Reflections from Lay Guests
A Tale of Training and Growth, Hope and Redemption by Anagarika Nick
It has been over eight months since I arrived at Vimutti on that cold and precipitous first day of Winter. It is now late Summer and I have just embarked on a seven-day retreat in the middle of Vimutti’s bush-land. My scant requisites include a platform 1m x 2m (4ft x 7ft) to sit on and a glot (monastic umbrella with mosquito net) to ward off the insects and the elements. This will be a fasting retreat which entails not eating for the duration of my time in the jungle. For the next seven days, I will only have this body and this mind to contend with.
Ajahn has given me the space of this retreat to write some reflections on my time here at Vimutti. I will commit these to paper thematically, providing you with some insight into:
1.) The monastic training that I have received as an Anagārika.
2.) The personal growth and development that I have undergone since my arrival at Vimutti.
The monastic training that I have received as an Anagārika
One quote that I frequently recollect can be found stapled to the interior wall of the main hall. It sums up rather concisely the training that one receives at Vimutti:
The purpose of coming to stay at a Buddhist monastery is to purify the mind. It is not designed to be a pleasure resort but to confront our fears, desires and attachments. The role of the Ajahn is to facilitate that training, encourage the wholesome and point out any blind spots. It is normal to feel fear and anger. At times you will feel peaceful, at times you will not. However, it is your responsibility to not blame others for your fear or anger. By staying at Vimutti monastery, you agree to train your mind.
Ajahn Chandako has been an indispensable aid throughout my training as an Anagārika. His thirty years plus of monastic experience and other unique attributes have afforded him an uncommon depth of wisdom to help guide others in their spiritual journey.
Rather than simply telling me where my fears, desires and attachments are, he skillfully reveals them to me through subtle, multi-layered nuances in dialogue and everyday interactive activities. In this way, I come to see where my blind spots are proving to be an impediment to my spiritual growth and where I am simply reacting robotically according to the dictates of a defiled mind. He has an uncanny ability to tune into the, at many times non-verbal, level of consciousness at which the mind is clinging. By shining a light on attachments that locate their origins within the deeper, hitherto unexposed recesses of the mind, I can begin to pinpoint where and why I am clinging. I am then equipped with the means to initiate the process of letting go in favour of a superordinate goal.
I feel that a large part of Ajahn’s success as a teacher is his ability to gradually establish genuine rapport by instilling faith, confidence and trust in those who have taken dependence on him. He has earned my trust due to his competence as a mentor and due to the fact that I feel he has my best interests at heart. As a result, when fear and anger arise within my mind as an inevitable consequence of the training, I am not inclined to lay the blame at the feet of my teacher but rather thank him for shedding light on the internal causes and conditions of my dukkhā.
I hold Ajahn Chandako in high regard. The monastic training that I have received so far as an Anagārika is second to none in this country and the teacher who facilitates that training is, in my estimation, worthy of offerings, worthy of hospitality and worthy of respect.
The personal growth and development that I have undergone since my arrival at Vimutti
Vimutti is a special place. My time here so far has been exceedingly profitable. My experience is one of profound meaning, personal growth and development.
For me, Vimutti has come to symbolize a purgatorial training ground where the human spirit is afforded the rare opportunity to purge itself of defilements and establish itself in rightly ordered virtue and wisdom in order to be deemed worthy of mind-body transcendence.
Before I arrived at Vimutti, like many postulant spiritual pilgrims, I found myself in the Dantean dark wood of error and defilement where the straight way was lost. However, after eight months of training the mind under the guidance of Ajahn, I am pleased to report that we have begun the process of rediscovering the straight way. What was once considered dead poetry has now been permitted to rise up again, spelling out line by line and stanza by stanza, hope and redemption in hell’s despair.
It has been an aspiration of mine since I was twenty to devote my life to putting into practice and realizing the fruits of the path laid down by the Buddha. I am grateful that I am now making progress towards fulfilling my highest goals in life.
I consider myself fortunate to have heeded the archetypal call for adventure into the unexplored territory of the emotional and spiritual unknown. There is no longer a heavy inertia within my heart. This has been replaced by a burgeoning forward momentum that seems to be lurching forward beyond my control towards some mysterious albeit evermore proximate final frontier of human potential. I listened to my heart’s call for adventure and the results of such a defiant and revolutionary act are now taking care of themselves.
I am now living moment-to-moment in a more authentic mode of being. I look back on the past with more forgiveness, understanding and acceptance and I look forward to the future with wholesome aspirations in mind.
For those of you who find my story encouraging, I invite you to reflect on the fact that the future we need won’t be realized by those still loyal to the status quo and its attending matrix of delusion. The ideal world of tomorrow will instead be ushered in by those individuals who are able and willing to stage a lock, stock and barrel revolt against group-fostered conformity to worldly streams of defilement.
Oil the cogs of revolution by daring to go against the grain and be a rebel with a noble cause. Follow your heart, not the crowd. Revivify and rescue that dead poetry from the infernal dark Underworld. Marshal the forces of wisdom and virtue and strive on with indefatigable industry in your pursuit of ultimate liberation.
-Nibbāna pacceya hotu
May these words be a cause and condition for awakening and realization of Nibbāna…
It seems to me as though the second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.
Anagarika Sam’s Reflections
Sam Gibb is a native New Zealander who ordained as an anagarika on New Year’s Eve at Vimutti Monastery. Sam has previously lived and practiced at a Zen centre in Taiwan that specialises in teaching Buddhism through tea ceremony. A video of Sam preparing for his ordination can be viewed at https://youtu.be/PxoHSvoCalc
After emerging from a week of fasting in solitude, practising alone in a glot, Sam reflects on his time in white robes.
“Tea is often considered a space of temporary ordination in the east. One of the reasons a Japanese tea ceremony is so long is because it is a time to set down the worldly life and retreat. Guests would have to crawl through a small door on hands and knees, giving up any ego around their social standings. Temporary ordination in the Thai Forest Tradition involves shaving our heads, working towards letting go of identity and setting down things in our lives for a period. Often people join the monastic community for periods of intensive practice. Renouncing their worldly lives; shaving their hair, beard and eyebrows and donning the white robes of an anagārika. Giving up most or all of their worldly responsibilities to commit full-time to Buddhist practice. It is a midway status between a monk or nun and a lay person.
I have always been inspired by monastic life and the wisdom embodied by those walking this path, so as New Year’s Eve struck this year I undertook temporary ordination. I remember discovering Vimutti many years ago as I was travelling with my zen teacher holding tea ceremonies around New Zealand and Australia. The place, the tradition and Ajahn Chandako touched me deeply and the memory of it never really left my heart. Living in Taiwan in the zen centre, my mind would often drifted to thoughts of Vimutti and the Anagarika on the platform in the forest.
Life never quite seems to happen as we expect, and now, years later, back in NZ and somewhat lost from the path, I slowly started building a relationship with Ajahn and then the conditions in life came together (or fell apart, depending on how you look at it) to commit to a period of practice here. To me, I find the monastic life inspiring. There is something truly noble about those that follow the training laid down by the Buddha. There is an uprightness in those on this path, that is so rare to see these days. I guess ultimately that’s what drew me in; that’s what I wanted to feel. To experience my own nobility. To be inspired by myself and who I was and how I lived because I had lost touch with that somewhere along the line.
Our environments and the people we surround ourselves with shape us. The things we focus on dictate our direction. Vimutti monastery is such a special place. We are lucky to have Ajahn leading the community, Anagarika Nick setting such a good example, a very supportive lay community, and I am grateful to have ordained with Anagarika Justin. Being surrounded by so many others that are embodying and aspiring to the Buddhist path is a great and constant reminder to continue to apply effort in my Dhamma practice. I am deeply grateful to all the members of the community that inspire and support me in this opportunity to undertake the Anagarika training.”
