November 22, 2014
A Personal Perspective: Ayya Jayati’s Bhikkhuni Ordination
Earlier this year I was asked if I would write a message about the experience of my ordination, so here goes….
From a personal perspective Bhikkhuni ordination was something which in my earlier monastic years I had not not even considered as a possibility. The monasteries in England provided a very good training in many ways and there was a strong community of committed nuns and monks living a life of renunciation. I felt very grateful to have found a place with teachings and a style of practice which provided me with the support I needed to live in a way so contrary to the culture I had been conditioned for and felt so clearly wasn’t the way to peace or happiness. At that time I have to admit being unable to really take in the disparity between the genders. It did indeed seem to me like things were “good enough!” (an often used phrase in Amaravati for the practice of contentment) for the purposes of cultivating the path of Dhamma.
At the outset, monastic life was a tough journey for me, in those first couple of years especially. We often speak about how kamma ripens for people when they come to the monastery and that was certainly true in my case. I trust that what I learned through my journey will be a resource, which I hope will enable me to be of greater benefit to others who are suffering. I certainly feel very blessed by the wonderful kalyanamittas (Dhamma friends) who were around to guide me and to offer a shoulder of support on the really difficult days. I must here make a special mention for Sister Sumedha without whom I really don’t think I would be here today, thank you dear sister for your boundless patience and truly noble friendship. Also Sister Thitamedha, whose kindness and tender care were truly a blessing. There are so many others I could name here, but these two stand out, both for what they did for me and by the deep impact it had on my sense of things when they, along with many other sisters decided that the only way to maintain their deepest sense of integrity was to take leave of the nuns community and return to lay-life. It was during my third year as an Anagarika (eight precept novice) that there was an insistence for the nuns to agree to a mandate (The Five Points) which would cement their position as sub-ordinate to the Bhikkhu Sangha and deny even the possibility of considering Bhikkhuni ordination. As much has been said on this matter already it is not my intention to go over it all again, I merely wish to offer a personal reflection on why I chose to make the step to join the sisters here in the US.
The way forward at that time seemed so unclear, I had no doubt about the clarity of my intention to continue life as a nun, but now had some serious concerns about making that commitment in a place where so many of those I had been so inspired by were stepping out in protest at what was happening in the UK monasteries. It was hard to find perspective and I felt that some time away was greatly needed. It was around this time that the possibility arose of visiting Aloka Vihara in San Francisco in December 2010. Nothing could have prepared me for the transformative effect of that visit. Seeing the nuns leading the community and offering teachings, as well as the amazing group of supporters who were being drawn to the vihara awakened something in me. I realized that to return to Amaravati was now no longer something I could do with a full heart. With a clarity I had not felt for some time that I requested admission to join my dear sisters here in the US and was accepted. Even with the many challenges of the work it takes on both the inner and outer level to establish a monastery, I have never had cause to regret that decision, as Ayya Santacitta once said to me: “You don’t have to decide, the Dhamma will decide where you need to be”. It’s really about trusting the process and living in accordance with what is being offered which is so central to the renunciant life.
It has been a big adventure in many ways, it was not easy to leave my family in the UK, but I intuitively felt it would be a good exploration to step away from so many of my well known “comfort zones” and feel the edge that could bring to my practice. I took novice ordination as a Samaneri in 2012, and then made the request to take full ordination as a Bhikkhuni after the required two years of novice training. It felt like a very natural continuation of a path I had been walking for several years. Even before coming to live in a monastery, spiritual life was something I felt deeply called to attend to. The Buddhist teachings have always been a support throughout most of my life, since first attending a Buddhist retreat at the age of 12.
The meaning of taking full ordination is something I’m still discovering and learning anew each day. I am not so surprised at the bond of connection I now feel with the present day Bhikkhuni Sangha. I had not however, expected it would bring such a clear feeling of connection with the ancient lineage of women who have also taken this step. I reflect upon the journey of Mahapajapati and her unwavering determination to be granted the chance to live as one who has completely dedicated their life to follow the path of the Awakened Ones. It is inspiring for me to feel the sacred sense of responsibility that comes with keeping the way open for those who will come after me. I feel very blessed that there were those who persevered with the Bhikkhuni life, even in the face of so much adversity, both in the present day and historically.
