top of page

Newsletter for April 2024

pdf version will be available to download soon

Adapting to align with what is happening

Ajahn Kongrit

This April marks a full year since I moved to live here at Skiptvet Buddhist Monastery, and the most significant thing I've learned during that time is how to adapt to the lowest temperatures that I've ever experienced. Preparation is crucial: whether it's estimating the amount of firewood needed for the monastery, determining the type of fire to build, or adjusting the heater in the main house to achieve a comfortable temperature without excessive waste. Keeping a logbook to track daily firewood usage became essential at one point, and we playfully referred to this as the "logs-book."


Clothing has also been crucial. The jumpers that were offered by the generous supporters were very helpful - however some more adaptations, in terms of gloves and socks, were still required - as these body parts are most susceptible to the cold. A single layer of gloves is sometimes not warm enough but adding one more layer can make them feel bulky and hinder one's ability to grab things. During extended periods outdoors the cold can get to you, leading to discomfort in the fingertips and toes. In such situations I find myself putting my hands under my armpits just to warm them up and prevent them from becoming too cold (and perhaps risk getting frostbite…)


A phrase from my Norwegian learning book reads, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes!" Despite wearing multiple layers I still felt cold and the weather also didn't seem to be changing either. It means that my clothing is not yet well enough prepared for Norwegian winters. The main problem is the number of layers I have to wear. Before I can step out of my kuti I need to put on many layers of clothing - which can take 10 to 15 minutes - only to then realise that I have forgotten something I need inside the kuti. At that point I then feel very clumsy as I take off the boots to retrieve the forgotten item and compose my mind so as not to feel agitated. I am trying to be mindful, but occasionally just forget simple things. If the boots have shoelaces and need untying - that can stir up more agitated feelings as it is more challenging to take them off. Sometimes I just slide slowly across the kuti floor with the door mat underneath my boots without lifting my feet - to prevent the spikes under the boots from damaging the floor. When I eventually arrive somewhere, be it the meditation hall or the main house, removing all the layers takes time again…


On days with thick snow - walking back to the kuti in the forest requires a kind of ‘stomping’ effort, and feels like walking on mud mixed with beautiful white freezing cold sand. Snowshoes do help prevent sinking in the snow, but in some areas it can reach nearly knee-high. So often my foot sinks deep into the snow and I lose control, falling forward because I cannot lift my foot up! When the snow turns icy it creates another problem because it becomes slippery. Mindfulness is therefore essential - it requires careful steps to avoid sliding and falling on my backside. Fortunately, snow is soft.. and with experience, I've become somewhat of an expert—I've fallen so many times now that I’ve learnt how to fall safely.


When the winter was halfway through I learned that it was the coldest winter here for 10 years - with temperatures dropping on several occasions to below -30 degrees celsius. The kuti doors and windows accumulated moisture inside that eventually turned to ice and so sometimes required considerable effort to open. But the temperatures inside remained comfortable.


One beautiful and peaceful sight during the winter was when the snowfall was starting: a type of bird called "dompap" (usually found in the north) visited. They added a distinctly colourful element to the snowy forest which otherwise rarely saw or heard any noises from the animals. With enough snow it became easier to walk through the swampy areas of the monastery. The municipality's cross-country ski track maker created tracks passing through the monastery land for people to use. That introduced us to a new etiquette that we needed to learn—how to walk across the tracks. On weekends with sunny days and clear skies, people, including small children in colourful winter bear suits, slid with their skis, moving gracefully. Occasionally, a family pulled a sled with a baby in it, and sometimes someone skied with their dogs. It wasn't entirely clear to me whether they were using the dogs to pull their skis, or were simply walking the dogs. The way people skied varied; some looked incredibly skilled, almost like they were flying through the tracks, while others seemed to be dragging their skis. Even after dark, groups of people skiing with headlamps were a common sight. I started to understand more the phrase I had previously heard about Norwegians: "they were born with skis attached to their feet."