Anagarika Justin’s Reflections
At midnight on New Year’s Eve, in the Vimutti meditation hall, two men ordained as anagarikas, an initial level of renunciation with white robes and a shaved head. With Ajahn Chandako presiding over the traditional ceremony, and the local community sewing and offering the new robes, Justin and Sam took this initial step into homelessness. See https://youtu.be/Tj15CroLDYs Anagarika Justin was born in America, studied physics and taught science. He moved to New Zealand three years ago and is enjoying deepening Dhamma practice at Vimutti Monastery. Here he shares his experience on being an Anagarika:
“I ordained as an Anagarika for many reasons. Some are easy to put into words, but most are not. There are also reasons I am oblivious to. Overall, the decision was one from trusting clear intuition and not intellectual.
The hardest part of the transition from lay life to ordaining was telling my western parents that I was going to shave my head and live like a monk. Luckily, they were supportive after initial apprehension. The first week spent meditating was mostly blissful in an incredibly supportive community. Senses noticeably sharpened in their vividness. I walked the grounds feeling light, grateful and at peace. It was like putting on corrective glasses without knowing I was living with blurry vision. However, this clarity quickly revealed many unhealthy ugly habits.
Fortunately, the monastery is a training environment to patiently and kindly address destructive habits, slowly learning from the suffering and processing the lessons into healthy patterns. Some challenges being addressed are using food as self-medication, snoozing the morning alarm, constantly distracting with electronics, immersion in compulsive thinking, wallowing in negative emotions, repetitive thoughts, mindlessly lost in the future or the past, memories, future possibilities, living with anger, and generally addressing pushing away what is habitually perceived as uncomfortable.
Simultaneously there is slow growth of loving kindness towards everyone, a healthier less obsessive relationship with food, stepping outside the whirlpool of constant thinking, a slow fading of addictive behaviors, a peaceful embracing stillness beneath the activity of the senses, a deepening appreciation of the speed and power of the mind, awareness of others in the world, deep gratitude, an intimate connection to everyone’s mortality, less greed, less guilt, less anger and deep healing of old wounds.
As these issues are addressed there are periodically moments of clarity. “Justin” disappears as awareness catches a wave surfing the flowing razors edge of the present. Clarity appears like the changing of light as the sun rises and some beautiful insight arrives, self-evident. There is a sense of peace, everything is as it should be, there is nothing to do nothing to worry about and a shift in perspective of interlinked existence.
Eventually the wave ends, and it is back to work with renewed faith and energy. Some days are painful with failure and suffering teaching difficult but valuable lessons. They are always followed by space to try again. Overall, the robes feel like a cocoon. I used to feel like a caterpillar compulsively munching leaves. There was always an unshakable intuition there is more than this heavy body bound to the plant. Now I feel like the gooey creature in the cocoon, mostly grateful, increasingly loving, and slowly transforming in stillness.”
A Three-week Retreat at Vimutti
by Simon Phuah
Recently, I spent three weeks on a meditation retreat at Vimutti monastery. A number of people have asked what I actually did during my time there and whether I was bored. On the contrary, my time at Vimutti was probably one of the most peaceful experiences in my life!
Vimutti is a Buddhist monastery situated in the midst of 150 acres of forest near the Bombay Hills, about one hour south of central Auckland. The monastery was established in early 2000 by the Auckland Theravada Buddhist Association as a place for people of all nationalities to come together to hear and practice the path of the Buddha. Under the guidance of Ajahn Chandako and the efforts of many dedicated lay people, Vimutti has developed into a beautiful natural environment, with all the right conditions for developing peace and happiness.
Upon arriving at Vimutti, I moved into my hut which sat on top of a small hill surrounded by native bush and trees. This was where I would sleep and practice meditation. The hut was under ten square metres (the size of a typical garden shed) which was just enough space for me to sit once my sleeping bag was rolled out. As a result, I had to be mindful of what material possessions I had in the hut which was a good reminder of how little I really needed compared to what I have in my room at home.
I settled into a daily meditation routine which started at six in the morning. I would alternate between sitting and walking meditation through the morning which really helped develop a continuity of mindfulness. As the days passed, the challenge was not in sitting still but actually in keeping the mind still.
Every day, at around ten in the morning, I would start my twenty-five-minute walk to the main monastery hall for the daily meal. As part of the practice, I would eat only one meal a day before midday. As a food lover, this was surprisingly easy to get used to once I got past the first few days. I realised how little food we actually need on a daily basis and the fact that we often eat for pleasure as opposed to for nourishment. I also found eating one meal a day made my mind feel lighter and more alert.
Vimutti is entirely dependent upon the generosity of others, including for the daily meal. Every day, people would bring food as offerings for the resident monks and lay guests at the monastery. It was a beautiful experience watching people from all walks of life bringing food, prepared with love, and offering it without expecting any money in return. From a food lover’s perspective, Vimutti is probably one of the best places in New Zealand to experience truly authentic Thai and Sri Lankan food.
After the daily meal, Ajahn would meet with people at the monastery hall where they would have the opportunity to ask questions related to their practice or deeper life questions. We are very fortunate at Vimutti to have access to such a wise and experienced monk. In the afternoon, I would help with chores, and the day would end with a group meditation in the evening.
So why was this one of the most peaceful experiences in my life? The tranquil environment obviously played a part; however, I feel that the overall lifestyle at Vimutti was the main driver. This lifestyle helps cultivate mindfulness in every action we take which ultimately leads to more peace and happiness. It has been a challenge applying what I have learnt into my daily life, however, I have started to notice a certain peace that arises from wanting less and having less. For this, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Ajahn Chandako for helping create the right conditions at Vimutti for us to practice the path of the Buddha.
The Magic of Vimutti
by Corey Degreenia
Corey arrived at Vimutti as a lay guest on January 1, 2020 with no prior experience with Buddhist monasteries or meditation practice. He ended up staying more than five months. He flew all the way from the east coast of the US specifically to come to Vimutti, based on little more than seeing a photo of the Vimutti Stupa and an intuition that this is what he needed to do. This is Corey’s recollection of his time at our monastery.
I left my home in the US to heal and to figure things out in my life.
I left for Vimutti to find a way to fight my urge that told me I did not want to live.
I had been struggling with suicide and my many attempts with it.
I was struggling at finding balance in my life.
I travelled to Vimutti feeling broken.
What I didn’t expect from my journey at the monastery was that I would become whole and realize I never was broken.
I never once had a suicidal thought while at Vimutti.
Being in the monastery was so helpful. I didn’t have any distractions, as I did back home. I was forced to confront struggles that I’ve faced in my life’s journey. One of the most touching things that anyone has ever done for me was Ajahn Chandako, Bhante and Suko gave me space. They allowed me to confront my struggles and reminded me to listen within. I started to understand that a lot of my life had been about passing by my problems, or finding excuses to ignore the problems. I’d deal with another person’s problems rather than facing my own. Being at the monastery taught me that it’s OK to be who I am, to be alright with my flaws but not to have my flaws drown out my goodness–because there’s more goodness in me than there are flaws.
My conditioned ways of being that I had been taught told me, if I’m to give someone something, I am going to expect something in return. I had been conditioned to be the type of person to constantly go, go, go! … to constantly have control in situations and to take things personally, because criticism has always been recognized as something bad in my life. But being at the monastery, this all was far from what I have ever experienced. I learned to pause, to be OK with stillness. I learned to breath, to reflect. I learned unconditional love, for myself and for others. I learned from the monks and nun that I don’t need a bunch of knowledge in life, I need wisdom.
In order to find wisdom or to recognize wisdom, I have to reflect upon my experiences. One of the best things that the monastics did for me was that they were examples for me. They set the tone, and they set the example for everyone. Like the sun set and rose in my day, they allowed me to see the beauty of what they represent, the Triple Gem, the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.
Honestly, it was hard being at the monastery at first. I had never been alone before, and as soon as I arrived, I was put into a kuti (a small monastic dwelling); and the kuti I was assigned happened to be the one that was furthest from the main hall. However, through reflecting and learning within my meditations, I fell in love with solitude. Being away from my familiar community back in the USA, to the complete opposite, taught me that my ‘community’ has always been within myself.
Being at Vimutti was life-saving and life-changing.
I healed through my meditations.
I healed from abuse and abandonment.
Through the powers of forgiveness, I healed.