November 1st was truly a blessed and joyful day for our Sangha, with representatives from 10 different monasteries in attendance. I bow deeply to all those who were able to be here, thank you for your dedication and wisdom. A special word must be said here to thank the Dhammadharini sangha, who have been so supportive to our community and especially to Ayya Tathaaloka for so graciously offering herself as our Bhikkhuni preceptor, it is our great good fortune to have her blessing. Particularly I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Julie DeHart, it was so enriching for our community that we were able to host the event here at Aloka Vihara and that was largely possible due to her amazing generosity and hard work as the ordination co-ordinator. I also wish to express deepest thanks to the Saranaloka board for all the fantastic work they do, “you’re all amazing!”
My heart felt so full of gratitude for all the love and blessings which I was showered with in such abundance, I’d like here to express thanks especially to – Kolsoum and Jim Ginney, for the signs and beautiful flower arrangements – Lynne, for the amazing tea-table – Holly Oswald, for your support throughout it all – Sue Boeger and Gayle Wilson, for graciously offering their homes for some of our guests – Marina, Susan, Chau and Emily for all your work at the vihara – Claire, Candace and Holly for their shuttling service – Meira and Linda for doing such a great job with the parking. BASICALLY… A BIG THANK YOU TO ALL WHO HELPED IN ANY WAY.
Last but by no means least I must here make mention of Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacitta. Their work to build and sustain a training monastery for women in the US is something I have always felt inspired by. None of us could really have imagined all that would entail, it truly is an unfathomable undertaking and one we are still learning so much about on a daily basis. I feel very fortunate to be granted this opportunity, put simply I experience daily life here, and as a nun, as being both humbling and ennobling. Humbling, because I am so frequently seeing in the daily life of the community all the places within where I still have so much work to do. Ennobling because I am also learning that, with practice, I have the choice to respond with compassion and a kind heart.
with blessings and metta,
Ayya Jayati Bhikkhuni
More photos of the ordination day.
September 17, 2014
Gratitude for the Almsgiving Ceremony
Dear Friends of Aloka Vihara,
On Saturday September 13th a group of over 50 supporters of Saranaloka came together to celebrate the Bhikkhuni Sangha with an annual Almsgiving Ceremony. This ancient tradition is an opportunity for the lay community to come together and make offerings of robe-cloth and other requisites, including financial donations, as a gesture of support for the monastic Sangha. This tradition dates back to the time of the Buddha and the very beginning of the Buddhist monastic order.
We were honored to be in the company of such venerables as Ayya Tathaaloka and Ayya Suvijjana from Dhammadharini Vihara in Santa Rosa, Ayya Sobhana from Aranya Bodhi Hermitage in Jenner, Ayya Santussika from Karuna Buddhist Vihara in Mountain View, and of course our dear Aloka Vihara sisters. It was a special gathering in many ways, including supporters from the Bay Area, Sacramento and the Foothills. It felt so uplifting to see how the network of gratitude has steadily been growing over the years since the Sisters first came to the U.S. in 2009. It was also heartening to see board members old and new, we feel so fortunate for their ongoing generosity and commitment!
We also celebrated the 4th International Bhikkhuni Day, an event established by the Alliance for Bhikkhunis. Their mission is to support fully ordained Theravada Buddhist Nuns. To commemorate this day, Ayya Tathaaloka gave a beautiful talk about Yasodhara, the former wife of the Buddha, who in her lifetime ordained as a bhikkhuni and became fully enlightened.
We especially would like to thank Lynne and Meira who initiated this year’s almsgiving. Unless it is initiated by the lay community, the Almsgiving Ceremony can’t happen. They did an amazing job in making the day go so smoothly and getting just the right balance between clear organization and wholeheartedness. Marinell Daniel, who offered the robe-cloth for the bhikkhunis, was unable to attend (we missed you Marinell!). We also bow deeply in gratitude to Rik and Muriel for offering use of the Mindfulness Care Center in San Francisco, for the third year in a row. Bless you both for your gracious hospitality!
