SIGNS OF CHANGE
|The Nun's Community|
In the last eighteen years, a steady flow of women from around the world hasbeen passing through the gates of Amaravati and Cittaviveka monasteries tospend time with the community of siladharas. Many have become anagarikas ornovices, for one or more years. And a few dozen have stayed on to undertakethe wider discipline of the siladharas' precepts, a full commitment to a pathof spiritual awakening. Of those who took the robe, many have also left thecommunity; some within a year, others after five, seven, twelve years andlonger, finding their individual needs in terms of practice, relationship,creativity, service, or self-expression pressing beyond the boundaries of themonastic form. In the early days, the nuns' Sangha, limited primarily toresidence at the two monasteries, appeared both visually and emotionally, tobe but a small subsidiary to the much larger and more-established Sangha ofbhikkhus. As is characteristic of the Theravadan monastic tradition, the malerole model and leadership prevailed, and the siladharas, still very new topractice, relied upon the guidance and support of the bhikkhus. But, over theyears, as individuals grew in Dhamma, the communities evolved, and thesensitivities and sensibility of its female members were given greaterexpression. Gradually, the nuns began to receive the recognition and trust totake responsibility for their own training and community leadership.
Perhaps the most telling, and incidentally historic, by-product of thismovement towards autonomy has been the establishment of Hartridge BuddhistMonastery as a training venue for nuns only, for a period of two years.
As the first Theravadan community for Western nuns, it clearly echoes theincreasing confidence of the elders of the Sangha in the capability of nunsto live and practise independently.
The nuns currently in residence at Hartridge had their first alms-givingceremony in November, 1997. This was the first time that the alms-giving atthe end of the Rains retreat has been offered to a community of nuns. AjahnSiripa˝˝ň graciously welcomed all of the visitors, including Luang PorSumedho, Ajahns Sucitto and Mahesi; Ajahns Candasiri and Upekkhň and thesiladharas and anagarikas from the other two monasteries.
In tandem with coming into their own in terms of spiritual practice andmanaging community affairs, the siladharas have also begun to expand theirgeographic boundaries elsewhere in the last five years. They have travelledto the forest monasteries of Thailand and Burma and visited retreat centresand monasteries around the globe, thus extending the original 'boundaries'well beyond those envisioned when the Order first came into being. Thesesojourns have not only provided opportunities for nuns to practise insolitude and retreat in remote settings, and fostered exchange with othercommunities where women have taken up spiritual training and meditation, butalso allowed nuns to make pilgrimages to Buddhist Holy Sites.
Since 1993, Ajahn Jotaka has been practising in the remote monastery inNorthern Burma under the guidance of Sayadaw Bawkyun. She returnsperiodically to England to visit friends and take on some teachingengagements, and en route to and from Burma she often stops for periods oftime in India. She plans to visit England again in 1999. During the last twoand a half years, Ajahn Sundara has had the opportunity to visit and practisein a number of monasteries in Australia, Thailand and India. Since the summerof 1996, she has lived in Thailand, teaching briefly, but for the most part,meditating in her kuti in the forest monastery of Ajahn Anan. She intends toreturn to Amaravati in May of this year.
In August of 1997, the Amaravati community was delighted with the returnof Ajahn Upekkhň from her 'sabbatical' year. She had periods of individualretreat in Australia, the United States, Burma, and Thailand, and alsotravelled for several weeks in New Zealand. She was warmly welcomed both inmonastic and lay communities everywhere. Aside from the benefits of beingable to practise in different settings, she was also given the opportunity tosee the real-life situations and problems of different monastic communitiesin a variety of cultural and geographic settings.
Ajahn Candasiri, accompanied by her fellow pilgrim Upasika Mei-chi Chan,has just embarked on a long-awaited 5 month pilgrimage to India to visit andpay homage at the holy sites where the Lord Buddha was born, realisedenlightenment, gave the First Sermon, and passed into Parinibbana. She alsoplans to follow in the footsteps of Mahapajapati, who made the historic walkfrom Kapilavatthu to Savatthi to ask for the 'Going Forth'. It was at the endof this walk that the Lord Buddha allowed the establishment of the BhikkhuniOrder.
