Zigzagging along the Paparata Road, in Bombay Hills ranges, you can reach the ‘Nirvan Drive’ at the street number 750. Then, with the spectacle of the milk-white ‘Stupa’ atop the hill, a drive down nearly a kilometre ‘Nirvana Drive’ will take you to a new experience in life, welcomed by Vimutti Monastery.
Auckland Theravada Buddhist Association (ATBA) started the Vimutti Monastery in early 2000 at Paparata in Bombay Hills, a one-hour drive from the busy Auckland city centre. The 144-acre sanctuary for the ‘Buddha community’, once farmland, is now a man-made forest with fast-growing tree canopies sheltering the ponds, streams, and more water features. It is calm, quiet, disturbed only by the chirps of tuis, Korimako and Riroriro, the wind-whisper and rustling of ponga, kowhai and kawakawa leaves.
There is a large stupa at the top of the land, an assembly hall plus a shrine room with Buddha’s statutes and many small huts for the use of the resident monks and the devotees visiting to perform religious activities.
‘The monastery offers seclusion and suitable conditions for those who wish to deepen their meditation, as well as the opportunity for people of all nationalities to join together in harmony and work towards a noble common goal,’ the official monastery website elaborates on having a so large facility in the man-made forest far away from easily accessible city-centres. (https://vimutti.org.nz) ‘once we have physical seclusion such as this, the next step is to attain mental seclusion, seclusion of the mind.’ Luang Por Chah, one of the Thai Ajans, airs the same view.
ATBA, including the monastery, is managed by a board of trustees clustered from all the communities in New Zealand. ‘They come in different communities and become one Buddha community,’ the website says. The monastery works under the guidance of Ven Ajan Chandako. Ven Ajan Chandako was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1990 in the lineage of Venerable Ajahn Chah of the Thai Forest Tradition. Born in 1962 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, his interest in the teachings of the Buddha grew as he studied towards a BA degree in Religious Studies from Carleton College (https://vimutti.org.nz)
What the monastery provides for the ‘Buddha Community’ under the able guidance of Ven. Ajan Chandako is evident from the remarks made on the monastery website by a few who have been closely associated with the Vinutti activities in the recent past.
Dehardt van der Merwe, a young Christian, had once walked into the monastery with a depressed mind. He recollects a saying of Ajan Chandako. ‘Looking for peace in mind is like looking for a turtle with a moustache; you won’t find it. But when the heart is ready, peace will come.’ So, Dehardt’s remarks confirm that his journey from one hemisphere to another, searching for peace in mind, was not in vain.
‘I never once had a suicidal thought while at monastery ’ disclosed another USA youth, Corey Degreenia, who spent five months at Vimutti. Instead, ‘I feel that my community has always been within myself,’ he remarks with gratitude to Ajan for the transformation in his thinking.
The stories of these youth are interesting. They are similar to the accounts of some characters found in Buddhist literature. Depressed, discontent with the status quo, they wander aimlessly, with no grip on life, and end up in sanctuaries. (In Jethawana or Veluwana in Budhdha’s day). Yet, they were inquisitive about life’s worries. The environment at Vimutti helped them comprehend that the problems were within their own self.
Both Simon Puah and Foong were fascinated by the monastery’s atmosphere and volunteered to work for the place and then learn to practice meditation. Faith, piety or devotion to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sanga is the first step in a long journey of a layman towards enlightenment in Buddhism.
Laymen should view the reflections of (then) Anagarika Justin, Anagatrika Sam, and Anagarika Nick with more respect and reverence.
‘I ordained as an Anagarika for many reasons. Some are easy to put into words, but most are not.’ Anagarika Justin, an ex USA science teacher, gives a vivid account of his inner struggle to release the mind from the ‘past memories and future possibilities.’ But once these issues are addressed, he says, ‘Justin disappears,’ and the clarity in mind appears, transforming gradually into stillness in mind. He means that the detachment from ‘self’ (sakkaya ditti) is a massive step forward on the path of purification in Buddha’s way.
Anagarika Sam Gibb, a New Zealander, who had practised ‘Zen’ in Taiwan earlier, explains how he was inspired by the monastic life and the wisdom in its path.
‘The purpose of coming to stay at a Buddhist monastery is to purify the mind. It is not designed to be a pleasure resort but to confront our fears, desires and attachments.’ Anagarika Nick, remembers the words of Ajan Chandako in his pursuit of the Buddha’s way. ( https://vimutti.org.nz/vimutti-2/) He was ‘robotically reacting to the dictates of the mind,’ and gradually been trained to understand the blind spots that caused worldly attachments. ‘I am then equipped with the means to initiate the process of letting go in favour of superordinate goals,’ the MA graduate from Palmerston North further reckoned his monastery experiences.
Since twenty, he had been interested in following the path laid down by Buddha. But, until he reached the monastery, it was an ending in a ‘Dantean dark wood of error,’ the literary scholar remembers with his somewhat humourous scholarly dictum. (Hint-‘…Dante woke up to find himself in a dark wood. … he had wandered from the correct path little by little, not realizing that it was the path of error…’ excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy.)
‘I look forward to the future with wholesome aspirations in mind,’ he, who was ordained in 2020, recollects the success after being in the monastery for a considerable amount of time.
‘Vimuthti’ sanctuary for Buddha’s community did not miraculously spring a day but was made by the untiring effort of the committee members and the devotees, under the guidance of Ven. Ajan Chandako.
Monks’ life at the monastery is simple, one meal a day, a sleeping mat with a mosquito net in a hut. Besides looking after their daily needs, the ATBA does a considerable amount of work, including teaching Dhamma, conducting meditation workshops and retreats, providing accommodations, food, books and other facilities to the devotees. The process involves a vast amount of resources, and it does this solely from the generous donations of devotees. The details on how anyone can be a part of this worthy course are given on its website.
(The names of the committee members, the driving force behind this tremendous work, are deliberately omitted here as one member strongly objected to our publishing his name on the public media.)