As well as the robe-cloth, one of the main aims for this year’s almsgiving was to reimburse the cost of the recently purchased monastery vehicle, a greatly needed requisite in the new rural vihara. The criteria was to find a used car, which was fuel efficient, could seat 5, had ample cargo space, and would be easy to maintain. The 2013 Prius was a great find! A local supporter previously offered $5,000 towards the purchase of the car. The total raised at the Almsgiving Ceremony was $10,747, including $3,500 from the Alliance for Bhikkhunis. We feel the wheels of generosity are rolling with joy!
Continuing on a note of gratitude… We also wish to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the other committee members who put so much “Right Effort” into the day: Trip Weil, Maria Torres, Alison McLean, Amy Zhu, Christine Story, Daniel Bernstein, Juliann Rhodes, Dennis Crean, and others. Also of course to Apple Daoruang for the beautiful flowers!
As a last word, we would like to offer a respectful farewell to Ayya Dipa, a dear member of the Bhikkhuni Sangha, who passed away on July 15th this year. She lived at Mahapajapati Monastery in Southern California. Her presence will be greatly missed.
Blessings and metta to all of you,
Marina Kocherovsky, Aloka Vihara manager on behalf of the community.
August 23, 2014
Notes from last Supporters’ Meeting at Aloka Vihara
Hello Aloka Vihara Supporters,
We had a wonderful Supporters Meeting at the Vihara on Saturday August 23 including folks from the Placerville, Nevada City, Sacramento and Bay areas. It was great to have so many regions represented and joining together as one in support of our new rural monastery! Throughout the meeting, there were frequent expressions of gratitude for this spacious property and the welcoming, supportive local community in which the Sisters now reside.
We heard updates from the Sisters about the many ways that we can get involved and support the vihara (see the website for more info); we heard from the Vihara Manager, Marina, about the Almsgiving Ceremony coming up on Sept 13 in San Francisco; and we were introduced to Julie DeHart who will be organizing the many volunteers for Sister Jayati’s ordination ceremony on November 1 at Aloka Vihara. There will be a need for lots of help with both of these upcoming events!
The Sisters let us know that food and transportation dana are being offered and that Supporters are welcome to sign up on the Lots of Helping Hands site for scheduling. We discussed ways to let supporters know when small landscaping and fix-it projects are coming up for those who enjoy offering those skills.
Saranaloka has purchased a used Prius for the vihara, after carefully considering the criteria with the Sisters and Marina, the Vihara Manager. The theme of this year’s Almsgiving Ceremony will be replenishing the funds used to buy the lovely vehicle. Saranaloka is holding steady financially speaking.
We discussed issues related to our property rental, as the owner has decided to sell the property. Our rental contract lasts through next April, reverting to month-to-month after that if both sides agree and the property has not sold. The Board, Sisters, and Vihara Manager are carefully considering options and strategies. We will reach out to those of you in the local Placerville area, and others, as the need arises. You continue to be instrumental in our ongoing journey to create a long-term monastery. Wren Withers (Saranaloka Board President) described this journey as the creation of a beautiful mandala. It started small, with only a few grains of sand, only a few colors, but it has grown bigger and more colorful already, and it continues to expand!
Our next Supporters Meeting is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 7 at the Vihara. Everyone is welcome!
Amanda Kimball (Saranaloka Board Secretary)
July 29, 2014
Saranaloka Finance Committee Seeks New Member
Hello Saranaloka Supporters!
As a growing organization, the Board of Saranaloka has recognized a need and created a committee to oversee organizational finances and to address financial matters in coordination with the Bookkeeper and Treasurer. This committee is still very new and seeking one additional skilled team member to join our monthly telephone meetings. Do you know someone who might be interested in supporting the vihara in this way.
The Finance Committee is tasked with monitoring the organization’s financial standing, managing its assets and investments, creating an annual budget, and completing other ad-hoc projects at the request of the Board. The committee is made up of the Treasurer, the Bookkeeper, some Board members, and 1-2 additional at-large supporters. This is an advisory committee to the Board, with no independent authority beyond the ability to make recommendations to the Board.
