30 Years As A Nun – A Celebration : Meditation Day

By Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

The shrine and the beautiful yellow flowers in the sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage 15th of March 2015

The shrine and the beautiful yellow flowers in the sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage 15th of March 2015. Photo by Ming.

On Sunday, 15th of March,  2015, Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage held a Meditation Day to celebrate Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni’s 30 Years As A Nun. Twenty three invited lay supporters participated in the Meditation Day to honour our teacher, Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni.

During the Meditation Day,  we investigated the Dhamma based on two talks that Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni offered at Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre, that is ‘The Power of Goodness’ in May 2005 and ‘Keeping One’s Seat’ in October 2006. We focused on ‘How to keep one’s seat in the ocean of Samsara, life – Equanimity’.

We  usually associate ‘equanimity’ with qualities such as calmness, coolness, composure, serenity, tranquillity, aplomb, self assurance and balance. ‘Equanimity’ is a word that comes from Latin and means ‘even mind’.

In Pali, the ancient Indian language, there are two words that describe ‘equanimity’. The first word is ‘upekkha’ which means ‘looking on’. It is like you care enough to engage in whatever is happening in front of you but yet not jumping into the situation, not overwhelmed or grasping or hanging onto it. There are elements of calmness, coolness and composure. There is a sense of detachment. For example, when you sit down in meditation, you put your attention onto the meditation object such as breath, but thoughts still come and go. You sit there ‘looking on’ at the thoughts, like you are watching the television, but you are not inside the show. Upekkha comes in all sorts of shades. When the practice of upekkha matures, it is ‘abundant, exalted and immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will’.

The other Pali word for ‘equanimity’ is Tatra-majjhattata. I translated it as ‘Standing in the middle of whatever situation.’ It also means balance of mind and impartiality. There is an aspect of insight and wisdom. It is like you are rowing a boat in the middle of a river or a large lake. In whatever weather conditions, you are standing on the boat, using your skills of awareness, mindfulness, a clear mind and being totally present, together with your commitment to the Noble Eightfold Path, you row the boat to the destination. You are not running away from difficulties, but staying even though it is unpleasant, with steadiness, kindness and confidence. You have the understanding that  everything in life is impermanent, changeable, suffering and that it does not belong to me, it is not mine, it is not my self.

Equanimity is one of the Ten Perfections, one of the Four Divine Abidings and one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. Equanimity is a quality that is essential in our life, in the samsaric ocean of waves. It enables us to keep our seat in the ups and downs of life.

I am going to share with you a story that happened last year. Ayya Vayama’s brother visited us from Sydney for a few days. He is a Christian Minister who leads prayers and conducts funerals and weddings at his church. Before he left the Hermitage to return to his family in Sydney, he asked whether he could pray over Ayya Vayama. Ayya Vayama and myself looked at each other and said, ‘Why not!’

Ayya Vayama’s brother stood up next to her and started to say his prayer, asking God to bless his beloved sister, and me! I was sitting opposite Ayya Vayama and her brother and ‘looking on’ at what was happening. A devout Christian Minister saying prayers over two bald heads, brown robed Buddhist Nuns, Bhikkhunis. But there was no hostility, no ill will, no struggle or competition. It was inspiring and magical to be there to bear witness. There was great loving kindness, ease and harmony in the room. I could feel and see the loving kindness, the confidence in our hearts, the devotion and commitment in each one of us, to allow us to be able to open to human goodness, and yet keep our own seat. It was a beautiful and amazing present. 

SUFFUSION WITH THE DIVINE ABIDINGS

I will abide pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving kindness…
likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth;
so above and below, around and everywhere; and to all as to myself.
I will abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind
imbued with loving kindness;
abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.

I will abide pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with compassion…
likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth;
so above and below, around and everywhere; and to all as to myself.
I will abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind
imbued with compassion;
abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.

I will abide pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with gladness…
likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth;
so above and below, around and everywhere; and to all as to myself.
I will abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind
imbued with gladness;
abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.

I will abide pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with equanimity…
likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth;
so above and below, around and everywhere; and to all as to myself.
I will abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind
imbued with equanimity;
abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.

 

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni, Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni and the participants on 15th March 2015. Photo by Ming

 

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni, Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni and the participants on Meditation Day, 15th of March 2015. Photo by Ming.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni, Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni and the participants on Meditation Day, 15th of March 2015. Photo by Ming.

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30 Years As A Nun – A Celebration : Publication of Talks

By Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

The publication of free distribution DvD, '30 Years As A Nun' to celebrate Ayya Vayama's special occasion on 6th December 2014.

The publication of free distribution DvD, ’30 Years As A Nun’ to celebrate Ayya Vayama’s special occasion on 6th December 2014.

On 6th of December 2014, Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage held an afternoon tea to officially publish the DVD titled, “30 Years As A Nun” which contained the Dhamma talks offered by Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni at the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. The free distribution publication was to celebrate Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni’s 30 years  since she went forth in Sri Lanka on 17th of March 1985.

About 35 invited lay supporters came to have afternoon tea with Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni and Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni and receive a copy of the DVD. We appreciate all the sponsors who contributed to the publication of the DVD for free distribution.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni and Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni at the afternoon tea on 6th of December 2014

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni and Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni at the afternoon tea at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on 6th of December 2014.

