Vayama, your smile lit up the room and made the world seem calm.
All my memories of you when we were growing up were of a caring person always reliable and never judgemental.
Our fathers were very close brothers and when Victor, your dad, died too young you were always there for your mum but alas she also died young.
Buddhism could now nurture your life.
I remember feeling lost when you said you were going to become a nun but you returned to my home several times to gather your thoughts and strength.
The glow in your eyes when you told me you were going to take your final vows was plain to see. Everything had fallen into place and you had found your purpose in life and ran to it with your arms wide open.
I will always remember that look and know you have now found peace.
Your loving cousin,
I have fond memories of Ajahn Vayama’s compassion and kindness in 2003 when Iwas very ill. She very kindly invited me to stay at Dhammasara for 10 days to rest.
She very kindly gave me her own private room with an ensuite in the Nuns Cottage and 2 of her anagarikas bunked in together and she slept in one of the anagarika’s rooms. She brought in breakfast and lunch to me on a pretty tray presented so beautifully by the now Ajahn Hasapanna. (who was an anagarika then).
The other Anagarika was asked by Ajahn Vayama to drive me to a medical appointment at the end of my stay and then to drive me home safely. That Anagarika is now Ayya Seri.
I have never forgotten Ajahn Vayama’s kindness and compassion along with her Anagarikas.
I am sincerely thankful that I was welcomed into the Circle of Sister Vayama during the latter years.
There are many qualities that I admired. I would like to mention two.
First, Consideration of Others.
Regardless of her own predicament, no matter how breathless or exhausted, there was always kindness and unwavering politeness.
There was consideration and interest extended to me, even though I was there to provide a treatment. I was always greeted with that genuine, whole face smile, followed by that questioning look saying “How are you?”
In the circumstances this was incredibly selfless.
Secondly, Sister Vayama’s positivity was unrivalled. Despite her decline in health she would tell me that she felt 6 out of 10 in wellness, even in the last week of her life. I think that she experienced a sense of well-being from the devotion respect and love that surrounded her, especially from Sister Seri.
Thank you for the privilege of knowing you. I pray that every day now will be a 10 out of 10 day.
I carry your memory in my heart.
I first met Ajahn Vayama when she was living in the caravan at Gidgegannup many years ago. She told us of her experience living in a forest monastery in remote Sri Lanka. Her resolve to establish the Buddhist Nuns’ monastery at Gidgegannup was so inspiring. She will be remembered for her extraordinary mental strength and of course her kind smile.
May she attain nirvana!
We were visiting Ayya Vayama for the last 15 years and kids love to talk to her regarding their achievements at school, outside school, and events in the future. When we visit Ayya Vayama next time, she remembered to ask how they performed and we were surprised to see her memory and how she remembers all the details, even after few weeks.
Years went by and Ayya Vayama could not speak much but she loved to hear from us about what we are up to and how girls performing in school. Her smile tells all the words she could not express in words and we really miss that smile and her presence. We were so blessed to associate such a wonderful soul and may she attain the supreme bliss of nirvana.
Dilini, Pubudu, Sadeni and Sathmi
Thank you kindly
Dilini Premachandra & Family
I want to express my gratitude for Ayya Vayama’s teachings. I listened to them via podcast and the teachings helped broaden my incremental understanding of Dhamma. She was and will continue to be an inspiration.
Thank you from Ontario, Canada
I have had many good memories and experiences with Ajahn Vayama in the early days. I find it hard to use Past Tense. Below is a short contribute to our dedicated, gentle and kind teacher.
A memorable feature of Ajahn Vayama is her beautiful smile. Her determination to be a fully ordained Bhikkhuni was unwavering. Ajahn Vayama’s words seemed to articulate truths and her ability to explain the Dhamma in such a way that I could understand it clearly. Thank you, Ajahn Vayama.
Dear Ayya Vayama,
I live in Viet Nam. I have the good fortune to receive the signed book “Taking Refuge” from you which records your Dhamma talks.
