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.