About an hour’s drive from Perth in Australia brings us to Serpentine, a quiet hilly suburb where renowned meditation master Ajahn Brahmavamso has his monastery. It’s around ten in the morning and the Thai devotees who had brought the alms spread them out on a table in the alms hall and move out with plates of rice in their hands. They form a queue to serve the monks as they come in. We also join them.
Sharp at 10.30, Ajahn Brahm appears with around 15 monks following him carrying alms bowls. Ever-smiling, he greets us with ‘ayubowan’ as he approaches and accepts a spoonful of rice. The monks walk into the alms hall to serve themselves and we walk upstairs and await their arrival to bless us before they eat. We move out as they start taking the ‘dana’.
“Have your meals and come up for a chat,” Ajahn Brahm tells me. We join the other lay visitors and share the food. The Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery is in a quiet natural forest – 100 acres in extent. The ‘kuti’ – 21 in all – are spread out amidst the trees. A ‘kuti’ is occupied by a single monk. The monks spend their time meditating.
As much as he preaches the need to lead a simple life, Ajahn Brahm practises what he preaches. A junior monk took us to Ajahn Brahm’s ‘kuti’, built in the style of a rocky cavern just sufficient for him to move about. He uses a thin cushion to sit and meditate. He sleeps by spreading four cushions on the floor. The sound-proof room gets ventilation through small pipes laid in the walls. “Aren’t there facilities for laymen to spend time at the monastery,” I ask Ajahn Brahm. “Not right now,” he says. “Very soon we will provide residential facilities for up to 60 guests in a nearby retreat centre we are building.” A 140-acre block of land has been purchased for this purpose.
Ten individual cottages are being built at the Jhana Grove Retreat Centre containing six bedrooms in each. They are being designed in a way that will allow a great degree of privacy thus maximising the benefit of meditation practice. Connected to the cottages by a central walkway will be a large air-conditioned meditation hall with three adjoining halls to practise walking meditation. A well equipped kitchen along with other facilities for laundry and storage are being provided.
Ajahn Brahm is keen to see that the elderly and the infirm are drawn to the Retreat Centre. “I have observed that those suffering from illnesses, cancer patients in particular, benefit through meditation. At the Retreat Centre we will provide facilities for such persons to learn meditation techniques and strategies in a peaceful environment that is also physically comfortable,” he explains. Serving as patron of the Retreat Centre is the former Premier of Western Australia, Dr. Geoff Gallop who used meditation to help recover from a recent illness.
“Stress has become a major factor throughout the world. It affects the lives of so many individuals. It leads to the break up of families. Meditation relieves stress and tension. It enhances one’s health,” Ajahn Brahm says. “I am hopeful that within 15 months we will have the Centre ready. Thereafter we will offer residential meditation retreats free of charge,” Ajahn Brahm assures.
The project is estimated to cost over Aus$ three million. Funds have been steadily flowing in. The project is undertaken by the Buddhist Society of West Australia. As we get up to leave the monastery, Ajahn Brahm invites us to “Ajahn Brahm’s new year’s eve party” on 31st night at the society’s headquarters. “There won’t be any alcohol but we can contemplate on the effects of alcohol. We will chant ‘pirith’ and bless everyone for the new year,” he assures us.