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Vesak Meditation Day 3rd May 2015

The Buddha and the offering of lights and candles on the shrine at the Sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on Vesak Day, 3rd of May 2015.

Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage celebrated Vesak Day 2015 on Sunday, 3rd of May, the day that we remember the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha. Ten supporters came to the Hermitage a few days earlier to clean, polish and dust the shrine and the sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. They also put up the traditional Vesak lanterns, Buddhist flags and lights to honour the Buddha and to celebrate this most important auspicious day in the Buddhist calendar.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni and Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni at the Sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on Vesak 3rd of May 2015.

The traditional Vesak Lanterns and lights at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage.

The traditional Vesak lanterns and lights at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage for the Vesak celebration 2015

About 23 lay supporters came and joined in the celebration on the Vesak Meditation Day. They took the Three Refuges and the Eight or Five Precepts, meditating and contemplating the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha. As the Buddha said in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta in Digha Nikaya, the best way to honour and pay respect to the Buddha is to practise the Dhamma.

The lights, lantern and flags at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage for Vesak celebration 2015.

The lights, lantern and flags at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage for the Vesak celebration 2015.

DIGHA NIKAYA – SUTTA 16 – MAHAPARINIBBANA SUTTA — THE GREAT PASSING–THE BUDDHA’S LAST DAYS

5.3. And the Lord said:’ Ananda, these sal-trees have burst forth into an abundance of untimely blossoms, which fell upon the Tathagata’s body, sprinkling it and covering it in homage. Divine coral-tree flowers fell from the sky, divine sandal-wood powder fell from the sky, sprinkling and covering the Tathagata’s body in homage. Divine music and song sound from the sky in homage to the Tathagatha. Never before has the Tathagata been so honoured, revered, esteemed, worshipped and adored. And yet, Ananda, whatever monk, nun, male or female lay-follower dwells practising the Dhamma properly, and perfectly fulfils the Dhamma-way, he or she honours the Tathagata, reveres and esteems him and pays him the supreme homage. Therefore, Ananda, ” We will dwell practising the Dhamma properly and perfectly fulfil the Dhamma-way”— this must be your watchword.’

The divine lights, lanterns and flags sparkling and twinkling at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage as if they were paying homage to the Buddha during the celebration of Vesak 2015.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni was lighting the candle to be offered to the Shrine for Vesak Day 3rd of May 2015

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni was lighting the candle to be offered to the Shrine for Vesak Day 3rd of May 2015

The Vesak Meditation Day started at 9.30am and finished at 5pm. The theme for Vesak Meditation Day was ‘Buddhanussati’ – ‘Recollection of the Buddha’. The theme was very appropriate as we paid respect and honour our Teacher, the Buddha. We offered lights and candles to the Buddha at the end of the Meditation Day. The light of wisdom of the Buddha is like the light in the dark that fills every corner of the sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. The light that enables us to see clearly.

Offering of lights at the end of Vesak Meditation Day at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage 2015.

Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni offering the lights at the end of the Vesak Meditation Day at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage 2015.

I am going to share with you an interesting story. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni and myself were driven by a non Buddhist, a student, to our appointment a few weeks ago. She was telling us about her studies and the use of the mindfulness technique in mental health. Then, suddenly, she turned around and asked us, ‘Do you guys do mindfulness?’

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni and Bodhi Tree outside the Sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on 2nd of May.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni and the Bodhi Tree outside the sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on 2nd of May 2015.

I had been reflecting on the question of the student. Being Buddhist practitioners, ‘mindfulness practice’ is our profession. However, we do not ‘do mindfulness’. We take the Buddha as our teacher and we follow the Noble Eightfold Path, which includes morality, cultivation of mind and wisdom aspects. Mindfulness practice is one of the Noble Eightfold Path. We follow the Buddha’s teachings which lead us to peace and happiness here and now, and peace and happiness in the future. For those of us who would like to take the practise of the Noble Eightfold Path further, it can lead us to liberation and freedom, Nibbana.

As a Bhikkhuni, a Buddhist nun, I find the teaching and training instructed by the Buddha is liberating, freeing, inspiring, empowering, wise and full of compassion and loving kindness. When we are inspired to walk the Noble Eightfold Path, we are following in the footsteps of the Buddha. We are empowered in our capacity to be awaked in the way the Buddha was.

The following is one of the ‘Recollections of the Buddha’ that we used during the Vesak Meditation Day.

Recollection of the Buddha

Majjhima Nikaya- Sutta 56 Upali Sutta

He is the Wise One who has cast off delusion,
abandoned the heart’s wilderness, victor in battle;
He knows no anguish, is perfectly even-minded,
mature in virtue, of excellent wisdom;
Beyond all temptations, he is without stain:
The Blessed One is he, and I am his disciple.

Freed from perplexity, he abides contented,
spurning worldly gains, a vessel of gladness;
A human being who has done the recluse’s duty,
a man who bears his final body;
He is utterly peerless and utterly spotless;
The Blessed One is he, and I am his disciple.

He is free from doubt and skilful,
the discipliner and excellent leader.
None can surpass his resplendent qualities;
without hesitation, he is the illuminator;
Having severed conceit, he is the hero:
The Blessed One is he, and I am his disciple.

The leader of the herd, he cannot be measured,
his depths are unfathomed, he attained to the silence,
Provider of safety, possessor of knowledge,
he stands in the Dhamma, inwardly restrained;
Having overcome all bondage, he is liberated:
The Blessed One is he, and I am his disciple.

