As we bring 2009 to a close, we wish for the wisdom of Dhamma to guide you and for your wholesome desires to bear fruit in the coming year. The past year found us hard at work at Liberation Park, with good friends accompanying us and the natural beauty and cycles of the land continuing to awe us.
Throughout the summer, young friends Joe Orso and Adrianne Klug blessed Liberation Park with their company, creativity, curiosity, and friendship. With them, we built a semi-permanent platform for the tipi, which they made into a cozy summer home. They spent a good deal of time and labor digging and working new beds in the garden, building fences, generally being helpful, and keeping us inspired with their thoughtful questions and musings. Although they split their time between LP and La Crosse (where they had part-time jobs), this was a good trial run towards having people reside on the land full-time. We couldn't have been happier with the results and were encouraged and delighted by this impressive young couple. Both have retired to La Crosse now as they ponder their next step. Adrianne will be returning to Nepal for much of the winter and spring months to continue her work on sustainable food systems in a village there, while Joe continues his work at the Franciscan Spirituality Center developing a community re-entry program for those transitioning out of incarceration.
Carlo Giombi from Marquette University is another new young friend, who graced Liberation Park for the month of June. With his sunny, kind demeanor, and wonderful problem solving skills how do you keep rain out of a tipi? we felt lucky to have him around. Later in the summer, he returned with two equally appreciated college buddies.
Each of these youngsters has inspired us with their deep commitments to both spiritual practice and social justice. The common denominator we found in each of them is their ability to look unflinchingly at the heart stopping array of problems facing people on earth at this moment in time, and to choose a path of sensitive and productive engagement with the conundrums they find. We're heartened to see a generation of wise, compassionate, brave people coming to maturity at a time when the world needs them so much.
The first and main cabin was the primary building project of 2009. We expanded the foundation of the cabin to support a kitchen and bathroom after realizing it will be some time before we can afford to build the full public kitchen & utility building we've envisioned. Both kitchen & bathroom will have entrances from the outside for ease of use by retreatants. On Sept 1st, we started on the walls, followed by roofing and windows. Thanks to generous volunteer help as well as two highly skilled Amish carpenters, we were able to seal it with a good metal roof just before Santikaro left on his annual trip to Siam. Now we are saving up funds for the septic system and interior. Btw, the trip was also a pleasant success.
Jo Marie and many helpers erected, repaired and replaced thousands of feet of fence this summer and fall for the safety of horses and visitors. Over time we'll also replace portions of the boundary fence with a more visually appealing as well as safe-for-wildlife alternative to the existing barbed wire.
The shed and cook tent have been outfitted with a refrigerator and propane stove, respectively, so that guests can feed themselves more easily. This came in handy with the increased number of guests and on work weekends.
With the tipi, tent cabins, and simple cooking facilities, we can now accommodate 4 or 5 people at a time, more if folks bring their own tents. Our vision of a simple, rustic environment for independent study-practice is maturing.
It will take time to replenish our savings, and the septic field will be a major expense that we must hire out, so we don't plan to do much building in 2010. Instead, we will put more work into the garden, continue building fences, and implement some of the ecological restoration we've been planning. We'll also work on the interior of the cabin with hopes of making it habitable by the fall (though probably sans running water).
Santikaro will continue teaching in the Chicago area in 2010. Insight Chicago will host a series of Saturday study workshops in odd numbered months and the long running Oak Park group continues on Sundays. He will co-teach a 9-day retreat with Leigh Brasington. In Wisconsin, he hopes to be making regular visits to Milwaukee, Viroqua, and La Crosse. Please see our web calendar for monthly details.
Finally, we hope to have more time this year to connect with local like-minded individuals and groups. Joe Orso is also a part time journalist and he makes it his business to seek out and interview local people doing good work in the areas of sustainability & spiritual practice. Through him we've become more aware of the wide array of creative energies and projects unfolding in this part of the Midwest. We find ourselves newly grateful whenever we remember this, and hope to offer our energies in collaboration as our lives and work unfold here.
Western Theravada circles were shaken up recently by reactions against the ordination of four women as bhikkhunis at Wat Bodhinyana near Perth, Australia. You may have heard that Ajahn Brahm, the Abbot there, was 'excommunicated' from the Wat Pah Pong system for his participation in the ordinations. Uproar followed in the Western lay community, as well as defensive posturing by traditionalist monks, Western and Thai alike.
We are thrilled to see the issue of gender inequality within Buddhist monasticism finally opened to public scrutiny and discussion, although we feel much ambivalence about the value of full ordination for women or men in a system which is foundationally dependent on the violence of patriarchy. We are dismayed, but not surprised, at the failure of the traditional monastic system to use this opportunity to examine the ways in which it has failed women historically and continues to do so today. A golden opportunity for reform and making of amends has instead been used to shore up defenses and continue in a senseless practice of oppression that we feel undermines sincere efforts at awakening, including for the monks themselves.
Let us hope that the conversation instigated by events this year will not die away quietly, but will result in a new era in Theravāda Buddhism one in which women and men are equally free to fully develop their potential for awakening in environments liberated from the ignorance of oppression. We hope that Liberation Park can offer one such environment a modern expression of a Dhamma-filled life without the worn out distinctions between monastic and lay, men and women. As this topic deserves much longer treatment, please watch the website and this news list for a statement forthcoming.
We welcome visitors at most times of the year, and offer Liberation Park's lovely environs for your contemplative practice. As always, accommodations are rustic, but peaceful, rich, and inspiring. We hope you can visit for a short or longer time to study, rest, hone your practice of awakening, work in & with nature’s bounty, and enjoy the camaraderie of spiritual friends.
In Dhamma, With Metta,
Santikaro & Jo Marie
Santikaro has been keeping a Blog of cabin progress and other events.
To view more photos.