Newsletter Archive 2015

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December 2015 Greetings

Dear Friends,

“We are sangha family; I got all my sisters and brothers with me…” – Borrowed from an optimistic, upbeat Sisters Sledge song.

Recently the Aloka Vihara community needed unexpected help in the form of a cook or lay people to provide and prepare meal dana during vihara personal retreat time. Many responded, and we thank all who rallied to quickly fill the need. Many who volunteered visited the vihara for the first time. It felt magical to put out the request and in a snap have it fulfilled. So what about this magic?

You and I are Saranaloka Foundation; we stock the shelves and the fridge, pay the electric bill, and fill the car with gas. We work together to co-create the monastery, in the hopes that our material support can allow the Ayye and Vihara Manager to focus on their co-creation, with the four-fold sangha benefiting. Want to give yourself a gift? Offer meal dana at the vihara. It’s as simple as showing up with a whole or partial meal for 4-5 people. If you are worried that your culinary skills aren’t good enough, don’t be; you do not need to be a 5-star chef! The sisters are grateful for what is provided. (Trust me on this. I’ve offered some real dud dishes, which they’ve eaten with a smile.) You can also trust me that every time I’ve visited the vihara I’ve been uplifted and inspired. Doing anything positive for or at the vihara always turns out to be a gift for me.

The Board and Sisters recently welcomed our new board member Robert Hohn. If you visited the vihara this spring or follow Saranaloka Foundation on Facebook, you may have seen him as he was crafting the gorgeous wood yurt platform. Robert lives in Sonora, California, and he’s a welcome addition to our ‘team’. You can learn more about Robert and the other board members on the Saranaloka board biographies webpage.

The Board is often asked about how the Foundation is doing financially. Finances in 2015 focused greatly on encouraging donations to the Founders Fund for our property purchase and improvement-related projects. We offer our thanks to you for your generous donations to this fund – including those made at our annual Almsgiving Day, other benefits, and teaching events near and far. Over the past year, we’ve received nearly $255,000, which together with earlier donations, bring Founders Fund donations to $330,000. This leaves us with $85,000 to go toward our goal of $415,000.

We have applied some of your donations to paying down our property loan, and we now owe about $127,000. In the last 6 months Saranaloka has also used some of these funds for a much-needed renovation of Aloka Vihara’s office. The dark, dingy room got a total makeover, including new carpet, paint, and skylight. And as 2015 winds down, Founders Fund resources will be used to help us soundproof the shrine room from adjacent kitchen noises, making the vihara’s sacred space quieter and more conducive for reflection and meditation. In the kitchen eating nook we’ll replace the window with a door to the outside patio to provide better traffic flow.

What’s next? The Board and Sisters will formulate our 2016 financial and project steps at our January board meeting. Stay tuned and start looking at your calendar for a good time to come visit next year. The community will again be welcoming guests in April following their winter retreat.

Please know that the Board is grateful for all kinds of support …and hopes you feel the fruits and magic of your giving. We feel blessed and encouraged by your ideas; physical and monetary energy; and good will from near and afar. You are a valued member of our sangha family; we are all co-creating Aloka Vihara monastery.

Wren Withers
Saranaloka Board Member

August 14, 2015

Summer Greetings from Aloka Vihara

Dear Friends,

Hope this finds you well at heart.

We have enjoyed the cooler summer here this year; cloud cover has brought relief from what could have been intense heat over many days. We are getting to know the land and some of the creatures we share it with. Just this morning we found a family of Praying Mantises in the lavender patch near our shrine room – a fitting place for them! We have seen Bobcats playing on the lawn, Coyotes loping across the meadow, signs of a black bear on the property and a fledgling Bald Eagle came to us one day, not quite ready to hunt for it’s own food. It took us a while to decipher what bird it was as it was so big and hefty, but had just flown the nest and still had fluffy down feathers on it’s breast. Deer continue to graze around the vihara, and many birds grace the trees and skies. Of course there are challenges too – the long drought, deer ticks and poison oak to mention a few – but these are all part of life, reminding us of the true nature of samsara; never quite perfect. Or, if viewed in another way, always perfect.

