn Cunda arrived from Abhayagiri in late October, and will remain through June 2021. He will serve as the senior monk at the Hermitage for part of the time that Ajahn Sudanto is on sabbatical. Ajahn Cunda took Bhikkhu ordination in 2008, and in addition to Abhayagiri, has practiced at monasteries in Canada, Australia, England, and Italy.

Ajahn Kovilo just arrived at the Hermitage to stay through mid-January, and Ven. Nisabho, who arrived late November, will spend the winter here. (Learn a little more about all of them here.) The community is grateful to have the opportunity to draw near to the monks, and wishes a very big welcome to all!

Ajahn Sudanto began his sabbatical on December 6th, and will spend December through February at Abhayagiri. He returns to the Hermitage in March for the balance of his sabbatical, which is open-ended but will be for a minimum of one year. With much gratitude, we wish Ajahn a deeply beneficial and fruitful retreat.

Changes with Meal Dana

It’s that time again to shift the meal dana coordinator responsibilities. Chevy, a long-time member of the community, is now managing that role – thank you Chevy! And much gratitude and appreciation to Suzy and Casey for their support while in that role.

With the arrival of winter and the continuing pandemic, the procedures for weekend meal dana visits are changing. The monks have given considerable thought to how weekend donors can comfortably and safely visit, and have developed new guidelines. They adhere to Washington’s Covid-19 safety protocols, and will be in effect December 18 – April 2. The below highlights a few changes, but if you are planning a meal offering, please review all procedures here. If you have any questions, please reach out to Chevy at dana@pacifichermitage.org.

  • There will still be the opportunity to visit with the monks outside after the meal, however, only with one household, up to 5 people. Multiple households may still offer a meal, but they wouldn’t be able to visit with the monks afterward.
  • The shrine room will be aired out and sterilized in advance so that those offering meal dana may eat there (the monks will eat elsewhere).
  • As the winter retreat is an important time for seclusion and silent study and meditation for the monks, they will finish meal offering visits by 1:00 p.m.

It is the hope that these protocols will allow for safe visits that protect the well being of all. The monks are grateful for your support.

Connecting with the Sangha

“And hearing the dhamma frequently taught, these are the highest blessings” is what came to mind upon hearing the joyful news that the monks will soon begin sharing the dhamma on livestreams. During the winter, the monks at the Hermitage will be offering twice-weekly livestreamed conversations, “Hermitage Conversations.” These will fall on every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and every Friday at 7:00 a.m. These sessions will likely last 30 to 45 minutes, and will be in a similar format as Ajahn Sudanto’s coffee time with the YouTube comment section open during the session. The first of these will commence on Tuesday, December 15, and the link for the session is here.

Deep bows of gratitude for the monks’ generosity.

An Upcoming Online Retreat with Ajahn Sona

Serenity, Friendliness & Warmth, an Online Metta Retreat with Ajahn Sona will occur from December 22 – January 1. Registration is now open, you can find out all the details here.

Note that while there are Teatime Q&A sessions offered, Ajahn Sudanto is on sabbatical and will not be participating in this retreat .

Did You Miss…

These morning coffee time conversations?

Inviting Admonition & Feedback

Ajahn Reflects On: Gratitude

[Excerpted from Morning Coffee Time with Ajahn Sudanto, 9.21.20 ]

Favorable conditions are not secure, and not a true refuge for us. There’s a way of being happy and delighted that just keeps us stitched in to taking refuge in worldly conditions – happiness and pain, blessings coming and going, praise and blame, the worldly winds.

One of the ways to step out of that is to cultivate the heart of gratitude for what one has.  We don’t want to not appreciate pleasure and the goodness that exists in our life, the blessings that exist in our life.  But we do want to learn how to appropriately receive pleasure and the blessings of life without exercising the habit of making that the focus and the refuge. Without practicing our sense of well-being being dependent upon conditions which are always ephemeral, always imbued with the characteristic of unsatisfactoriness, and ever beyond our control – not self, not me, not mine…

Gratitude helps support the habit of joy, and joy goes a long way to helping feed and nurture the heart that rests in awareness in the present moment. And the movement towards tranquility, lucidity, serenity, and clear seeing. There are many ways to walk that path, but gratitude is a wonderful launching off point to move down that path towards tranquility lucidity and serenity.

Autumn at the Hermitage

‘Many hands, light work’ at the ‘Woodchuckers’ Ball

The Woodchuckers’ Ball

The ‘Woodchuckers’ Ball’ was a joyous and successful gathering the last weekend of September. This annual tradition is to ensure availability of wood to fuel the Hermitage wood stove for the winter. Over the two days, more than 24 (socially-distanced) members of the community moved and stacked enough wood for at least the next three years! Anumodana!

Grateful for…

After more than a week of off-the-chart hazardous air quality at the Hermitage due to wildfire smoke, the air quality returned to a healthy range. Ajahn is grateful for the concern of community members reaching out to make sure the monks were safe and well.

During morning coffee time, Ajahn encouraged us to see how long we could remember to be grateful for fresh air.