The immaculate tusker, living in remoteness,
with fetters all shattered, fully freed;
Skilled in discussion, imbued with wisdom,
his banner lowered, he no longer lusts;
Having tamed himself, he no more proliferates:
The Blessed One is he, and I am his disciple.

The best of seers, with no deceptive schemes,
gained the triple knowledge, attained to holiness;
His heart cleansed, a master of discourse,
he lives ever tranquil, the finder of knowledge;
The first of all givers, he is ever capable:
The Blessed One is he, and I am his disciple.

He is the Noble One, developed in mind,
who has gained the goal and expounds the truth;
Endowed with mindfulness and penetrative insight,
he leans neither forwards nor back,
Free from perturbation, attained to mastery:
The Blessed One is he, and I am his disciple.

He has fared rightly and abides in meditation,
inwardly undefiled, in purity perfect;
He is independent and altogether fearless,
living secluded, attained to the summit;
Having crossed over himself, he leads us across:
The Blessed One is he, and I am his disciple.

Of supreme serenity, with extensive wisdom,
a man of great wisdom, devoid of all greed;
He is the Tathagata, he is the Sublime One,
the person unrivalled, the one without equal;
He is intrepid, proficient in all:
The Blessed One is he, and I am his disciple.

He has severed craving and become the Enlightened One,
cleared of all fumes, completely untainted;
Most worthy of gifts, most mighty of spirits,
most perfect of persons, beyond estimation;
The greatest in grandeur, attained the peak of glory:
The Blessed One is he, and I am his disciple.

Happy Vesak!

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni, Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni and the participants in the sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on the Vesak Meditation Day 2015.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni, Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni and the participants of the Vesak Meditation Day 2015.

 

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Ajahn Vayama : 30 Years As A Nun : Special Edition

VENERABLE AJAHN VAYAMA: her years in Sri Lanka and thereafter
by Nanda Pethiyagoda Wanasundera

Parappaduwa Nuns’ Island 1984. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni as an anagarika, seated on the left. Ayya Khema, is seated second on the right.

                        Venerable Ajahn Vayama when in her teens developed an interest in Buddhism through wide reading. Completing her university education in Sydney in social sciences, she chose a career of social service. But the desire to know more about Buddhism grew stronger so she came to Sri Lanka as a tourist in 1977. She met Ven Nyanaponika who was resident in the Forest Hermitage in Udawattakele, Kandy. He advised her to read more and study the religion. She did that on her return under teachers in Australia. In 1984, she was back in Sir Lanka, but this time to spend an entire three months at Nuns’ Island, Parappaduwa, under the tutelage of Ayya Khema, a German nun who started this island nunnery on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka. The young woman returned to Australia to almost immediately come back to Sri Lanka with the firm conviction her life had to be one of renunciation; in robes. She was ordained a ten preceptor in Parappuduwa in 1985 and was Ayya Khema’s assistant and helper. It was then that we met her and were immediately struck by her composure and her manner of meditating. Tall as she is, Ayya Vayama would sit ramrod straight but look completely relaxed and remain thus for one hour, two hours, with no shifting of position.

                        An anecdote is relevant here. Just before she left Sri Lanka for good, Ayya Vayama invited three of her friends/supporters (me included) to visit Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, on a three day stay. These are two of the most ancient capital cities of Ceylon when kings ruled our country (377 B C – 1017 A D; 1017 -1235 A D). Anuradhapura is particularly a place of sacred veneration since in it grows the oldest tree in recorded history – the sacred bo tree. A sapling from the bodhi tree under which Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment was brought over by Sanghamitta Theri, daughter of Emperor Asoka (304-232 BC) and sister of Thera Mahinda who introduced Buddhism to the Island during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 B C). On our second day in Anuradhapura, early that morning, we went to Ruwanveliseya – a huge dagoba built by the best known king of the land – King Dutugemunu (161 -137 B C), to sit quietly in reflection, if not meditation. We sat apart. Imagine my surprise when I heard two lots of pilgrims comment on a statue that had not been there the last time they visited. I was amused, I must admit, since the statue they were referring to was Ayya Vayama seated deep in meditation in the stillness of the early morning in that hallowed place.

                        After two years in Parappuduwa, Ayya Vayama moved with a Sinhalese ten preceptor in robes, to a place in Dickwella which soon became a centre for meditation and Dhamma discussion. After 1 ½ years they moved to Ambalangoda where they lived for five years fully engaged in Dhamma work. Ayya Khema had returned to Germany and those of us who were on the Nuns’ Island Committee persuaded the two of them to return to Parappuduwa, which they did reluctantly, feeling committed to their supporters in Ambalangoda. Nuns’ Island flourished again, but Ayya Vayama who bore the brunt of keeping the trees in check, the boat engine serviced, the water pumps working, found her time for meditation eaten into. She decided to move on and went to the London Monastery – Amaravati – at the invitation of Ven. Ajahn Sumedho. She lived happy and successful in her religious commitment for a year, when she was delegated to accompany a nun returning for a visit to Australia.