How relieved I was to understand the true meaning of suffering and happiness according to Buddhism through your gentle and loving- kindness teaching.
I understand more and more about taking refuge in myself on the path to liberation, which you had experienced in your spiritual life. Those precious teachings have awakened me, helping me to have a realistic and optimistic view of life.
I am truly grateful to you for those Dhamma talks.
May you attain Nibbana.
Huynh Ngoc Diep
With heartfelt gratitude for the generosity, kindness, humour, and wisdom Ayya Vayama expressed to so many beings in immeasurable ways.
I sought the comforting wisdom of Ayya Ajahn Vayama upon the sudden passing of my brother.
She not only consoled me in one of life’s darkest moments but used the opportunity to present a Friday night talk titled “Creating Inner Wealth” in the hope of helping others experiencing similar grief and turmoil.
Ayya Ajahn Vayama was truly a wonderful being who leaves an enduring legacy of teaching, care, compassion and espousing the Dhamma to help all.
With abundance of gratitude, respect, Metta and love
A BYSTANDER …..
She spent the last few years in Jane brook. I met Ajahn Vayama in the 1990s. She was full of optimism, standing in the middle of the property that was to become Dhammasara Monastery: optimism tinged by the knowledge that everything is fleeting. She must have had an inkling? I do not know. There were so many things I wanted to ask her, but time was limited. Perhaps next time ?
But there was to be no next time. When, in 2004, I next visited Perth she was too unwell for us to disturb her and I missed her in Sri Lanka too.
So what makes this single meeting significant? Because it was not the first time I had met her. She had told me of how she donned the saffron robe in Sri Lanka many years ago. And she was surprised that I told her that on, that great occasion, I had been there, too.
My mind went back. It was at Parappu-duwa, in Dodanduwa. Word had got around that Ayya Khema had set up a centre for would-be bhikkunis. It was a rain-and-shine day, and we had to go by boat to the island. There was a lot of boat traffic. Anyway, we made it ashore, we saw the facilities provided, saw Ayya Khema’s “kuti” and then joined the crowd round the hall where she sat. The bhikkus from Polgasduwa were present and the so were the aspirants. There was a Sri Lankan aspirant and two young Europeans. One, with chaste, chiselled features emphasised by a shaven head, was Vayama. We did not know her, then, but we had a few photographs and she was quite pleased to get them, when we sent them to her. It was just one footprint on her journey through Life and Samsara…….
Our paths first met on that day, but it was not by accident. Ayya Khema had been in Colombo. Sri Lanka, and I had been taken to meet her by Bhikkuni Kusuma. I had met her, had long talks with her and meditated with her. But I was not mature enough to realize that I had been privileged and to follow the path more assiduously. Ayya Khema later left Colombo to set up her hermitage in Parappa-duwa, and so, through Ayya Khema, I had my first glimpse of Ajahn Vayama.
So my meeting with her in the 1990s was not the first meeting. I had been a bystander witnessing a glorious procession: Bhikkuni Kusuma > Ayya Khema > Parappa-duwa> Ajahn Brahm > Bhikkuni Thathalokaa> Dhammasara > Ajahn Vayama.
Only a bystander, but a blessed one.
Dayadari Devendra of Sri Lanka
We got to know Sister Vayama around 30 years back. I still remember when she was the first nun to live at the Gidgegannup temple. Then it wasn’t built like now. She lived in a caravan all by herself. We took alms and served outside in the garden. It was a beautiful and peaceful place and sister Vayama always seem to be happy and smiling. She was so courageous and determined.
When the aramaye was built later we used to take the food and other requisites there.
After the Dane we used to go and talk with her. Many people came to get advice from her and sometimes about their personal problems.
She had been in Sri Lanka for 10 years. She said she could speak Sinhalese then.
I asked her to talk in Sinhala. She asked me to ask questions in Sinhala and she replied in Sinhalese. It was amazing!
