Closer than family with the strangers I came to Lokuttara Vihara exactly on New Year's Eve 2022. That means I have been here continuously for 299 days and nights. I have seen lay supporters coming and going, guests coming and going, and monastics coming and going. And with the monastics, I live in this monastery as a community.
Ajahn Kongrit came in April, and Samanera Jotipañño and Ajahn Ñāṇadassano followed, and Ashin Jayadhamma arrived at the beginning of Vassa. People that I did not know at all before. We came together, not knowing the people who we were going to live with. And in a way, I would say now, I live with them closer than I would do with my family. We get up at the same time, meditate and chant together, tidy and clean the house together, sit and have breakfast together, organise and work together, greet supporters and have lunch together. Here now, we can have some time on our own if we don't continue working or go for a walk together. Then again, we chant and meditate together, before we fortunately do not sleep together but go to our "own four walls". Yet, we all got sick together.
These strangers that I have just met share with me a view, intention, way of speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and meditation to an extent that makes me able to live with them in such a way. This is due to the Buddha, who taught this noble eightfold path. We are definitely not always happy, in harmony, on the same page, or the same tune. Sometimes I would feel stressed, annoyed, hurt, not understood, and discouraged. But now I see that I just lived with these fellows closer than I would do with my family, and it actually brought me courage, confidence, contentment, and friendships.
Anāgārika Alby 23.10.
From Myanmar to Norway
Eventually everything needs to change, from one thing to another... This everlasting truth of impermanence (known as anicca) has become especially clear this year for me, coming back from Myanmar (Burma) to Sweden and the West. I went from just being a meditator during the Covid crisis in Myanmar, to starting a new beginning there as a monk… From being a lay person constantly on the lookout for another long meditation retreat, to ordaining as a bhikkhu never to lose track of my Dhamma practice…
Then, from staying only with native Burmese (the Karen) for three years in Myanmar, I joined a truly international Sangha in Norway and Skiptvet! I went from being far away from family and friends on the other side of the world, to being just across the border in a neighbouring country… From being an alien-looking foreigner, to blend in as one of the natives speaking "Svorsk”… (a mix of Swedish and Norwegian). From going barefoot on alms rounds on the streets of Hpa-an with 20 fellow bhikkhus, to walking alone with shoes on Saturdays in Skiptvet to Rema 1000… From using face masks and seeing soldiers patrolling with drawn rifles on my alms round, to the quiet streets of Skiptvet with only an old lady walking her dog...
I went from experiencing a military coup and dictatorship first hand, to again taking the freedom of democracy for granted… From living with many hours of power-cuts per day, to staying deep in the forest off-grid with trusty solar panels on the roof... From having about 40 dog friends living inside the monastery, to hearing eerie cranes and crows in the distance and finding fox paths in the woods… From having problems with digesting the alms food, to being fine with eating almost anything… (and easily too much!)I went from being part of a big monastic community with lots of visiting monks and new ordinations, to being the only junior bhikkhu around… From being on solo-retreats for months on end, to helping organise open one-day retreats for the laity in Skiptvet… From having meditation and the Dhamma as my focus, to giving more attention to the discipline and the Vinaya with my teacher Ajahn Ñāṇadassano... And lastly, from coming to Lokuttara Vihara in June as a stranger, to living with new Dhamma friends and beautiful memories!
Thank you all for the great support and hospitality over the months! It gave me a familiar and “homey” beginning as a monk in the West, staying in a truly special refuge in the heart of Scandinavia!
/With metta och tusen tack, Jayadhamma Bhikkhu
"The mindful exert themselves. They do not linger in one place. Like swans that abandon a lake, they leave home after home behind. – The Buddha, Dhammapada v.91 (Translation by Gil Fronsdal)
Unexpected predictable turns
Adapting to the flow of life, to its seemingly predictable and then suddenly unexpected turns: an attitude, which is easy to talk about and yet surprisingly difficult to remember. That adapting only happens when one has returned to the present moment, either forced by suffering or having developed a strong habit. And yet that returning to the present moment is not nearly enough to shed off the suffering — not taking things personally is what really easies the grip on "me" and everything which has been built on the top of it.
The vassa 2023 is coming to an end, having been rich in unexpected turns and, to my delight, in the moments of acceptance and ease. Gratitude to those who have shared this time and space and those who have been making it possible to exist.
"It has been 6 months since I arrived in Norway. I remember being told by the Theras before I came that the monastery at Skiptvet had wonderful support from the Thai community, but I didn't realise the extent of it until I settled in this beautiful Nordic country.
