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by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni Theri
The Buddha talked about the three characteristics of all phenomena, impermanence (anicca), non-self(anatta) and sufferings(dukkha). We experienced just that in the recent events.
There are four residents at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage: Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri who is sick and disable, Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni Seri, 77 year old Jacky and Subha the cat.
Life during covid-19 pandemic goes on as usual until Sunday 31st January 2021. Perth entered a 5 day snap hard lockdown at 6pm. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni requires special diet because of her swallowing problems. I had to rearrange the dana for dana drop-off only as there is no visitors allowed into the house except essential workers. We also did not have any volunteers except support workers during the lockdown period. This means the pressure is on for the resident carer, Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni.
The bush fires in the area started on Monday around 12pm. We had been regularly monitored the fire situation since 4.30pm. By the time I went to take a rest at 1am on Tuesday morning, the bush fires’ situation has worsen. I was woken at 3.40am as the support worker needed to leave because her family was evacuated. The Hermitage was 8 km away from the bush fires’ emergency evacuation zone. I decided to leave early as last minute evacuation will be too challenging for us with Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni’s disability. I called the supporter and the maxi taxi and we left the Hermitage just before 5am with hoist and Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni in her wheelchair.
The bush fires’ situations had improved at the Hermitage on Wednesday 3rd February as the wind change took the fire away from direction of the Hermitage. We returned at 1.30pm that afternoon. We remain on alert with the changing bush fires situation. However, the bush fires continues to cause heartache and chaos in the community. At the same time the lockdown continues.
Our hearts go to the community members who suffer difficulties and losses. Our respect goes to all the firefighters and the emergency services. Our lovingkindness and good wishes goes to all beings especially to all those affected by the recent challenges.
May all beings be safe and at peace.
Photos by Havindra and Sahan.
The End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony 2020 at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage was conducted on Sunday, 25th October. Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic and the practice of social distancing, only 38 people were invited to attend the event.
The committee members of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage Incorporated, which was formed in 2011 offered the the robe cloth to the Bhikkhunis at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. The committee led by the current chairperson, Chrissie Anderson, consist of Jacky Lambert, Jo Bower, Karen Sprigg, Peace Weeks, and Ming Cassim.
At the end of the ceremony, we also celebrated Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni’s 68th birthday.
Preparations and cleaning on Saturday 24th October. Photos by Havindra
Written by Chrissie Anderson
On the 17th of March this week it was an auspicious occassion for our dear Ajahn Vayama as this was the date she ordained as a Buddhist Nun in Sri Lanka 35 years ago. Previously to ordaining Ajahn Vayama worked as a Social Worker and set up the first Womens’ Refuge in Sydney.
The Buddhist Society of W.A. was very grateful when she accepted our invitation to start from scratch the first Theravada Forest Nuns’ Monastery on 600 acres of bush in Gidgegannup in the year 1997. The monastery was named Dhammasara.
For the first 2 years Ajahn lived in a donated small caravan in a secluded bush setting. Ron Battersby and Bianca Di Bua dug her a pit toilet . Ajahn Vayama received dana firstly in a little tent then a tin shed we supporters built. I recall many days during the first 2 summers when it was 48 ‘c in her little caravan and the same outside. Not a word of complaint. No showers. No electricity. A kind female supporter soon offered to drive her to her house in the Swan Valley for a hot shower and the use of a washing machine once a week.
It was a long, slow, process but the first Nuns’ Cottage was built from our own rammed earth gravel. Then began the process of the very strict training of suitable women who showed interest in ordaining. Whilst training the first women who ordained, Ajahn also gave regular teachings at The Buddhist Society of WA. She also led beautiful retreats.
She also coordinated cool burns in 10 acre lots with the local fire brigade in the Spring.
It was a time of continuous serving with little time alone.
Sadly Ajahn Vayama’s health deteriorated 10 years ago and she was diagnosed with a very serious disease, Multiple System Atrophy, which she knew would require full time nursing care. Her disciple, Ayya Seri, very very generously offered to look after Ajahn Vayama. This has been a 10 year selfless time of devotion for Ayya Seri caring for Ajahn Vayama 24/7.
Ajahn Vayama and Ayya Seri are currently living in a kind layperson’s quiet home. This Hermitage is a very beautiful peaceful setting in which to practice.
Sahdu to Ajahn Vayama and Ayya Seri on living an impeccable holy life.
