Bhante has a long and varied background as a Buddhist practitioner and Theravadan bhikkhu. This is well described at the web site:
Most recently - from 2001 - he was the resident teacher at Gaia House. Whilst there he determined to establish a centre devoted to the Mahasi Tradition. With the strong support of friends, the Satipanya Buddhist Trust was created and became a registered charity. An offer has now been accepted on a property at Minsterley near Shrewsbury in Shropshire and it is hoped that a contract will be finalized within the next month or so.
As with all such property acquisitions the whole process has taken a long time and included one or two surprises. The main one in this case being that the water supply comes from a spring on an adjoining property. To avoid a ‘Jean De Florette’ scenario with the spring being corked, Bhante will probably need to sink a bore hole at some time.
I enjoyed a lively discussion with the Venerable Bodhidhamma about old friends from Chiswick Vihara and Amaravati, and his time at Gaia House. Bhante had found his excperience at Gaia very helpful, although sunce this is a largely lay community had found limited concessions towards his monastic status. In particular, keeping to the traditional Vinaya rules can be quite difficult without a supportive environment. This is especially so for such vinaya rules as the restrictions on eating before noon and not handling money.
Amaravati has got over these issues by establishing the Anagarika role. Anagarikas wear white robes and keep eight precepts, but are allowed to deal with money. They are thus able to accompany and support the ordained monks and nuns. The Anagarika role provides a good taste of life within a Buddhist monastic community and is an excellent stepping stone to full ordination.
Venerable Bodhidhamma kindly suggested that I might like to eat something, possibly a quorn dish. Unfortunately I have an intolerance to quorn. If I eat it it leads to violent vomiting. (See the quorn victims site: http://www.cspinet.org/quorn/victims.html.)
Later, over an omelette, we talked about the NBO and its role in creating a ‘neutral space’ for Buddhist organisations to meet, talk, cooperate, debate, criticise and build community and understanding. The NBO neutral space is intended to allow all sorts of Buddhist organisations to interact – whatever their pedigree (within reason) – on the premise that it is ‘good to talk’ as this is the best way to avoid or resolve conflict and to learn from each other and support the growth of a healthy Buddhism.
What could be more damaging for the long-term future of Buddhism than for it to become perceived as just another fractious collection of the ‘religious’ divided over some doctrine or other? That is not to say that there is not a need for discussion and possibly argument, just that such debate is best carried out from a spirit of good-will and understanding rather than rumour and dogmatism. We do not want placards on the streets and public displays of Buddhists abusing Buddhists. Neither do we want damaging media exposés of abusive or coercive activity within Buddhist organisations, or anonymous and scurrilous letters denouncing Buddhist groups to prominent national organisations. Fortunately this sort of thing is pretty rare in UK Buddhism.
It would be good to continue to practice what we preach and to maintain what is generally the excellent public perception of 'Buddhism' in the UK.
In order to strengthen relationships at the grassroots level, the NBO is hoping to support regional meetings or conferences between local groups. This is something which has already started independently in some areas and which can with care, help to improve understanding and support between Buddhists.
Venerable Bodhidhamma and the Satipanya Charity are launching a fresh appeal for funds to help to reduce the inevitable mortgage on the new retreat centre. Full details on the progress in purchasing the new centre and in how to support this worthy initiative can be found at: