How did the Gauthama Buddha greet others

The Buddhist monastery Dhammapala stands on the edge of the forest in Kandersteg. Photos: Urs Häfliger

The tradition of Buddhism goes back to the sixth or fifth century BC. Siddhartha Gautama taught as Buddha (dt. The awakened) the Dharma (dt. The doctrine) and is considered the founder of the Buddhist faith. The fourth largest religion on earth after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism is preferably practiced in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and parts of Vietnam and China, specifically Taiwan.

It took a while for Buddhism to gain a foothold in the West. A monastery was founded in Rikon in the 1960s. This is the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The Theravada tradition came to Switzerland from England in 1988. The first monastery was built in a residential building in Konolfingen. In the long term, however, the urban environment was unsuitable for a contemplative way of life. They were looking for a new place where they could build a monastery - and found it in the former Regina Hotel on the edge of the forest in Kandersteg. In 1991 the premises could be occupied.

The former Regina Hotel on the edge of the forest has been a monastery for 27 years.
A statue of Buddha greets visitors to the monastery.
Visiting the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara

Ajahn Khemasiri joined them two years later. The 67-year-old German now heads the monastery, which is located in the avalanche danger zone of Kandersteg. The name, which means something like "teacher" (Ajahn) and "radiant inner security" (Khemasiri), he received when he was accepted into the order. Before that happened, he first had to find Buddhism. "Although I had contact with the Catholic faith at a young age, I did not understand it," says Ajahn Khemasiri. He had questions the Bible couldn't answer.

This was the case even before puberty. During biological adulthood, he no longer dealt with it, the questions only came up later. Ajahn Khemasiri came into contact with the Tibetan form of Buddhism for the first time in his 20s: "But that was too complex and strange for me," he explains. In Scotland, Ajahn Khemasiri wanted to find out from a monk whether it was up to him. On the way there, he visited a friend in London and stayed there in the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara, a monastery complex where he met his future teacher Ajahn Sumedho, among others. “I was very impressed by the way this monk taught. I realized that I could do something with it because it also addressed things from my life. "

Ajahn Khemasiri heads the monastery - but only until October 28th.
Make nails with heads

Ajahn Khemasiri still went to Scotland. The trip had brought him a lot, but he did not want to turn to Tibetan Buddhism afterwards. He had already bitten before and shortly afterwards went to a meditation class in Oxford: “That was a revelation for me. I have had very personal experiences and experienced the calm mind, ”he describes.

That was 1978. Until 1980 he attended other meditation courses. Then he moved to England with his girlfriend at the time. They lived together near the monastery: "The idea of ​​becoming a monk didn't exist then." That only came three years later. The relationship broke up, and Ajahn Khemasiri considered what to do now: "I then asked myself: 'Do you want to nail your head or do you want to start the game from scratch?'"

He nailed it and became a postulant. For a year he did things that Buddhist monks are not allowed to do due to the rules of the order: "Money matters, cooking, driving and other tasks," says Ajahn Khemasiri. It can be seen as a service, but later also help to be accepted into the order. This then happened. After five years of basic monastic training, which he spent in various English monasteries, he began teaching. So after ten years as a monk he finally became Ajahn Khemasiri.

After that he will go away for a while. 22 of 27 years he was part of the monastery in Kandersteg.
There is a gong in the stairwell of the former hotel.
No proselytizing

In Dhammapala, the Theravada tradition - the school of the elders and thus of the first monks to spread the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama - is taught. It is one of many currents that exist in Buddhism. The different forms are culturally colored and therefore very different. Theravada is practiced in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and looks different everywhere. “In Thailand there are often small spirit houses that can be found in front of petrol stations or hotels. These are age-old animistic traditions that have continued into modern times. If you look behind such traditions, you can still discover the essence of Buddhism. " The topics that are discussed in the Kandersteg monastery depend on the type of course. So it's about Buddhism itself, that is, about practice and theory. However, personal issues can also arise, such as coping with grief, issues relating to loss or the stagnation of one's own meditation.

People in the Bernese Oberland community seem to be accepted: "We have been here for a relatively long time now, and we had many contacts at various levels with people from the community," says Ajahn Khemasiri. But: “There is certainly a fear of the threshold, a great reluctance. Nevertheless: We have a good level of acceptance, I keep hearing positive feedback. " Missioning is not an issue, because in the image of a monk, that is, in the rules that a monk has to follow, it is stated that one speaks about Buddhism only when invited: “When I go hiking and I am spoken to, I do not speak about them at first Religion, but only on request, ”explains Ajahn Khemasiri.

The residents of the Buddhist monastery can find their inner center in the meditation room.
Departure and return to Kandersteg

The next big festival, the Kathina celebration as the festival of the end of the rainy season on October 28th, will, however, bring about a turning point in the monastery. "I have been the sole director of the monastery for 13 years now and have now decided to step back from administrative tasks." Ajahn Khemasiri will have lived in Kandersteg for a total of 22 years with interruptions. He just wants to be a monk again for a certain time: “I will live in other monasteries, first in Italy for around six months and then another two months in Norway. After that I have to stay in a monastery for three months, like during the rainy season in Thailand. Where this will be is not yet clear. It's nice that way after my life has been very pre-defined for the past 18 years. "

Ajahn Abhinando will take over for him. He is already in the monastery and is familiarizing himself with his future tasks. That is a good thing, because after all, Dhammapala is not dependent on a person and can continue to exist without him, says Ajahn Khemasiri. In the longer term, however, he intends to return to Kandersteg. But: "I will certainly not return to the well-known role within the community, but would prefer a place in the background of the monastery context." A role he deserved at the age of 67 for what he did in the Buddhist monastery in Kandersteg.