Today I returned from Abhayagiri and will be headed to Los Angeles shortly. There is a lot to write about so I will try to do so in small chunks in the coming days so as to not create one large post.
A lot of people are curious what life as a lay-person is like at the monastery so I will try to describe a typical day of what life was like as a lay-person at the monastery.
Most mornings I would wake up sometime between 3 and 4:30am (depending on various factors), get dressed and do some personal meditation if there was time. I then would get to the main hall at around 5am and where the entire monastic community and other lay residents and guests would gather. We would do about 20 minutes of chanting followed by meditation until 6:30am. I would do a small chore that was assigned to me (namely, cleaning the men's bathroom near the main hall) until 7am.
At 7am we had a light breakfast consisting of oatmeal and tea or coffee. After breakfast, we would have a work meeting with the monks and other lay people to determine the work that day. Because monks cannot handle or prepare their own food, the lay people (or Anagarikas) would prepare the main meal for the day. Other lay supporters would work with the monks to help work on various projects around the monastery (about 300 acres or so to take care of!).
The bell would ring around 11am which would signify lunch. All the dishes and drinks for the meal would be laid out on tables and then lay people would "offer" the dishes to the monks. I'll describe the main meal in more detail in a later post, but just briefly, lay people offered to 2-3 monks who would then just "acknowledge" the offer by pressing down the dish that the dish was received. Once this was done, all the food would on those tables would then be understood as received and then could be handled by the other monks. Once this process was completed, all the monks would file in a single line, by seniority, place food into their bowls, and then would return to the main hall. Once all the monks, Anagarikas and lay people are in the hall, they provide a blessing chant in Pali and then would recite an observation chant.
After the chanting, the lay people would leave the hall and enjoy themselves to whatever is left (which is was almost always *a lot* of very fantastic food). After the meal, the Anagarikas and lay people (and sometimes 1 or 2 monks) would clean up the kitchen which would usually last until 1 or 1:30pm.
The time between kitchen clean up and 5:30pm (ish) was used individually. I personally spent that time either in person meditation practice, or doing essentials like taking a shower, brushing my teeth or taking a short nap (the work day + kitchen work can be exhausting). At 5:30, there would evening tea and 1-2 monks would hang out in the main hall for informal chatting. Topics could range from friendly, conversational themes to more specific questions on practice. After tea there would be kitchen clean-up and short break. At 7:00pm, we would do evening chanting followed by meditation which would usually last until 8:30-9pm. Most days I would eventually get to sleep at around 9:30-10pm.
I'll write much more about the experience later but I thought this would be good for now.