Comings & Goings

On October 3rd, Ajahn Karunadhammo and Tan Rakkhito returned to Abhayagiri after spending the summer at the Hermitage. Ajahn Cunda arrives from Abhayagiri on October 23rd, and will remain through June 2021. He will serve as the senior monk at the Hermitage for part of the time that Ajahn Sudanto is on sabbatical.

As previously noted, Ajahn Sudanto will be on sabbatical beginning in early December. He will spend December through March at Abhayagiri, and then return to the Hermitage for the balance of his sabbatical (of undetermined length, but least one year).

Venerable Nisabho arrives at the Hermitage on November 29th for the winter.

Progress on Ajahn’s New Kuti

There has been great progress on moving forward with the new kuti. Ajahn has selected a contractor, and will be submitting the building permit application. Construction is expected to begin in the spring, and be complete by summer. Mudita!

Buddhist Alms

Ajahn Sudanto resumed walking alms rounds the first week of October, on weekdays only for now.

Our Connected Dhamma Community

Our Pacific Hermitage YouTube community was absolutely joyous for the return of our daily Morning Coffee Time time in September, after a Mondays-only August.
Yet we know all things are impermanent, and with Ajahn resuming weekday alms rounds, daily Morning Coffee Time ends this week. He may offer something on weekends, stay tuned.

There is such profound gratitude for the immeasurable generosity of Ajahn Sudanto’s teaching and presence with the community during these pandemic times. There are not sufficient words, so we’ll just say sadhu and anumodana.

Ajahn Reflects On: Bearing With

[Excerpted from Morning Coffee Time with Ajahn Sudanto, 9.17.20]

The Buddha gives a lot of emphasis to the value of patient endurance, and as Ajahn Amaro pointed out very adeptly one time, “bitter endurance is not patient endurance.” The perfection of being patient and enduring something is to bear with that which is unwished for, unwanted, painful, or unpleasant – absent any tanha or unskillfulness.

So, what might replace tanha and a desire for some different experience – and all the thoughts and emotions that come with that – could be something like equanimity. Or even just some sort of radical acceptance of the way it is. We do have the capacity just to bear with. If we have the skillfulness to pare things back to really attending fully to the present moment, it’s amazing what human beings can bear with. All kinds of unpleasantness, pain, difficulty is something that we can we can hold in consciousness if we recollect this teaching of the second arrow, and are very heedful not to create extra suffering.

And the engine of creating extra suffering is this rejection of the conditions that we’re presented with. It functions somewhat on how we’ve been living and practicing. If we don’t have a habit of dwelling with a heart full of acceptance, absent of greed, hatred, and delusion – like the delusion that it should be otherwise, or that we deserve some other experience, or the delusion that it doesn’t belong – it would be very easy to have an experience that this [e.g. smoke] doesn’t belong. These things definitely belong, this is part of what it means to live in the human realm.

But even more importantly about that, really, is coming back to this question again: is this worth suffering over? Are you going to allow yourself to suffer over something which is painful, unwished for, uncomfortable? Or are you going to rise to the challenge to bear with? And to keep the mind in an equanimous state, and a patient state, grounded in the present, heedful, not to be emoting and spinning stories and a commentary that would feed the tendency to drift toward some form of desire (tanha) for things to be otherwise.

And as one gathers the mind into awareness of the body, and the breath, and the present moment, and pares things back to the way it is, and learns to abide in that, not only do you find a refuge from generating and feeding the extra added suffering of responding to what your experience is presenting you with, you find that we’re quite resourceful in being able to bear with whatever life presents us with. And over time that creates a lessening of anxiety, and a kind of fearlessness that whatever life throws at us, we can probably take it. And we can probably receive it in a way that doesn’t generate any excess dukkha or doesn’t stimulate us to create harm to oneself and to others.

It’s That Time of Year: Join Us For a Wood Stacking Party

As in years past, we’ll prepare for the upcoming winter by readying the wood needed to fuel the wood stove.  This year, the wood is already split, we’ll just be moving and stacking it. This is a wonderful opportunity to offer generosity by working together with the monks in joyful community!

The Details:

  • Dates: Saturday, September 26th & Sunday, September 27th
  • Time: 12:00 – 2:00 pm both days

Note: These are separate events from the meal offerings. If you are thinking of joining earlier for the meal, please contact the meal dana coordinators as usual, dana@pacifichermitage.org.

Typically, 8-12 people join us for these events.  We will maintain Covid-19 safety requirements, including social distancing and the wearing of masks at all times.  We are mindful of the health and well-being of all, please do not attend if you have any symptoms, or have had any risky exposure in the past two weeks.

This is a wonderful opportunity for the community to gather at the Hermitage while the weather is still good. It’s also a chance to see Ajahn Karunadhamo and Tan Rakkhito before they return to Abhayagiri on October 3rd.