Skiing with dog

When there was heavy snow our neighbour would come with a snow plough to clear the way enabling cars to drive to the monastery. The supporters who came to offer food never relented in their efforts regardless of heavy snow or slippery roads. They continued to support the monastics, which freed us from the need to think about  food ourselves. The monastics go for an Alms-round in Fredrikstad every Friday and are also starting recently to go to Sarpsborg on Tuesdays. These endeavours also rely on the lay people who stay in the monastery to drive for us, and very often we have a driver from outside the monastery to assist in the driving too. Almost every day a monk goes to stand for alms in Skiptvet, making local people more aware that we are here. Some offer food, some a lift back to the monastery, and sometimes families from the town come to visit us. Supporters who find it inconvenient to come to the monastery sometimes order groceries from an online store to send to us, ensuring that we face no difficulties with food and accommodation whatsoever.


Ajahn Amaro's advice before the winter to us was: "May you all tread carefully in the cold." Winter's end is now becoming apparent and I can now say that after sorting out the problems of documents and registrations I can overcome another challenge— cold weather. My determination was to practise 'the art of adaptation’ throughout, which according to Ajahn Amaro, is the key to finding happiness in every situation and in every place.



All of this has been possible because of the generosity, support, and efforts of many individuals and various parts.



 

Visitors Past visitors

Ajahn Vajiro from Sumedhārama, Portugal came to spend several days with us in early December. It was his first visit to Skiptvet. He encouraged us to contemplate a proper approach to seeing the Four Noble Truths: Dukkha — to be fully understood, Samudaya — to be abandoned, Nirodha — to be realised and Magga — to be developed.


Ajahn Chandapalo from Santacittarama in Italy came to visit for one week in mid-December last year. During this period he spent lots of time with the resident monastic community, and also talking with the lay visitors who were here or who visited during the day. Ajahn also offered a Dhamma talk on the observance night — the theme of which was discovery of and reliance on selfless awareness (something which he discovered during his early years of practise), as well sharing a skillful method that he had once employed to train his mind not to get totally lost in lustful fantasies: Whilst just feeling the raw feeling in the body and not allowing the stories to develop during one personal retreat, he once made the following ‘deal' with his mind: “if you follow this train of lustful thoughts, we don’t eat anything tomorrow!..”. It apparently worked very well.


Luang Por Piak Wat Cittabhavana (Fahkram), Pathum Thani, Thailand came to our monastery in Skiptvet on the 17th of December, with a small group of lay and monastic supporters. They travelled here from Oslo – arriving in the morning and then stayed with us until mid-afternoon. During this time, Luang Por gave two public talks to the lay community and also met with various monastics and lay people in smaller groups to discuss their meditation practice with them.

His talk focused, amongst other things, on how people could transfer merit to or otherwise benefit their departed relatives. Many people attended on the day – the busiest day we have had here in recent times – and they seemed very happy to have had the opportunity to meet Luang Por, listen to his Dhamma talks, and ask him questions about their practice.


Last November,  we went to Wat Ubolmanee in Grismo, a 3 hour drive from Bergen, for a 3-day visit to pay our respects to Luang Por Kamphong (one of the direct disciples of Ajahn Chah). This was a chance for us to get to know the place, surrounded by beautiful mountains and a fjord, while meeting the Thai community and hopefully sharing the merits of our monastic life with them. It is always nourishing to see the devotion of those who have faith and who practise. It's a humbling experience and helps us to take responsibility for our own kamma as monastics – knowing that what we do has a direct impact on our supporters. In many ways this is what the Lord Buddha intended.


Dhamma reflection from the Abbot of Wat Thai

In January, we had the good fortune of visiting Wat Thai, a Thai temple near Oslo, and to pay respect to the abbot - Luang Por Phra Vimolsasanavides .

Luang Por graciously received us and engaged in a Dhamma conversation, highlighting the need to spread our Dhamma practice to benefit as many beings as possible. On that day, Luang Por kindly invited us to join the festivities on his 72th birthday, on the 10th of February 2024. And so Ajahn Kongrit and Tan Adicco returned on that day, where a large celebration was held with many monks visiting from all over the world.