Her return to Australia

                        While back in her home city, Sydney, she received an invitation, more a summons by Ajahn Brahmavamso, on behalf of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, to pioneer a nuns’ retreat in Perth. This was a major step to take, a huge responsibility to assume, a burdensome task to agree to, but she faced the challenge of setting up Dhammasara Nuns Monastery in 1998 because she desired to set up a place for nuns to train and practice in Australia. Just then a businessman, who wished to remain anonymous, donated to the Society 500 acres of bush about 100 km north east of Perth. It was said he had bought and gifted the land to the Buddhist Society of Western Australia as his wife had just had a baby girl. “What if she wants one day to be Buddhist nun?” had been the prompting thought in his mind.

                        Ayya Vayama took on a monstrous challenge – supervising the building of a nuns’ retreat within a huge expanse of remote bush land, living alone in it originally and then training and ordaining others desirous of leading a life of renunciation. She lived in a caravan and had a tent for a dana sala. Support there was in plenty but she lived alone on the 500 acres for about two years. “How could you?” I asked. “Weren’t you afraid and lonely?”

“How could I be?” was her reply. “I had the Dhamma with me and in me.”

A temporary kuti was built for her within which confined space she lived and had her office. Next a large building was completed, along with roads and paths. A stream which flowed through the land was dammed for collecting water. Wild life was no bother; kangaroos coming over often for tidbits of food. Poisonous snakes slithered around but the nuns and novices walked back and forth from the main building to their kutis at all times of the early morning and late evening, with apparently no fear.

                        Ayya Vayama was much into teaching and preaching and conducting meditation courses. But totally inexplicably, this devoted and saintly Buddhist nun showed signs of a debilitating illness taking hold of her. I say inexplicably because such an illness would be the last thing that one would expect to afflict such an excellent person. But as the Buddha taught, karma and vipaka work on human beings; maybe she made some mistake in a previous birth.

                        Ayya Vayama and Ayya Seri were ordained on 22nd October 2009, the first Bhikkhuni Ordination in Theravada Tradition in Australia. Their preceptor is Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni from America. They left Dhammasara Nuns Monastery in 2010 and moved to live in the house of a female lay supporter. Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage, Pilbara Crescent, Western Australia, was officially founded on 23rd June 2011. The Hermitage is not a physical dwelling. It is an incorporated body set up to support Ayyas Vayama and Seri.

Visits to Sri Lanka

                        “I am delighted to be back in Sri Lanka” said Ajahn Vayama, no sooner had I greeted her in 2005. “My thoughts were constantly with people affected by the tsunami and more especially with those who supported us in Dickwella, Ambalangoda and Dodanduwa.” These were all coastal areas struck by the tsunami on 26 December 2004. She had been particularly concerned about those she felt could have been in the way of the waves. She made enquiries of people in Sri Lanka who got information through the police. She was greatly relieved to be told that many known to her were unaffected, and those who had suffered had lost only property.

                        “I was very happy when Dr Upulmali Govinnage, a supporter of our monastery in Perth, offered to have me accompany her on her visit to Sri Lanka. It was such a great offer because I could revisit the places I had lived in and meet those who had supported me, to whom I am ever grateful. As I told my supporters in Dickwella when I met them on Tuesday, they could rejoice in seeing their ‘sil maeni’ again, continuing on the Path and progressing well.”

                        Ajahn Vayama, accompanied by Ajahn Seri and their Australian supporters, visited the Island again in 2012, but very sadly for us, Ajahn Vayama was in a wheelchair. That did not restrict her at all in inviting her devotees from the three places she lived in, and her Colombo devotees and friends to meet her at hotel they were staying in. Many devotees came, mainly from Dodanduwa. There were tears and smiles and adoration from her visitors and gratitude from Ajahn Vayama to her devotees.

                        I am one of the very fortunate admirers of this truly pious and wonderful bhikkhuni who extended her hand of friendship to me. She has stayed in my Colombo flat and continues corresponding with me. She has been not only an inspiration to me and an understanding meditation teacher, but a friend too. One thing we noticed was that there was an aura of sanctity and peaceful serenity around her. My husband who was intolerant of anything esoteric in relation to Buddhism, said he felt this calmness that she emanated.

                        We are glad to hear that in Australia the non-Christian religion with the largest number of devotees is Buddhism, which religion was first introduced to the then remote continent in the 1880s by the Chinese who arrived during the gold rush. We are proud that a person who was ordained as a Theravada Ten Precept Nun in this land of ours – Sri Lanka -contributed much to the spread of Buddhism in Australia.

In these troublous times …

                        Ajahn Vayama left a message with the many people who met her on her trips to Sri Lanka, apart from what she preached to us and inculcated in us by her example while she lived among us.

Bhavana goes hand in hand with sila. One of these cannot be accomplished, nor even attempted, without the other.” She inspires; she demonstrates that any one of us could reach a higher state if only we dedicate ourselves diligently to renunciation and keeping sila while attending to disciplining the mind. She came to Sri Lanka, interrupting her work in Australia, to again express gratitude to her supporters in this land who morally and materially supported her as she took her first steps on the path of renunciation and dedication of her life to living in the Dhamma.

Ajahn Vayama sure is happy and unshackled by the worries that often coil around us.

                                                                                                Nanda Pethiyagoda Wanasundera

Parappaduwa Nuns' Island 1984.

Parappaduwa Nuns’ Island 1984.

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Happy New Year 2015

          Happy New Year 2015 to you from Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage.

The shrine in the Sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on the evening of 31st December 2014.

