Dhamma in a Foreign Land

Since 1997 Venerable U Silananda and I have been involved in the founding of a Theravada Buddhist monastery in Mexico. That monastery, the Dhamma Vihara, was opened on January 30, 1999. At the beginning we had to focus almost all our energy and resources on establishing the monastery. Today, three years later, we are glad to announce that we are starting to see the fruits of our endeavors. The new monastery has begun offering the Buddha’s Teachings to the people of Mexico.

I spent the 1999 vassa (rains retreat) in the Dhamma Vihara. Here is an account of what happened. At the beginning of August, when we arrived, the rainy season was already under way. The heavy rains forced our attention on improving the drainage system and fixing various leaks.
The gutter under the eaves for draining rainwater had not been properly installed. Because of that a large amount of water accumulated in the back gallery near the meditation hall. Before long we had this problem solved and could feel safe that the water would not flood the lower level of the house. Despite the rains, we had a good number of visitors coming to the monastery. During the first weekend we had a full house and had to accommodate some of the people in the dining room and the library.

The daily activities at the Dhamma Vihara start at 4:30 a.m. with chanting and meditation. The chanting, which is in Pali, includes the Three Refuges, the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, and loving-kindness. The morning service ends at 5:30 a.m. At the end of the day, from 8 to 9 p.m., there is sitting meditation. Every one at the monastery must attend both the morning service and the evening meditation. At the end of the evening meditation there is a ceremony for the sharing of merits. Breakfast is served at 6:00 a.m. and lunch at 11:00 a.m. We encourage the lay people who stay at the monastery, both visitors and residents, to observe eight precepts. For those who want to do intensive meditation, two more one-hour meditation periods starting at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. are provided.

Since the Dhamma Vihara is a new monastery, there is never a lack of things to do. In fact, there are lots of improvements to be made. This may
keep some people busy enough not to do meditation, but it is a very meritorious deed for them. Among the many things that we accomplished during the past rains retreat was the remodeling of the upper level, the monk’s quarters and the library. Now, we have a fully functional library and
three small rooms for monks. Improvements were done to the bathrooms and the water supply. A small two-room cabin has been added. All these improvements and additions have enhanced the monastery’s capacity to receive visitors. Visitors can now comfortably stay in the monastery while they learn and practice the Buddha’s Teachings. We hope that in the near future we will be able to further expand our facilities to offer the Dhamma to more people in Mexico.

In October 1999, we offered our first weekend retreat. More than twenty people attended. The topic of the Dhamma talk was the “Four Noble Truths”. We distributed copies of the Buddha’s first discourse. The participants read and commented it. We also had a regular number of yogis who come to do self-retreats and service to the monastery. The last Saturday of the month there is a Dhamma talk open to the public. Also we are planning to hold workshops for children and introductory courses on Theravada Buddhism and Abhidhamma.

Venerable U Silananda arrived the last week of January 2000 to give a retreat and celebrate the first anniversary of the Dhamma Vihara. The retreat was a success. About twenty five people attended Sayadaw’s retreat. The subject of the Dhamma talk was how to practice vipassana meditation according to the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (The Great Discourse on the Foundation of Mindfulness). It was an intensive retreat consisting of alternate periods of sitting and walking meditation. The retreat began early in the morning with the practice of forgiveness, loving-kindness and taking the eight precepts. After the retreat some of the participants said that they wished it had lasted longer. After the retreat Venerable U Silananda returned to Mexico City for further activities.

Now as we stand in the present we can look back and forward in time. Three years ago when we started this project there was nothing we could
look back. Today we could look back and rejoice at all that has been done — right now it is possible to practice and learn Theravada Buddhism in
Mexico in the Dhamma Vihara. Also we could look into the future, and we should, because there are still a lot of things to be done to make the Dhamma more easily available in that country. And the new Board of Directors of Centro Mexicano del Buddhismo Theravada (CMBT) is working to achieve this goal. We believe there should be more rooms and cabins for meditators at the Dhamma Vihara and a larger and more functional kitchen located in a separate building. The Dhamma Vihara should have space to accommodate comfortably at least twenty yogis. CMBT also plans to have its own center in Mexico City, which is one of the largest cities in the world — the figures for 1995 indicate that it occupies the fourth place after Tokyo (Japan), Sao Paulo (Brazil) and New York (USA). We believe that a center in Mexico City will give us the
opportunity to reach out to more people who may be interested and can benefit from the practice of meditation.

The Dhamma Vihara is located on the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental near the city of Jalapa in the State of Veracruz. It is a 5 hour trip from Mexico City – a scenic drive through mountains with snow-capped volcanoes, arid plains and pine forests. The trip itself is a relief from the highly contaminated air and over-crowding of Mexico City. As the car starts climbing the mountains toward Puebla you can see below the dense air covering the huge valley of Mexico. And arriving and staying in the Dhamma Vihara for a while, even for a weekend, may even relieve you from the stress and anxiety of modern life. In this materialistic world it is said that ‘time is money’, but after spending a weekend in the Dhamma Vihara you may conclude that ‘time is well-being’. So it is worthwhile to pay a visit to this Theravada monastery. The monastery building has two levels. The first level has four rooms for lay people, two complete bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining room and meditation room. The second level has three small rooms for monks, two bathrooms and a library. Nearby there is a cabin with two rooms and a bathroom. There is electricity and running water. Currently we are using a cellular phone since there is no phone line in that remote area. The climate is mild throughout the year with abundant rains from June to October. If you decide to visit us you may contact us by e-mail (correo@cmbt.org). Also you may get detailed information in our web
pages (http://www.cmbt.org).