Monks who participated in 72nd birthday celebration

Upcoming visitors

We are fortunate to have a number of esteemed senior monks expected to visit us in the spring: Luang Por Lai (Wat Pah Bueng Thawai, Sakon Nakhon) and Ajahn Jaras (Wat Mettāgiri, Chaiya Bhumi) will be here from the 3rd to the 14th of April, and Ajahn Kalyano from 11th to the 22nd April.


Shortly after Ajahn Kalyano’s departure, another group of respected senior monks will be travelling over from Thailand to stay with us. They are direct disciples of Ajahn Chah: Luang Por Damrong (abbot of Wat Pluem Pattana, Burirum) and Luang Por Sophon (abbot of Wat Bueng Latthiwan, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya). They are set to arrive at our monastery on the 30th of April and depart on the 15th of May.


 

Simplicity and gratitude

Tan Adicco

I first visited Lokuttara in September of last year. I was seized by the beauty of the place and felt a strong connection with it on an intuitive level. The blending of minimalist modern architecture in a Scandinavian forest easily lends itself to contemplation and simplicity. It just works.

When I returned to England from my short September visit, I was filled with amazement that such a place was made available to the Western Ajahn Chah Sangha. As such, I would like to take the opportunity in this newsletter to express gratitude to the Skogskloster Buddhistsamfunn for developing the place and supporting it materially. Likewise, I am grateful to the Thai community, which never fails to support the sangha all around the world, even in rural Norway.


As I prepare to return to Amaravati in early April, I wish the resident sangha and lay supporters all the best in their endeavours throughout 2024. May this community flourish and be of benefit to Dhamma practitioners.



 

A decision was to be made

Anagarika Alby

I came to Lokuttara Vihara over one year ago with the intention of becoming a monk within this tradition. To be fair, I did not know much about it back then. So it was a time of learning—learning about this tradition and about myself.


On the 31st of May last year, Ajahn Jayasāro and the whole community gave me the “going forth"—from  the householder's life to homelessness. To be honest, for a long time I felt confused about these terms because, in my eyes, I became somewhat like a householder of the place. But later I realised we will always have to do our chores, like the laundry, the washup, and some cleaning or repairing, whether we live with our family, in the monastery, or wandering around. But this was actually about living secluded from the worldly life of having a family, work, and hobbies. And just this week, I heard about the Norwegian crew who went to explore the South Pole. On that ship, they lived in a very tiny space with many restrictions. But what they needed in order not to become crazy in their minds was music, friendship, and wine. People cannot see how we live “behind the scenes," and certainly we need friendship and some fun as well. But our work is to reduce it as much as we can and to become more and more independent in ourselves. And this training is what I was looking for, and from what I think I benefited the most.

When the cycle of my Anagarika year started to reach its end the process of thinking and feeling about how I want to continue began to work. And it took me a couple of weeks to come to a decision because there were at least two sides almost equally strong. There was the side of continuing the monastic life heading towards the Samanera ordination in Amaravati, and on the other side, returning to my family and hometown, and then what? I was trying to give myself space and time to think and feel. I am glad that I had the right conditions given here. Still, sometimes I could break my head over it, even up to the point of getting a headache.


In the end, when I had mapped out both sides fairly well, I went with my intuition and decided to go back to my hometown to start a philosophy study there. Of course I wanted to get there quite fast, but due to the advice of the Ajahn, I made up my mind to finish my year as an Anagarika. With that process having come to a conclusion, I became more relaxed again.


Who knows if I will get the opportunity to write in this newsletter again? Therefore, I want to say thank you very much to all.



 

Friendship

Sāmanera Jotipañño

The five of us came together to spend the winter here in Norway more than two months ago. I have known Ajahn Kongrit for a number of years. His kindness and ability to relate to others is not new to me. I have been living with Anagarika Albrecht for almost a year and we have been through some ups and downs together, which has strengthened our friendship a great deal. Two monks I didn't know before are Venerables Nipako & Adicco. I couldn't be more grateful to have them here. They're both incredibly dedicated to practising and an example to look up to - at least for me! I know we're monks and supposed to be equanimous and all that, but it's nice to have a chance to live with such a group.


