Ayya Rocana passed away peacefully in New Delhi during her second
pilgrimage to the Buddhist Holy Places. These personal reflections on her
life are offered by Ayya Candasiri, with affection and gratitude.
On 14th February Ayya Rocana, together with a small group of monks and lay
people left Amaravati to go on pilgrimage in India. This, her second pilgrim
was dedicated to her twin sister (the first, undertaken twelve years previously,
was for her father). Members of the community were naturally shocked and
saddened at the news of her death, only three weeks later, although she
had spoken often of the possibility that she might die. Having made a
supreme effort to wind up her affairs, she had cheerfully announced to
those accompanying her, that it was extremely auspicious to die on pilgrimage!
Bhante Dhammavara, who was staying in New Delhi, attended the cremation.
He had been the first bhikkhu Ayya Rocana had met when, in 1973 she attended
a weekend of meditation instruction given by him. This had been a major
turning point in her life. Since then, studying first with Venerable Vajirinyana
and later with Ajahn Sumedho, she never looked back. Early on in her Buddhist
studies, she came across a passage in the suttas, which described dana
(generosity) as the medicine which can cure all ills arising from desire.
Rather hesitantly, she put this to the test, and found that it helped
to ease the unhappiness she felt at that time.
Ayya Rocana realised that this teaching, which had helped her so much,
could also be of value to other Westerners. She also saw the great importance
of establishing the Sangha in the West. So, she began to devote every
ounce of energy and ingenuity to supporting the bhikkhus in any way she
could. She lived very frugally, in order to buy food for them, and would
make a long journey across London in the early morning to offer it in
the traditional way into their almsbowls -- to the utter astonishment
of those passing by on their way to work!
In 1978 she took temporary ordination at Oakenholt. Then, in 1979 -- after
visiting the nuns in Thailand to see how they lived -- she gave up her
flat and her job at the homoeopathic hospital, arriving at Chithurst with
all she possessed, ready to begin life as a nun. On the evening of 28th
October she, together with the three other candidates, requested the Three
Refuges and Eight Precepts. As the elder of the new anagarikas, she was
the first to be given her new name -- 'Rocana', meaning 'Radiant'.
This name couldn't have been more fitting. Her welcoming smile and warm
words of encouragement eased the natural timidity that many visitors must
have felt, at their first contact with the Sangha. Often too, she would
exercise her skill in homoeopathy to relieve their bodily ills, listening
kindly to their troubles and offering remedies and guidance.
In 1983, she took the 10 Precept (Siladhara) ordination. It was not easy
for so independent a spirit to live within the confines of the newly formed
Order of Nuns. So that year, Ajahn Sumedho suggested that she begin working
to bring the Jataka Tales to life. This was a perfect focus for her abundant
energy, deep love of children and vivid imagination, which were coupled
with an extensive knowledge of Buddhist scriptures. Now, two volumes are
complete and in the hands of publishers -- a legacy for young Buddhists
growing up in Western society.
Fellow pilgrims have recounted how Ayya Rocana's generosity of heart and
skill as a storyteller found expression, during her last days. Many were
touched by the simple delight, with which she distributed gifts to the
community of Tibetan nuns they visited in Kathmandu; while at Savatthi,
the company were held spellbound by her account of the events which took
place there, during the Buddha's life time.
So her death, untimely in a sense, also carried with it a sense of fulfillment.
Ayya Rocana had seen the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha firmly established
in the West. This is what she cared about most -- recognising that, it
is these three gems that can help to remedy the ailments of our Western