Forest SanghaNewsletter May 1987

Communication Between Sangha & Friends
Obituary; Ayya Rocanna
Roots of the Forest, N-E Thaiiland, Ajahn Sucitto
Northumberland, Ajahn Tiradhammo
In the Footsteps of the Buddha; India, Ven. Bodhipalo



Ayya Rocana passed away peacefully in New Delhi during her secondpilgrimage to the Buddhist Holy Places. These personal reflections on herlife 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 Society.