It is said that the link between Thailand and Norway dates back to 1907, when King Rama V made his first visit to establish diplomatic relations. Since then, trade routes have been negotiated, cultural heritage has been shared and many Norwegian men have married Thai women, setting the stage for future generations to flourish.
It should be noted that Lokuttara Vihara has a small monastic community compared to other monasteries in Europe, which makes the weekly presence of Thai supporters all the more admirable. In addition, their understanding of monasticism and unparalleled understanding of Buddhist practice make this a very safe place for the monks to live.
It is particularly touching to know that many of them come from humble backgrounds. Some are cleaners, nursing assistants, restaurant workers, etc. Regardless, they share what they have with the monks, knowing that we have no other way to support ourselves because we follow the mendicant tradition established by the Buddha more than 2500 years ago. What we try to do is to give back the blessings of the Dhamma, which is beyond any monetary value, whether through teachings, chanting or meditation practice.
Another source of great dāna is our neighbours. Usually there is no friendship between monasteries in the West and their neighbours. In Norway it is very different. Our neighbours, Harald and his mother, have helped our community a lot over the years. They have offered food, driven monks around and even saved us from being stranded on the road with a flat tyre! They have been practising Buddhists for many years and clearly apply the teachings to their daily lives.
Down the road lives Harald Senior with his wife (he is not related to the previous Harald), an old couple who were farmers and now their daughter and her husband take care of the animals and the forest. Harald Senior and his wife don't follow any kind of spiritual path, their practice is just having a good heart. They help to clear the roads in winter (the snowstorms make it difficult for cars to get to the monastery) and also provide us with chip wood to make the forest paths smoother, which is much appreciated by the meditators. There is a farm about 5 minutes drive from us that provides fresh milk every week.
It makes me think 'how good are these people?'
I could go on and on about the generous acts of our lay supporters, but this text seems long enough.
I wish our readers the blessings of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. May you attain Nibbāna in this life."
Community life, whether big or small, has many areas that need our attention. Sometimes, when we're good at something or succeed in certain parts of our lives, it can create a tendency to feel that we know and do things better than others. There might be some truth in that, but a person has only two hands and cannot finish everything by themselves; it requires community effort working together with the sense of sāmaggī – unity and harmony.
Due to a miscalculation with my travel arrangements that led to the re-entry situation, I was unable to spend the vassa in our monastery as I had intended to. With support from the Saṅgha, friends and supporters things seemed to work out well. Ajahn Ñāṇadassano led the Āsāḷha pūjā ceremony to mark the start of the Rains Retreat, then our ‘One Day Retreats’ restarted on the second weekend of September with Ven. Tul and Ven. Ādicco joined us from Amaravati. The UDI granted my visa in mid-September, but I needed to wait for the biometric card, so I was not sure whether I could travel to join our activities or not.
We had a ‘Dugnad’ on the third weekend of the month where many people came to help cut firewood, and as always, there was a lot of support for food by setting up ‘Rong Tahn – dāna food stalls’. The weekend before, some of our supporters rented the municipal hall for a Thai food market day to raise awareness about the monastery and to generate funds to support it.
In October, I was able to join the second one day retreat along with the ceremony in celebration of the 96th Birthday Anniversary of His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand that was organised in collaboration with the Royal Thai Embassy. By this time we were starting to learn how to improve our one day retreats, which led to the idea that we should try the Thai version of a one day retreat as well, which we did on the last weekend of the month. On the last day of the Rains Retreat we held ‘Tak Bat Devo – Devo Rohaṇa’ and the following day we had the first heavy snowfall, to confirm that it is now winter.
The Saṅgha has partitioned the second -floor bathroom of the main house to have one more toilet, a shower cubicle and a monks' bowl washing area which has made the toilets and shower on the first floor available for the laity to use. In addition, we got agreement at the last board meeting to install a toilet in the ladies’ accommodation to make it more convenient for the female guests.
It was an eventful Vassa, wasn't it? All of this could be achieved and enjoyed because many kind-hearted lent their hands, time, tools, and money to support. These events should not be underestimated. When these skillful actions –dāna, sīla and bhāvanā– bear fruit in joyful feeling and happiness in our own heart, we have more confidence that the teaching of the Buddha can be practised and yield results in the present moment. Then, we support each other in practising more, at least by kind thoughts, speech and actions, starting with those who are close to us, at home or in the monastery, before thinking of reaching outward.