Working Wonders

This Spring we held two consecutive Mindful Work Bee weekends attended by two groups of almost 20 volunteers at the Hermitage. Everyone dedicated their time and skills so generously, bringing abundant offerings of food as well as joy, enthusiasm and a variety of tools to work with. The projects included painting, gardening, refurbishing a log cabin, building a storage shed, preserving the siding of the new temple, clearing an old burn pile, putting up a fence along the main driveway, emptying an old barn in preparation for its dismantling, protecting the temple cedar posts with hemp oil and tidying the construction site.

We are very grateful for all that was accomplished in such a spirit of friendship, appreciation, mindfulness and heartfelt community. Here are a few photo highlights.

May these great blessings be shared in all directions.

Winter Retreat

Temple in the SnowWinter gives us the rare opportunity for silent reflection in the seclusion of the monastery. It is a time to put down our projects and devote ourselves to meditation practice, the core of monastic life. By calming and stilling the mind, we can develop greater clarity and wisdom, while living a life of restraint and harmlessness helps us to bring forth more patience, tolerance, kindness and compassion. These are the qualities we all need to keep sowing the seeds of our own freedom.

During this three month retreat, the builders will carry on constructing the temple to complete it before summer. We have scheduled work days and teaching events on our calendar for the Spring of 2013.

We hope that our practice will be a source of blessing even in some small way, a reminder to strive for greater peace where peace begins – within our own hearts.

Winter’s Advent 2012

Edge of WinterAs winter approaches, we pause, like the blue-gray forms of forest and field that silently witness the season’s change. We contemplate the changes we have seen just in this last year; the passing away of good friends, beings born and to be born, friends who have graduated and found work, and others newly retired from long years of working.

Here at the Hermitage, many special visitors have come to share blessings with us. We have seen Anagarikā Ahimsā (Robyn Church) grow in her training as a postulant through her faith, commitment, perseverance, service and good-will. When Bhante Gunaratana blessed us with a visit in May, he said to her, “Next time I come, I hope you will be ordained.”

An ordination, like a wedding, lasts a short time, but the fulfillment of our vows depends to a large degree on the quality of our endeavour. In what do we really take refuge? And can we stay the course?

For all of us, that’s hard to do especially when things are uncertain or break down or when the dark days of winter draw in. At these times, faith and determination can brace us to keep sowing the seeds of our own freedom. We may not see immediate results, but at least we can bless this hour, this day, the very breath or step that we are taking right now.

If we can see life with Right View – knowing how things truly are, and act from Right Intention – to develop skilful qualities of mind, we can meet change with greater peace and wisdom in our hearts.

So it has been with building the temple. What began as a mere sketch on a piece of paper is now a temple in progress standing outlined against the sky. We have been able to reach this stage of the project due to the faith, generosity and encouragement we receive from all of you, near and far, coming forth to support the work we are doing.

Through the convergence of these collective wholesome intentions, we are reminded that this is more than just a temple for nuns. We are creating a spiritual resource and sanctuary for generations to come.

At the cusp of a new year, it is time for our annual 3-month retreat when we devote ourselves to meditation. While the builders carry on constructing the temple, we hope that our practice will be a source of blessing even in some small way to each of you. May we all strive to purify our hearts and bring forth greater loving-kindness and compassion in this world now, as we begin a New Year, and for all the days of our lives.

A Temple in Progress

[slideshow]Thanks to the faith, generosity and encouragement of so many, our temple building now stands gently outlined against the sky, its roof whitened by a blanket of snow. While our carpenters, who all live locally, continue the construction in the cold of winter, we observe with joy the care and dedication that they bring to this project.

With so many kind and wholesome intentions reaching us from near and far, we are reminded that this is more than just a temple for nuns. The new Dhamma Hall will is a spiritual sanctuary for this and generations to come.

The above photos show the building’s evolution during its first months of construction, as well as gatherings with small groups of friends to watch the cement poured for the footings and foundations.  At these auspicious times, we chanted verses of blessing and placed sacred objects and memories of loved ones in the temple foundations.

Twenty-two beautiful cedar posts surround the walking meditation porch and help support the roof of the Dhamma hall. They were discovered standing in the forest of a friend near our builder’s home just half an hour from the Hermitage. Having died during the ice storm 14 years ago, the trees had lost their canopy but their trunks were still in tact. Our builders carefully harvested them, brought them to the site and cleaned off their outer bark before resurrecting them as part of the temple.

The original design was adapted from a 12th century Japanese Buddhist temple and modified to comply with Canadian climate conditions.  With the building’s dimensions totaling just over 2100 square feet, it is designed to be energy efficient using passive solar and requiring minimal ongoing maintenance.

It includes a 784 square foot Dhamma hall that will seat about 70 for meditation, Dhamma teachings, blessings, ordination ceremonies, and alms-giving events. There will also be vestibule for coats and shoes as well as indoor walking meditation in winter, and a utility building with two public washrooms, two offices, a nuns’ work-meeting room, shower and laundry area, and a mechanical room.

The prelude to building this temple was dismantling a 100 x  50 square foot barn, most of which has been saved and will be reused by the team of enthusiastic neighbours who worked together to remove it. You can see how it finally came down, opening the space where the new temple now stands within a circle of welcoming trees.

Though all is uncertain – especially in the world of construction – we hope to host Gratitude to Parents Day on June 23, 2013 with Ajahn Viradhammo and the Sangha of Tisarana Buddhist Monastery in our new temple.

Completing the new Temple shows the culmination of this beautiful project.

Honouring arahant bhikkhuni Mahapajapati Gotami

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.

Rains Retreat Blessings

Spirit of Community

[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…

Bhante Gunaratana’s Visit

[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’.

Pioneer Year

Blessing flowers petals at bhikkhuni ordination

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.

A Roof for One Night

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.