When we live together, we have to take into account that we are all very different from each other as individuals. We have different backgrounds (different jobs and fields of study), different upbringings and different cultures that shape our personalities. In view of these factors, it is an amazing feat that we have been able to live so close to each other without a single quarrel.

It is well known that what makes someone a 'person' is a sense of separateness from others. This has its origin in the psychological 'ego'. This ego, with its desire for self-preservation, is constantly on the lookout for problems to solve and threats to its existence, wanting to annihilate anything or anyone that could prevent its perpetuation in time. Not to mention that this is an automatic process of the mind that can only be brought to light by excellent morality and mindfulness. So it's remarkable that the members of this Community are able to be aware of the mind's tricks without getting trapped by them. What makes me grateful to live with these monks is knowing that even with our individual personalities we are trying to do our best. Therefore we can trust each other.


I have plenty of time to fight with myself now that I don't have to fight with any of my fellow monks! I have been struggling with old feelings of guilt and remorse lately. Meditation helps me to be aware of them and slowly let go of the self-loathing that fuels them. I have been writing on a daily basis and this is helping me to change patterns of thinking that are not conducive to the creation of happiness. Quoting a 'Luang Por' (very senior monk) I had the good fortune to meet a couple of months ago:

“Samanen: Buddho Buddho, Happy Happy!”. 

 

Snow and Silence in Skiptvet

Tan Nipako

It has been a privilege to have been able to stay for the last few months and practise here at Lokuttara Vihara. Being one of the community has been like being a member of a small family - creating bonds that don't depend on regular wordly friendships and which endure and strengthen through the highs, lows and challenges of spiritual life. I am grateful that my fellow monastics and practitioners have been able to allow my various shortcomings to arise with great love and patience.


Due to everyone's great efforts - along with an incredible level of support given to us by the lay community (Thais, native Norwegians and others) - we have been able to live in harmony and practise, each in a different way.


The combination of heavy snow, sub-zero temperatures and silence, created an environment of stillness and reflection in and around the forest - which I found ideal for living a contemplative life. My focus therefore during the winter has been on using solitude and lack of activities to further pursue my investigations into the ‘nature of reality’ and hence discover the real source of our universally perceived sense of lack. Contemplation of dying has also been a strong theme throughout this time.


I have also used the time to learn some extra Buddhist chants and to study the Norwegian language.



 

A chant for health 

When King Pasenadi of Kosala was not engaged with any royal duties, he would go to the monastery to pay respect to and discuss Dhamma with the Buddha. This resulted in 25 Suttas in the Saṃyuttaniyaka. Once while still full from overeating, he went to see the Buddha, huffing and puffing. The Buddha recited this verse to the King:


“When a man is always mindful, knowing moderation in the food he eats, his ailments then diminish: He ages slowly, guarding his life.” SN. 3:13, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

King Pasenadi repeatedly recalled that mantra, and in fact offered the brahmin youth Sudassana, his attendant, a hundred kahapana coins to memorise this verse and recite it to him every time he was about to eat. A short time later, the King’s body had become slimmer, animated and healthy. He stroked his limbs with his hand and praised the Buddha for showing compassion to him in regard to the good pertaining to the present life and the good pertaining to the future life.


This is an example of someone who has power, fortune and wealth, benefitting from both worldly and spiritual gains by visiting the monastery and applying the knowledge that he has heard to his life. So, one shouldn’t separate the worldly way and spiritual way absolutely apart from one another – i.e. by thinking that: if one lives a household life then one then shouldn't be interested in spiritual life. Or that if one lives a 'spiritual life' then one shouldn't get involved or interested in the world. If we are thinking of seeking maximum benefit and profit for our life we should use worldly experiences to contemplate life, in order to see the impermanence of the world according to Dhamma. Use spiritual knowledge, insights, and meditation, to make your life in the world happier and free from difficulties.


 

Future Events

  • 14 April – Songkran (Thai New Year)

  • 12 May – Vesak

  • 22-30 June – 9-day residential retreat (English)

  • 20 July – Asalha Puja

  • 21 July – First day of vassa

  • 17 October – Last day of vassa (Mahā Pavāraṇā Day)


Comments


bottom of page