During the Covid19 lockdown, Ajahn, Bhante and Suko all became a family to me. They changed my life in many positive ways, and we took care of each other. When we did our working meditation, I focused mindfully on what I was doing. There were many occasions when the monks would remind me when I was mindless. Instead of poking or being critical, they genuinely would want to understand why I wasn’t focusing on certain tasks. It was like Ajahn and the monastics were my Mr. Miyagi’s and I was their karate kid. I remember asking many questions when I first arrived, then one day the questions stopped, and I started to listen more. I realized that’s the balance that we deal with in life, when to listen and when to speak. I am forever grateful that the monastics taught me that.
Without balance, life doesn’t work.
You have to tend to it as a garden.
I had no experience with Buddhism or meditation prior to Vimutti, and among all the lessons and Dhamma talks, my favorite times were when we laughed together, when we shared space together. I had spent my life constantly moving, constantly going. I’m grateful that I’ve learned that it’s OK not to constantly move. Before Vimutti I was a waterfall kind of person: fast paced, exuberant and dramatic. What I’ve learned from Vimutti, and from within myself, is my side that is like still water.
I met many loving, kind, extraordinary and fascinating lay guests at Vimutti, from all walks of life, from all over the world. I’m still friends with these people. I message them here and there, and I am grateful to have these memories and lasting friendships. Thank you everyone for supporting the monastery, for supporting me. Through my growth and my journey, you believed in me, when I didn’t believe in myself.
Now I am back in the USA. I am with my family and am safe. I do plan to return to Vimutti and to listen more. I’ll go back not as someone that feels broken, but as someone that knows they are whole. I will continue my practice and shine my wisdom. I am fortunate.
I am forever grateful for the help that was at Vimutti, for seeing me, for hearing me, for teaching me, for loving me, for caring for me. I can hardly describe the positive impact you all placed unconditionally into my world.
I miss you all and Vimutti very, very much. It’s amazing how each day I’m not at Vimutti and not physically with Bhante and Ajahn, I am still learning from my many reflections while there. My heart, my mind, my spirit were indented with all of your love. Absolutely, you all saved my life and changed it for the best. I am grateful, and I can’t wait to come back to Vimutti!
Discovering Vimutti Through the Years
It was my quest for peace of mind that brought me to Vimutti in 2011. I had come to New Zealand to attend to some family matters, and I was feeling let down. When I searched online for a Theravada Buddhist Centre in Auckland, I was surprised to find only a tiny handful, and Vimutti was one of them. There was something about the stark simplicity of the Vimutti homepage and its succinct message, Stop… Relax… Breathe, that appealed to me. So, to get away from my unhappiness, I drove to Vimutti.
What greeted my eyes was something I didn’t expect to see: vast open, rolling farmland in every direction and a humble-looking wooden sala standing in the middle of it. After I parked my car, I found a path that seemed to lead to the sala. As I wandered hesitantly along it, I came across a monk. At that time, I didn’t know who he was; I thought he was one of the community of monks at the monastery. I asked him for directions, and, as he replied, I was amazed at the joy that sparkled in his eyes. I’ve never seen that in anyone before. I think it was Ajahn Chandako, but I vaguely remember thinking that there must be something about this monastery for such joy to be experienced. Continuing down the path, I found a Sri Lankan community at the sala; they were having lunch and they invited me to join them. After lunch, one of them gestured towards a big tree and suggested I explore there. As I perched at the edge of a slope, what I discovered was a valley below, with an interesting circular building at the bottom. Little did I realise that I would be meditating in that yurt a few years later.
In 2014, I came to reside in New Zealand and settled in Hamilton. Probably because it brought me close to nature, I found myself making a trip to Vimutti every now and then, even though it was a 1.5-hour drive away. Those e-mail notifications from Vimutti about upcoming events such as Day of Peace, Good Kamma Day and meditation retreats gently nudged me to make another trip. In 2015, I joined the New Year’s Eve retreat, staying in a portable kuti that coincidentally I had helped to put together on one of the Good Kamma Days. Each time I visited, I couldn’t believe the transformations that had taken place since my previous visit: beautiful tree-lined shaded paths, the expanding sala and its pleasant decks, lovely ponds surrounded by lush vegetation, and the gradual putting together of the magnificent stupa, which culminated in the auspicious installation of Buddha relics, a celebration graced by senior sangha members and a huge crowd of lay devotees. I was there during those suspense-filled moments, hands in anjali, watching Ajahn Chandako high up on the cherry picker push the box of relics into the stupa.
Over the last few years, I’ve been working on developing a morning routine of sitting meditation. And I can see the benefits percolating slowly through my life, like Ajahn Chah described, water, drop by tiny drop, filling a big water jar. That’s the bhavana practice. What I also found valuable to my practice was Vimutti; it offered me plenty of opportunities for dana, and along with it the joys of those little acts of giving. Whether it was assembling a kuti, pulling weeds or offering a simple dish, it gave me a tangible connection to a Buddhist community in New Zealand. A connection I am grateful for. A connection I took for granted back in Malaysia.
Recently, I came across some information about the memorial trees in Vimutti, and I decided to commemorate my mother and father in this special way. The chosen commemorative tree overlooks the pond, the site of many lovely picnics and dhamma talks by Ajahn Chandako. I believe this tree would bring me much joy for many years to come whenever I sit in its shade and remember my parents, and reflect with gratitude my dhamma journey in New Zealand in the last nine years. Thank you, Vimutti.
23 September 2020
My Experience at Vimutti Buddhist Monastery
- Getting to know Ajahn Chandako
- 13 April 2019 early in the morning rushing to attend Ajahn Chandako 2 days of meditation retreat with my wife Choo Leng. Our first connection with Ajahn Chandako was very peaceful and calm. The meditation session and Dhamma talk give us deep impression and inspire me to find out more.
- Explore Vimutti website
- Immediately after returning home that night I browse through Vimutti Website, YouTube, photo album and Dhamma talk. I know someone with great compassion and wise whom I would like to get close with.
- I have grown up in 5-hectare Orchid plantation knowing it is difficult to manage 150-hectare huge monastery with 10 thousand trees planted. It required determination and wisdom as well as helpful community to make it happen. During the departure of Ajahn Chandako I decided to seek approval from Ajahn Chandako to be Lay guest in the Monastery. Ajahn was pleased. My wife too decided to join me in this journey.
- Preparation of Mind and body before the trip
- The website provides details of the practice and condition staying at monastery. In Singapore I started to wake up 430am for 30 minutes meditation to start the day. Here in Vimutti we start Puja and meditation from 6am till 7am follow by 30 minutes breakfast. Thereafter continue our practice till 1030am.
- First encounter at Vimutti
- We are welcome by the beautiful white magnificent Stupa while entering the road of Nibbana drive into the monastery.
- Experiences staying in a tiny hut (Kuti)
- After a warm welcome we were honored to select our Kutis. Choo Leng selected Vimutti Kuti and I selected Big Hill Kuti. Thereafter we have shared meal and have brief discussion with Ajahn Chandako. After the meal we walk slowly through gravel road first reach Vimutti Kuti than another 10 minutes walks to reach Big Hill Kuti. Big Hill Kuti situated up in the small hill where I walk up 40 steps. When I arrived, I was welcomed by 2 sparrows’ bird nests on the roof top. This is good sign of good energy.
- During the night you will experience possums coming and sound of shaking pine trees. Early morning you are energized by fresh clean air. Evening you are blessed with colorful sunset and in the night watching the milky way galaxy before the sleep.
- In the Kuti there are photos of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Liam as well as Buddha statue with 7 snakes head. They remind me of great teachers whom had given up the mundane life to seek refuge in the Dhamma. Every day before and after leaving the kuti I will pray to remind myself of their teaching.
- Most of the day the weather changes drastically between day and night about 10 degrees difference so you will experience 4 seasons throughout the day and night.
- Ajahn Chandako lived in his Kuti for many years without any heater and not sure if he has enough blanket and warm clothing during that time. Contemplating Buddha himself investigating the Dhamma in the cave all by himself. Here I am blessed with sturdy shelter and warm blanket. As for Buddha and Ajahn, their sacrifices are so great.