The End of Rains Cloth Offering Ceremony 2019 was conducted on Sunday 27th October. Over 40 people participated in the event. Manel Meegahege offered the End of Rains Cloth to the Bhikkhunis of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Both Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri and Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni Theri completed their 10th Rains as Bhikkhunis
We also celebrated Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni’s birthday at the end of the ceremony.
PREPARATION FOR THE CEREMONY
On 22nd October 2019, about 40 invited members of Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage attended a small gathering to celebrate the 10th Bhikkhuni Ordination Anniversary of Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri and Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni Theri.
We started the evening with the paying Homage to the Buddha , Dhamma and Sangha followed by the offering of precepts. We then chanted the Paritta, and Jaya Paritta, and then meditated together before we share merits with all the Bhikkhus , Bhikkhunis and the lay men and women who supported us and made the ordination and living the life of a Bhikkhuni possible.
May all beings have the support that you need in your life.
I went forth on 4th July 2004. The name ‘Seri’ means freedom, independence, – freedom from the defilements and taints, freedom from suffering. I love the name ‘Seri’. It reminds me of the goal of going forth, Nibbana.
I walked into the gate of Dhammasara Nuns Monastery to start the monastic life as an anagarikaa, a postulant nun, on 23rd June 2002. It is wonderful to be able to pause, to take the time and space to reflect on the journey since I entered the monastic life. This is especially special on the occasion of my completion of 15 years since I went forth and coincidentally on my 10 years as a Bhikkhuni.
I went on the pilgrimage to India with a group from the Buddhist Society of Western Australia led by Ayya Vayama and Ajahn Brahm in 2001. I had a taste of peace on top of the Vulture Peak in Rajagaha. That peace was very different from all the travels I had done so far. The taste of peace made a significant imprint in my heart compare to the fun at Disney World, the awe that I felt standing in front of Nigara Falls and the Great Wall of China and the beautiful and historical cities in Europe. That peace that made me stop my travelling around the world and start to explore the journey into the heart.
I spoke to Ayya Vayama in April 2001 after the pilgrimage to India. At that time I was not sure whether I should leave Perth to go to Melbourne to continue to study Chinese medicine at RMIT ( Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) . Ayya Vayama said to me, “You have enough tools to help others, it is time for you to practise.” Ayya Vayama’s advice was like a light that shot into my heart. I was already a Pharmacist and Naturopath at that time. I indeed had enough tools to help others. I did not need to spend another few more years of studies to be a Chinese Doctor. It was time to expend some energy to learn and practise the Dhamma. I applied to be a trainee nun , anagarikaa, at Dhammasara Nuns Monastery where Ayya Vayama was the abbot, in July 2001. I withdrew from my studies in Chinese Medicine at the end of 2001 and resigned from both of my jobs. I entered into monastic life on 23rd June 2002 with Ayya Vayama as my teacher.
After 6 months of training and living in the monastery, on 14th December 2002, I shaved my head, wearing a white robe to enter the monastic training formally. I received my going forth on 4th of July 2004 with Ajahn Brahmavamso as my going forth teacher and Ayya Vayama as my teacher. On 22nd of October 2009, I received my higher ordination, Upasampada, as a Bhikkhuni with Ayya Tathaaloka as my preceptor.
When I walked through the gate of Dhammasara Nuns Monastery, I had little understanding or knowledge about Buddhism and the Theravada tradition. I can use the phrase: A Leap of Faith. I was not very sure exactly where this path was leading me. That was the first time in my life I had made a decision of renunciation and followed my heart instead of my brain. I was a bit anxious, but I decided to give it a go , wholeheartedly and give it everything I got.
I considered myself to be very fortunate to have met my teacher Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni or Ajahn Vayama at that time. I had the opportunity to go on pilgrimage with Ayya Vayama and get to know her better. I went to most of her talks at Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre. I had met a teacher that I felt I could trust and feel connected to ; a teacher that I could learn and train with in monastic life so that I could grow in Dhamma. I did not look back. I went forth on 4th July 2009
I have been reflecting on how practising as a nun, a bhikkhuni, made a difference in my journey on the Eightfold Path. Life, even monastic life, is not always smooth sailing, but full of challenges.
