THE MONASTER AS TEACHER:
I teach the Dhamma for the abandoning of
Digha Nikaya IX
‘EHI BHlKKHU!’ 'Come, bhikkhu!' are the words from the Pali Canon that the Buddha used when he first ordained those interested in leading a life as a Buddhist monk (or bhikkhu). Those words were used over two millennia ago after the Blessed One 'turned the Wheel of the Law’[See Note 1] and began his ministry to aid beings lost in this world of change. The wheel has continued to turn, and on July 16th  we found ourselves in the tiny village of Chithurst in West Sussex, following a procedure that has evolved in the Theravada tradition since the first invitation to Go Forth. That such an event took place says a great deal for the spiritual maturity, sincerity and generosity of the Buddhist community in Britain. The events that came to a culmination on this day once again show how perfect the natural unfolding of life can be.
Earlier this year, Venerable Sumedho Bhikkhu, the abbot and teacher at Chithurst Forest Monastery, was invited to Thailand by his Meditation Master, Venerable Ajahn Chah. Whilst there, he was given permission by the most senior of the bhikkhus of the Thai Sangha to perform the duties of an Upajjhaya ('Preceptor') in Britain. Feeling it would be useful, he accepted this responsibility. However, one cannot just go out on a street corner or Hyde Park and ordain bhikkhus. A few important procedures have first to be completed. One of the most significant is establishing a boundary or sima: a specially defined area wherein acts of the Bhikkhu-Sangha may take place.
None of the bhikkhus at Chithurst had had much experience in performing this particular act of Sangha procedure. It is not something that often needs to take place in an ancient Buddhist country like Thailand. Although research into the correct procedure had been done, and a few likely locations in our woods were selected, there was a long pause when nothing much happened – except that the day for ordination crept closer. It has been our experience that there is indeed a 'time for all seasons' and there seemed to be a tacit understanding among bhikkhus that, as yet, it wasn't the right time.
In the latter part of May, we had the good fortune to be visited by Venerable Anandamaitreya Mahanayaka [See Note 2] . On the evening of June 2nd, after the recitation of the patimokkha (the Rules of the Discipline), we asked him about the procedures for establishing a sima.
'Oh, it's very simple' he said. 'In Sri Lanka, I have established over forty of them.' And with his delightful smile he asked, 'Shall we do it now?'
We looked at each other – it was just a short time until the evening meditation and, after two weeks of almost continuous rain, it looked like rain again. Sensing our hesitation, he said, 'Let us do it tomorrow then.'
It obviously was the right time. The local rain spirit went on holiday, and June 3rd broke bright, clear, sunny and warm. By the time the bell rang for the meal at 10.30 a.m. the sima at Chithurst Forest Monastery, the first in Britain, had been established. Out of gratitude, we have named the boundary the Anandamaitreya Sima. To add to the beauty and auspiciousness of the day, an exquisitely carved figurine of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva was discovered in the garage of a local blacksmith. On hearing it identified as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the owner generously offered the image to the monastery. She arrived at Chithurst just as the bhikkhus were acknowledging Venerable Sumedho as Upajjhaya. This acknowledgement was the first formal act of the Sangha in the newly?established sima. It was a very special day.
The tempo of preparations began to quicken: the chanting of the bhikkhus-to-be and of the acariyas [See Note 3] for the ordination – Bhikkhus Anando and Viradhammo – could be heard occasionally drifting through the house when there was a break in the din of construction work on the new shrine room. We rehearsed the ordination procedure, sewed the robes for the new monks, worked long hours on the new shrine room, and prayed for nice weather for the ordination day.
There were over one hundred people at Chithurst Monastery on July 16th for the ordination. This unusual gathering of people from many cultures for a very special event – the Going Forth of three men into the life of a homeless one – a bhikkhu. Those who came sat around the sima on the grass or on chairs, and the occasion that so many had waited for, for such a long time, began very simply with a bow.
Venerable Anandamaitreya insisted that Venerable Sumedho be the Upajjhaya for the ordination, as he is the abbot and teacher at Chithurst. The actual ordination of the bhikkhus took only one hour, but for those wearing the robe for the first time, this can be a traumatic experience. Everything feels like it's about to fall off, in front of one hundred people! To complicate matters, for some reason the robe material didn't shrink the 15% it was expected to. One had visions of new bhikkhus tripping on their much-too-long robes and sprawling head?first at the feet of Venerable Sumedho.
Fortunately, nothing like that happened. The new bhikkhus – Jayamangalo, Sumano, and Thitapañño – knew the correct responses, and without obstruction the acariyas did their chanting, following the long-established tradition. Venerable Sumedho Bhikkhu acknowledged the completion of each ordination with a big smile, raising his hands in añjali as the new bhikkhus bowed to him for the first time.
It is recorded that in the middle of the third century B.C., the great Buddhist King Asoka sent his son, the Arahant Mahinda, to Tissa, King of Ceylon, to sow the seeds of the Buddhasasana in that country. Around 1360 A.D. the then King of Thailand requested from Ceylon that bhikkhus be dispatched to preside over and validate ordinations in Thailand. In 1908, another Anandamaitreya, the first English bhikkhu, returned home from Burma with aspirations for establishing the order of Buddhist monks here. In 1956, the English Sangha Trust was formed as a concrete step towards this same noble goal. And in 1981, with three of the most consistently supportive trustees present – Mr. Maurice Walshe, Mr. Geoffrey Beardsley and Mr. George Sharp – this goal was realised.
The ordination of the three bhikkhus was a joyous occasion. To actually see the Buddhadhamma transforming the worldly heart into one dedicated to the path of liberation is inspiring for all of us, and as a sign of the far-reaching significance of such a step, the Metta Sutta was recited at the completion of the ceremony, wishing well to the newly-ordained, and dedicating the merit of the occasion to the liberation of all beings.