- Working together with Ajahn Chandako
- I was joyful when Ajahn invited me to assist him in the office for various projects. It has been my greatest honor to be given this opportunity.
- Both Ajahn and I overcame many difficulties one after another. Step by step one thing at a time. No rushing, just do it with awareness and mindfulness. One of my take-away lessons learnt was effective time management from Ajahn.
- Working in the landscape
- It totally different from the kind of gardening I did back home in Singapore. Even though sleeping on thin form mattress seem not comfortable, but after doing landscaping it felt like the best bed I have ever slept in, better than 6 stars hotel.
- We have one full meal a day during lunch and no food after 12pm. Morning we have light breakfast and 5pm afternoon tea. We follow the 8 precepts and one meal per day didn’t affect my body. In fact my health and energy had improved tremendously ever since I arrived here.
- Community meal offering
- There is a roster scheduling daily meals for the monastics and lay guests staying at the monastery. Local visitors from different nationalities come forward to offer food daily.
- We consume the food not for fun, not for pleasure, not for fattening, not for beauty, only for the maintenance and nourishment of this body, for keeping it healthy, for helping with the holy Life so that we all can stay focused in the practice. I reflect on the faces of people who offer food, and I chant a blessing verse for them and their family, wishing them good health and good fortune.
- Continue the journey
- I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the monastic Sangha for being so supportive in our practice.
- Now that time had come to the end of our stay, but the space and the people in Vimutti had inspire me to continue the Dhamma practice. I know there is a place here where I can take shelter, training and walk the path. It is at Vimutti Buddhist Monastery. This is the greatest blessing I received, my prayer and mind to be always connected with Vimutti.
Mindfulness Trip to New Zealand
by Choo Leng
I was fortunate to attend a 2-day workshop meditation retreat in April 2019 in Singapore guided by Ajahn Chandako. Unknowingly, I feel peace during the workshop but I know I need more understanding & teachings yet always the other side of my mind will ponder… “I still have time, you can wait for tomorrow … do it later”
After the workshop, we got the opportunity to send off Ajahn Chandako at the airport. Is this the beginning of my Buddhist teaching or karmic connection? To my surprise, my husband ‘Liu’ without discussion, made the decision to visit Vimutti for 3 months to volunteer.
As the day of my departure approached, I could feel the changing emotions of my “unknown” visit. I feel and see doubts, I have hesitation, fear, joy, I am uncertain with health and food, worries for family, house… etc…so many concerns, thoughts, dilemma state of mind because I have never live in monastery and never been separated from such duration of 3 months away from Singapore since birth. However, I have come to let go day by day.
My Vimutti Kuti: This little simple hut, no food allowed in Kuti, without comfy mattress, fluffy pillow, no aroma, but well-shelter from sun rain and wind.
150 acres of space, trees, greenery, nature environment is the most conducive landscape for training. Living in city was my comfort zone. I was able to adore the nature by hands and recognize no fear, accepted the connection and harmony with the insects and animals.
In Vimutti by late night, we have possums playing around the kuti roof which I have to learn to live with these night beings and continue into my sweet dreams without fear or frustrations.
Discovering Dhamma at Vimutti – We must practice meditation. Regardless of walking meditation and sitting meditation. I could see improvement receiving advice by Ajahn to learn one object meditation “Anapanasati, the mantra of “Buddho” and Body contemplation practice is excellent especially when we are getting sick or aging. Definitely own effort is important to persevere in achieving results. The program created to strike a good balance between solitude and team work. I have realized co-related the knowledge by “academic” without “practice” is necessary otherwise is difficult to understand the True Dhamma.
I enjoy the early morning fresh air and group chanting. This encourage our practice to be discipline, punctuality with consistency. Reminded myself to let go and put the right thought and right effort, things flow well. Moreover, the group chanting increases mind & body vibrations making the daily meditation huge improvement and build superb energy.
The Dhamma discussions helped me gain knowledge from incoming guests, food donors by sharing their personal doubts. All over from international communities came by to seek and share their questions. Ajahn will imparts anything and everything from personal experiences and guidance.
Every learning and experiences are boundless for me and eye opening. Vimutti make you feel blessed, light and freedom from worry and fear. I understand more about Karma. Learn to cultivate good mindset and understand the identity of “I” or “mine”. By staying in a secluded place here, no TV, no radio or social media, I can have clear and open awareness of inner strength and weakness of one self, seeing life of other beings.
I am happy to share my experiences in Vimutti. Being able to see the Truth and purity in Dhamma, from our heart, from the teaching of Lord Buddha. I understand the state of mind on different daily basis, ego, my attitude and behavior reacted, so many layers underneath of myself or “ME” in letting go. I realized I was totally wrong in my perception before coming and after 3 months stay. I see myself with deeper strength to progress. I could see the many kind human beings come and go, contributed to Vimutti their precious time, generosity, patience, anxiety, worry, anger, fear, as well as I experienced it. I could see my Wanting is suffering, chasing material lifestyle is suffering. I saw my departure from Vimutti to Singapore was Dhukka. The Samsara cycle is just no end.
I am grateful to Ajahn Chandako and Sanghas, our gratitude beyond words, by catering this condition and opportunity for our Dhamma development, our realization and reflection therefore I must treasure this wholesome time and efforts, in every moment till the last breath. With Metta, Choo Leng * Sadhu Anumodana*
An appreciation for Vimutti Buddhist Monastery
– its influence on my life & others in my life
By Anoja Devendra
Member of the Managing Committee
Just yesterday, I visited Vimutti yet again to offer our monthly meal offering. Another day to spend in quiet contemplation, feeling the peace as I unwound, taking in the elements of this monastery; its beautiful landscape, the ponds, park-like grounds surrounded with cooling shady trees and canopies forming groves providing a home for animals and birds.
Vimutti, with a Stupa completed, enshrined with the Relics of the Buddha & the Arahants.
This must be a ‘special’ monastery because of the true & authentic Buddhist teachings that I can hear for myself from an English-speaking, erudite and wise, friendly, practising Buddhist Monk, Ajahn Chandako, leading the way with enthusiasm and confidence, showing me the way (from going astray), while I live out my inherited life!
Many years have gone by since we first arrived as new immigrants and I continue to be amazed by the wonderful folks I keep meeting at Vimutti either as visitors or as lay-guests. They have to be some of the nicest and most caring people I’ve ever met. They certainly keep adding to the vibes of this haven we call Vimutti. For that, I have to thank Ajahn Chandako, primarily for creating this meeting place, where some of my most valuable friendships & associations began.
All of these occasions have taught me to develop a basic generosity of heart, helping me to add meaning to the things I do while trying to make adjustments to living in a more beneficial way.
I have benefitted much and have always looked forward to the Day of Peace meditation workshops conducted at Vimutti, where I began learning meditation. It’s the place we gather just for a day, right here in Auckland, leaving aside this load, just to be in peace. The continuing longer retreats have given such rare opportunities to strengthen my Dhamma practice while keeping the momentum going and for this we are most grateful to the wise and noble teachings we receive from the community of forest monks at Vimutti.
As a current committee member of the ATBA, I appreciate that I can be guided to perform carrying out connected activities while depending upon the wise counsel of its Spiritual Director, Ajahn Chandako. I feel greatly blessed to have such an extraordinary place to go to regularly, right here in Auckland and close to our homes, for our peace of mind and for the happiness it gives us. For this, we are truly indebted to and have the highest regard and utmost respect for Ajahn Chandako.
Through the years, I find myself increasing in dedication to the practice, wishing to live up to the four pillars of Sila, Samadhi, Panna & Vimutti as are the four cornerstones of the Vimutti Stupa. There will be still others in the future, who would think in a similar manner and cherish living close to the monastery. So, as in the past, let us keep up the good work furthering this effort, to allow Vimutti to stay a thriving place for the benefit of many, including those who come after we are gone.