We took Dane there and helped with other things she needed. Sister Seri is so wonderful with her, caring and looking after Sister Vayama.
We have good memories of her and will miss her. May she be at peace and attain nibbana.
Shantha and Vasantha
I am sad to hear this news. And at the same time I am glad to know that she has spent a life dedicated to the Dhamma. Practising, embodying, and sharing the Dhamma with all who were interested.
I am fortunate to have known her. She was an inspiration and good kalyanamitta for me.
I will offer a meal (breakfast) here at the meditation centre in Switzerland (we are in the third week of the three-week meditation retreat) on Saturday, 27 November 2021.
The dedication is:
In memory of Ayya Vayama
A dear kalyanamitta and pioneer for the nuns in Australia
I always knew that Ajahn Vayama was going to die, and likely soon, but I didn’t expect for it to happen when it did. When I first heard that Ajahn Vayama had died, I felt like someone was squeezing my heart, not because I was sad exactly for Ajahn Vayama, because I knew that whatever form, place or state she was in or not in, she would be ok, but because she was such a wonderful and inspirational person and selfishly I admit, I did not want to lose her. I have been so privileged to have known Ajahn Vayama this long – 15 years in fact, the entirety of my life, and it feels so strange knowing that she isn’t there anymore.
I think it is safe to say I speak on the behalf of many when I say that whenever you went to visit Ajahn Vayama, you experienced this all-encompassing peace. It was like a blissful blanket that settled over you whenever you were in her presence. When you were there, you could feel that the space was totally judgement-free, safe, and comfortable. That was the power of the kindness Ajahn Vayama held. But not only that. At least for me, being in Ajahn Vayama’s presence made me believe in the current and potential good qualities we all can develop inside of us. She inspired me to be better.
Some people say that Ajahn Vayama’s gradual deteriorating state meant that the loss wasn’t as sudden or without as large of an impact. That because coming to the end of her life, she couldn’t speak or communicate as clearly, she therefore couldn’t teach. But Ajahn Vayama didn’t need words to teach. She inspired anyone who knew her, with her actions and the way she conducted herself. Her perseverance, her generosity, her resilience, her determination. Even to the end, she had a sharp and clear mind, and her aura of compassion did not fade. And even now, thinking about her and what it was like to be in her presence, I can feel that calm settle over me now, lighten my heart and make me smile like she would have wanted. Everything Ajahn Vayama taught us, was to ultimately make us happy, and I have to say it was a true honour to know a person capable of such good.
Huge admiration and appreciation of Ajahn Vayama’s work in taking on the enormous task of establishing a wonderful monastery for Nuns to practice the precious Dhamma.
This short Dhamma piece is to recollect the virtuous qualities of Ven Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni
Maha Therī who has passed away on Saturday, 20 November 2021.
Ven Ayya Vayama Bhikkuni is a pioneer in many ways!
She was the first female Buddhist mendicant who made Dhammasara monastery her home!
She was the first female Theravada Buddhist mendicant in Western Australia!
She was the first fully ordained Theravada Bhikkhuni in whole of Australia!
She was the first female Theravada Buddhist mendicant who conducted a weekend
meditation retreat in Western Australia!
She was the first female Assistant Spiritual Director of Buddhist Society of Western
So, in the true sense of the words, Ven Ayya Vayama Bhikkuni was a pioneer in many ways!
We recall with gratitude of her early days at Dhammasara. Her early days of existence at Dhammasara was an incredibly a harsh one. It was not for a day, a week or a moth but, the harsh life lasted for a number of years! Yet, Ven Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni has endured all that as a true Buddhist Mendicant, following the Lord Buddha’s advice! Lord Buddha advised HIS followers to eliminate some of the defilements by Enduring, (Adhivāsanāpahātabbaāsava in Sabbāsavasutta). She has truly followed that advice!
Her Dhamma Talks were simple, systematic & penetrative! Her chanting was precise, correct in pronunciation and pleasant to listen to!
