June 29, 2020
Greetings from the Forest at Aloka Vihara Monastery
I hope you are well and finding your way to bring the practice into your daily lives during this time of shelter in place. With the right intention, we can make this a meaningful opportunity – as each breath is – to deepen our practice and understanding.
Here at the vihara, things are well. We just had 10 days of silent retreat – such a precious opportunity to settle and let the heart open a little more. I enjoyed the seclusion of retreating in the yurt, sharing the space with the local deer who sheltered underneath it during the hottest part of the afternoon. One doe was heavily pregnant and is now the mother of a tiny spotted fawn. So special to see these beautiful ones up close. In the evenings, I went down to the creek to collect stones for our COVID Memorial Mandala, which will be constructed in the meadow in memory of the many people around the world who have died from COVID. This number is still increasing, and rapidly so in America. I hope you are staying safe and well. Collecting these stones, each representing people who have died, has been sobering, but also peaceful, bringing the truth of this huge loss and impact more deeply home. It can be helpful to enter into a ritual of some kind to take in the truth of the times we are now in, to feel the loss and open to the reality of this world and its limitations.
Over this past month, we have been taking part in local peaceful protests against police brutality and racial oppression. We are in a time of great change globally and it does feel that, despite centuries of racial oppression, there is a possibility of change for the better – if we stand up and speak out. It has been encouraging to see how supportive the local Placerville police have been through the protests here, even waving greetings to us as we held banners on the overpass and actually leading a group of young protesters through the town to ensure their safety and that they could be seen by all. Of course, it will take more than protests to make things change. Hearts need to change and that is a longer journey. We are all being invited to participate in that right now. Racism today has parallels with the caste system in India, which the Buddha rejected and refused to participate in. He recognized that caste was a harmful, socially-constructed division with no foundation other than view. Race is also socially constructed and has no biological basis. In the Vasettha Sutta (MN 98), the Buddha points out that animals are defined by their birth, “for species are indeed diverse,” but differences between humans are not defined by birth. Science tells a similar story. If this is news to you, please investigate further.
Many of our teachings these days have incorporated poems from “The First Free Women – Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns,” Matty Weingast’s radical and beautiful translation of the Therigatha. It is a delight to teach from these poems, which hold such diversity and depth. We have started to make recordings of the poems from the forest. Already, people have stepped forward to translate the poems into Spanish and German for publishing. It would be wonderful to have them in Portuguese, too!
For the time being, the monastery remains closed to overnight guests and we will continue to offer Zoom teachings to the wider community. We have started going on almsround at our local Farmers Market again, with a wonderful response from people there. In mid-July, Maria Comas will be coming to fill the role of Kitchen Manager at the vihara. She will start as KM after spending two weeks in quarantine here. We are delighted to welcome Maria and her dog, Kiha, into the community. Kiha is accustomed to living outside and seemed right at home as soon as she arrived here.
Thanks to an unexpected donation to support monastery facilities, we have been able to go ahead with several projects this year. The roof at the front of the house, that has been leaking for years, is being replaced. Now that all the old roofing has been stripped and the rotten parts removed, the roof is ready for repair and reshingling. A solar array is being installed on the back, south facing roof. We have been looking into installing solar for some years and are very happy that this project can go ahead now. As part of the solar project, a new electric water heater is replacing the 25-year-old propane heater that was here when we arrived. Robert and Matty, who have been working long, generous hours building our first insulated forest kuti (meditation hut), are taking a break over these hot summer months. The kuti will be fully usable during the summer, but will need more work before being sound for the winter.
This year, July 4th, along with being Independance Day in the USA, is the “Asalha Puja” full moon day. This commemorates the first turning of the wheel of Dhamma, when the Buddha gave that first teaching to the five ascetics he had previously lived with and one of them, Kondanya, understood (i.e., gained Stream Entry). That wheel of Dhamma has continued turning from that day to this, and, as the sutta proclaims, “cannot be stopped by any being.” The only way that the wheel of Dhamma will stop turning is if it is neglected and forgotten, or if that which is not true Dhamma replaces the true Dhamma and the true, liberating Dhamma is lost. So, we are all invited to take part in turning that Dhamma wheel by practicing, studying and investigating the Dhamma and how we apply it to our lives.
