On September 30th, we honoured the life of arahant bhikkhuni Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha’s maternal aunt and foster mother – and our ancestral Dhamma mother. This full moon day marked the anniversary of her ordination as the first bhikkhuni 2595 years ago.
It is due to her great courage, determination, and enlightened wisdom that we are able to renew and uphold the tradition of the Bhikkhuni Sangha – after a lapse of nearly 1000 years – and work towards freedom from suffering for the benefit of all beings.
We remembered her poignant story: at age 65, Queen of the Sakyan people, she left her palace in Kapilavatthu, walking 240 kilometres with a large retinue of her royal colleagues – barefoot, having cut off their hair and donned the yellow robe – along the dusty tracks of ancient India to reach Vesali and request ordination from the Blessed One!
Here in Perth, two and a half millenia later, about 60 Dhamma friends crowded together inside Sati Saraniya Hermitage, sheltering from the wet autumnal weather for a precept ceremony, alms giving meal, Dhamma reflections and chanting of blessings. We shared stories about Mahapajapati’s life and the precious legacy of all our arahant forefathers and mothers.
Then we walked up the hillock to the site where we hope next year to gather again for these Dhamma activities inside the new temple building.
[slideshow]A wonderful team of 24 friends gathered together at Sati Saraniya on July 21st to help us prepare for the first construction phase of our temple project. Bearing food offerings and equipped with work gloves, tools and a joyful enthusiasm that never flagged in the summer heat, they formed teams in the cool morning to take up the various jobs of clearing bush, salvaging and storing old wooden beams, bagging compost, removing rusted farm equipment and other works on site.
We now have a beautiful space where in time to come we hope to gather again for silent meditation in a purpose-built Dhamma hall. The mood was harmonious and festive, especially when it came time to share the almsgiving meal, chant dedications and share blessings. These photos are glimpses of how the day unfolded…
[slideshow]Last month, we were blessed with a very special visit by Bhante Gunaratana, one of the most highly revered elders of the Theravada Bhikkhu Sangha in the world. He was accompanied by Bhantes Jinananda and Yasassi as well as about 20 devoted Dhamma friends.
‘Bhante G’, as he is affectionately known, joined us for the alms-giving meal and led us in a power walk around the forest at a pace that challenged even the younger members of the crowd following behind him. He also blessed us with a beautiful Dhamma talk, A Question of Birth and Death. Enjoy the photos of our memorable day with ‘Bhante G’.
What a pioneer year it has been. Guided by the Buddha’s teachings, Ajahn Chah and all our other great Dhamma teachers, and the principles of ‘sati‘ and ‘saraniya‘ – wise attention and goodwill towards others – we worked hard, meditated, conducted retreats and Dhamma programs, and participated in a bhikkhuni ordination ceremony.
We were also fortunate to welcome many wonderful visitors to the Hermitage: Ajahns Viradhammo and Kusalo, Ajahns Karunadhammo, Anando and Venerable Pavaro, and Bhantes Muditha, Rahula, Khemaratana and Jivananda, as well as so many devoted friends who came to meditate with us, share a meal, work in the garden, or stay a few days to help as stewards.
This year has also been momentous in terms of the growth of our spiritual community. On October 17, Ayya Nimmala was one of three women ordained as a bhikkhuni in a moving ceremony at Spirit Rock, California. A dual Sangha of Theravada bhikkhus and bhikkhunis led the formal proceedings in the presence of several hundred well-wishers. You can see a slideshow of this historic occasion.
Changes have also come to the Hermitage with the completion of many welcome renovations, especially a new roof on our main building and the disappearance of our ancient ‘falling-down’ barn. When you drive through the main gate, however, what stands out most is our newly refurbished garage/workshop – now a safe dry space for tools, car and other needed equipment.
In addition to these improvements, thanks to the kindness and generosity of so many, we are planning the construction of a temple and nuns’ common building at Sati Saraniya Hermitage in 2012. For now, from January through March, we put aside all plans and projects to turn our minds to the core work of building parami – pure qualities of the heart – inwardly through our meditation practice by tuning our minds to the stunning silence of the snows aided by our two resident stewards as well as our wider community of supporters.