Her service to the Buddhist Community in WA has been absolutely fantastic! She was a true daughter of the Lord Buddha!
When we recollect the qualities of Ven Ayya Vayama, we cannot end without mentioning, at least briefly, the tremendous service rendered by Ven Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni! She has been exemplary in attending to the needs of her teacher. We have never come across anyone either a lay person or a mendicant who has rendered such an untiring service purely on a voluntary basis. Ven Ayya Seri too has endured a long period of hardships hardships in attending to the needs of her teacher. As long term supporters of Dhammasara Monastery, right from its inception and of Patacara Hermitage also, from its inception, we have had the good fortune of firsthand knowledge in noticing Ven Ayya Seri’s commitment!
We are truly blessed to have had the opportunity to associate two such Bhikkhunis!
May Ven Ayya Seri be healthy, happy and peaceful!
May her practice be pleasant, attaining to wisdom swiftly, (Sukhā paṭipadā khippābhiññā)!
May the Ven Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Maha Therī attain Nibbana!
With Reverence, Gratitude and Metta,
Shamalee and Ananda Thilakasiri
LỜI CẢM ƠN
Tôi xin thành kính cảm ơn Ni Sư Vayama, người đã cho những bài pháp thoại quý giá này. Đây là món quà Pháp cao quý nhất. Bằng những dẫn dụ sinh động trong thực tế cuộc sống, Ni Sư đã mang đến những lời dạy sâu sắc và hữu ích cho những người đang tu tập chú trọng vào giây phút hiện tại theo truyền thống Phật giáo Nguyên thủy. Tôi rất vui mừng và hân hạnh được Ni Sư Vayama (thông qua Ni Sư Seri) cho phép tôi được chuyển ngữ quyển sách này sang tiếng Việt và phát hành miễn phí cho những người hữu duyên. Con xin được cúng dường quyển sách đã được chuyển ngữ này đến Ni Sư Vayama như món quà mừng sinh nhật lần thứ 69 của Ni Sư. Con thành tâm cầu nguyện cho Ni Sư luôn được bình an, hạnh phúc và sớm đạt đến Niết Bàn.
Tôi xin thành kính cảm ơn Ni Sư Nguyên Hương (Ayya Dhammananda Theri), người mà tôi có duyên may trong đời được một lần làm thị giả cho Ni Sư trong ngày Đại Lễ Dâng Y Kathina tại chùa Hương Đạo, Fort Worth, Texas, Mỹ vào năm 2018. Mặc dù rất bận với Phật sự cũng như sự an tĩnh tu tập trong mùa An Cư Kiết Hạ tại Mỹ, nhưng Ni Sư vẫn dành thời gian để cố vấn và chỉnh sửa những đoạn văn mà tôi lúng túng. Không có Ni Sư tôi không thể hoàn thành việc dịch quyển sách này.
Tôi xin cảm ơn người chị của tôi, Huỳnh Ngọc Thủy, người đã kết nối duyên lành để tôi được đảnh lễ Ni Sư Vayama và Ni Sư Seri ở Pactacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage, Tây Úc. Chị cũng đã kết nối để tôi có được sự cho phép từ tác giả- Ni Sư Vayama- thông qua Ni Sư Seri, dịch quyển sách Taking Refuge sang tiếng Việt.
Mặc dù tôi đã cố gắng hết sức cũng như được sự hỗ trợ trong quá trình chuyển ngữ quyển sách này, nhưng do khả năng bản thân còn nhiều hạn chế nên sẽ không tránh khỏi sai sót. Kính mong các bậc Tôn túc và quý đọc giả niệm tình bỏ qua.