I was talking to Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni recently regarding the challenges a nun encounters. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni brought up the word ” surrendering”. It is very important to be able to surrender to the teacher that you trust so that you can train and learn. It is important to surrender to monastic life and eventually to surrender to the dhamma . Surrendering does not means doing nothing, giving up. You do whatever you can but you surrender to the causes and conditions at that time. When I found out about the possibility of Bhikkhuni Ordination more than 10 years ago, I tried to think of ways that I could contribute to that possibility so that it could turn into a reality. I attended a Bhikkhuni conference and a month of training specially on Bhikkhuni Vinaya (disciplines and rules) for monastics and helped to translate the Ordination procedure of different schools from Chinese to English. I even put in the effort for more than a year to memorise the Bhikkhuni Patimokka before the Bhikkhuni Ordination. I received my Bhikkhuni Ordination on 22nd October 2009.
Surrendering is a pivotal quality in monastic life. When you surrender to the training and the fabric of monastic life, you are also renouncing; letting go of your personal view and opinion; going with the flow. You actually can be at peace and at ease with life. One of the training disciplines that we observed in the monastery was noble silence after the 9pm meditation until after breakfast the next morning. It is beautiful to observe noble silence after meditation, so that you can continue to immerse yourself in the peace and quiet of your own heart. Noble silence also gives us the opportunity to have our own space and freedom from unnecessary engagements. However, it is a struggle for most of us who are new to monastic life to observe noble silence. We were used to filling our space with words and things. Surrendering allowed me to experience the silence, the peace and the space. Now, I am no longer in the monastery and constantly surrounded by support workers , volunteers and health professionals to help me to look after Ayya Vayama, who is sick, I have the challenge to surrender to regular engagements, chatters, sounds and noises. I find the more that I surrender, the fewer the struggles, and the space opens up and widens. In the middle of the space, there is contentment and peace.
I found it important for my journey in monastic life to be accepted fully into the sangha. I made the commitment to leave the home life, to leave behind career, family, material possessions and make the leap into monastic life, to be a bhikkhuni. As a full member of the sangha, I feel I am no longer on the fringe or an outcast. I feel I have the possibility , the potential to practise to reach the highest goal, Nibbana. It is up to me to continue to put in the effort to practise on the Eightfold path, and take my steps to be a true daughter of the Buddha.
Now ten years later , I am a more confident Bhikkhuni. I am contented and full of gratitude with my journey on the path. The joy and happiness is not elation or jubilation, but a quiet contentment, a feeling of steadiness and peace in the heart. One of my non-Buddhist friend asked me “What is next? What is your next step in the monastic life?” I told her, ‘This is it”. That is no more ‘NEXT’. I am already ‘HERE’. I am not going anywhere.
I would like to end my reflections by sharing the merits of my journey with all of you who has contributed and supported me as a nun, especially to my Grandma and mum, and most importantly to my teacher Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni and my preceptor Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni.
May all beings be well, at peace and at ease.
It is lovely to see the bhikkhuni sangha flourish. From our efforts of ten years ago to now many changes have happened. The main thing that I think would be useful for the bhikkhuni sangha to established in its own right, would be for it to be able to act independently. I send my best wishes to everyone involved in this momentous movement.
I would to share with you, the verses of Arahat Bhikkhuni Patacara from the Verses of the Elder Nuns:
PLOUGHING THE FILED WITH THEIR PLOUGHS,
SOWING SEEDS UPON THE GROUND,
MAINTAINING THEIR WIVES AND CHILDREN,
YOUNG MEN ACQUIRE WEALTH.
THEN, WHY, WHEN I AM PURE IN VIRTURE,
PRACTICING THE MASTER’S TEACHING,
HAVE I NOT ATTEND NIBBANA—–
FOR I AM NOT LAZY,NOR PUFFED UP?
HAVING WASHED MY FEET,
I REFLECTED UPON THE WATERS.
WHEN I SAW THE FOOT WATER FLOW
FROM THE HIGH GROUND DOWN THE SLOPE
MY MIND BECAME CONCENTRATED
LIKE AN EXCELLENT THOROUGHBRED STEED.
HAVING TAKEN A LAMP, I ENTERED MY CELL.
I INSPECTED THE BED AND SAT DOWN ON THE COUCH.
THEN,HAVING TAKEN A NEEDLE,
I PULLED DOWN THE WICK.
THE LIBERATION OF THE MIND
WAS LIKE THE QUENCHING OF THE LAMP. ( THIG 112-116)