I write in the middle of a monastic retreat with some 400 monastics – a lot of whom have made their way overland from Vietnam including some high Venerables. The picture below is from the “offering the rose ceremony” which took place this morning directly following our ‘formal lunch style’ breakfast together. The ceremony allowed 26 young Vietnamese aspirants to formally ask to be ordained as novice monks and nuns by Thay the ceremony for which will take place after this and a further Vietnamese speaking lay retreat to be held next week.
It is the hottest month of the year and midday much effort is made to stay cool in the shade. WE are in a rural part of Pak Chong district which lies some 3 hours drive north of the even hotter Bangkok. Colours are vivid here with terracotta red soil smattered with white rocks and strewn over with green plants. Then the green of the hills and vast blue skies. The locals somehow clear the heavy embedded for planting manioc and other crops. With the even deposition of heavy rocks and the flatness of the surrounding land it doesn’t take an expert to see the lands past life as an ocean bed. But experts have been here and are excited to find fossils in the rocks dating back 250 million years.
Every now and then rocky hills of jagged sharp rock, spikey plants and trees pop up randomly defying the flatness. On the western horizon you see the rain forested mountains of Khoa Yai – a world heritage national park and great towering cumuliform clouds billow up from the forest such that we witness the forest making weather and acting as our external lungs. The Plum Village Thailand monastic community relocated here only a week before Thay and the delegation arrived yet already they feel home here. Apart from the 3 identical and well designed cloister residences for the monks and nuns (built at a very reduced cost by a supporter)there is really everything is to do here. Having said that the plans are made and much is already underway. There is a walking meditation path and a groove nested inbetween some hills for the Sangha to enjoy sitting together in the cool mornings. There is a makeshift kitchen and the airy building you see in the picture makes do as a Dharma Hall but will become the dining hall for the whole monastery. The amount of water pumped from underground will have to be increased to meet the needs of the continuous big retreat programmes. Thays hut is underway and simsapa saplings border the site where a Meditation hall for up to 2000 will be constructed. Residences for lay practioners are needed. Altogether the estimate is 80 million Bact.
So here we all are at the “New Land Monastery” – more aptly named than merely a reference to a new centre in Thailand since this monastery can be considered the new Bat Nha monastery. (Bat Nha being the Plum Village monastery of Vietnam and home for some 400 brothers and sisters by the time of Thays second visit to Vietnam in 2007 until the government forcibly expelled them all in September of 2009). The majority of the brothers and sisters took refuge in Thailand at this time constructing temporary dwellings and a palm leaf roofed Dharma Hall on land belonging to a most generous supporter – a former police officer. This was also in Pak Chong district. Now we have the New Land and permission to properly establish a monastery Thay shared “This is what we have waited for, conditions are good for us to live and practice together and fulfil our aspiration to serve.”
For the 2015/16 Winter Retreat Thay wishes for the whole international Plum Village monastic Sangha to gather here as took place in Deer park, 2004.