Phước Tuệ Huỳnh Ngọc Điệp
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT WITH APPRECIATION
I would like to respectfully thank Ayya Vayama, for her precious Dhamma Talks. This gift of Dhamma excels all gifts. Through vivid examples from real life, she brings profound and useful teachings to those who are now practicing focusing on the present moment in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. I am very pleased and honored that Ayya Vayama (via Ayya Seri) allowed me to translate this book into Vietnamese and distribute it for free to those who wish to read it. So I would like to offer this book that I have translated into Vietnamese to Ayya Vayama as a present for her 69th birthday. I sincerely pray for her to always have peace, happiness and soon attain to Nibbana.
I would also like to respectfully show my gratitude to Ayya Dhammananda Theri, who I had a good fortune to meet as her attendant once in my life at the Great Kathina Festival Day at Huong Dao temple, Fort Worth, Texas, USA in 2018. Although she is very busy in her Buddhist work as well as practicing meditation during the Rains Retreat in USA, she still took the time to advise and edit my translation passages that I was confused about. I would have not been able to complete the translation of this book without her support and guidance.
Finally, I would like to sincerely thank my older sister, Ngoc Thuy Ly, who made it possible for me to pay homage to Ayya Vayama and Ayya Seri in Pactacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage, in Western Australia. She also connected and allowed me to get permission from the author – Ayya Vayama – via Ayya Seri, to translate this book “Taking Refuge” into Vietnamese.
Although I have tried my best and received a great deal of support in the process of translating this book but due to my limited abilities, mistakes will inevitably occur. I sincerely hope that the readers will forgive any errors in my translation.
Phuoc Tue Huynh Ngoc Diep
I saw your blog post inviting anyone who wishes to share a few words regarding Ajahn Vayama on the occasion of her passing away, hence the email. Thank you for this invitation, it makes me feel a part of your community and celebrate Ajahn Vayama’s life even though I have never set foot in Australia or your hermitage. I am an Indian living in USA, and closely follow the Buddhist group associated with Ajahn Brahm.
I never got to see Ajahn Vayama in person or much even in video/photos (very few of which are online), but I feel very connected to her. I take her as one of my teachers and guide. I have immensely benefited from her teachings. There are very few of her talks available online but even with that less material her teachings have been very powerful and impactful. Her teachings helped me through a difficult period of my life (that I brought upon myself due to poor choices I made). Her calming voice, clarity of thought, the silence in the pauses she takes make for beautiful and powerful talks. I am eternally grateful to her for that.
I do not want to say that I am saddened by Ajahn Vayama’s death. Given her long illness I was mentally prepared for it. Also, I am happy that she lived her life well, full of kindness and compassion, practised the dharma with full dedication, and was well taken care of during the period of her illness. Thank you for dedicating the last ten plus years of your life to take care of her. I heard you speak for the first time at Ajahn’s commemoration ceremony, and it was nice to hear from you. The story of your rebellious streak at your first retreat was a strong reminder of my sense of ego acting up when I interact with my family and friends. The wall clock story served as a reminder for me to make mindfulness a daily practice. I was also inspired to hear how Ajahn related to her illness and was a reminder for me on how I respond to hardships in life.
Although I cannot be there in person to volunteer, I promise to do my best to support you in your journey as nun. Please let me know how I can help.
Ayya Vayama is the first Nun who came to Gidgegannup Western Australia.
Ayya Vayama wanted to establish Theravada Buddhism, to encourage the teaching, practices and realisation of the Dhamma.
Ayya Vayama opened the path for ladies to practice Dhamma. Her unconditional kindness and metta went on to spread the truth of Dhamma that helps us to practice Dhamma by keeping the five precepts or eight precepts.
May all of Ajahn Vayama teachings help her to attain Nibbana.
by Divshah Muthuarachchi age : 8 , Perth Western Australia
Ajahn Vayama has played such a big part in ours and our children’s lives. She was always there to guide us through all the hardships and loss we faced over the years.
We first met Ajahn Vayama when she took up residence at Dhammasara, living in a caravan all by herself without any electricity or water. We went to visit her and offer Dana regularly when she was there.
