Inside the Amaravati Monastery temple
The Amaravati Monastery
The Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in Great Gaddesden follows the Theravada version of Buddhism from SE Asia. Visitors and guests, of any faith or none, are welcome and there is also a Retreat Centre. Jo went along to speak to Sister Çandisiri.
What is it about the monastery here that makes it a spiritual place for you?
Partly the surroundings, the Temple, partly also the community, for me it’s very important to live in spiritual community because it’s difficult, meditation is difficult, it’s an acquired taste and so we need a lot of encouragement to practise. So for me,
Cloisters at the Amaravati Monastery
How long has the monastery been here?
Almost 20 years. We came in August 1984 – most of the buildings were already here. They were built around 1939/40 as a kind of a camp, a refuge for children being evacuated from London during the war. However the big building you see opposite is the Temple, which was completed in 1999 – that and the cloister have been built quite recently.
And who lives here?
We have a large community here – comprising probably about 20 - 25 monks and novices, around 15 - 20 nuns and novices and a number of lay residents. We have large numbers of people who come during the day for festivals or at the time of the meal offering which is a very important part of our tradition. On Saturdays and Sundays it can seem very busy, at other times during the week it can seem very quiet.
Also we have facilities for people to stay with us for short periods of time anything from one night to two or three weeks if they wish, occasionally longer. We also have a Retreat Centre, where people can come on retreat for a weekend or ten days. The retreats follow a specified programme and are pretty much always fully booked, there’s a long waiting list. At any one time there can be anything from 50 to maybe 100 or more people here.
And in terms of the monastery being a spiritual place, do you personally find it more spiritual when it's empty and quiet or full of people?
I find there are advantages to both situations – when it’s busy I feel that I’m stretched in ways that help me to grow spiritually – it helps me to open my heart to a wider sense of compassion and well-wishing to many more people. I really value that but I also value the times of quiet and being much more inward in my practice.
Guardian deities at the monastery
Our encouragement is to find peace and quiet no matter what’s going on around us – this is actually a very important part of our practice, so while I can say that sometimes I long for quiet and to be alone without anybody around me, I can also enjoy the presence of a great many other people and particularly when I see how much joy it brings them.
When we have retreats, just to see how much people benefit from learning the practice of meditation and just to be able to see people change through their contact with the place is very rewarding.
When you think about the whole estate here – the Temple, the buildings, the gardens - is their one particular part that you find more spiritual than any other? Do you have a favourite place here?
I have two favourite places, one is the Temple itself where we have our morning and evening chanting and where we occasionally, as a community, spend time in retreat. We meditate there together. We also have meditation vigils up until midnight every week. The other place would be my kuti. I’m very privileged. I have a lovely little dwelling apart from the other dwellings and I really enjoy being there as well.
The Temple at the Amaravati Monastery
Why do people come here on retreat? What sort of people would come here to find solace or strength?
Really it’s a place for anybody who is interested in understanding why life as a human being is difficult, in understanding suffering, [anybody] who has an interest in cultivating a way of living that leads out of that suffering or stressful state. So I’m very much gladdened when people from all walks of life come. We have doctors, lawyers, nurses, school teachers, university teachers, builders, craftsmen, craftswomen and artists, people who have a real a very strong commitment and interest, an aspiration towards peace, both peace within their own hearts and peace in the world.
One of the things that gladdesn me is a sense of people coming here and cultivating a way of practice including one of the bases of our practice - very ethical guidelines. We see that as being important as a foundation for a peaceful heart and so it gladdens me very much when people who have influence in the world are able to come here and to take what they learn out into their professional lives.
Inside the temple
Do you feel that with the monastery nestled here in the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside - that being surrounded by nature, cradled almost by nature - helps as well?
Most definitely – I realise that I’m incredibly privileged to be able to live in such surroundings. When people come on retreat and the time comes for them to go back to their homes and their families, I always encourage them to visit regularly and I also encourage them to find time to be in nature to be among trees, to be by water, streams, fountains, wherever they can.
Because I see that as being very healing and it really does bring a state of peace and well-being, particularly when one is feeling very upset, very agitated, very angry or distressed – to be with nature is of great benefit.
last updated: 02/04/2008 at 14:15
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