An Appreciation for Ajahn Chandako
From Anoja Devendra
Member of the Managing Committee
Greetings to the Sangha & Friends,
My recollection of the incident that Brad mentioned in his letter is this. Ajahn asked me to attend to the fixing of the tree plaques on the chosen day with other volunteers who were happy to attend to
this task. Brad and Besil decided that they would climb the hill to access the kauri
tree to do this. Brad used the fuel-powered post hole digger to begin digging the soil, which he physically carried uphill for this task. The several attempts towards this still did not yield the earth to be moved as desired, unlike all the other holes that had been well dug just prior to this one. At this time Ajahn came to the area and pointed out that the digger was not suitable to have been carried all the way uphill (as it was heavy) by Brad, and that we could probably and quite easily use a hoe for this work. I too realised this quite quickly and I apologised immediately to Brad. Ajahn further mentioned something along the line of that Brad, as he is such a nice and kind man, may not refuse a request or task when asked of him. I must mention here that it was wonderful to carry out the entire task that day.
I consider this to be a fitting occasion to deliver an appreciation for Ajahn Chandako. Ajahn Chandako is our friend, bright and full of good humour and cheer! He is our mutual friend- kind and compassionate, full of virtue and full of empathy; patiently enduring, reaching out to us, listening to our needs, sensing what we were and what we probably were not, sensing our fears, understanding us. He is our Teacher and our Spiritual Guide, the perfect Leader, inspiring us along the way, bringing out our dormant strengths and vigour and skills, previously untapped.
Ajahn has opened the door to our family to develop that basic generosity of heart. He has helped us to add meaning to the things we have chosen to do, giving of our time and other resources. For this, we are most grateful to him.
I look back to those early years- prompting my memory to remember those first encounters with this special Being, Ajahn Chandako.
Once on a rostered Dana day some years ago, I arrived here not before 11 but just after that! I was quite rattled that I could not arrive in time. But this great man with his warm and healing powers must have assessed it all and put my mind at ease straightaway, saying that it was alright, that there was plenty of time for offering! This kind, compassionate Being, certainly made my day! There are many such incidents which I cannot recall now, when Ajahn Chandako had touched with kindness and healing speech, uplifting the darkness in the minds of those who stayed here. Truly he has given much to us all on many, many, occasions- this gentle Being, the gentle (man), the gentleman that he is!
I had not seen a working Buddhist Monk before in my life! and was quite curious and most amazed in the months following the Working Bees known as ‘Good Kamma’ days, getting to see the developments that took place here through voluntary hearts and hands, headed by this strong, young and cheerful man.
Many of us have some idea I am sure, just how much Ajahn Chandako must have sacrificed, to come here to New Zealand to begin a vision of creating a monastery. Over these many years building projects were being taken on, one after the other, and at each stage we saw with growing amazement how much he toiled and sweated, sometimes with volunteers and at other times alone, endless hours spent giving of his labour, tolerating difficult conditions, staying with the task.
Through these different building projects at Vimutti, Ajahn Chandako has been influential in bringing together harmoniously people from different cultures and ethnicities towards achieving a common good, which is ultimately good for everyone. We have come together in our mutual strengths and weaknesses developing faith in ourselves as we stretched and struggled helping to beautify the kutis, and insulate them, repair caravans and dwellings, attend to clean ups and maintain the landscaping free of weeds. I consider these to be opportunities to serve the Sangha and developing the monastery for the greater benefit of the community and aid in the spiritual development of the Sangha, as well as ours. We thank Ajahn for creating this meeting place where some of my most valuable friendships and associations began.
I have benefitted much and have always looked forward for the ‘Day of Peace’ that Ajahn Chandako has been conducting at Vimutti for a long time now. These were the workshops where I began learning to meditate, learning mindfulness and staying in the present moment and cannot be thankful enough to him that I could regularly attend these sessions. The continuing longer retreats, held periodically at Vimutti have been excellent, bringing to us such rare opportunities
to strengthen our Dhamma practice through instructions given by him and other visiting forest monks.
We are truly grateful to Ajahn Chandako, that he took it upon himself to plan and organise and supervise these events along with other volunteers, to the benefit of the greater community.
During all this time while the monastery grounds were being slowly created, Ajahn gave up his remaining hours to meet up with the community to instruct us in the Dhamma talks and in taking up the practice of meditation. On these occasions he was our learned Teacher; the wise and noble Sangha instructing us. With clarity, he explained to us to recollect the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, helping to build faith in our hearts and I was further inspired to look to the study of the Dhamma, to look at the detail; to check it out, what does this do for me? How does it do that doing? Ajahn described the Suttas, the taking of the precepts, the message of the morals and Buddhist ethics, explained the wholesome and the unwholesome, kamma and rebirth, the beginningless cycle and the ending of it all.
In all these times, our spiritual Director, Ajahn Chandako has been there for us. Each year he is in New Zealand with his blessed presence he continues in a mighty task to give wise direction as Spiritual Director, to the ‘Auckland Theravada Buddhist Association’ to function and perform its various undertakings.
In January of the year 2012, Ajahn Chandako offered out of his compassionate nature to lead a group of twenty of us to visit a number of forest monasteries of Thailand. This was such a rare pilgrimage to be had by a few; cherished forever. We all know, that if not for Ajahn Chandako, none of us would have ever had access to some of those extremely remote forest monasteries. That was a turning point in my life. Seeing was believing! Again, Ajahn Chandako was our Noble Teacher, clever and skilful as he took charge, and with his no-nonsense affirming.
So this land, continued to progress and was slowly being turned from a neglected, gorse infested farmland to the birth of a Buddhist forest monastery of the world, offering hope and inspiration and peace to those who would tread its soils and shady groves; offering ‘Vimutti’ or freedom of heart, to those who seek it, just as appropriately as suggested by its name.
Vimutti- with lovely gardens, ponds, pathways and streams has now taken the form of a sanctuary; a peaceful haven promoting and encouraging harmlessness of life for us as well as for other living beings. It is a suitable habitat for diligent
Monks. Ajahn Chandako has created these beautiful surroundings; a refuge even for the tiny insects, birds, cats and in the recent past for ‘Lucky’, the baby goat who was orphaned here and was cared for, by Ajahn. He has been the Artist, the Architect, the Engineer and Manager of this project, after all, what was being created was a very special field in the southern hemisphere. It is no ordinary feat. The soothing and calming, aesthetically appealing buildings have been made using mostly natural elements, blending with the surroundings immediately connecting us with nature, simplifying everything. Thank you Ajahn for this new opportunity to stay with these beautiful trees!
Thanks to Ajahn, we are indeed blessed to have such an extraordinary place to come to, for our peace of mind and for the happiness it gives us. For this, we have the highest regard and utmost respect for Ajahn Chandako and are truly indebted to him.
Thank you, Anoja
Reflections on Vimutti Buddhist Monastery
By Murry & Luckana Hyde
Members of the Managing Committee
amazing walking tracks that take you through the property, past the gently flowing streams and
ponds to the many different quiet places where solitude can be embraced and meditation begins.
This might even be what it was like when 2561 years ago, before there was the modern day disturbances like traffic and cell phones, because once you find that peaceful place to sit and relax, the sounds from the outside world are far away in the distance.
One particular place within the grounds has a large old fallen tree laying on its side , and to be sitting around Ajahn on the old tree and listening to a Dharma talk by a disciple of Luang Por Chah is a very rare and valuable moment that should be truly appreciated. It feels like taking a step back in time when life was more simple and practicing the Dharma was more important. After these talks we always come away full of contentment, knowledge and enthusiasm.
We’ve always observed Ajahn when he talks, sits, walks or working, his actions in every activity he does is always appropriate and its beautiful to watch and learn . He is a great role model for people who want to practice well and proper.
We are fortunate enough to have met many highly respected monks form other parts of the that have been invited here by Ajahn Candako especially during the enshrining of the Stupa in 2015 which involved about twenty or more monks and nuns.
It is a very special place to be when you can clearly hear the flap of the wings of a passing Keruru and Tui or the song of the Fantails and Bell birds as the go about there daily life.This entire property is a result of the hard work and dedication of the Abbot Ven Ajahn Chandako, whom not only is a highly respected Monk but over the years has become a very good friend. One whom we can
always trust and call on when some advice or Dhamma question needs answering. The response is always with enthusiasm and wisdom and often with a bit of laughter thrown in.