The shrine in the Sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on the evening of 31st December 2014.

The lights of the floating candles signifying our wish for peace, lovingkindness and understanding to all beings.

The lights of the floating candles signifying our wish for peace, lovingkindness and understanding to all beings.

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End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony 2014

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

Ming offered the robe to the bhikkhunis at the End of Rains Robe Offering Ceremony at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on 26th October 2014. Photo by Havindra.

Ming Cassim offered the cloth to the bhikkhunis at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage at the End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony on 26th October 2014. Photo by Havindra.

The End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony for Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage took place on Sunday, 26th of October 2014. About 35 lay supporters came to celebrate the auspicious occasion.

The End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony at the Sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on Sunday, 26th of October 2014. Photo by Havindra.

The beautiful flowers for Ayya Vayama's birthday and the cloth material at the End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony 2014. Photo by Havindra.

The beautiful flowers for Ayya Vayama’s birthday and the cloth material at the End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony 2014. Photo by Havindra.

One of our supporters of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage, Ming Cassim, who is also the treasurer of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage Incorporated, offered cloth to the bhikkhunis of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Ming Cassim is one of the long time supporters of Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni, since the time Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni spent the Rains Retreat at Bodhinyana Monastery in 1998.

This year is a special End of Rains Cloth Offering as Ayya Vayama completed her 30th Rains since she went forth in Sri Lanka. Ayya Vayama went to Sri Lanka and entered into monastic training as an anagarikaa in 1984 at Parappuduwa Nuns’ Island with Ayya Khema as her teacher. Ayya Vayama went forth on 17th of March 1985 as a Ten Precept nun at Parappuduwa Nuns’ Island in Dodanduwa, Sri Lanka. Her preceptor was Venerable Piyaratana Nayaka Thera, the head monk at that time, of Polgasduwa Island Hermitage, and Ayya Khema was her teacher.

Ayya Vayama lived in Sri Lanka for ten years. For the first two years she lived at Parappuduwa Nuns’ Island with Ayya Khema and other nuns. After that she lived with one other Sri Lankan nun among the villages in Dodanduwa, Ambalangoda and Dickwella.  Ayya Vayama spent 6 months in India before she went to Amaravati Monastery in England for a year, living in a community of nuns and monks, under the guidance of Ajahn Sumedho. Ayya Vayama then travelled around to meet various teachers. In 1997 Ayya Vayama returned to Australia and spent the Rains at Bundanoon Monastery.

In 1998, Ayya Vayama was invited by the Buddhist Society of Western Australia to establish a Nuns’ Monastery in Gidgegannup. She spent the Rains of 1998 at Bodhinyana Monastery and then moved onto the land of the Nuns’ Monastery in Gidgegannup after the Rains. Ayya Vayama lived on the land of the Nuns’ Monastery by herself for two years in very basic and simple conditions before the first building, the Nuns’ Cottage, was completed in 2000. When Ayya Vayama was asked whether she was frightened to live by herself on a huge property of 583 acres of rugged bush with no electricity and no running water, she answered, : ‘ I am not alone, I have the Triple Gem with me.’ That is the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

In 2009 Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni became the first woman in Australia to be ordained as a Bhikkhuni on home soil. This Rains is Ayya Vayama’s 30th Rains since she went forth as a Ten Precept Nun, and also her 5th Rains as a Bhikkhuni.

Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu to Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni.

The blooming flowers looked beautiful at the End of Rains Cloth Offerering Ceremony at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Photo by Havindra.

The blooming flowers looked beautiful for the End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony on the 26th of October 2014, at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Photo by Havindra.

 The bhikkhunis at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage would like to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt appreciation to all of you, for your support, whether it is dana, material support, transport or volunteering to help to organise or be involved in the preparation of the End of Rains Cloth Ceremony. We appreciate your commitment to the Eightfold path.  May all of you have good health, happiness and strength, may you have all the support that you need on the path, and may you continue to practise for the attainment of Nibbana.

The distribution of birthday cake to celebrate Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni's birthday on Tuesday, 28th of October 2014. Photo by Havindra.

The distribution of birthday cake to celebrate Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni’s birthday on Tuesday, 28th of October 2014. Photo by Havindra.

Some of the volunteers who helped to clean the Sala of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage on Saturday, 25th of October 2014. Photo by Havindra.

Friends at the End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony 2014 at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Photo by Havindra.

Dana on Sunday 26th October, the End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony 2014, at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Photo by Havindra.

Dana table on Sunday, 26th of October, the End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony, at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Photo by Havindra

A delicious cake with a smiley face candle to celebrate Ayya Vayama's birthday. Photo by Ming.

A delicious cake with a smiley face candle to celebrate Ayya Vayama’s birthday. Photo by Ming.

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Life Ebbs Away

This is a transcription of a reflection given by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni, on Friday 19th of September 2014, at Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre, the Buddhist Society of Western Australia.

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samasambuddhasa
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samasambuddhasa
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samasambuddhasa
Buddham, Dhammam, Sangham Namasami.

