The Path to No Path


Amaravati is a Theravadan Buddhist monastery near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England. It was founded in the 1980's by Western monks who had lived in Thailand with Ajahn Chah, a highly venerated monk from the long-revered tradition of the Thai forest monks.

I had the privilege of living there, and in related monasteries, for a few years starting in the spring of 1994 at about the time that work started on building the temple, and left in the summer of 1999, not long after the temple's formal opening.

The original buildings were a residential school, with grounds covering about six acres on top of a hill 500 feet, or 150 metres, high. When fuel prices surged in the 1970's, the cost of heating the old uninsulated wooden buildings became so high that the school had to be closed.

Meanwhile in northern Thailand, a highly venerated monk, Ajahn Chah, was the abbot of a monastery run according to the tradition of the Thai forest monks. A few Westerners had managed to reach this then remote place, and had become monks.

Eventually, Ajahn Chah decided to send some of these monks back to the West to continue the tradition there. These monks stayed for some time in London, before finding a suitable large house in Chithurst, a village on the North Downs in southern England.

It became apparent that larger premises were required. The monks wanted a retreat centre for lay people, and there were women who wished to live as nuns. This was not possible at Chithurst, and larger premises were sought.

The now empty school was ideal for their requirements, and was available at a bargain price, no-one being prepared to contemplate the heating bills. To the monks, heating was a luxury they would manage without.

That winter turned out to be the coldest in Britain for many decades. One night, a monk was sleeping inside two sleeping bags on the wooden floor of his room, and was awoken by a pipe bursting and spraying him with water. He hurried to turn off the water, and returned to his sleeping bags, to find them frozen to the floor. Some ten years later, when I went to live there, there was still no heating in the living areas.

More to come about this, later...



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