The atmosphere in and around the Monastery is always welcoming, peace and happiness by all of those who visit weather its for a few hours or a few weeks and having a good leader always keeps things flowing smoothly, especially when all of the Kuti’s are full of visiting lay guests.
The choice of kuti’s is so varied as some are hidden away in the bush or pine forest and others are out in the open offering the most breath-taking views of the night sky with millions of stars watching down on us, it almost as thought you could touch the Southern Cross.
Seeing a full moon shining on the Stupa is also something that should be seen as this is not such a common sight in New Zealand as it is in other places throughout Asia and Thailand.
We have travelled many times to Thailand and have also been to Wat Nong Pah Pong and Wat Pah Nanachat and many other Monastery’s and have enjoyed them all, but we are always drawn back to the peace and tranquillity of Vimutti. In more recent times we were invited to become ATBA committee members and so we now have another role to help with the running and decision making along with some other very good people who also deserve mention as a lot of these folks have worked extremely hard over many years to help make Vimutti happen so it can be enjoyed by everyone. We recommend for those of you who have not yet been to Vimutti to come along one day and enjoy the surroundings.
Here you will have the unique opportunity to, Stop … Slow down … Relax … Breath…Enjoy …..
Murray & Luckana
Here is another reflection on Vimutti Monastery from Johanie, a French Canadian woman who recently stayed here. She was simply bicycling through New Zealand and happened to pass the entrance to the monastery. Curious, she walked down the driveway to have a look. Not intending to stay long, she didn’t even bring her bike down the driveway. She was then invited for lunch, so she decided to stay for that and leave in the afternoon. After lunch she asked if she could stay one night before continuing on. Each following day she continued to find the teachings useful, and each day asked to stay just one more night before carrying on with her bike tour. In the she stayed for three months!
Trusting in Fate
By Johanie Bolduc
Initially, I came one day for a brief look, curious to learn about meditation and mindfulness. Also, I always have been interested to see how it works in a Monastery and how monks live their lifestyle. After one day only, I really enjoyed the place, the peaceful energy, the lifestyle and the kindness of the people here. So I ended up to stay here for 3 months, volunteering, practicing mindfulness, meditating in everything I do, and starting to study about Buddhism.
What I have found positive about Vimutti is that you don’t have to worry about anything. All accommodations are provided, you don’t have to cook, you are surrounded by positive people who are there as well to work on themselves, you have sufficient quiet time, and you don’t have to talk much, only the essential which allows you to focus on yourself.
What I find positive about Ajahn Chandako is that he has great skills for communication. He is clear, and he makes people laugh–which makes him a good teacher. I really enjoyed listening to his Dhamma talks.
Wat Pah Vimutti
By Khun Wi
Member of the Managing Committee
I was born in Thailand and consequently have been Buddhist since my birth. My Buddhist practice consisted of taking food to the temples and listening to Dhamma talks by the resident senior monk. To be honest, I did not know there was a much more satisfying way to practice.
Approximately 9 years ago my husband suggested that I accompany him to a meditation retreat at Vimutti monastery. I was not very interested in going along, but he persuaded me to give it a try. That was the first time I have ever meditated in my life. The peaceful feeling throughout those hours and days of meditation completely changed my way of happiness. Since then I have been enjoying the feeling of meditation and Dhamma practice.
It is so enjoyable to visit Vimutti, to stay with nature and hear the birds and wind. We love it so much. I have never seen a senior Buddhist teacher like Ajahn Chandako. Thank you Ajahn for providing such a special place for us.
We go to Vimutti because of Ajahn Chandako. If it wasn’t for Ajahn, this place wouldn’t exist. Vimutti gives me goose bumps. Wherever I walk, I often wonder, “How does Ajahn do this?” It amazes me how Ajahn has done this.
I am saying these things from my heart.
We see Ajahn Chandako and know how hard he works. When my husband and I think about visiting Ajahn, we know he always has something to do, and we want to help. There is always something we can do: a garden to weed, a bathroom to clean, a kitchen to organize. We just see what needs doing and really enjoy being there doing it.
In Thailand it is almost impossible for me as a woman to get close to a senior teaching monk, because Kruba Ajahns (meditation masters) are placed very high in Thai culture. So Vimutti offers more opportunity for women to practice under the guidance of a teacher. This makes me very happy.
Sometimes I hear about other people who don’t know how to behave in a temple. I feel upset when I hear this, because the monastery is not a camping ground to have food and fun. It is a very serious place to respect and for learning about Dhamma. I bring my own lunch when I come to work.
If I had not come to New Zealand, I would probably still be with my group of friends taking food to the temple and listening to talks and probably not meditating. In Thailand, the men normally go to the temples with their men friends. Here I go to Vimutti with my husband. We go together because we share the same path through our lives and enjoy life the same way. Perhaps this is my good Kamma.
We wish Ajahn Chandako many, many more years of good health to be our abbot. His disciples need him. That first retreat was my first experience of the joy of meditation. Thank you for that experience Ajahn, and for changing my life.
These are my thoughts.
Kow Prajow Nichapha (Wi) Promson.
Committee member, Auckland Theravada Buddhist Association 04/04/2019
Letter of Appreciation for Ajahn Chandako
By Willa Thaniya Reid and Elizabeth Cintamani Day
Willa Thaniya Reid and Elizabeth Cintamani Day have extensive experience training as nuns in the Ajahn Chah forest tradition for many years. Willa was the senior nun and leader of the nuns community at Cittaviveka Monastery,
England. Currently they lead a meditation centre in Kihikihi, New Zealand, and regularly teach retreats or workshops at Vimutti Monastery.
Having left the monastic life over 10 years ago, we have established a practice community based at our residence in Kihikihi, New Zealand. It is important to us to maintain warm, mutual and meaningful connections with fellow practitioners and teachers, and we have been enriched by the friendship and welcome extended by Ajahn Chandako. He has been exemplary within the forest tradition for maintaining an open-handed connection to us as former monastics.
Ajahn Chandako has shown true grace and metta in his hospitality, both in relation to us, and to others who visit his monastery. He has included us in the teaching schedule of the monastery; freely shared plants and books to distribute to our own community of practice; and in every way supported our practice and our endeavour in Kihikihi. He couldn’t be kinder.
We consider him a true dhamma brother and we respect his practice and his way of holding the monastery.
We were amazed to see how he coordinated the building of an inspiring stupa; and how he managed the myriad complexities of the large public event of its opening, where he hosted many senior monastics, local and international, in an impressive gathering of the Fourfold Sangha. At the event we were not surprised to hear Ajahn Piak acknowledge to the massed crowds that Ajahn Chandako is a very good monk and practitioner.
Over the years we have witnessed the tremendous amount of work that Ajahn Chandako has initiated and carried out to create the monastery’s infrastructure and for environmental regeneration. He has enabled a significant community resource that attracts people locally and internationally. We love visiting and experiencing the ongoing growth as the environment supports greater community engagement.
In 15 years the Monastery has planted over 10,000 trees to regenerate the forest and create a beautiful park-like environment. Again, we were not surprised to hear Ajahn Piak’s observation that there is a deva in every tree.
We have met so many committed practitioners at Vimutti whose loyalty to Ajahn Chandako and to the Vimutti community brings a quality of stability and depth of practice to the environment. This is a place where dhamma cultivation has clearly taken root. We are beneficiaries of this each time we visit the monastery as, for example, when we offer daylong meditation teachings and the Easter retreat.
The monastery is clearly a resource for increasing wisdom in the wider community, and has a profoundly positive impact on the region and those who visit from near and afar. We are encouraged by the commitment and quality of practice of those we meet.
We wish Ajahn Chandako and the monastery continued flourishing, and feel honoured to be part of the community.
