Ethical Footprint

Kuti at Sati SaraniyaA prevailing theme of the Buddha’s own life and teachings resounds for his disciples across more than two and a half millenia. Repeatedly, he extols the virtues of dwelling in the wilderness, exhorting us to devote ourselves to solitude, seclusion, and meditation so that we can realize Nibbāna, the Deathless.

 1. “Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living in the Kuru country where there was a town of the Kurus named Kammāsadhamma. There he addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Bhikkhus.”—“Venerable sir,” they replied. The Blessed One said this:
2. “Bhikkhus, this is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realisation of Nibbāna—namely, the four foundations of mindfulness.
3. “What are the four? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind as mind, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind-objects as mind-objects, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world.
4. “And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu abide contemplating the body as a body? Here a bhikkhu, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out…”

Majjhima Nikāya 10. Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta:
The Foundations of Mindfulness

Due to the extremes of Canada’s winters, and as bhikkhunis, we do not use the roots of trees as a resort, but we have empty huts. Thanks to the kind generosity of our community, this winter we have two new wood kutis* styled after the early settlers’ log houses – apart from a smaller footprint of 108 square feet, metal roof and modern double-hung windows. Our carpenters sourced the pine logs locally, dovetailed them together, and built the kutis to last for generations of meditating monastics.

We are happy to be testing them this winter. Already they seem more than adequate, superbly suited to forest-dwelling and contemplative practice. Though designed for sustainability and care of the earth, above all, inside these tiny spaces we are eager to reduce the kilesa* footprint in our minds.

*kuti: meditation hut
*kilesa: mental hindrance ie. greed, hatred, delusion, anxiety, restlessness, pride, selfishness…

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Daughter of the Buddha

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On July 5th, one week before the start of our annual vassa or rains retreat, Acala – Naomi Brown from England – took anagarika ordination in the temple at Sati Saraniya Hermitage. A small gathering of our community members watched her request permission to live the homeless life. Soon afterwards, she emerged with head shaved, wearing the signature white robe of a postulant, prepared to undertake the first phase of training as a monastic.

We were moved to witness this act of profound commitment to the holy life. For every one of us, it nourishes the aspiration for spiritual awakening and brightens our resolve to persevere on this path of prudent happiness.

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Unexpected Blessings

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After the solitude of our winter retreat and the return of bright spring days, we decided to follow the ancient Buddhist practice of walking for alms to receive spontaneous offerings of food from the community. On Saturday mornings, we have been going pindapat in the Perth Farmers’ Market. We stand between the colourful displays of fruits, plants and home-made products where vendors and passers-by exchange friendly greetings. Time and again, our alms bowls have been overflowing with generosity – a sign of the warm reception and interest people express in our way of life and local presence.

These last few weeks have also been a time of receiving new visitors to the Hermitage, notably Ayya Anandabodhi, co-founder of Aloka Vihara in California. Not only is she the first bhikkhuni we have hosted for an extended visit, but we also share more than 20 years of spiritual friendship as nuns. It was rich and meaningful for our community to have her with us and to hear her teach the Dhamma.

We also welcomed visits from several women interested in monastic training. One of them, Denise Morrison of Pennsylvania, presented us with a special gift – a portrait she painted of Arahant Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha’s aunt and surrogate mother. This life-like portrayal of our first elder bhikkhuni and ancestral mother is now framed and mounted in our vestibule.

One of our guests, Naomi Brown of the UK, spent a few weeks with us. She is not new to monastic life, having served for 15 months in monasteries both in England and the USA, including Amaravati and Aloka Vihara. During her stay, Naomi took a spiritual name, Acala (the Pali word for ‘unwavering’), and requested anagarika ordination – living as a homeless one. Her wish to formally receive the eight precepts, wear the white robes and have her head shaved by her 50th birthday will be fulfilled on Saturday, July 5, 2014, in the meditation hall at Sati Saraniya Hermitage.

Acala’s devotion to the teachings of the Buddha stirs us to reaffirm our own aspiration for awakening. We remember how rare and precious it is to live dependent on the kindness of others and to commit ourselves to truth, harmlessness, greater wisdom and compassion.  When we reflect in this way, every day for us is filled with blessings.  These act like a scaffold that sustains us through the many spiritual trials and hurdles that must be overcome.  In turn, what we receive, we give back.

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First Things First

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Just as a deep lake is clear and still, even so, on hearing the teachings and realising them, the wise become exceedingly peaceful.      Dhammapada 82

Every year has been auspicious for our community and 2013 was no exception. We will remember it as the year the Temple was completed, rising in the footprints of four ancient barns that stood sentinel for a century at the top of our driveway. And we remember the many inaugural events we hosted inside the meditation hall – a first day of gratitude to parents with the Tisarana Sangha, a first ordination ceremony, and a first residential retreat on the theme of ‘Death and Dying’.

We also remember the joy of our first mornings of pindapat along the rural lanes of Lanark County. Following the spirit of the Buddha going for alms in village India more than two and a half millenia ago, we walked mindfully in silence with our alms bowls to the homes of dear devotees to receive a meal offering and chant blessings.