We are currently looking for one additional skilled team member to contribute to our projects. We would especially appreciate someone with professional experience in investments and fund management. Special attention will be given to people in the Sacramento/Placerville area, although we meet via telephone on a monthly basis.
Finance Committee Chair
Secretary of the Saranaloka Board
July 16, 2014
Summer Greetings from Saranaloka President Wren Withers
Our seedling monastery has been successfully transplanted! With the move from San Francisco to Placerville, the earth, water, air, and heat elements remain the same and are quite different at once. The Aloka Vihara story, now just post move, is rich and fertile with teaching lessons. From the being built process and life unfolding, the Sisters and Saranaloka Board are in a period of rapid assessment and adaptation. While hard work, patience, fortitude, and many other qualities have been apparent during this transition period, two stand out: relationship and community.
Relationships of all types are changing. With and to the land and waters. Within, to, and between the vihara community and supporters. To time, travel, and living spaces. For example, I notice that I miss the San Francisco vihara and the familiar way I interacted there with the Sisters, supporters, Board, and guests. I also notice my joy and excitement in realizing the rural vihara already feels like an operating monastery and I’m quickly developing a new relationship. I’m starting over and not…an interesting phase.
We continue to build a welcoming monastery for the Four-Fold Sangha, potential aspirants, guests, neighbors, practitioners, and nature’s friends. It’s heartwarming to see that at the new rural vihara what’s also being built is “community”. Or more precisely, communities.
- Local Buddhist practitioners have a new spiritual home to come to for pujas and spiritual counsel.
- The Sisters and Satima hosted an open house for neighbors, both to introduce themselves and also encourage those most local to see the vihara for what it IS – a warm, welcoming, quiet monastery. About 20 guests attended, and amongst the positive comments was heard appreciation for bringing the neighbors together because they rarely do so themselves.
- Reweaving of Supporters communities
- Sierra Foothills and Sacramento supporters are meeting Board members and supporters visiting from the Bay Area and beyond. Warm conversation and laughter ensues gathered around a table in the kitchen at tea time. We share our good fortune at being able to witness the land’s beauty and the beauty of being part of growing Aloka Vihara.
- Supporters from around the world continue to watch and comment via FaceBook, email, and phone.
- Longtime Bay Area Supporters Lynne and Meira have offered to coordinate this year’s Almsgiving Ceremony, to be held in San Francisco on SEPTEMBER 13. This event looks to involve both Bay Area and Sierra Foothills Group supporters.
- Vihara residents have become part of the natural ecosystem. Deer, lizards, birds, and frogs invite themselves in and around the vihara.
- The Placerville community has been extremely friendly and welcoming.
You may feel eagerness to come visit the vihara. If you want to visit outside of puja and tea times, contact the Vihara Manager well in advance. The vihara schedule is quite full, and given the location and small residence community, preplanning visitors is especially essential now.
Firsts are happening seemingly daily for the Sisters, vihara, and Board. A joyous first is scheduled for November 1st: On that date rural Aloka Vihara will hold its first Bhikkhuni Ordination. I’m delighted to announce that Sister Jayati, who was ordained as a samaneri in 2012 at the San Francisco Aloka Vihara, will be ordained as a bhikkhuni. I am continually inspired by Sister Jayati’s dedication to the monastic life and her many gifts.
With deep appreciation for your continued support,
President, Saranaloka Foundation
May 10, 2014
Highlights from the Saranaloka April Supporters Meeting
Greetings Friends of Saranaloka!
Here’s a quick summary of the April 27 Saranaloka supporters meeting:
As this was the last supporters meeting to be held at the San Francisco vihara prior to the relocation of Aloka Vihara to the Sierra Foothills, the nuns opened the meeting by each taking a turn expressing their deep gratitude for their time in the Bay Area, acknowledging all the support, learning, and growth that has taken place during their stay here.
