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Temple monks seek peace during pandemic

  • The monks of the Temple Forest Monastery conduct a meal blessing before their daily meal. The monastery has been holding daily meal offerings outdoors in an effort to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The monks of the Temple Forest Monastery conduct a meal blessing before their daily meal. The monastery has been holding daily meal offerings outdoors in an effort to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The monks of the Temple Forest Monastery conduct a meal blessing before their daily meal. The monastery has been holding daily meal offerings outdoors in an effort to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The monks of the Temple Forest Monastery conduct a meal blessing before their daily meal, attended by guests and laypeople. The monastery has been holding daily meal offerings outdoors in an effort to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The Temple Forest Monastery has seen some changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton

  • The monks of the Temple Forest Monastery conduct a meal blessing before their daily meal. The monastery has been holding daily meal offerings outdoors in an effort to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • A quote from Ajahn Sumedho, an abbot influential to the practice at the Temple Forest Monastery is prominently displayed on the monastery’s grounds. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The grounds of the Temple Forest Monastery. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The grounds of the Temple Forest Monastery. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • A statue of the Buddha at the Temple Forest Monastery’s sima, a dedicated area for special ceremonies, including monk ordinations. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The monks of the Temple Forest Monastery conduct a meal blessing before their daily meal. The monastery has been holding daily meal offerings outdoors in an effort to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The grounds of the Temple Forest Monastery, which was established in 2015 (2558 in the Buddhist calendar).  Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The Temple Forest Monastery’s sima is delineated by granite boulders. It serves as a dedicated area for special ceremonies including monk ordinations. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/29/2020 4:30:17 PM

At a time when many peoples’ lives may feel monastic in their isolation and simplicity, how are things with the actual Buddhist monks living at the Temple Forest Monastery?

Pretty well, all things considered.

“We kind of have a lifestyle where we’re normally socially distancing,” Ajahn Jayanto said, and the site’s 12 resident Buddhist monks haven’t had to change much about their lifestyle to follow the CDC guidelines for houses of worship, but the pandemic has curtailed their ability to engage with the greater community. Jayanto functions as the abbott of the monastic community. Ajahn is a term that translates to “teacher” in Thai.

The Temple Forest Monastery promotes the Thai forest branch of Theravada Buddhism. The practice promotes a “back to the roots meditation style,” Jayanto said. The monks eat one daily meal, after which they retreat to the forest cabins where they live. Before the pandemic, you may have seen them making weekly alms rounds in Peterborough and Milford in their distinctive orange robes. The monks follow rules of conduct that forbid handling money, and they rely on the surrounding community for the food and materials they need to survive, Jayanto said. In lieu of alms rounds, donors have been delivering or mailing provisions to the monastery during the pandemic. “The Amazon and UPS drivers, Fed Ex, they know us very well,” he said. The monastery’s typical donors are practicing Buddhists, but local neighbors have been known to drop off some fresh tomatoes or a jar of maple syrup. “We’ve felt quite welcomed by the local community,” he said.

The monks were alone on the grounds when COVID-19 hit the region, in a traditional retreat lasting January through March, Jayanto said. At other times of the year, guests would have been coming through and staying overnight. The monastery is allowed to remain open to the public under the state’s guidance for houses of worship, but meditation workshops and short-term visits are suspended for the time being. The six guests currently at the monastery are committed to stays of several months, Jayanto said.

The pandemic also prompted modifications to the monastery’s daily community meal. Now, members of the lay community sit under an airy tent while the monks, wearing masks, conduct a meal blessing and serve themselves from an outdoor spread, after which the laypeople, who might include regular visitors, food donors, and first timers can serve themselves and sit out on the grounds. The system seems to be working well, but they also haven’t had a rainstorm during the event yet, Jayanto said. Panom Voravittayathorn and his wife, who own Keene’s Thai Garden, have been delivering a precooked meal every Thursday for the past five years.

Outreach is unfortunately limited right now, Jayanto said. Other monasteries have been livestreaming meditations for others to see, but the internet service at the Derbyshire Road base is too slow for that to be an option, he said. Prior to the pandemic, the monastery would see up to 20 people at a weekend meal offering and at their Saturday night services, and between 15 and 35 people at meditation workshops. Eventually, Jayanto said he hopes the monastery can resume funerals for community members when the time is right, as well as meditation workshops.

The monastery was founded five years ago and they feel “quite rooted” in the space now, Jayanto said. They’ve made strong connections with American and Thai Buddhists, and non-Buddhists, and maintain a sima, a dedicated area where one or two monks are ordained every year. The Temple Mountain Buddhist Meditation Center on Route 101 is a separate entity that predates the Temple Forest Monastery by three or four years, Jayanto said. It’s a “total coincidence” that two different Buddhist monasteries set up in the auspiciously-named Temple Mountain region, he said. 

The monks see their lifestyle as an offering to the rest of the world, Jayanto said. They are less interested in whether visitors consider themselves Buddhist, and more interested in practicing loving-kindness over hatred and judgment, and honesty over deception.

“In Buddhism, we’re encouraged to reflect on uncertainty, the truth of impermanence, use the reflection on the inevitability of death as a support for remembering what’s important now,” Jayanto said, extra relevant subject matter during the pandemic. “We just wish everyone well. We feel quite fortunate to be in this situation where we’re able to continue to engage with our own lives, we know that’s not the case for many. Hopefully, with everything that’s difficult or bad, often there’s a silver lining,” he said.

For one, it provides a rare occasion for people to stop and reflect on their lives, and to meditate or engage in spiritual contemplation – a practice that’s always supported at the monastery. 




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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