Earlier this year, Ajahn Vayama mentioned to us through Ayya Seri that we were the first to offer her Dana on that land. To hear that from her, gave us so much honour and joy, as we hadn’t recalled this before.
She was an admirable teacher to many, always warming everyone’s hearts with her light and wisdom. These are many great reasons as to why we have stuck by her, as well as Ayya Seri for all these years now.
I used to teach Dhamma School at BSWA many years ago. I remember approaching Ajahn Vayama knowing that she was a busy, being the Abbott of Dhammasara Nuns’ Monastery, and asking her to conduct the Youth classes for the older teenagers. She had eagerly said yes and took on the challenge for many years. Watching these students listen with open ears to her teachings and grow a closeness, was remarkable and inspiring. She was a true teacher that these kids looked forward to coming back each time.
In 2014, my husband Eddy, had ended up in hospital having to get a triple bypass. Before surgery he was as you can imagine worried and anxious. Ajahn Vayama was aware of this and had guided Eddy to remain positive and think of all the good he has done in helping others. It astounded me the caring, calmness and positivity she had for others no matter what the situation.
Our children have great respect for Ajahn Vayama for the guidance and support she gave them all during their high school, university and adulthood . She encouraged them to carry out volunteer work locally and overseas and follow their dreams wherever that may lead.
Ajahn Vayama was strong in her sickness and she always had a smile on her face. She never showed any distress she felt during her long illness. Her strength in facing her illness, made us all aware of her strong discipline and practice in the Dhamma. She set an example to all her devotees to be strong in old age, sickness and death and the awareness of anicca.
We are beyond blessed to have had Ajayn Vayama in our lives and she will be dearly missed.
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
Eddy, Manel and family
I first met Ayya Vayama (then Ajahn Sister Vayama) when I arrived in Perth 20 years ago. My late mother Sonia and I would bring dana to the converted shed next to a caravan she was living in at Dhammasara. Ajahn would always offer a precious Dhamma reflection before accepting the food. I remember once some powerful words she gave on impermanence and it struck me that this scene would one day be the memory that it is now. I rarely missed any of Ajahn Vayama’s Friday night Dhamma talks or weekend retreats at Safety Bay. She was a very articulate speaker whose talks were full of useful and wise reflections on life. On the retreats she would sometimes employ innovative and playful methods to help us with mindfulness practice. “The fish” was a wooden instrument which she would tap at varying speeds while we stood around the room taking a step with each tap – the instructions being to stop when the fish stopped. She distributed sweets for an exercise in observing taste sensations as they unfolded. She helped my mum through her bout of cancer in 2008 and Sonia would mention to me for years afterwards the gratitude she felt towards Ayya Vayama for her counsel. We visited her at Patacara in the early days but Sonia’s own failing health meant that I didn’t go for some years. Upon returning a few months ago, now with husband David, Ayya Vayama was incapacitated with Ayya Seri continuing to devotedly care for her. We both remarked on how despite Ayya being physically imprisoned in her body the sense was of being around someone who radiated peace and was not trapped. We came away each time feeling quiet and happy. May you rest in peace dear Ayya Vayama and may you have a wonderful rebirth.
‘AN INVESTMENT IN THE WORLD’
Last evening I found out that an old friend who played a significant part in my life had died. She was Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri, founding Abbot of the Dhammasara Nun’s Monastery in Perth. My sleep was filled with memories of Vayama, and as soon as I woke I went to the computer to write this. I’m not sure Vayama would approve of my writing it in my nightgown, but I hope she would nod and smile at its content, a familiar, knowing twinkle in her eye.
I met Robyn Pashley as she was then in 1981 or 1982, when, as Hunger Project volunteers, we attended the same meeting. I had come to Sydney to try and break into the world of Theatre, and was again looking for a place to live. Robyn’s parents had died, and she was living with her two dogs in the family home. She offered to rent out her basement flat to me if I was interested, and I didn’t hesitate. I sensed that there were similarities between the two of us – sincerity, a sense of humour and love of animals were just three – and even though I had only known her such a short time I felt I could trust her. I accepted Robyn’s offer, and moved in immediately.