Good evening everyone. I am Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni, a resident nun from Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Tonight, I am going to start with a poem:

WRITTEN AT YEAR’S END

The sequence of seasons naturally pushes forward,
Suddenly I am startled by the ending of the year.
Lifting my eyes I catch sight of the winter crows,
Calling mournfully as if wanting to complain.
The light of the sun is chill rather than gentle,
Spreading over the four corners like a cloud.
A cold wind blows fitfully in from the north,
Its sad whistling filling courtyards and houses.
Head raised, I gaze up toward the spring,
But the spring pays no attention to me at all.
Time is a galloping colt glimpsed through a crack,
Death’s knock on the door has its predestined time.
How could I not know, one who has left the world,
And become familiar with the floating clouds?
In my garden grow several trees of flowering plum
Whose sworn pact of friendship helps me get by.

 This beautiful poem was written by a nun called Venerable Jingnuo during 1600-1750 in China (late Ming and early Qing Dynasty)

She was the daughter of a county magistrate from Hangzhou. She entered the monastic life as a young girl and became the senior Dharma heir of the woman Chan master Weiji Xingzhi. Like her teacher, Venerable Jingnuo earned a reputation for compassionate but strict discipline and impeccable behaviour and attracted hundreds of followers.

I have especially chosen this poem for two reasons. First of all, I would like to demonstrate to all of us the existence of well-practised nuns in more recent times. She also wrote some poems about meditations and solitary practices in the book, ‘Daughters of Emptiness’.

The other reason that I have chosen this poem is to set the tone of the sharing of Dhamma tonight.

As the poem said: ‘Suddenly I am startled by the end of the year’; how many times we have said among ourselves that ‘It is the end of year again, Christmas is just around the corner!’ The days and nights come and go, ‘Time is a galloping colt glimpsed through a crack’, and life ebbs away without us noticing it. We went from a child, to a teenager, then to an adult, to become parent, grandparent, old, sick and dying. Time flew past us so quickly, as Venerable Jingnuo said in her poem, ‘Head raised, I gaze up toward the spring, but the spring pays no attention to me at all.’ Time does not stop for a moment for anyone of us, whether it is a happy and fun time or sad and difficult time.

Recently, I was reflecting a lot about life. “Time is a galloping colt glimpsed through a crack”, and life ebbs away without us noticing it. My 98 year old Grandma passed way three months ago. She lived at home and was well before she fell ill and went to hospital in an emergency situation. I went to the hospital in the early morning with Ayya Vayama and Jacky for her emergency surgery and we waited at the hospital until she came out of surgery. After that I was in the hospital with Grandma for the next twelve days while her condition went from stable to unstable and eventually she had multi organ failure and was referred to palliative care. It was there I offered Grandma support and love as a granddaughter as well as a nun. I was sitting next to Grandma by myself when she took her last breath. It had been a distressing time for me as a granddaughter but an insightful journey as a nun, a bhikkhuni. Life ebbed away in front of my own eyes and came to an end, a stop. The life of someone that I am close to and who had been there since I was born. The experience forced me to contemplate again and again about life and death.

As I mentioned earlier, I was at the hospital in the early morning supporting Grandma during her surgery. I met a young medical exchange student from Hong Kong that morning. She asked me which temple I came from. I told her my name, Ayya Seri, and I am from a hermitage in Jane Brook. She told me she had visited the nuns’ monastery in Gidgegannup last year and she was very excited about coming to Dhammaloka that week to Ajahn Brahm’s talk. I looked at Ayya Vayama sitting in the wheel chair next to me and smiled. I wished the young Buddhist well in her practice and we parted.

I am going to ask you, all of you in this hall, do you know the first Bhikkhuni Ordination in the Theravada Tradition took place in Australia at Bodhinyana Monastery in 2009? Do you know who were the bhikkhunis ordained at the ceremony?

Ayya Vayama was the founding abbot of Dhammasara Nuns Monastery. She resigned in 2010 due to ill health. Ayya Vayama and myself ordained in the first bhikkhuni ordination in the Theravada tradition in Australia on 22nd October 2009. The ordination sparked some controversy in the Buddhist world. Ayya Vayama earlier joked with me that when you are a feather duster rather than a rooster, for example, an  ex- prime minister and a retired abbot of monastery, people will not remember you. She also offered me the teaching: ‘It is pointless for us to hold on to the sense of me and mine, the special unique Self. In a few year time no one will remember what we have done.’ Ayya Vayama was right and the Buddha was right. In spite of it being an historical event surrounded by controversy, this young female Buddhist did not know of Ayya Vayama, the founding abbot, and she had never heard of me! Life really ebbs and flows.

Even with the Bhikkhuni Ordination in 2009, most people only focus on Ajahn Brahm. Because of Ajahn Brahm, the Bhikkhuni Ordination was possible. But not many people reflect on the effort the founding abbot, Ayya Vayama, had put into training the nuns and starting the monastery, laying down a firm foundation for the ordination. She was the only nun when the monastery started. Ayya Vayama lived on the land of the Monastery by herself in a caravan for two years before the first building was completed. This rains retreat is Ayya Vayama’s 30th rains retreat since she went forth in Sri Lanka. Not only Ayya Vayama, there were many female monastics and practitioners who put in lots of effort over the centuries. The Bhikkhuni Ordination in Australia at Bodhinyana Monastery in 2009 was the fruits of all these efforts.

I am going to share with you a story that is very popular in Hinduism, Jainism, in Indian and Chinese Buddhism. Some of you might remember the story from Ajahn Brahm. The story is called ‘The Man in The Well’. You can find the story in Avadana Sutra or The Parable Sutra in no. 217 of the Taisho edition of the Chinese Buddhist Canon.