Reflecting not only on the cycles of nature but on the fluctuations in our minds and in the world around us, we continue to share the goodness of our practice with all beings. May it bring blessings for those near and far. May we all realize radiant joy and peace within our own hearts.
According to our monastic code of discipline, we have four basic requisites: robes, almsfood, lodging, and medicines. Lodging means a roof for one night. Fortunately, we have monasteries in the west where samanas, both men and women renunciates, can live and train their minds to awaken.
To live with the attitude that we are here for only one night is a useful reflection for letting go attachment and staying in the present moment. It helps that we have no ownership over the buildings which we occupy at Sati Saraniya. They do not belong to us individually but we act as custodians, maintaining them for future generations of nuns who come to live this life devoted to Dhamma.
Some tasks, like repairing the roof, are far beyond our capabilities. We were grateful to have a professional crew do the job for us.
When it comes to internal ‘roof repair’, there is no one else we can rely on to shelter us from the storms of life. We have to do the work ourselves every step of the way by learning how to develop a mind that it is not patched or thatched but sturdy, steadfast, and weatherproof in all conditions.
When we grow in mindfulness and wisdom, skilfully and patiently cleansing, repairing, and caring for the mind, then we are bound to find the heart’s true refuge and a sure way to inner peace.
On August 1, 2009, we took up residence in rural Lanark County near the town of Perth. During these first two years, many friends from near and far have helped us change the face of our 140 years old log house and its surroundings into a nuns’ monastery.
We marked the beginning of our third year with the planting of good seeds in our Gratitude Garden to bring forth beauty and blessings from the earth – and in our lives. We reflect on these early days and all that we have weathered and witnessed – storms, drought, even a rare earthquake; the auspicious joy of a first samaneri ordination; and all the many hands of kindness coming together to help us in the work and to share Dhamma with us.
Foremost in our consciousness are the goals of the holy life. Like the newly-planted trees and flowers at Sati Saraniya, may we grow swiftly on this noble path of wisdom and compassion.
Anagārikā Kusalā, a native of Canada, joined the Sati Sārāņīya Hermitage community as a steward in the summer of 2018. Originally from Edmonton, she lived in Vancouver for many years where she met Ayyā Nimmalā and joined her support network
She served for one year as a steward at Birken Forest Monastery and for short periods at Dhammadharini Monastery and Aranya Bodhi Hermitage in Northern California in 2016-17.
Ayyā Anuruddhā, of the United Kingdom, joined the Sati Sārāņīya Hermitage community in May, 2014. After her initial year as a postulant (anagārikā), she began her life as an alms mendicant nun in a sāmaņerī ordination ceremony held on September 13, 2014.
On Dec. 3, 2017, her higher ordination was conducted by a dual Sangha of bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs at Dhammadharini Monastery, in Penngrove, California, with Ayyā Tathālokā as preceptor. That day was also the Uduvapa Poya full moon, honouring Arahant Saņghamittā Therī who established the Bhikkhunī Sangha in the 3rd century B.C. in Sri Lanka.
Anuruddha – ‘one who is in harmony’ – was the name of a beloved cousin of the Buddha, one of his chief disciples renowned for his penetrating Dhamma vision, skillfulness, devotion and noble qualities of heart.
Ayyā Nimmalā Bhikkhunī, a native Canadian, began her journey into Buddhist monasticism by serving as a steward first at Birken Forest Monastery and later at Tisarana Buddhist Monastery where she was guided by dedicated teachers including Ajahn Viradhammo, Ajahn Sona and Ajahn Kusalo.
Ayyā Nimmalā deepened her commitment to the monastic life in 2010, when she took the 10-precept sāmaņerī, ordination with Ayyā Medhānandī as her ācarinī (teacher); and, in 2011, she received full ordination along with Ayyās Ānandabodhī and Santacittā of Aloka Vihāra. Their bhikkhunī upasamapda ordination was performed at Spirit Rock, California by a dual Theravāda Sangha of bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs lead by Ayyā Tathālokā Mahatherī, acting as pavattinī (preceptor).
Ayyā Nimmalā worked with Ayyā Tathālokā to co-edit the 3rd edition of the Pāli-English Bhikkhunī Pātimokkha booklet, printed in 2016 for distribution to the Bhikkhunī Sangha worldwide.