The day following the full moon of July marks the beginning of Vassa (three-month “Rains Retreat” for the monastic sangha). Vassa is a time when we study the vinaya (monastic discipline) in more detail and strengthen our practice in areas that need some extra work. It is not predominantly a silent retreat time for us, but a time for deepening our study and practice. At the end of the Vassa, after the October full moon, our Kathina Ceremony (robe cloth offering) will be held on Sunday, October 25, thanks to those who have come forward to offer the Kathina this year. This includes Kanthie Gunawardana and family, and Ann Uyeda along with a core group of the Dedicated Practitioners Program year 6 (DPP6) cohort. It is not yet clear whether the Kathina ceremony will be a public event at Aloka Vihara or whether we will be zooming the ceremony. Emily of Friends of Aloka Vihara will let you know as it comes clear.
Wishing you patience, courage, joy and transformation in your path and practice.
With much metta,
Ayya Anandabodhi and all at Aloka Vihara
April 20, 2020
Spring Greetings from Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery
Dear Friends in the Dhamma,
Warm greetings from us all at Aloka Vihara as we emerge from retreat into a changed world!
We deeply hope that this finds you well, and that whatever the conditions may be for you right now, your practice supports you. We are all well here. The vihara remains closed to guests until further notice, so as to support the health and well being of all. We will be offering some online teachings though – please see below.
Thanks to the kindness and support of many people offering dana, mostly from afar, our winter retreat was peaceful and fruitful. We all emerge with gratitude and a sense of awe at the unfolding. A big “Anumodana!” to all who have supported this time in any way. A special thank you to Julie, Leslie & Russ and Carol & David, who turned up at our doorstep with groceries during the shelter in place mandate, and to our dear friends Michael & Lisa at Five Strings Farm, who have been bringing a big box of organic veggies and flowers from their garden every Saturday morning and leaving it on the doorstep. These gifts have nourished our bodies and hearts.
Sheltering here in such a beautiful place, and having access to the forest and creek is a gift in itself. Now, as spring comes, tiny wild flowers are blossoming everywhere and the oaks are wearing crowns of green. The deer come and graze every day in the meadow, and are often outside our shrine room window as we chant and meditate in the mornings and evenings. Of course, the poison oak is also burgeoning, and it is tick season again. This is samsara after all.
Ayya Ahimsa was away getting her visa extended and visiting family in Canada when the shelter in place mandate happened. She was successful in renewing her visa, but will be staying with her family for the next month or so, until it looks safer to travel. Ayya Niyyanika continues to be with us as a visiting nun. She has been a wonderful addition to the community over these months, bringing her unique blend of scholarly knowledge, deep interest in integrating the practice, and a very kind heart.
The full moon of May brings Vesak – the celebration of the Buddha and all he brought to this world. We will be having a small ceremony here to celebrate this day. On May 21st, Janice, who has been living with us for some time now, will take the Anagarika precepts – taking up the training for one year. We will not be open to the public during May, so these will be small ceremonies at the vihara with the resident community.
The construction of a new kuti (meditation hut) in the forest is about to begin, thanks to Robert Hohn, who is driving up from his own isolated place in the foothills further south, to do the main bulk of the work while keeping quarantine status here at the vihara. We are all taking great care to keep from contracting or spreading the virus. We hope that you are too!
Through COVID -19, nature is giving us a teaching, bringing us face to face with our own mortality, with uncertainty, and reminding us of our place in the greater scheme of things. It is amazing to see the whole world being ground to a halt. This is an invitation to wake up, to let the edge of uncertainty sharpen our awareness. It’s a time to let go of old quarrels and grudges, within ourselves and with others, and connect with awareness and love. In every moment we are cultivating something. Be aware of what you are cultivating in your life. Make a garden of your heart and mind. Pull up the weeds. Plant the seeds of love and awakening and nurture them.
We look forward to seeing you on one of the online teachings.
Sending metta from us all and sharing blessings of our retreat with you,
Ayya Anandabodhi, Ayya Santacitta & Ven Dhammadipa
~ Today before evening puja at the vihara ~
January 15, 2020
Winter Retreat Message from Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery
Warm greetings from the beautiful forest of Aloka Vihara ~ we hope this finds you well.