In support of nuns on extended individual retreats, each year since 1994,one of the siladharas has been invited to spend the winter months onself-retreat in our monastery in Switzerland. This winter, Sister Thanasantiwill be meditating amidst the snow-capped peaks of the Kandersteg valley.Meanwhile, taking up an invitation from the Sri Lankan community, AjahnSiripa˝˝ň and Sister Kovida will be travelling in February to Sri Lanka andIndia for a four-week pilgrimage to the Buddhist Holy Sites.
As individuals mature in their practice, the community matures. Tensionsdissolve and a greater ease of communication and understanding betweencommunity members develops. The simple joys of monastic community spring tolife. But this too requires a sustained effort in applying mindfulness andmetta to daily life interactions, and a willingness to forgive, to workthings through, to begin again.
The future, as always, remains uncertain. And although the nuns communityhas not visibly increased in numbers, there has been a constant presence ofsamanas committed to the Holy Life, to practising together and reaping thefruits of living in an ordained female Sangha. And it seems, that steady flowof women from every part of the world passing through the gates of Amaravati,Cittaviveka, and now Hartridge monasteries, has not diminished; womenaspiring to such a way of practice, and willing to give it a try.
|Bhukkhis come, bhukkhis go...|
On the 18th of November Ven. Dhiravamso became the first bhikkhu to beordained in the new temple at Amaravati. At the same time Anagarikas Grahamand Christoph took the samanera precepts and the new names of Ven. Issaramuniand Ven. Su˝˝ato. During the vassa in Harnham, Anagarika Branislav also tookthe samanera precepts with the new name of Ven. Mangalo.
With the end of the rains retreat many of the members of the Sangha takeup invitations to teach and visit friends and supporters in places far fromtheir monastic residences. Luang Por Sumedho, Ajahn Karuniko, and Ven.Appamado left Amaravati on the 18th of November to spend 4 weeks in Cambodiaand 6 weeks in Thailand. Luang Por has a very full teaching schedule in bothcountries. The Cambodian itinerary is being organised by the Ministry ofReligious Affairs. Several retreats and many teaching engagements have beenplanned, with people throughout Cambodia invited to take teaching from LuangPor. Participants will include monks and nuns from various provinces,university lecturers, government administrators, diplomats and universitystudents. For Ven. Appamado (who many knew as Mr. Tan Nam), it will be hisfirst trip to Cambodia since he and his family fled, 25 years ago.
Luang Por will return to Amaravati at the end of January in time to teachthe second half of the winter retreat, which will allow Ajahn Viradhammo tospend a chilly February and March in Canada. He will be teaching retreats inToronto and Ottawa and will be spending some time with his mother.
Also from Amaravati,Ajahn Assaji spent December in Sri Lanka visiting histeacher, brother-monks and family. Ven. Dhammaratana is also in Sri Lanka atthis time, with his ailing mother. Both of them will be back to spend thewinter retreat at Amaravati.
Ajahn Attapemo has gone to New Zealand to spend some months on retreat atthe monastery near Wellington. He plans to return in May. Ven. Kusalo isspending the winter retreat in Switzerland at Dhammapala with AjahnThiradhammo, who will have just returned from a month's visit to Burma andThailand.
Ajahn Munindo has gone to New Zealand to visit friends and family. On theway he has visited Burma and Thailand. On his way back, he will be stoppingoff in South Africa for a couple of weeks for a retreat. Also from Harnham,Ven.Jayanto has travelled to Burma and Thailand. Ven. Jayanto and Ven. Varadoof Cittaviveka, will be staying in Thailand indefinitely to experienceBuddhist practice in that cultural environment.
Also from Cittaviveka, Ven. Abhinando went to Italy at the end of lastyear to help at the new Italian monastery.