A sad note

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

After I emerged from my four-day solitary retreat in October, just before the Pavarana Day, I received the news that one of the monastic sisters had put down her robes. The monastic sister disrobed after twenty one years of wearing the robes. She disrobed due to her own sickness and her family, who had been looking after her, also having ill-health.

I was very sad to hear the news, especially as the monastic sister is a very well-loved meditation teacher. I was especially touched by her predicament because I am a full-time carer for Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni who is sick and disabled, and because I am also arranging care for my 97-year-old Grandmother. I understand and see with my own eyes how vulnerable we are when we are old, sick and disabled.

I fully respect the decision that was made by the monastic sister and wish her well on her path. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni has been reminding me not to papanca about the circumstances of the monastic sister who has just disrobed. However, I could not help but ask questions regarding the situation of the sick and disabled monastic sisters in the West. Even the well-loved and well-known monastic sisters have to face the predicament of struggling for care and support, let alone the rest of the less well-known  monastic sisters.  You might say, well, it is life, it is dukkha, anicca and anatta; that is suffering, impermanence and non-self. But, I am feeling sad and heavy-hearted with the situation I am observing and experiencing. The society that we live in worships growth; economic growth is paramount. We shut our door to old age, sickness and death.

As a spiritual warrior travelling on the Eightfold path, I sincerely invite all of us not to look away, but to contemplate deeply the imminence of old age, sickness and death. This is a story that I heard from a teacher: A man was sick and fell into the drain at the side of a busy road. A vipassana practitioner walked past the man in the drain and mindfully seeing, seeing and seeing the man, continued mindfully walking on his path. A few minutes later, a metta practitioner walked past the man in the drain and wishing the man be well and happy, and may he be at peace and at ease, continued her journey with lovingkindness in her heart. Later, a group of good Samaritans walked past the man in the drain. They stopped and helped the man out of the drain and took him to the hospital. I love this story and it is a great story for all of us to contemplate.

I am sharing a note of sadness and planting a seed, hoping the care and support for old, sick and disabled monastics will gradually flourish. I understand the limitations of  each one of us. I encourage myself to stay in the present moment and contribute whatever I can, to the care and support of Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni and to my 97-year-old Grandmother.

To the Dhamma sister, Ariya Nani, I wish you well with lots of metta. May you continue to practise on the Eightfold path for the attainment of Nibbana.

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