A few quotes:
“Thank you everyone who has helped make this happen over the years.” – Ayya Anandabodhi
“Lots of good things have happened here.” – Ayya Santacitta
“It has been a joy to get to know all of you…a continuous blessing…thank you so much!” – Sister Jayati
Board Update –
The board had just met the previous day and the general sentiment of the meeting was well summed up by Wren who called it a “lovely meeting”. Wren let us know that Saranaloka continues to be in a good financial position and also shared that Dennis Crean was voted in for another two year term on the board; this news received a resounding round of applause from the supporters.
Placerville Vihara Update –
First supporters meeting will be held in the Placerville area on Saturday, May 3 along with a Vesak celebration.
Items needed for the new vihara are listed on the website. The list includes a number of small items such as a clothesline, pillowcases, etc. Please have a look.
There will be a relic tour visiting Grass Valley over the Memorial Day weekend. For more information you can visit, buddhabythesea.com/maitreya-project-north-american-relic-tour.
San Francisco Vihara Update –
There will be a Vesak celebration held Friday, May 23 followed by a final day of packing and cleaning up the vihara on Saturday, May 24. Closing up the vihara and loading the moving truck will happen on Sunday, May 25. We are still looking for a few strong people to help unload the moving truck up in Placerville. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help.
Email Lists –
The San Francisco Bay Area and the Sierra Foothills Yahoo! Groups email lists distributions will change from weekly to bi-weekly.
Nuns Teaching in the Bay Area –
The nuns will be coming to teach in the Bay Area once or twice a month over the coming year. They are grateful to those who have offered overnight accommodation in the Bay Area. They intend to travel by public transit whenever possible and will post requests for rides on LHH transport as needed.
Ride Share Ideas –
As the Placerville vihara is quite remote, Satima, the new vihara manager, will be investigating what options there are for arranging ride sharing; e.g., websites, bulletin boards, etc. If you have any ideas please contact Satima at email@example.com.
New Vihara Manager Role –
With the growth of the vihara there has been a new role created which will be dedicated to managing the administrative tasks, transportation needs, and communication coordination for the vihara. Satima has volunteered to take on this new role for the coming year. The Vihara Steward role will still exist and will be held by Acala (Naomi Brown) during the month of May.
Visiting the Placerville Vihara –
If you would like to visit the new Placerville vihara, please email the vihara manager at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details on how to arrange a visit.
Offering Breakfast to the Homeless –
Sister Jayati will be leading the monthly offering of food to the homeless on the streets of San Francisco on Sunday, May 18. If you are interested in offering food or in helping distribute the breakfast please contact Sister Jayati at email@example.com.
“Dirty Energy Clean Solutions” –
Finally, Marinell let all the supporters know that there is a climate conference coming up on May 9-11. For more information you can visit, www.350bayarea.org/climatecon2014.
Carl Rivas (Saranaloka Board Member)
April 17, 2014
Message from Aloka Vihara nuns – moving to the forest!
Dear friends of Aloka Vihara!
We are very happy to be moving to a rural property, a 3+ bedroom house in 17 acres of mixed oak and pine forest and a meadow! Just a few days into our annual Winter Retreat we were invited to have a look at this property – the first to meet our criteria since we started the search – it was beyond our expectations! After visiting the property, we went back into retreat and our wonderful Saranaloka board members negotiated a rental agreement which may be extended after one year. We all feel that this will be a great shift for our monastic community and we hope to be able to welcome visiting nuns and aspirants as well as to offer the opportunity for lay guests to stay overnight. We will have to be creative with the accommodation, all being well there will be a dorm for guests, and tents in the Summer. The owner has kindly agreed even for temporary kutis to be placed on the land while we are there.
We plan to move to the new vihara on May 25. As soon as we have more information about visiting the new vihara, we will make it available on our website.
Perhaps we will see you at our new location!
Thank you for all your kind thoughts and for staying connected with this venture.
We wish you all blessings in Dhamma,
Ayya Anandabodhi, Ayya Santacitta & Sr Jayati
January 21, 2014
Message from the Aloka Vihara Nuns
Warm greetings from Aloka Vihara.
