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forest sangha newsletter

October        2007               2550                 Number  81
The Forest Sangha is a world-wide Buddhist community
in the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah

About this issue

Ordination of the first four siladhara


Emptiness here, Emptiness there
but the infinite universe stands
always before your eyes.


This verse from Sengtsan seems to capture the paradoxical nature of
the teaching that the Buddha used in myriad forms to point to that which is beyond description. Luang Por Chah would echo this again and again, compassionately leading, guiding, and prodding his disciples towards awakening.

By some mysterious coming together of circumstances our nuns’ community has come into being and has become part of that current. This year sees the completion of the 25th vassa since the establishment of the Siladhara Order. There will be a celebration of the occasion at Cittaviveka on November 3rd (see the Grapevine for more details). This issue is dedicated to the anniversary. The nuns’ community coordinated the material in a collaborative effort with Sister Cintamani compiling and editing the material.

The origins of our nuns’ order lie in Pat Stoll’s request to Ajahn Chah that she be able to live as an eight-precept nun. In 1979 Ajahn Sumedho gave the Eight Precepts to Pat Stoll, Françoise Reynaud, Katie Cockburn and Mary Peacock at Cittaviveka, naming them, respectively, Sr Rocana, Sr Sundara, Sr Candasiri and Sr Thanissara. After a few years of practising in that form they sought to live more fully as alms mendicants. In 1983 at Ajahn Sumedho’s initiative and with permission from the Thai Sangha they received the Going Forth (entering the second vassa that year). In 1987 Sr Rocana died while on pilgrimage in India. In 1991 Thanissara disrobed and along with Kittisaro established Dharmagiri Buddhist Hermitage in South Africa. These are some of the bare facts. The story – or better, stories – of the evolution of the Siladhara Order are as varied as those who recount them.

Many people have been, and continue to be, involved in and affected by the evolution of this community. The whole is larger than the sum of the parts. We feel gratitude and respect for Luang Por Sumedho. As well as being our preceptor, he saw to it that we had requisites in abundance and his repeated encouragement to wake up has been invaluable. We thank our bhikkhu brothers – notably Ajahn Sucitto, abbot of Cittaviveka for the past 16 years, who formulated our training structures and has been committed to the support and evolution of the double community of monks and nuns. Each of the sisters has, in her own way, helped to shape and breathe life into the form that we see today. We reserve special appreciation for Ajahn Sundara and Ajahn Candasiri on the occasion of their 25th vassa and for being here from the beginning of this community. Many others have encouraged us over the years with countless gestures of support: material, practical, and above all, with their faith in this Way from which we can all benefit so much.

We asked the first nuns – Aj. Sundara, Aj. Candasiri, and Thanissara – to reflect on their years in the Order. Some common themes and shared experiences emerge in their reflections, as well as divergences. These present no singular history but histories born of reflection, recollection; subjectively felt and often publicly lived. Ajahn Sucitto offered an account of some of his experiences in helping to establish the nuns’ system of training, and he describes the complexities of the context in which it evolved.

We asked other senior nuns to contribute their perspective. Ajahn Upekkha speaks with her distinctive voice on realizing the Truth, and on fearlessness, from her many wholehearted years living in the community. Ajahn Thaniya after eight years as the senior nun of Chithurst writes of the evolution of the nuns’ community within the mixed community and of the beginnings of Rocana Vihara. She describes the rich territory that opens up for exploration. Ajahn Kovida writes of her journeys to Thailand and Burma, the practices she engaged in and how they support ongoing inquiry. The report on the Hamburg Congress on Buddhist Women illuminates international concern about the role of women in Buddhism. And the poetry by several of the senior nuns speaks perhaps more directly from the heart of experience.

It is inevitable that some of the struggles of the integration of a new community within an ancient tradition form part of the picture of the nuns’ experience. Clearly the situation has presented challenges for everyone: monks, nuns as well as the laity, as each delicately navigates the interface of different cultures and conditioning. It is a slow and continuing evolution where the hard work of all contributes to the consolidation of the nuns’ community and to the planting of this tradition into Western soil.

The style of presentation in this issue may be different than is customary. This is a tapestry woven out of many threads. Luang Por Sumedho repeatedly encourages us to open to whatever arises. So within the territory of what it takes to wake up, it is important that all of this has its place.

Ajahn Thanasanti






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