History 1. A Leap of Faith

Ajahn Sucitto provides some background and perspective on another Theravadin monastic residence (vihara), which is taking shape in Italy. Ajahn Thanavaro will return to his native country to take up residence there.

Santacittarama a Sezze

When Ajahn Sumedho returned from a visit to Switzerland and Italy last December, he brought back some news that created a blend of interest and enthusiasm mingled with apprehension – the possible establishment of a vihara in Italy, about 100 Km. south of Rome. Ajahn Thanavaro, then in Italy visiting his parents, would be residing there, at least for a while, as the senior incumbent. Not much else was certain, except the beauty of the situation on the Mediterranean coast, and the commitment of the lay supporters. Such impressions, and the sign they leave in the mind, herald the opening of all viharas and are characteristic of much of Sangha life. The mind perceives a pleasant inspiring image, the looks around for something solid to base it on, and finds … space. So it was with the establishment of Chithurst Monastery in a derelict house miles away from lay supporters, by a handful of inexperienced bhikkhus and a penniless charity. So it was with Harnham – another primitive dwelling and impecunious trust. And likewise with Amaravati – a Buddhist Centre for which we had no previous models – and whose purchase required an enormous bank loan.

And now, with the Sangha feeling rather stretched in covering the duties which have already presented themselves – it looks like there is to be another vihara, dependent largely on one bhikkhu. To redress the situation in spiritual terms, it is time for another leap of faith. The chronology of this venture gives it a sense of inevitability. The supporters can be classified broadly as two groups: a large Sri Lankan community, and a group of experienced Italian Buddhists. The latter include Corrado Pensa and Vincenzo Piga, who have been foremost, respectively, in teaching vipassana meditation and Buddhist Studies in Italy over the past decade. Yet, although Zen, Tibetan and Nichiren monasticism are well established, there is no Theravadin monastic presence in Italy. The late Ven. Dr. Saddhatissa visited Italy quite often, and on learning of this situation, passed on the name of Ven. Thanavaro Bhikkhu, born in Italy, ordained by Dr. Saddhatissa, and living in New Zealand with Ajahn Viradhammo at that time. That was a couple of years ago. Ven. Thanavaro was then fully occupied with the Stokes Valley vihara, but he nevertheless kept an open mind.

Ajahn Thanavaro e Anagarika John nella prima saletta di meditazione a Sezze

Naturally, the situation developed. Ajahn Sumedho, visiting New Zealand in 1989, felt that it was time for Ven. Thanavaro to return to Europe after nearly five years in the Antipodes. It would be a chance for a long overdue visit to his parents, and reconnect to a larger Sangha. But by the time that Ven. Thanavaro actually arrived in Italy, Ajahn Sumedho was also there – having been invited to Rome by the Theravadin community – and a small monastic residence had been prepared in the  hope  that a Sangha might be able to stay. The two bhikkhus were introduced to the community, the residence and the spiritual need, and it was decided that in principle the necessary factors were there for an Italian vihara.  

Continue the history with   “2. Settling in”