Willa Thaniya Reid and Elizabeth Cintamani Day
For additional information contact: Kihikihi.firstname.lastname@example.org
Vimutti and Ajahn Chandako
By Chamathka Dias
I recently had the good fortune to stay and practice the Dhamma at Vimutti Forest Monastery for a period of 5 months. I was not new to Vimutti when I arrived there in September last year to stay and practice the Dhamma as a long-term lay resident. I felt the magic the moment I arrived. The constant internal chatter in my mind stopped immediately. My mind became still and I felt waves of pleasure, joy and positive energy.
My earliest memories of Vimutti are from 2005. The monastery was just one building and barren land back then. I left for Sydney in early 2007. When I visited Vimutti again in 2013 after a long gap I could not recognise the monastery with the lush green patches of forest and the buildings. I heard that over 10,000 trees have been planted since the early days. I remember feeling so much joy exploring the new facilities such as the meditation yurt in 2013. I was quite sensitive to the peaceful energy at Vimutti. It was as if the goodness of the volunteers who made Vimutti Monastery happen had leaked into the atmosphere. Fortunately, I had some wisdom to realise that this is what my meditation practice needed, and I made a decision to come to Vimutti on a regular basis on my holidays to meditate. Ever since then I came to Vimutti almost every year to be on retreat.
I found out that I was absolutely right in choosing to be at Vimutti to deepen my meditation. My practice was improving steadily over the last 5 years, but the greatest spiritual growth happened during the five months I stayed at Vimutti recently.
Multiple factors at the monastery contributed to my spiritual growth. Some of these factors include the presence of an exemplary Dhamma teacher, Venerable Ajahn Chandako, the sense of safety and security, community harmony, good facilities and also the atmosphere at Vimutti. There was a sense of peace which came from being close to the nature. But there was also a sense of loving kindness and joy in the atmosphere which greatly supported my meditation.
I continue to be amazed at the way people support Vimutti monastery and Venerable Ajahn Chandako. Vimutti solely operates on dana, the generosity of human beings. So much joy comes to my heart even as I write this, when I recollect the goodness of all donors and volunteers who helped this amazing place happen and who still continue to support Vimutti.
Life at the Monastery
Life at Vimutti monastery was quite simple. We had morning chanting followed by breakfast which was optional. Then we had the meal offering to Sangha (monks) at 11am. Following this, lay people would have their meal and help with cleaning up. At noon each day, Venerable Ajahn Chandako, the Abbot of the monastery, would meet with the lay visitors and resident lay guests for a 1 hour long Dhamma discussion. This was followed by a work period in which Ajahn would assign lay residents various duties. The same routine was kept every day to keep life simple in order to facilitate the development of inner peace and samadhi meditation. The resident community met again at 7pm for evening chanting. There was always a sense of harmony, loving kindness, peace and joy among the lay residents who stayed there.
Every Sunday we had an ‘Open Day’ at Vimutti when Ajahn would give the 5 precepts to the lay visitors who arrived, followed by a Dhamma talk and almsround (pindapat). Lay people had the opportunity to offer rice directly to the Sangha in their alms bowls during the alms round. Each month there was also a ‘Good Kamma Day’ working bee. It was truly amazing to see the number of visitors who regularly show up to donate their time and energy for various projects on these Good Kamma days.
My favourite monthly event was the ‘Day of Peace’ meditation workshop. Ajahn would sit with us and guide us through meditation at these workshops. These workshops gave lay visitors and resident lay guests opportunities to ask questions and practice meditation with Ajahn Chandako. Meditation workshops were quite useful for both beginners and experienced meditators.
The Teacher and Abbot – Venerable Ajahn Chandako
Venerable Ajahn Chandako has been my Dhamma teacher for more than 10 years. It was Venerable Ajahn Chandako who made this monastery happen, and any article about Vimutti is not complete without a special mention of the teacher and abbot.
There are no words to describe how kind, compassionate, patient and wise Ajahn Chandako has been. What truly amazes me is his ability to easily pick up on a disciple’s practice. During my stay I noticed that he knew intuitively what we were doing and what each of us needed in our individual practices without having to ask us questions. In my case, he knew exactly when I would benefit from being in solitude in my kuti (hut). He also knew exactly when I would benefit from getting myself involved in community activities. He never takes a text book approach to teach his disciples. Ajahn’s Dhamma teachings are tailored to the disciple’s needs and their level on the Dhamma path.
My stupidity and stubbornness meant that I was not the easiest disciple to teach. Venerable Ajahn’s great compassion meant that he never gave up on guiding me back to the path every time I steered off in a different direction. No matter how deluded my mind was, in the end, my teacher’s wise advice always proved to be correct.
One such example was when I refused to do walking meditation. I was already getting good samadhi (concentration) while sitting, and I did not see the point in practicing walking meditation. It did not take long for Ajahn to find out that I was not doing any walking meditation. He asked me to start walking and continued to ask me everyday if I am doing walking meditation. After saying ‘no I am not’ several times, I started walking because of his gentle persistence. I must say that Venerable Ajahn was correct after all. It was walking meditation that helped me to deepen my samadhi and to integrate meditation into activities of daily living. I now see that he only had compassion in his heart for a stubborn disciple.
Half of my teachings were direct teachings I received from the explanations Ajahn Chandako gave to questions as well as his Dhamma talks. The other half came from my direct observation of the teacher. I learnt from the way my teacher conducted himself, the way he spoke, the way he reacted to situations and the way he even responded to questions. To me he was a perfect example of a son of the Lord Buddha practicing the Noble Eight-fold Path. I was observing how right intention, right speech, right action and right livelihood, etc could manifest externally in a Dhamma practitioner. It was a very steep learning curve for me. Most days I felt quite invigourated after the daily Dhamma discussions, such that my mind would enter samadhi very quickly when I went back to at my kuti.
Ajahn Chandako advised me to use my time wisely while I was at Vimutti. He reminded me of impermanence. He reminded me that I have perfect conditions for meditation, and one day the conditions will end when I leave this magical place. Heeding his advice, I continued to practice, battling my internal defilements and building peaceful states in my mind every day.
I have no words to describe the deep gratitude I feel for Venerable Ajahn Chandako. I know that many disciples feel this way about Venerable Ajahn.
Support for Lay Practitioners
It was at Vimutti, that my Dhamma path started. It was at Vimutti that my meditation gained significant momentum. When I left Vimutti, I was not aware of the changes that had happened in my mind. Ajahn Chandako explained to me that it will be hard for me to see how I had changed as these changes have happened slowly in the mind. He reassured me that changes have taken place and would come into effect when certain situations are met. It took me a few weeks in Sydney to realise the truth behind his wise words.
Over the 5 months I stayed there I spoke to many lay people who told me how Vimutti had changed their lives for the better. I heard many stories of how Venerable Ajahn Chandako had helped lay Dhamma practitioners.
It was the Abbott, Tan Ajahn Chandako who made Vimutti happen. His presence, his way of life, his Dhamma practice and his teachings are what really make Vimutti a heaven on earth. It is easy to see the trees that have been planted in the property. It is not always easy to see the number of Bodhi trees that have been planted in lay people’s hearts by this truly exceptional Dhamma teacher.
Vimutti Monastery continues to support tens of thousands of practitioners directly and indirectly. The conditions at Vimutti Forest Monastery are perfect for the practice of Dhamma. It is indeed a heaven on earth for Dhamma practitioners who wish to deepen their meditation. I highly recommend Vimutti monastery to anyone who is interested in the Buddha’s way of life, the path of Dhamma.
Vimutti Buddhist Monastery Reflections
By Bruce Glover
Member of the Managing Committee
Vimutti is a very special monastery of the Ajahn Chah forest tradition nestled in the rolling Bombay hills of south Auckland. The monastery has been established over a fifteen year period of visionary foresight, dedication and hard work by the abbot Ajahn Chandako. Hundreds of volunteer lay people & committee members have also worked tirelessly during the period, assisting Ajahn with the creation of this beautiful sanctuary.
Fifteen years ago the land was a very different place. Gorse, ragwort, blackberry and other noxious weeds covered the almost bare landscape. Removal required extremely hard physical labour and back-breaking work. The same energy and commitment was required & applied when more than ten thousand trees were planted on the land by hand.