Change Abounds

This summer has brought the return of (socially-distanced, scheduled) meal offerings, allowing members of the community to share time and talk of dhamma with the monks. It is the intention of the Hermitage to remain as open and welcoming as possible, and to make room for more friends of the Hermitage to visit within the Covid-19 restrictions. Hence:

  • In addition to Saturdays and Sundays, some Thursdays may now be available for meal offering visits, all continuing with current protocols, including schedule through the dana coordinators.
  • If you want to visit and see a name already on the meal calendar for a specific day of interest, please contact dana@pacifichermitage.org. Some of these scheduled visits may have less than the maximum 5 people allowed under state guidance.  So it could be possible for you to visit that day, the meal dana coordinators will let you know.

Our Connected Sangha

Our connected sangha continues to thrive, with dhamma friends from near and far joining Morning Coffee Time and Puja to grow in the dhamma.  In fact, for 114 consecutive days, Ajahn Sudanto generously shared the teachings, offered reflections, included us in puja, and answered our questions every day – guiding us all to skillfully incline our minds, and grow faith and confidence in the dhamma.

And so when Ajahn announced that he would temporarily pause most YouTube livestream events for August except Monday Morning Coffee Time, we wished him beneficial rest, and gratefully said sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.

Morning Coffee Time will resume daily at 8:00 a.m. on weekdays the first week of September.

“There are these two acts of generosity. What two? Generosity with material things and generosity with the teaching. These are the two acts of generosity. The better of these two acts of generosity is generosity with the teaching.”

AN 2.143

This Fall Brings A Sabbatical

In December, Ajahn Sudanto will be embarking on a sabbatical.  The exact length of time is as yet undetermined, but expected to be at least one year.  For some part of that time, Ajahn Cunda from Abhayagiri will be visiting the Hermitage. More details will follow in later updates.  We wish Ajahn Sudanto a deeply beneficial and fruitful retreat.

An Auspicious Occasion

As previously noted, this July was the 10-year anniversary of the Pacific Hermitage. As a way to mark this occasion, we will be putting together a celebratory card to give the Hermitage. Would you like to share any words of appreciation, or something about what the Hermitage has meant to you in your life and practice? You can add your greetings to the card by sending your thoughts via email to amsiebenborn@gmail.com by October 2, 2020.

And on a related note…
In honor of the anniversary, a friend of the Hermitage, Ladawan, has generously made and donated 400 masks commemorating the occasion. If you would like one mailed to you, please contact Ladawan directly at nuchkong922@gmail.com. She would be happy to send you (offered freely except the shipping cost, $5, with any leftover going to the Hermitage). Thank you so much Ladawan!

Did You Miss…

These morning coffee time conversations?

Sense of Completeness
Dwelling Free
What am I Doing?

Ajahn Reflects On: Incrementalism

[Excerpted from Morning Coffee Time with Ajahn Sudanto, 8.7.20]

I’m a strong believer in incrementalism for many reasons. One, it honors this truth of conditionality which the Buddha points to, which is a far superior way to relate to your world and your experience and your being. Far superior to personality view, I would say. So rather than you being a good person or bad person, you exercise goodness, you refrain from unskillfulness, you resolve the pull to act in unskilled ways. You build the conditions for those things to exist, it’s not necessarily who you are, it’s how you respond, and the energy you put forth and the investments you make into developing goodness and practicing skillfulness in your life.

I think also part of the value in incrementalism is we can oftentimes be paralyzed by big challenges. They can paralyze us, they can provoke doubt, and the truth of it is, you don’t really know what you’re capable of if you could put sustained and relatively constant forward momentum into developing certain conditions. A fair amount of the limitations that you imagine that you’re living underneath are just unexamined aspects of self and personality.

And I think there can be a tendency sometimes to be stuck in wishing and wanting and a kind of longing for a once-and-for-all fix. Sometimes I think of this as kind of a lottery mentality. We’re waiting for that one word, that one book, that new technique, that blazing insight. That transcendental experience in our meditation and our contemplations – the silver bullet. I think there’s a tendency in us to want to a once-and-for-all fix, maybe because we don’t have sufficient faith in ourself and the efficacy of just putting forth effort and building good conditions. Maybe because we’re a little impatient. Maybe because we’re a little lazy to commit to doing the work. There might be many reasons. So that silver bullet lottery mentality, that kind of longing for somehow life just to magically just transform – through some hack, through some tweak, through discovering treasure buried in the words of another book – I think I think we need to be sensitive to that, if not abandon that altogether.

…See if you can develop the strength of character and the humility to be willing to do the work. Sort out for yourself how it is that suffering arises and suffering ceases and in your mind in your heart in your life with the conditions that you are living with in some non-abstract way. And of course, in the here and now. It’s really a bit of a stretch to think about ending suffering forevermore, all you’re really charged with is dealing with the present moment. And that bite-sized task is both more manageable, and in some beautiful way, more humble than our grandiose dreams of being happy forevermore.

Think of wisdom as a dynamic, not as a trophy or attainment, but as a dynamic skill to know and respond to the challenge of being, the challenge of consciousness, the challenge of life.

Ajahn Sudanto