SIGNS OF CHANGE
The Nun's Community
In the last eighteen years, a steady flow of women from around the world has been passing through the gates of Amaravati and Cittaviveka monasteries to spend time with the community of siladharas. Many have become anagarikas or novices, for one or more years. And a few dozen have stayed on to undertake the wider discipline of the siladharas' precepts, a full commitment to a path of spiritual awakening. Of those who took the robe, many have also left the community; some within a year, others after five, seven, twelve years and longer, finding their individual needs in terms of practice, relationship, creativity, service, or self-expression pressing beyond the boundaries of the monastic form. In the early days, the nuns' Sangha, limited primarily to residence at the two monasteries, appeared both visually and emotionally, to be but a small subsidiary to the much larger and more-established Sangha of bhikkhus. As is characteristic of the Theravadan monastic tradition, the male role model and leadership prevailed, and the siladharas, still very new to practice, relied upon the guidance and support of the bhikkhus. But, over the years, as individuals grew in Dhamma, the communities evolved, and the sensitivities and sensibility of its female members were given greater expression. Gradually, the nuns began to receive the recognition and trust to take responsibility for their own training and community leadership.
Perhaps the most telling, and incidentally historic, by-product of this movement towards autonomy has been the establishment of Hartridge Buddhist Monastery as a training venue for nuns only, for a period of two years.
As the first Theravadan community for Western nuns, it clearly echoes the increasing confidence of the elders of the Sangha in the capability of nuns to live and practise independently.
The nuns currently in residence at Hartridge had their first alms-giving ceremony in November, 1997. This was the first time that the alms-giving at the end of the Rains retreat has been offered to a community of nuns. Ajahn Siripaññå graciously welcomed all of the visitors, including Luang Por Sumedho, Ajahns Sucitto and Mahesi; Ajahns Candasiri and Upekkhå and the siladharas and anagarikas from the other two monasteries.
In tandem with coming into their own in terms of spiritual practice and managing community affairs, the siladharas have also begun to expand their geographic boundaries elsewhere in the last five years. They have travelled to the forest monasteries of Thailand and Burma and visited retreat centres and monasteries around the globe, thus extending the original 'boundaries' well beyond those envisioned when the Order first came into being. These sojourns have not only provided opportunities for nuns to practise in solitude and retreat in remote settings, and fostered exchange with other communities where women have taken up spiritual training and meditation, but also allowed nuns to make pilgrimages to Buddhist Holy Sites.
Since 1993, Ajahn Jotaka has been practising in the remote monastery in Northern Burma under the guidance of Sayadaw Bawkyun. She returns periodically to England to visit friends and take on some teaching engagements, and en route to and from Burma she often stops for periods of time in India. She plans to visit England again in 1999. During the last two and a half years, Ajahn Sundara has had the opportunity to visit and practise in a number of monasteries in Australia, Thailand and India. Since the summer of 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 to return to Amaravati in May of this year.
In August of 1997, the Amaravati community was delighted with the return of Ajahn Upekkhå from her 'sabbatical' year. She had periods of individual retreat in Australia, the United States, Burma, and Thailand, and also travelled for several weeks in New Zealand. She was warmly welcomed both in monastic and lay communities everywhere. Aside from the benefits of being able to practise in different settings, she was also given the opportunity to see the real-life situations and problems of different monastic communities in 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 and pay homage at the holy sites where the Lord Buddha was born, realised enlightenment, gave the First Sermon, and passed into Parinibbana. She also plans to follow in the footsteps of Mahapajapati, who made the historic walk from Kapilavatthu to Savatthi to ask for the 'Going Forth'. It was at the end of this walk that the Lord Buddha allowed the establishment of the Bhikkhuni Order.
In support of nuns on extended individual retreats, each year since 1994, one of the siladharas has been invited to spend the winter months on self-retreat in our monastery in Switzerland. This winter, Sister Thanasanti will be meditating amidst the snow-capped peaks of the Kandersteg valley. Meanwhile, taking up an invitation from the Sri Lankan community, Ajahn Siripaññå and Sister Kovida will be travelling in February to Sri Lanka and India for a four-week pilgrimage to the Buddhist Holy Sites.
As individuals mature in their practice, the community matures. Tensions dissolve and a greater ease of communication and understanding between community members develops. The simple joys of monastic community spring to life. But this too requires a sustained effort in applying mindfulness and metta to daily life interactions, and a willingness to forgive, to work things through, to begin again.
The future, as always, remains uncertain. And although the nuns community has not visibly increased in numbers, there has been a constant presence of samanas committed to the Holy Life, to practising together and reaping the fruits of living in an ordained female Sangha. And it seems, that steady flow of women from every part of the world passing through the gates of Amaravati, Cittaviveka, and now Hartridge monasteries, has not diminished; women aspiring 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 be ordained in the new temple at Amaravati. At the same time Anagarikas Graham and Christoph took the samanera precepts and the new names of Ven. Issaramuni and Ven. Suññato. During the vassa in Harnham, Anagarika Branislav also took the samanera precepts with the new name of Ven. Mangalo.
With the end of the rains retreat many of the members of the Sangha take up invitations to teach and visit friends and supporters in places far from their monastic residences. Luang Por Sumedho, Ajahn Karuniko, and Ven. Appamado left Amaravati on the 18th of November to spend 4 weeks in Cambodia and 6 weeks in Thailand. Luang Por has a very full teaching schedule in both countries. The Cambodian itinerary is being organised by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Several retreats and many teaching engagements have been planned, with people throughout Cambodia invited to take teaching from Luang Por. Participants will include monks and nuns from various provinces, university lecturers, government administrators, diplomats and university students. For Ven. Appamado (who many knew as Mr. Tan Nam), it will be his first 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 teach the second half of the winter retreat, which will allow Ajahn Viradhammo to spend a chilly February and March in Canada. He will be teaching retreats in Toronto and Ottawa and will be spending some time with his mother.
Also from Amaravati,Ajahn Assaji spent December in Sri Lanka visiting his teacher, brother-monks and family. Ven. Dhammaratana is also in Sri Lanka at this time, with his ailing mother. Both of them will be back to spend the winter retreat at Amaravati.
Ajahn Attapemo has gone to New Zealand to spend some months on retreat at the monastery near Wellington. He plans to return in May. Ven. Kusalo is spending the winter retreat in Switzerland at Dhammapala with Ajahn Thiradhammo, who will have just returned from a month's visit to Burma and Thailand.
Ajahn Munindo has gone to New Zealand to visit friends and family. On the way he has visited Burma and Thailand. On his way back, he will be stopping off 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. Varado of Cittaviveka, will be staying in Thailand indefinitely to experience Buddhist practice in that cultural environment.
Also from Cittaviveka, Ven. Abhinando went to Italy at the end of last year to help at the new Italian monastery.