During the last five months, the palpable stillness and beauty inside the meditation hall created a welcome haven for many overnight guests, stewards and local friends who joined us for evening and weekend practice sessions. For the first time, this year it will become sanctuary for our three month winter retreat.

By taking this time to stop and devote ourselves to meditation, we practise balancing the pace and demands of our commitments. Instead of focusing outwardly, we give ourselves to the vital work of looking within. Instead of singling out the ‘firsts’ of our past year, or of our life, and remembering them as special, we see and investigate our experience moment by moment.

We discover that every breath is its own ‘first’, a new beginning in which awareness grows clear and deeper truths are revealed. These are the seeds of peace and wisdom that stopping and studying our own hearts can foster.

May each of us remember to stop – no matter how compelling or important our activities, or how much enjoyment they bring. Devotion to the higher mind will yield a greater happiness, a deeper peace, and a viable refuge from the world.

May we all strive to purify our hearts and bring forth more loving-kindness and compassion in this world.

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Aspiring to Awaken

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On the full moon day of September nearly 2600 years ago, Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha’s aunt and foster mother, became the first bhikkhuni to receive ordination in the Buddha’s dispensation and, later, an arahant in her lifetime. This year we honoured her with a pabbajja ceremony at Sati Saraniya Hermitage. One hundred Dhamma friends gathered to witness Anagarikā Ahiṃsā receive samaneri ordination, ‘going forth from home to homelessness’ as a 10-precept Theravada novice nun.

Ahiṃsā means ‘one who brings no harm to anyone’. A native of Vancouver, her endurance, gentleness and compassion during her training, which coincided with major temple construction works at the Hermitage, have endeared her to everyone in our community.

It was groundbreaking for our community, being the first such ritual to be held in the new Temple and in the presence of the Ubhato Sangha or Fourfold Assembly as established by the Buddha, namely: monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen.

Attending the ceremony was Sister Ahiṃsā’s 24 year old daughter, Allison, who travelled from Vancouver especially to witness her mother’s momentous step of deepening her devotion and commitment to the Buddha’s teachings.

How tender the moment when Samaneri Ahiṃsā emerged in her new rust-coloured robes and paused in front of Allison to receive her alms bowl, marking her complete dependence on alms and the kindness of others. Once Allison placed the bowl strap around her mother’s shoulders, Samaneri Ahiṃsā ascended the altar to recite her vows.

For all who sat in the temple, the impact of this rare and moving act of spiritual commitment and renunciation was palpable.

Seeking our own liberation from suffering has the hidden effect of widening the path to awakening for all beings. It is a sign of what is possible, regardless of the trials and storms we must face in life, a reminder of our potential to tap a reservoir of inner resilience, strength and a beauty of heart that can bring forth great blessings.

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Dying to be Free

Reclining-Buddha-Polonnaruwa-Sri-LankaSati Saraniya Hermitage will host a 3-day “Dying to be Free” meditation retreat (residential and non-residential) on the Remembrance Day Weekend: 6 pm, Friday, Nov. 8 – midday (after the meal) Monday, Nov. 11.

The traditional format of keeping eight precepts and noble silence with periods of sitting/walking meditation in the Temple hall and vestibule areas will be followed. We will also include dedications and remembrance of loved ones, morning and evening chanting, guided death meditation, and Dhamma reflections on dying, freedom from fear and bringing forth joy.

Meals will be simple breakfast (bread/porridge and a hot drink) and potluck dana for 3 days. Tea/coffee and ‘allowables’ in the afternoon. Please bring a dish and/or groceries to share, toilet paper, warm clothes, towel and bedding/sleeping bag. We have a few spare blankets and a good supply of meditation mats and cushions but you are welcome to bring your own.

We have 16 registered for the retreat and residential attendance is now full. Our local Perth community members are warmly welcomed to attend and return home at the end of each day.

Much appreciation and anumodana.

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Five Year Anniversary

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At this time of completing our fifth year in Canada, we remember all the dear friends from near and far who have helped us grow so well.  Like many Buddhist monastics transporting the Dhamma to the West, our beginnings were small and humble, first a rented house in Ottawa, then moving to a 140 year old log house near Perth, Lanark County, and slowly changing its face into a Theravada training monastery for women.

We reflect on what we have weathered and witnessed in these early years: leaving the security of nearby support for a remote rural location, seeing our trees brought down in storms and drought, and observing many comings and goings with a steady heart.

We remember the joy of our first samaneri pabbajja (going forth) in 2010; a historic first bhikkhuni ordination at Spirit Rock, California in 2011; and the hard work of many local friends who helped dismantle four old barns over the years to make way for the newly-built meditation hall. This will be the venue next month for our second samaneri pabbajja ceremony.

May we be able to sustain that humility and continue to plant good Dhamma seeds in our lives and hearts, uplifted by the wave of kindness from all those reaching out to work with us and share these precious Dhamma teachings.  May the goals of the holy life remain foremost in our consciousness so that, enduring and resilient, we can strive well on this noble path of wisdom and compassion.

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