Here is the story:

A man lost in a jungle is being chased by a mighty tusker elephant. Full of fear, he tries to escape and sees an old well with a large tree-root dangling into it. Desperately seeking a refuge, he quickly climbs down the tree-root into the well and hangs on to the tree root. As his eyes become accustomed to the darkness in the well, he sees a huge snake, a python, winding itself slowly towards him from the bottom of the well. Looking sideways, he sees that on each of the four sides of the well there is a poisonous viper threatening to bite him. Terrified, he looks up only to see that two mice – one white and one black – are chewing the tree root he is holding on to. Moreover, a forest fire is burning the tree. The roots will soon be chewed or burned through and he will fall down only to be strangled and crushed by the python. On another root above him there is a wild bees’ nest and the bees, angered by his presence, frequently sting him, making him flinch from the pain. At the height of despair, however, five droplets of honey drip onto his face from the hive. Greedily he licks them up, enjoying their sweetness, and entirely forgets his desperate situation.

The explanation of the story is as follows:

The jungle wilderness is samsara, the round of existences. The lost man is you and me. The great elephant is the destructive power of impermanence. The well is worldly existence, life. The climbing down the tree root is the vain hope and expectation with regard to life. The inevitable strangling and crushing by the huge snake is death. The four vipers are the four elements, full of danger. The two mice: night and day, sun and moon, which chew away life. The forest fire is sickness and old age that keep charring the tree of the body. The angry bees are changing circumstances. The stings are the constant stings of the ups and downs (the eight worldly winds) of life. The five honey drops: the five sense pleasure, which are longed for, loved, thrilling, connected with desire, charming. Licking is indulging in sense pleasures, and forgetting the precariousness of samsara.

This simile is great to demonstrate ‘Life ebbs away’, like the two white and black mice chewing away life. The Buddha has warned of the dangers of the pit of samsara and pointed out that there is an escape, Nibbana. However, most of us pay no attention and continue to indulge in sense pleasures and the distraction of sense pleasures that takes us away from the work we need to do to be free. It is not wrong to enjoy life. However, most of us take the enjoyment of life as the most important thing in life and forget ‘life ebbs away’. We might be lucky like Grandma who had been well most of her life but the forest fire of old age and sickness still overcame her.

Venerable Bhikkhuni Ambapali, in the time of the Buddha, was a beautiful courtesan. She wrote a moving poem comparing her former beautiful body to her old and aged body, reflecting on impermanence. She attained arahatship. The following is her poem:

My hair was black, like the colour of bees, with curly ends; because of old age it is like bark fibres of hemp; not false is the utterance of the speaker of truth.

Covered with flowers my head was fragrant like a perfumed box; now because of old age it smells like a dog’s fur; not false is the utterance of the speaker of truth.

Formerly my eyebrows looked beautiful, like crescents well-painted by artist; because of old age they droop down with wrinkles; not false is the utterance of the speaker of truth.

My eyes were shining, very brilliant like jewels, very black and long; overwhelmed by old age they do not look beautiful; not false is the utterance of the speaker of truth.

In the bloom of my youth my nose looked beautiful like a delicate peak; because of old age it is like a flower-spike of long pepper; not false is the utterance of the speaker of truth.

Formerly my hands looked beautiful, with delicate signet rings, decorated with gold; because of old age they are like onions and radishes; not false is the utterance of the speaker of truth.

Formerly my body looked beautiful, like a well-polished sheet of gold; now it is covered with very fine wrinkles; not false is the utterance of the speaker of truth.

Formerly my calves looked beautiful, possessing delicate anklets, decorated with gold; because of old age they are like sticks of sesame; not false is the utterance of the speaker of truth.

Such was this body; now it is decrepit, the abode of many pains; an old house, with its plaster fallen off; not false is the utterance of the speaker of truth.

Life ebbs away. We are not in control of this body, this life regardless who we are. Whether we are the beautiful courtesan, an enlightened arahat nun, even the Buddha, life will come to an end. There is a verse in Dhammapada in Chapter eleven- DECAY ( Jara-vagga) Verse 147:

Look at this beautiful image, with many plans – A diseased mass of sores that has no permanence.’

 We can have plans and dreams about our future. But we need to recognise and be aware that the plans and dreams can be changed at anytime because life is impermanent and unsatisfactory, suffering. Our circumstances are changeable and unpredictable like the bees in the simile earlier.

I was going through my Grandma’s belongings the other day, looking at some of the photos which were taken when I was in high school with my friends. We looked innocent, fearless, invincible, having the whole world at our feet, full of the pride of youth. Old age, sickness and death never entered our minds. Day by day, hour by hour, breath by breath, life ebbs away. I am no longer the invincible proud young one. Whether we live only one breath or 98 years like my Grandmother, time just flies past us. One of my cousins at my Grandma’s funeral said he wished he had visited Grandma more often, spent more time with his special Grandmother. We need to ask ourselves again and again, ‘What is important to us, what is our priority in our life?’ This is a question that has no right or wrong answer, but only we can answer ourselves. So that at the end of our life, or the life of our loved one, we have no regrets. One of the reflections that monastics do regularly as advised by the Buddha is: ‘The days and nights are relentlessly passing, how well am I spending my time?’ This is a reflection that all of us need to do again and again.

