Forest Sangha Newsletter July 1991

Sense Contact; The Fount of Wisdom; Ajahn Chah
Another Going Forth; Joseph Kappel
Why I Became a Nun, Pt. II; Sister Sundara
Harnham Monastery Anniversary; various impressions


Why I Became a Nun, Pt. II

This is the continuation of a talk (originally given at 'The Joys of Monastic Life' conference last year) that appeared in the lost issue. Unfortunately, this concluding section was not printed because of an editorial oversight. Here, Sister Sundara is reflecting on her experiences as a nun durine the early days of her monastic life.

I have found a wonderful sense of gratitude has developed over the years that was not apparent at the beginning. At the beginning, whenever I would hear the word 'gratitude' I could say to myself that it was a wonderful thing to feel, but it never dawned on me that it was supposed to be a constant practice. It was not a practice of becoming somebody who is grateful but a matter of recognising when gratitude was present - and it was, most of the time. The thing that kept me going through the difficulties, the trials and errors, the desert plateaux and valleys of despair was this lovely sense of gratitude. We can't always acknowledge that gratitude because we believe so much in the stuff that is going on at the surface level; we forget that we have a heart right here that is peaceful, grateful and compassionate. We need to tune into it. Sometimes this is painful because we have to die to a lot of ideas; and dying is not the most easy thing to do.

Nature balances itself harmoniously and you begin to know its flow. You don't mind going up and down because you know that is how Nature works.

Sometimes I would be so resentful of people and of situations, even of my teacher and the reaching . . . I could be really horrible. At first I felt that I should not be a resentful person. It was a struggle because although I knew how to practise, my mind was so identified with the idea that I should not be a bad person who has nasty and awful thoughts about life that I automatically believed what I was thinking.

To recognise the feeling of gratitude and peace in the heart, I would question myself: 'What do you want to do, Sundara, carry on living resentfully - or die to yourself in a dignified and beautiful way?' It was for me a real existential question. Ajahn Sumedho named me Sundara ('the beauti- ful'). It is fortunate he gave me that name: I had such horrible mind states sometimes that I had to attune to my name and remember: 'Yes, I do want to live in a beautiful way and to die to myself gracefully.' This sense of gracefulness arose from devotion, from bowing, from gratitude and being thankful for what had been given. I knew that the only way to lead this life was not because 'I' decided it.

This 'me' that was always screaming away had some restful time too. Nature balances itself harmoniously and you begin to know its flow. You don't mind going up and down because you know that is how Nature works. It is important to recognise that the mind and body have a life of their own. To feel good or bad, to have what you like or dislike, is nor a problem anymore. To be with the way things are is to be with the enlightened mind.

To come to that place of 'not knowing', I would ask myself: 'What am I going to do? I don't know what's going to happen to me.' People would ask me: 'What about the bhikkhuni order?' And I would say: 'I don't know.' I did not know; and that felt very peaceful. I did not come to the monastic order to become anything anyway, so it was not a problem. To be free is what is important. It is not important to become somebody, because becoming is suffering, and it is clearly stated in the teaching: becoming anything - becoming happy or unhappy, becoming a monk or a nun - is suffering.

So you bow, and feel a real sense of devotion towards a teaching that speaks directly to you and to the truth that you know from your own experience. You do not have to believe the Buddha or what he taught. He himself said: 'Inquire, find our for yourself.'


You've got to be stabbed to the heart by babies hands.
Stopped in your tracks by the brooms flame glow.
And deafened by the green shouts of praise
At the tips of the pine boughs.
There is as much symmetry
In the thousand mares tail fronds
As in a tiger.
And quite as fearful.

Sue Yardley

When you go beyond doubt, it's because you see the suffering of ignorance, and of holding onto ideas, views and opinions. Even when I could justify and feel right about what I thought - 'It should not be like this. It is not right' -I could surrender to that reality. I would be really frustrated because I knew that the teaching did not give me the space to be ignorant or stupid any more. I could hear these voices and feel really hot. . . . I had a real issue, a real problem that needed to be solved.

Yet I knew that I could bow to what I had heard and trust what would happen when it had ceased. Trusting the heart, the silent mind that does not know, brings us to the point where things are transformed and renewed. Then we are freed from the idea that we are endlessly bound by our fears, desires and insecurities.