The effort has been both worthwhile and spectacular. Ajahn has quietly developed Vimutti into one of Auckland’s gems of nature. Meticulously designed water gardens, ponds, and streams compliment bush tracks and forests. Throughout the land and forests of native and exotics trees, 11 meditation huts are interspersed for Dhamma practitioners and lay guests. Bird life is prolific, and many of those hand planted trees are now beautiful mature specimens.
Along with this, a magnificent white bell-shaped stupa and garden stands prominent with a deep green forest backdrop. Other important buildings include a smaller stone stupa, an office, a sala with covered veranda and shrine, a Mongolian yurt for meditation, a Maha Thera’s room, two toilet blocks, a laundry, a large workshop, large garage and library. Other projects including a lay accommodation building are in progress. We do not forget that Ajahn Chandako visualised all of this in his mind many years ago and now it is visible. Ajahn has created the perfect ambience in the perfect location for peace, meditation and learning.
Ajahn Chandako is an excellent teacher. He has a deep understanding of the true nature of things and has the innate ability to explain the teachings very clearly. He can talk about truths that we may have forgotten but once spoken about, are recognised again. His talks come from deep insight and wisdom and touch the hearts of those who truly understand. His radiant smile and sense of humour add to the enjoyment of his Dhamma talks and teachings.
It is sometimes hard to imagine how Ajahn Chandako has managed to achieve so much yet still have time for his own practice, but the results speak for themselves. We know that in Thailand, abbots of most monasteries have a number of monks to assist in the daily chores and needs. Ajahn has not often had that privilege, yet through his aspirations and creative mind he has made Vimutti an available symbol of what we believe to be the most important teachings, the Buddha’s teachings.
My wife, Wi, and I have been coming to Vimutti on a fairly regular basis for approximately 10 years. We are serious practitioners and consider ourselves very much part of Vimutti Monastery. We feel great respect and honour whenever in the presence of our wonderful teacher and Abbot Ajahn Chandako.
May all beings be free from all forms of suffering.
Auckland Theravada Buddhist Association 3rd April 2019
By David van den Bosch
With my interest in Buddhism growing over the years, I decided to find a monastery where I could stay within the property and learn more on what the Buddhist lifestyle had to offer. I was not disappointed. My search led to Vimutti, a wonderful monastery in the Bombay Hills just south of Auckland. Upon arrival, not exactly knowing what to expect, I was greeted with smiles and warm welcomes by the resident guests. I was offered food and drink and was given a basic explanation of the lifestyle and daily schedule. From those first moments my impression of Vimutti was a location of peace, kindness, and tranquility.
Moments later the abbot, Ajahn Chandako, entered. He took immediate notice of me and greeted me with a big smile and kind words. It was intriguing to witness his movements. With a calm composure and clear awareness Ajahn donned his outer robe, paying full attention to every movement. For every day thereafter it remained a delight to witness this simple action of a man entering a room, folding his robe around him and sitting down. The lack of mental clutter in Ajahn’s mind was palpable, the result of years and years of concentrated effort. It sadly reminded me of the messy thought-processes I’ve had throughout my life yet also instilled hope that with the proper training I could achieve such a state of mind as well.
Within Vimutti the lifestyle suggested to the guests was one of refreshing simplicity. Having no wifi made a big difference. I woke up every day in a beautiful private hut in a pine forest in the back of the 150 acre property. A 15 minute walk through a valley and along a big hill led back to the main hall where we would have our breakfast, do meditation, and discuss the dhamma (teachings) of the Buddha with Ajahn. Where I initially thought to stay two of three weeks turned out to be close to three months.
Everyday I learnt more about the Buddha, the dhamma, and the workings of the monastery (sangha). I felt part of a small family that grew daily as I got to know the people who came to offer food. They are some of the most loving people I’ve ever met. The daily group dialogue with Ajahn was informative, insightful, and humorous. It felt refreshing from some of the religions I grew up in where we are TOLD what to believe rather than to INVESTIGATE our beliefs. Buddhism works for me because in its foundation it is a personal experience in which we train ourselves to investigate ourselves. We reach deep inside and observe all there is to observe, and sometimes just remain in a state of bliss when we realize there is nothing to observe.
Every afternoon Ajahn, myself, and sometimes other guests would do a work period in the monastery grounds. Ajahn and many of his supporters have planted over 10.000 trees over the years, turning a neglected paddock into a gorgeous park with ponds, flowers, and many different trees. During these work periods I usually tried to sneak in some more dhamma questions and Ajahn was always kind enough to provide full answers. The work was a delight as I was contributing to the aesthetics of the grounds, and the humor of Ajahn kept our energies high.
As I became caretaker of the grounds and lived and worked with Ajahn almost every day, I continued to be amazed by his person. Rarely do I meet people who are so educated and wise, evident in his approach to social interactions, sharing meals, and work ethics, among all else. His compassion and selflessness to others serves as an inspiration that I seek to emulate, which I’m able to reinforce through the meditation techniques taught to me by Ajahn. We ended up not only being master and student, but also good friends. For that I am surely grateful.
Vimutti has been an experience I will carry with me wherever I go. It acts as a moral compass that aids me in purifying myself through loving-kindness, virtue, and determination. My advise to anyone interested in Buddhism is to contact Vimutti yourselves and inquire on the possibilities. You will not be disappointed.
David van den Bosch
Gratitude in My Heart
By Dehardt van der Merwe
It only made sense to write this letter with gratitude in my heart and to offer perspective on Vimutti Buddhist Monastery based on the experiences that I’ve had there over the past two months. The reason for first coming to Vimutti was because I was suffering and despite what I and many others imagined me to be, mentally and emotionally resilient, I was completely stressed out and depressed. Me? Depressed? Anyone that knew me wouldn’t
have believed it, yet there I was continuously on the brink of tears with no desire for desires anymore.
Previously I had adopted various different strategies to cover up or numb out the inner dialogue I had been tormenting myself with, quite successfully so I might add. Yet, when the delusions faded and the circumstances changed, everything came crashing down which only resulted in more suffering. I couldn’t see a way forward to be honest and being raised in a Christian home the idea of going to a Buddhist monastery was a far off shot, but it came to me whilst listening to a facebook live broadcast entitled“The problem with the psychedelic revolution”. In the video the speaker suggested that instead of taking acid at parties every weekend while chasing insights perhaps one should go to a monastery to help figure out what it was that may or may not have been glimpsed during these severely altered states. Upon hearing this I thought, ‘seeing as nothing else has worked, let’s give this a go.’ I hopped on Google and after watching a short video about Vimutti on YouTube, my mind was made up.
When I reflect back to my first visit where I was welcomed, fed a beautiful meal and offered some tea, I can’t help but smile. Despite having never met a monk before, I was quite looking forward to speaking with one. You see, I find this amusing because I recognise now that it was then, over a nice cup of tea, that I had a life changing conversation with an Ajahn.
Many more conversations have followed and I have developed a quiet admiration and deep respect for Ajahn Chandako. He has set a good example for me as to what is possible, and the compassion, insights and wisdom that he’s shared when discussing some of my personal challenges has always given me much to think about. I would liken him to the rest of the monastery, very calming in nature. I appreciate the entire monastery environment and have also thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the wider Buddhist community as a whole. I can honestly say that I am grateful for having had the perceived depth of suffering that I thought myself to be having at that time as it’s led me to this.
I find it challenging to relay with words the contrast I recognise within myself from when I first came to Vimutti to now. The distance that I have gained from previously held attachments is phenomenal. I’ve taken up a daily meditation practice, and I find myself as a whole, more…together. Perhaps a better way to express it would be to say that I have started to grow an inner sense of stillness that is slowly seeping into the rest of my world. It all makes a bit more sense to me now, so much so, that those around me have taken note and, as a result, I have recommended Vimutti to several friends and acquaintances.
In closing this letter I’ll choose to borrow Ajahn Chah’s words: “Looking for peace is like looking for a turtle with a mustache, you won’t find one. But when the heart is ready, peace will come.” I want to say thank you to Ajahn Chandako and to every person that has made Vimutti what it is to me, an excellent place to make my heart ready.
Dehardt van der Merwe
9 April 2019