As you read this we will already have entered our annual Winter Retreat – January 15 – March 31. This is a very precious time for us, where the many pulls of the world are put aside for a while, and we can deepen once again into the silence…
The skateboarders jumping curbs outside, people chatting as they pass by, a passing motorbike, the gentle rumble of the ocean, all arise out of the silence and fall back into it again…. All that arises passes away…. It has been a full year and we welcome this time of introspection to bring balance to our lives.
Several people have asked about the state of the land search. While we are in retreat, the Rural Vihara Search Team, headed by Dennis Crean, will continue to look for a suitable rural property to rent in El Dorado County, CA. The board has a strategy in case the perfect place is found and needs to be quickly secured, so we can go deeply into retreat, while knowing that if the right place comes up, it need not be lost. We so appreciate the careful consideration of our board, and the efforts of all those who are part of the search and look forward to see what happens next!
At the end of 2013, we held our annual New Year Retreat, this time back at the Angela Center in Santa Rosa to accommodate the 50 people who attended. The retreatants had a wide variety of experience, from well-seasoned practitioners, to first time retreatants, and their ages spanned from 23 to 85 years! Kathy Cheney once again did a marvelous job as retreat manager, and Paul and Eva offered delicious, nutritious meals imbued with loving-kindness. It was beautiful to see the New Year in together with so many people dedicated to transforming the heart and mind. If you would like to listen to some of the talks given, you can find them here.
Back at Aloka Vihara, over the past year, we have been well supported with the four requisites (food, clothing, lodgings and medical care) and also with the hands-on help of our stewards. Mary, who met Ayya Santacitta and Jill Boone at the Sakyadhita conference in India last year, wrote this lovely article about her experience with us. Shirley, who supported our winter retreat two years ago, is back with us again, a pleasure for us all! Half way through our retreat, when Shirley returns to the UK, Holly Oswald will be with us, brining her warmth and sagely wisdom to the vihara once again. In April, Satima (Geri Feldman) will join the community as a manager, taking some the administrative duties off our hands – we are very grateful for that!
With California now into a second year of drought, we are enhancing our ongoing practice of mindful water conservation, by not only being careful to use less, but also catching water that would otherwise go down the drain, using it to water plants and to flush the toilets. We each noticed the sense of joy that arises from watering plants with water we have saved. This winter we heard from friends and family about floods in the UK; no snow in Austria; there has been the great cold snap in the US; and we are in drought in CA…. The list goes on….
A group of Dhamma teachers, of which we are part, spent time over the past 6 months creating this statement on climate change. Please have a look and put your name to it if you feel so moved. Many Buddhists consider climate change to be a political issue – for us it is an ethical issue and wholly part of the practice.
May any merits that arise through our practice benefit this Earth and all who abide in, on and around her.
With much metta from the sisters of Aloka Vihara.
Ayya Anandabodhi, Ayya Santacitta & Sr Jayati
January 1, 2014
Saranaloka New Year’s Greetings to Our Friends in the Aloka Vihara Worldwide Sangha!
Often on New Year’s Day I find a comfortable spot and pull out my previous-year calendar for a review. I savor the special events, the ordinary activities, travels, time with friends and family, including my extended Saranaloka family.
Similarly, the Aloka Vihara Sisters have offered us a sample of their 2013 review in pictures.
What would be your special pictures from 2013? If they’d include the Aloka Vihara Sisters, a vihara visit, retreat, meal offering, sending of metta, or a smile at reading a Saranaloka newsletter or Facebook posting, just go ahead and imagine adding it to the Saranaloka picture offering. And know your goodness has made all the difference.
Thanks to you the Sisters are well cared for and Saranaloka is healthy and thriving. We’re well on our way to finding a rural rental property for Aloka Vihara to move to– with space enough to start creating a Northern California training monastery.
What do you picture for you and Aloka Vihara/Saranaloka for 2014? Imagine it clearly and hold it in your heart. Now imagine we have a collective mosaic; all the positive wishes and images coming together for each other, for the Sisters, for the four-fold Sangha, for our world, and all beings. Together we’re changing the world. One day at a time.
Happy New Year, friends.
Wren Withers on behalf of the entire Saranaloka Board