The Aloka Vihara sisters are a community of bhikkhunis (fully-ordained nuns) dedicated to practicing the Buddha’s teaching in the style of the Theravada Forest Tradition. Their practice emphasizes simplicity, renunciation, service and an orientation towards learning from the natural world – all held within the context of the Buddha’s teaching. The sisters are embracing and integrating the realities and challenges of contemporary society into their practice.
Ayya Anandabodhi first encountered the Buddha’s teachings in her early teens, igniting a deep interest in the Buddha’s Path of Awakening. She lived and trained as a nun in the Forest Tradition at Amaravati and Chithurst monasteries in England from 1992 until 2009, when she moved to the US to help establish Aloka Vihara, a training monastery for women.
Her practice and teaching are guided by early Buddhist scriptures and through nature’s pure and immediate Dhamma. In 2011 she took full Bhikkhuni Ordination, joining the growing number of women who are reclaiming this path given by the Buddha.
Ayya Santacitta was born in Austria and has a multifaceted background in hotel management, ethnology and avant-garde dance theater. Her first teacher was Ajahn Buddhadasa, who sparked her interest in Buddhist monastic life. She has practiced meditation for 30 years and trained as a nun in both the East and West since 1993, primarily in the lineage of Ajahn Chah. Since 2002 she has also received teachings in the lineage of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
Ayya Santacitta is co-founder of Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery, where she has resided since 2009 and took Bhikkhuni Ordination in 2011. She is particularly interested in creating sanctuary close to nature, practicing in community, and bringing wisdom traditions to the environmental movement.
Sister Jayati was born in England in 1974. She first encountered the Buddha’s teachings at the age of twelve while attending a retreat with the F.W.B.O. (Friends of the Western Buddhist Order). She felt a deep sense of resonance with the teachings on Metta and made a commitment to cultivating this in her life. Since 1986 she has continued attending retreats and developing a meditation practice which increasingly became the most important reference point in her life. This eventually led to her decision to ordain as a novice nun at Amaravati Monastery in 2007, in order to fully devote her energy to the practice.
After spending three and a half years in training at Amaravati and Chithurst Monasteries she decided to join Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacitta in the work of developing a Theravadan Buddhist monastic community for women. Having respectfully taken leave of the Siladhara Sangha, she moved to the U.S. in June 2012. In 2014 she was then given Bhikkhuni Ordination at Aloka Vihara with Ayya Tathaaloka Theri as preceptor.
Ayya Ahimsa was born in Vancouver, BC in 1959. Her first career was as an orchestral clarinetist. Then, in order to be at home more when her two children were young, she taught preschool music. When her children were in elementary school she herself returned to university to obtain a Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology which enabled her to work with children with developmental differences.
She began to meditate in 2006 and soon after knew she wanted to completely devote her life to training the mind and purifying the heart. In 2008 she was first introduced to monasticism through visiting Ajahn Sona at Birken Forest Monastery. Due to aging parents and teenagers still at home she was not able to leave the householder life and go forth until 2012. Ayya Ahimsa took Anagarika Precepts in January 2012 and then Samaneri Precepts in September 2013 with Ayya Medhanandi at Sati Saraniya Hermitage near Perth, Ontario. In June 2016 she joined the nuns’ community at Aloka Vihara and was given Bhikkhuni Ordination in August 2017 with Ayya Gunasari Theri as her preceptor.
Anagarika Shannon was born in 1976 and was raised under bare conditions by a single mother in Arizona. A model student throughout her childhood, she attended college and graduate school in Connecticut. She was awarded a Ph.D. in Biology from Yale in 2006. After a career in biomedical research, she began teaching pre-health students at the college level. She ended up devoting most of her waking hours to teaching and mentoring a broad range of students, as well as co-directing the SFSU Post-Baccalaureate Program. Additionally, she was a very active participant and leader for 15 years in a peer counseling community that focused on healing from early childhood and institutional oppressions. Although her life was full of inspiring and rewarding moments, she felt like something was still lacking. She quit her position at SFSU in 2015, gave away most of her possessions and set off to travel in Southeast Asia with an indefinite return.
Her first exposure to Buddhism was in January 2015 by a close friend who introduced her to audio Dhamma talks. She attended her first meditation retreat in November 2015 at Wat Suan Mokkh in southern Thailand, having never formally practiced meditation before. After that initial taste of meditation, she knew her life would never be the same again. She sat three more of the retreats in Thailand over a five-month period and then returned to the US in hopes of practicing and training with Westerners. Before taking the Anagarika Precepts in July 2017, she had been a lay guest and monastic aspirant at Aloka Vihara since May 2016.