As a community at Aloka Vihara, we are currently making a living study of The Noble Eightfold Path, using Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book of the same name as a reference point each morning. We investigate suttas on that theme in our weekly sutta discussion and offer Dhamma reflections related to the Eightfold Path. Going steadily through this training as a community, provides rich food for reflection and brings a deeper integration of the practice into our daily lives. In Anguttara Nikaya 5: 25, the Buddha states that when assisted by virtuous behavior, learning, discussion, calm and insight, Right View has liberation as it’s fruit. This is such an accessible teaching and brings a sense of gratitude for the Buddha’s realization. A sense of gratitude for the Dhamma, so accessible here and now. And for the Sangha, without whom we would be stuck with our own limited perspective, unable to discuss and deepen our understanding.

In our community, Anagarika Susan, decided to return to lay life on the completion of her 6 month commitment to the anagarika training, in order to be part of a lay community in Seattle. Susan was with us from the beginning of our time in Placerville and was a good support in many ways. We wish her well in the next phase of her life and are adjusting to being “Anagarika-less” for this time. Over the past weeks we have also had very few guests, so things have been quiet in a way, and busy in a way, with less people to cover the work that needs to be done. From mid-August, we are happy to be welcoming guests again, with Emily and Nancy coming back to stay for a few weeks, and we hope to have a steady stream of guests through the rest of the year. We now have a trailer that is being renovated to serve as accommodation for men. There is also a three bed dorm for women and until the trailer is complete, tents on this beautiful land are another good option. If you are thinking of coming to visit, have a look at our info page and please get in touch with Ayya Jayati, our Guest Nun at <guestnun@gmail.com>.

Looking ahead, we are happy to be welcoming Mindy Zlotnick back to Aloka Vihara after her long time on the East Coast. She will be coming in December and staying through our winter retreat (January through March); taking on the role of the Kitchen Manager for that time. Mindy initiated the weekly (now bi-weekly) mail back when we first arrived in San Francisco, and was the key organizer of our Bhikkhuni Ordination in 2011. We are grateful to have her solid support for our winter retreat and are currently looking for one more person who could come for 3 months, or 2 people who could each cover half of the retreat time. They would need to have a mature mediation practice and be able to offer a few hours in the kitchen and some cleaning, 5 days a week. If this is something you feel you would be able and interested to do, please get in touch with us to discuss it further.

Mindy and Emily have initiated ‘Friends of Aloka Vihara’ (FAV) and will be organizing the Almsgiving ceremony this year at Aloka Vihara on September 12. If you would like to take part in any way, please get in touch with them at <friendsofalokavihara@gmail.com>.

As we shift from a rental situation to our more permanent forest monastery here in Placerville, the Saranaloka Board also look to expand from four members to five or six, in order to cover the many aspects of developing a monastery. Dennis has now kindly taken on the role of President of Saranaloka, allowing Wren to step back and offer her support and guidance as a regular board member. We are so grateful for the board and all they do, and look forward to welcome new members later this year.

At our recent board meeting, we were gladdened to have a visit from Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Karunadhammo , who were both part of founding Abhayagiri Monastery in Ukiah. They offered valuable advice, bringing their years of experience and sharing some of the trials and successes of their own endeavors in establishing a monastery in California. In the evening, Ajahn Pasanno inspired us with a Dhamma reflection (sorry, it wasn’t recorded) and the next morning we walked the land and brainstormed ideas for future development.

We continue to be touched and humbled by the many ways that people take part in this monastery; offering food and other useful items, money donations, organizing events, driving, gardening, handy work, kindness, sharing practice, staying connected… There are so many ways! We are grateful you are part of this journey.

If you would like to come and practice with us, registration for our New Year retreat, which will be held at the Angela Center in Santa Rosa this year, is now open.

