NOTATIONS: ‘Tick-tick-tick …’

The quarter-century-old notation in the guestbook of a Buddhist monastery’s cabin in the West Virginia hills remains true as ever.

My dear friend and fellow long-haul monastery traveler, Patrick Hamilton, long ago added a lovely ‘kuti’ (coo-tee), a residence and retreat cabin, to the grounds of the Bhavana Society Theravada Buddhist forest monastery and retreat center, in the eastern West Virginia hills. When not visiting and staying there himself, the kuti—like the many other ones dotting the property—is open to visitors and retreatants.

Patrick keeps a guestbook for notations from those who have passed the night in ‘Sivali Kuti.’ (Or nights, if you have come for Bhavana’s usual three-day or ten-day retreats). Some years ago, he sent me images of some of my own scribbled notes left in the guestbook through the years. Here is an illustrated one left behind after one chilly-outside, yet warm-inside retreat. The kuti’s wood-burning stove was very welcome during that February stay! Plus, the message remains true as ever. (You can see messages left by others in this part of the guestbook from ink bleeding through from the other side.).

The way to ‘Sivali’ kuti on the grounds of the Bhavana Society Buddhist monastery and retreat center in West Virginia. | photo | march2022

The time that I drew on the tick-tock clock is not insignificant. Morning meditation for most retreats begins in the meditation hall at 5 a.m. So, heavy sleepers—best set that alarm! And if it is a wintertime retreat, bundle up for the cold trundle through the woods and down the winding path to the main building. And maybe get there in time for a warming cup of tea or coffee in the Sangha Hall, before the hour-long meditation which begins your monastery day.

PS: ‘Metta‘ is a Pali Buddhist word, signifying loving-kindness—or in Bhavana abbot Bhante Gunaratana’s favored translation, ‘loving-friendliness.’

And ‘Sivali‘ is Patrick’s Dhamma name—’Dhamma’ is the Pali version of ‘Dharma,’ the more familiar-to-Western-ears Sanskrit word. The word signifies the Buddha’s teachings (although it also has other connotations) and comes from Pali, the language in which the teachings of the Buddha, orally transmitted for a long, long while, were first set down in written form. Lay folk who have decided to become more serious about Buddhist practice may be given a ‘Dhamma name,’ after a certain amount of retreating. It is a goad and an encouragement to deepen one’s practice of meditation and mindfulness, and to pursue a deeper dive into the Buddha’s teachings.

Patrick notes that Bhavana founding abbot, Bhante Gunaratana (known around the globe as ‘Bhante G’), chose his Dhamma name “in honor of my wife and I cooking for a retreat sometime in the late 1980s.” Bhante G went on to note that Buddha’s cousin of the same name “always made sure the people were fed and cared for, adding ‘So very like you’ …”

PSS: After one retreat, Bhante G gave me my own Dhamma name of ‘Dhammika,’ or one who seeks to follow the Dhamma. ~ Douglas John Imbrogno


Buddhist daily life in backwoods West Virginia: March 13, 2022: A picture show and video of an unexpected place in the West Virginia woods. In the face of often overwhelming challenges of daily life, and horrors like the current attempted mugging of Ukraine, places that strengthen the spirit such as the Bhavana Society Buddhist forest monastery deep in West Virginia’s hills remain vital.

READINGS: “THE OUTHOUSE: When you have to go, you have to go”: October 29, 2022: Over there sits a narrow, tiny, upright building of loosely-fitted, weathered boards painted Theravada Buddhist orange. It has a peaked roof covered with black shingles. It is a monk’s outhouse in the Appalachian hills. I know who built it. He’s a friend of mine.

5 QUESTIONS: Bhante G on meditating via ZOOM, daily mindfulness and facing death: April 17, 2021″ It is perhaps not as well known as it should be that a much-beloved, 93-year-old global figure in Buddhism has called West Virginia home since 1985. We check in with him on ZOOM meditating and more.

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