As you read this we will be entering our three month winter retreat here at the vihara. Things are well set up, with our support team here, and the grounds and buildings in good shape for the winter. Heather, Janice and Linda will be supporting the whole length of the retreat, and Shannon and Erica will each be supporting for one and a half months. Ayya Niyyanika, who is visiting as a guest for 4 months from Dhammadharini Monastery near Santa Rosa, will also be with us for the Winter Retreat.
Ven Dhammadipa, Shannon, Linda, Janice, Heather, Ayya Niyyanika
Ayya Santacitta, Ayya Ahimsa, Ayya Anandabodhi
Looking back over the past year, there have been a few milestones for us. Both Ayya Santacitta and Ayya Anandabodhi are now U.S. citizens, Ayya Ahimsa is in the process of applying for permanent residency, and the property of Aloka Vihara has now been fully paid for! Aloka Vihara Publications has printed its first book. The forest is being managed for fuel reduction and we are staking out the location for our first well insulated kuti (meditation hut) to be built later in the year.
With all those things in place, we are ready to drop into our precious 3 month winter retreat. This is an opportunity to deepen and hone our meditation practice, with winter being the perfect time to put it all down and go inwards. The work we do in silence is what nourishes our practice and teachings for the rest of the year. Gradually, we are learning to let go.
Although you may not all have the chance or inclination to go into longer retreat, we recommend in these challenging times to make space each day for your practice. Generating a heart and mind of metta (benevolence) can be a great support in countering our tendencies to fall into fear or ill will. Bringing sati (awareness) to whatever we are doing/ feeling/ thinking gives us space to reflect, and the agency to gradually transform our old habits of mind. Reflecting on anicca (the inevitability of change) both in small things and in the vaster cycles of the universe, brings understanding and letting go.
‘If you let go a little, you have a little peace.
If you let go a lot, you have a lot of peace.
If you let go completely, you have complete peace.’
Visitors are welcome to join us for evening pujas on Lunar Observance days, and to offer meal dana throughout the retreat, please click here for more info. The retreat will be held in Noble Silence from January 15 through April 15, but if you are coming to offer dana, one of the support team will be here to welcome you.
We will write to you again with our tri-weekly newsletters, starting on April 20.
Sharing blessings of our retreat with you and wishing you peace and well being ~ with metta,
The community of Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery
January 14, 2019
Winter Retreat Message from Aloka Vihara
Dear Friends in Dhamma,
Warm greetings; we hope you had a smooth transition into 2019! We taught our annual New Year’s Retreat at Applegate Jesuit Retreat Center again this year and we are very happy with the venue and the kindness and helpfulness of the staff there. Ven Dhammadipa was part of our teaching team for the first time, giving the sangha a chance to get to know her and listen to her sharing the Dhamma. We enjoyed working together and are very pleased with the positive and encouraging feedback we received from the yogis.
On New Year’s Eve we shared a statement and blessings in memory of Jakelin Caal Maquín, who died in ICE custody at the southern border on December 8. This was read in three languages: in Spanish by Ven Dhammadipa, who is of Latin heritage, in Portuguese by Anagarika Carol, who grew up in Brazil, and in English by Ayya Ahimsa from Canada. You can read the whole text here and find a resource list.
This time 10 years ago, we had just recently arrived at Aloka Vihara in San Francisco for a two-month trial period, to see whether it might be viable to establish a nuns’ vihara in California. At the end of December of that same year, we returned to put down roots in California and now we have a budding forest monastery in the beautiful setting of the Sierra Foothills. On October 27, 2019, we will be celebrating Aloka Vihara’s 10th Anniversary at our Kathina Ceremony ~ we welcome you to come and be part of it.
We are delighted to be entering our three-month Winter Retreat tomorrow with the great support of Shannon, Linda, Matty and Maria.
They will take care of the cooking and much of the daily running of the monastery during this special time when we can put down our duties and deepen our practice.
Visitors are welcome to join us for evening pujas on Lunar Observance days, and to offer meal dana throughout the retreat, please click here for more info.
During the last nine days of the retreat the nuns will head down to Spirit Rock, where Ayya Anandabodhi will be co-teaching on Anapanasati with Ven Analayo, Shaila Catherine and Dawn Scott. We will return to the Vihara for the formal ending of the Winter Retreat on April 15 ~ our next newsletter will come to you on April 19.
Sharing blessings of our Winter Retreat with you all ~
Ayya Santacitta & Ayya Anandabodhi & Aloka Vihara Nuns’ Community