With metta and wishing you all blessings,
Ayya Anandabodhi, Ayya Santacitta, Ayya Jayati & Marina

June 7, 2015

“Big” News from the Saranaloka Foundation

Dear Friends of Saranaloka,

A primary role of Saranaloka Foundation and its board of directors is to serve as the financial stewardship organization for the nuns and their supporters. So far, 2015 has been a big year for the foundation and its vision of creating a training monastery for bhikkhunis. It’s my pleasure to write to you this month to share some of our big numbers:

  • We took the very big step of purchasing a $415,000 property and house for the Aloka Vihara nuns this past January.
  • At the time of purchase, we made a big down payment of $165,000 and took out a 15-year bank loan for the remaining $250,000.
  • We gratefully received our biggest-ever single donation of $50,000 to our Founders Fund for the property purchase.
  • So far this year, we’ve received our biggest cumulative amount of donations to the Founders Fund in any year since our inception – currently $201,245.77 and counting, from well over 100 donors. Amazing!
  • In April, we made a big prepayment of $70,000 toward our $250,000 bank loan. This reduces the amount we owe to under $180,000 and reduces the term of our loan by nearly 6 years, resulting in big savings of over $63,000 in anticipated interest costs.
  • And in the months ahead, we hope to report even more big prepayments thanks to our supporters’ continuing generosity.

As a board member, I find it a big relief not to have worry about money – a rare “luxury” for a nonprofit board. It’s a joy to trust in the generosity that the nuns – and the Dhamma – have inspired in so many people in California, across the country, and around the world. Every step of the way, so many individuals have given generously toward our shared vision. This includes not only the many special donations to the Founders Fund but also the ongoing donations to our general fund for the everyday costs of supporting Aloka Vihara and the nuns. So I’d like to share with you a big thank you from the board for making 2015 such a big year for the Saranaloka Foundation and the nuns (and we’re still only in June!).

For those interested in details about last year’s finances, we have posted a copy of our 2014 IRS Form 990 on the Saranaloka Foundation website.

In closing, we thank Amanda Kimball, who recently completed a term on the board, for her generous service. We are also happy to welcome Julie Dehart, who joined the board in April. Julie has been an active member of the Sacramento Buddhist community for nearly 20 years and has practiced with and supported both nuns and monks in the Theravada Forest Tradition since 2000. Most recently, she helped coordinate Ayya Jayati’s ordination festivities this past November. Julie joins board members Sue Boeger, Wren Withers, and myself. (You can read more about Julie and the other board members here.)

Kind regards,

Dennis Crean
Board Member, Saranaloka Foundation

April 25, 2015

Spring Greetings from Aloka Vihara

Dear Friends,

Now our Winter retreat has ended and we are all in a process of re-engaging with the various duties we share in creating a monastic environment, within which the Dhamma can flourish. It has been such a precious time for our community of truly arriving here in a wholehearted and fully embodied way. Just days before our retreat was scheduled to begin on January 15th the purchase of the Tolowa Trail property as the new Aloka Vihara was finally confirmed. The significance of this cannot be underestimated as demonstrating how the power of a wholesome intention can bring forth great blessings. There was a sense of being welcomed by this beautiful and benevolent land and a wish to honor the great generosity of so many who have contributed to make this possible, by making best use of this time to deepen our practice.

In February we were blessed with a visit by the Venerable Ajahn Brahm from Australia, a senior monk of over forty years who originally trained and studied under the tutelage of Ajahn Chah. He has continued to be a strong supporter for the re-establishing of the Bhikkhuni order in the Theravada tradition. We were so glad to be able to welcome him here for the day at Aloka Vihara, accompanied by some of our Venerable bhikkhuni sisters from the US. His warmth, kindness and clear Dhamma teaching were so uplifting for all who were fortunate enough to be present for the occasion.

One huge bonus was our newly acquired trailer – Katannu Kuti! Thanks to all of those who worked so hard to get this space ready in time for our retreat. This gave a place within which members of the community could take turns to have a period of solitary practice. This special way of being out in the forest was such a profound experience for each of us. The awareness of stillness and silence was so supported by the solitude and the beauty of the surrounding nature.