In the Samyutta Nikaya, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, the Sutta, ‘The Simile of the Mountain’, the Buddha asked King Pasenadi of Kosala,: ‘If people from all four corners of your kingdoms came to tell the King that they saw a great mountain high as clouds coming this way, crushing all living beings, if such a great peril should arise, such a terrible destruction of human life occurs, what should be done?’”

The King replied, “If, venerable sir, such a great peril should arise, such a terrible destruction of human life, the human state being so difficult to obtain, what else should be done but to live by the Dhamma, to live righteously, and to do wholesome and meritorious deeds?”

“I inform you, great king, I announce to you, great king: aging and death are rolling in on you, great king, what should be done?”

“As aging and death are rolling in on me, venerable sir, what else should be done but to live by the Dhamma, to live righteously, and to do wholesome and meritorious deeds?”

The Sutta is a great reminder for all of us, especially the Buddhist practitioners, to live by the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha, to do kind, generous and wholesome actions is our priority.

I had been talking to Grandma about death and teaching her some chanting for at least the last ten years, but more often over the last four to five years, just the words of “ Namo tassa bhagavato arahato Samasambuddhasa”, “Homage to the Buddha” or “ Buddham Saranam Gachami”, “ Refuge in the Buddha” . I also repeatedly sat and did lovingkindness meditation in Cantonese with Grandma using words like ‘peace and ease’. Grandma even taught me how to say ‘peace and ease’ in Cantonese, ‘心定神怡’。 Each time when I visited Grandma or when I spoke to her over the phone, before I finished the visit or put down the phone, I would make a point to wish Grandma, ‘May you be at peace and at ease’. Grandma always happily replied, ‘Thank you’. All these were to enable Grandma to have a refuge in time of distress and difficulties. When Grandma was sick in the hospital three months ago, her body was struggling and she was in distress, she put her hands together and started to chant ‘Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samasambuddhasa.’ herself. When Grandma was very agitated, she calmed down when I chanted ‘Namo Tassa’ into her ear. When I reminded her to be “at peace and at ease” she was familiar with the term and understood what I was talking about. I talked to her about being a bird and being free. She could drop all the baggage of love, hate, likes and dislikes and fly into the big wide sky, following the Buddha and be free. I continuously repeated some of the wholesome actions that she had done in life into her ear again and again. I knew she found lots of comfort in that. When I was tired, I sat meditating next to her. I surrounded her with lovingkindness, peace and ease. I was sitting there, watching her breathing and reflecting that every breath we take is taking us closer to the end of our life.

My grandmother took her last breath with me sitting next to her surrounding her with all my love and good wishes. I conducted her funeral by myself as she requested earlier. It was an honour to have Grandma in my life, it was an honour to be with her in her last days of life.

I was at Grandma’s house sorting out her belongings the other day. When I left the house and closed the door behind me, I felt I was closing the door to a chapter of my life. I felt sad. I reflected on the closing of the door. That particular chapter of my life might be closed, might have come to an end with the death of Grandma. However, Grandma’s love, kindness, her happy face and smile, courage and strength and generous heart are with me, in my heart.

As life ebbs away, old age, sickness and death rolling in on us, what else should be done but to take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, to draw the Dhamma close to our hearts, to live by the Dhamma, to do kind, generous and wholesome actions.

Now, I would like to share with you a recollection on death. I invite you to close your eyes and I will read out the recollection. Let the words sink into your heart.

 

RECOLLECTION ON DEATH

I sit before the Buddha and contemplate that He and all who knew Him are now dead. Since His great demise countless beings have come, bided their time and gone. The names and deeds of but a few are remembered. Their many pains, their joy, their victories and defeats, like themselves are now but shadows. And so it will be with all whom I know. Passing time will turn the calamities I worry about, the possibilities I fear and the pleasure I chase after into mere shadows. Therefore, I will contemplate the reality of my own death that I may understand what is true value in life.

Because death may soon come, I will repay all debts for all transgressions and be at odds with none.

Because death may soon come, I will squander no time brooding on past mistakes but use each day as if it were my last.

Because death may soon come, I will purify my mind rather than pamper the body.

Because death may soon come, and separation from those I love, I will develop detached compassion rather than possessiveness and clinging.

Because death may soon come, I will use each day fully, not wasting it on fruitless pursuits and vain longings.

May I be prepared when death finally comes.

May I be fearless as life ebbs away.

May my detachment help in the freeing of the heart.

 

I hope the sharing of this reflection tonight will be of benefit to all of us, may the teaching help us all in our quest for freedom and liberation.

I would like to dedicate the merit of the sharing of this reflection tonight to my Grandmother, Ah Ying Kok, who passed away three months ago on 15th of June. A generous and kind grandmother who touched my life with her unconditional love. May Grandma be at peace and at ease. May she be surrounded by people who love and support her in her next journey. May she have a favourable rebirth where she can practise and listen to the Buddha’s teachings for freedom, and liberation, Nibbana.

Thank you.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni, Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni and Grandma at the End of Rains Robe Offering Ceremony on 26th October 2013 at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Photo by Zor Hane

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni, Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni and Grandma at the End of Rains Robe Offering Ceremony on 26th October 2013 at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Photo by Zor Hane

 

Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni, Grandma Ah Ying Kok and Mother Sau San Teh in April 2014

 

Grandma's memorial, November 2014. Photo by Destiny

Grandma’s memorial, November 2014. Photo by Destiny

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