History 8. The Heart in the right place

The newsletter for October 1997 announces our imminent transfer to the newly acquired property in Poggio Nativo:

“Dear friends,

after more than 7½ years in Sezze Romano, Santacittarama is relocating to its lovely new setting among the Sabina hills, in the province of Rieti. By the time you read this we may have moved already – we expect to be settling in by November. Naturally, any major change arouses a mixture of feelings in the heart. Sadness, on the one hand, to be leaving Sezze, where we have developed many friendships and received much warmth and kindness. On the other hand, there is the excitement and uncertainty of entering the unknown of a new beginning.

The property transfer was signed on the day before the departure of the Thai ambassador and his wife, to whom we are most indebted for the success of this project. We send them our very best wishes for a peaceful retirement. To the staff of the Royal Thai Embassy, who have worked so hard, and to all those who have offered their support, from as far afield as Switzerland, Thailand and Australia, we express our grateful appreciation.”


Entrance to the new monastery

Ajahn Chandapalo actually moved to the new monastery on 31st October and for a few weeks the sangha inhabited both properties, until most of the contents had been transferred. We tend to accumulate an amazing amount of stuff over the years, and this is especially true in monasteries where, apart from the usual household furnishings, there are objects such as Buddha images, some weighing hundreds of kilograms. It would have been much more difficult if not for the help of a young Thai woman from Florence, who would borrow her husband’s truck for the weekend. She would drive all the way to Sezze – a distance of nearly 400 Km – where we would load up the truck, which she would then drive to Poggio Nativo to unload and then drive back home. This was repeated five times! We even managed to dismantle the two kutis that were in the garden in Sezze, transport them by truck and then reassemble in woodland of the new monastery.

First dana at the new monastery

The Forest Sangha Newsletter of April 1998 reports:

“The monastery land is delightful and we are still exploring it. At one end of the property there is a group of three caves, two of which are high enough to stand up in and perhaps 8-10 metres deep. A discreet path then runs along the stream through the predominantly oak woodland about half a kilometre to the ruin near the other end of the property. There is a hidden ruin among the trees which was said to have been a staging post for changing horses when the old ‘salt road’ (via Salaria) passed nearby. They probably kept the horses below and the people stayed upstairs. It is a very attractive and secluded spot with trees growing in, through, and out of the stone walls. We think it would make a very nice ‘meditation garden’, with the sun filtering through in the winter, and the trees providing a pleasant shade in the summer.

A monk in one of the ruins

It is possible to continue walking beyond our property until reaching the road that leads to the small town of Poggio Nativo, or to a derelict cemetery, where one can easily peer into abandoned tombs to see human skeletons. What more could a forest monastery ask for – trees, caves, and a nearby abandoned cemetery! …”

Caves on the property

Our newsletter of April 1998 relates the process of settling in:

Santacittarama – the “Garden of the Serene Heart” – has finally found its rightful home near the geographical centre of Italy – Rieti’s claim to fame. Since arriving here last November the “forest sangha” has been feeling nearer to it’s traditional roots in this quiet countryside setting. In fact, as spring puts in a rather tentative appearance, the sangha is already blossoming, having more than doubled its size in the last few months to a community of seven – four monks, two anagarikas and a nun.

Abandoned cemetery with Poggio Nativo in the background

After all the hard work of moving and settling-in, it was a great relief to slow down over the Christmas period, and to spend most of January in the silent composure of a monastic retreat. Living very simply, sitting, walking, mindfully appreciating the natural surroundings, one gradually began to relax and become accustomed to what still felt not quite real. From the joyful space of being silently present, there arose a profound sense of gratitude for all those who have helped to make what for several years seemed like a remote dream finally come true.

The stream at the edge of the property

Our lay visitors have also invariably expressed delight and enthusiasm for the new monastery. During our brief stay here there have already been visitors from as far afield as Sicily and Switzerland – distance need be no obstacle for those who have determination! One morning in early March around 70 Thai people arrived, having travelled all night from Switzerland on a double decker bus, to perform a traditional offering ceremony in their usual devoted and joyous manner, before setting off on the thousand kilometre return journey just after dawn of the following day. We were also greatly honoured by the presence of Ajahn Sumedho who, despite being in the middle of leading a retreat at Amaravati, came especially for this event. With Ajahn Vajiro, abbot of Bodhinyanarama Monastery in New Zealand, and Ajahn Samvaro, assistant abbot of the International Monastery in Thailand, arriving around the same time, it became a kind of unofficial inauguration. The new Thai Ambassador, his family and diplomatic staff, and many of our friends of various nationalities also participated, filling out the new tent that was completed just in time. Later on, while our Thai guests were visiting Rome, Ajahn Sumedho offered some useful Dhamma reflections for the remaining Italians, and was very ably translated by Corrado Pensa.

Geshe Gedun Tharchin and Corrado Pensa, among first visitors

Relations with our neighbours have got off to an auspicious start. Seeing our need for assistance as we desperately tried to extricate a friend’s truck from the mud, on the first transport run from Sezze, the local farmer kindly volunteered his tractor to tow it to safe ground, and since then regularly drops by with offerings of his own organic farm and his wife’s homemade biscuits. That the first local person we meet should come forth in such a generous manner was an uplifting experience for all of us. The local officials have been very helpful and friendly. A confusing situation of having the monastery within the territory of Poggio Nativo, yet with the access road in Frasso Sabino, meant having to present ourselves at both comune.

The lack of a suitable meeting hall has been temporarily resolved by erecting a large tent, which should be strong and resistant enough to last a number of years. Until such a day as there is the permission and funds available to consider constructing a custom-built Dhamma hall, this tent should suffice for large gatherings, especially in the warmer months. At Easter it will be full of people celebrating Thai New Year, as this time the two holidays happen to coincide. Thais will be converging from far and wide in all directions to bring offerings, ask forgiveness, receive blessings and be sprinkled with holy water! Only a month later we will be celebrating the birth, enlightenment and passing-away of the Buddha; this year the actual full-moon day of Vesak, according to the Thai calender, falls on a Sunday.

Preparing the site for a tent

From the “Garden of the Serene Heart”, this new forest monastery at the centre of Italy, we send forth metta and best wishes to all beings.