We would especially like to offer our deepest thanks for the wonderful women who stayed with us to support the retreat… Chau, Suzanne and Dawn. They all did an amazing job of providing meals for the community and looking after the vihara in such a caring, generous way. We received an abundance of dana from supporters near and far, either in the form of “surprise deliveries” on the doorstep, cooked meals or things arriving through the mail – again a powerful incentive to practice as an expression of the gratitude so deeply felt by all of us.

An especially heartening event was the transformation of Chau to Anagarika Cittananda. She left for one week for her Eight Precept ceremony on the 8th May at Ayya Santussika’s Karuna Buddhist Vihara. Her return in white robes, with shaven head was both heartwarming and truly delightful! We wish her every blessing in her monastic path and look forward to her future visits.

In April Ayye Anandabodhi, Santacitta and Jayati were able to attend the ten day Satipatthana Retreat at Spirit Rock with Venerable Analayo. His presentation of these core instructions from the Buddha was deeply insightful. His emphasis is on getting to the core of the earliest teachings combined with clear, compassionate instructions on how to bring them alive as a path to liberation which is fully applicable in a modern and contemporary world. Ven Analayo will be offering more retreats in the US, which we would highly recommend.

After such a nourishing start to the year the community now has a sense of feeling resourced for what lies ahead. Gratitude is in abundance! We are watching the flow of change and feeling the shift from the retreat form to a more engaged practice. Once again we are in a process of transition as on April 22nd Ayye Anandabodhi and Santacitta will leave to teach a retreat at IMS, Ayya Jayati will be at the vihara with Ayya Dhammadhira, who is visiting until the end of May.

All are welcome to join us for a Vesak celebration at the vihara on Saturday, May 2nd at 7:00 pm.

Blessings to all of you.

Ayya Anandabodhi, Ayya Santacitta & Ayya Jayati

January 15, 2015

Warm Greetings from the Aloka Vihara Nuns’ Community!

Dear Friends,

We are delighted to be entering our Winter Retreat with the knowledge that we can put down roots here at Tolowa Trail! Last year on the first day of our Winter Retreat, we heard that this house and land was available for rent. One year later, almost to the day, Saranaloka Foundation – with the support of many donors, who helped to make a down payment possible – is the owner of this property. We look forward to having retreat here and sharing this peaceful place with you in the coming years.

Our last monastic year was an eventful one, with our moving from the city to the forest, Ayya Jayati taking Bhikkhuni Ordination and Anagarika Susan taking the Eight Precepts formally with our community. Now the property has been purchased, and Emily & Mindy have started “Friends of Aloka Vihara”, a fundraising group. Quite a year!

We share the blessings of our retreat with you and have much gratitude for all the support you have given in helping to create this sacred place of practice. May it benefit many!

Wishing you all a fruitful and blessed 2015!
With much metta –

Ayya Santacitta, Ayya Anandabodhi & Ayya Jayati

January 14, 2015

Big News! We’ve Purchased a Rural Property for Aloka Vihara!

Dear Friends,

With great awe and joy, I have some big news to share. On January 13, Saranaloka Foundation completed the purchase of the 17-acre rural property and house in the Sierra Foothills previously rented as a home for Aloka Vihara. A new era for the monastery has begun!

Since moving onto the land in May 2014, the nuns and their lay supporters had come to appreciate it beauty and its suitability for a rural vihara. So when the property came up for sale only a few short months ago, the Saranaloka board determined to act quickly on this opportunity. As we moved rapidly through the purchase process, I was uplifted and buoyed by all the good-hearted, hard working, responsible, and responsive people who came together to help us.

And now that Saranaloka is owner of the property, we will continue to raise funds to pay off the $415,000 purchase price. We’re grateful for the many generous donations we’ve already received, including earlier donations to the Founders’ Fund, an anonymous gift of $50,000 toward our down payment, and a flurry of new donations both large and small. As of now, we have raised over $200,000, or half, of the required funds. Your continued support is gratefully accepted.

All these good works have come together wonderfully right before the sisters enter their winter retreat. Anumodana to everyone involved—and welcome home, sisters!

Wren Withers
President, Saranaloka Foundation

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