Then in her late 20s and having trained as a social worker, Robyn had been interested in Buddhism since 1977. She told me the story of how, on her first trip to Sri Lanka, she had seen two monks in bright orange robes crossing a busy street. In the mysterious way that our future sometimes comes calling on our present, she knew in that instant knew what she would do with her life.
Robyn had turned an upstairs bedroom into a meditation room, with books on Buddhism and Hinduism lining the shelves, and decorative cushions on the floor. It was these books that introduced me to the Noble Eightfold Path and the Yamas and Niyamas of Hinduism, laying the foundations for my own spiritual seeking. I would often join Robyn as she meditated, and even back then she was a very strict practitioner. She would sit ramrod straight for an hour never moving a muscle, while I twitched, yawned, scratched, and frequently opened my eyes to stare resentfully at the clock that ticked away so slowly. The worst thing about meditating for me were the memories and fears that crowded my mind, making it a painful experience rather than a blissful one. I became better at meditating over the years, but certainly never mastered it the way Robyn seemed to do right from the beginning. Browsing some of the online tributes this morning, I was amused to read that a visitor to the Centre once remarked on the lifelike statue in the grounds. The ‘statue’ she saw was Vayama meditating.
At that stage of my life I was going to make the world a better place through the medium of Theatre. I had acted and directed at University, and also wanted to write plays. But back then – some would say as now! – I lived in a dream world, and wasn’t very practical. To earn money I would spend all day in an office (when I could get relief work) and in the evening could be found acting in a community play in some far-flung suburb of Sydney, often with only half a dozen people in the audience. As time wore on I became exhausted and discouraged, felt I was getting old and going nowhere. My friends were all married with families and mortgages, and I was an expat rolling stone, chasing a dream downhill. I had no money, and increasingly no hope, and thought myself ridiculous. But I continued pushing myself until one day I collapsed in a sobbing, shaking mess.
Always compassionate, generous and practical, Robyn had a hunt through some brochures and placed one of them in front of me saying ‘This is what you need.’ The brochure was advertising a Sunnyasin course (Sunnyasin means ‘renunciate’ in the Hindu tradition) to take place soon in a forested area of New South Wales. Several months long, the course wasn’t cheap, probably around $1,000.00 in today’s currency. I read through the brochure and thought I’d like to register, but knew I couldn’t afford it. ‘I’ll pay for it’ Robyn said simply, and when I protested saying I would never be able to pay it back, she said. ‘It doesn’t matter. It’s an Investment in the World.’ As it turned out, I needn’t have felt so bad about taking Robyn’s money. Soon after this she came to me, a twinkle in her eye, and showed me a cheque she had received as a surprise insurance rebate. It was made out for the exact amount of money she had paid for my course – plus 13 cents!
The renunciate course I did thanks to Robyn’s generosity was life-changing, and one of the outcomes was I trained as a Yoga teacher, subsequently teaching part time for some years. The months I was there was the beginning of my love for India and its spiritual traditions.
I returned to New Zealand in the late 1980s and started working as a Lecturer in a Polytechnic, my Theatre dreams behind me. I kept in touch with Robyn, now Sister Vayama, and in robes. She was living with just one other Nun on a Nun’s Island in Sri Lanka, and I visited her there in 1993 on my first trip to India.
Vayama and her companion shared their fascinating island with huge anthills that dotted the landscape, large monitor lizards that could be seen soaking up the sun on the paths, and venomous snakes! Vayama had a small dog (I’ve just forgotten her name) who had swum across from the mainland, and who Vayama had saved from drowning. She loved her dearly, and the dog was a good lookout for the Nuns.
One day I was in my little hut when I heard her barking, and ran down to the water’s edge. Vayama was there with a broomstick, bravely trying to ward off a cobra who had come ashore. Sadly Vayama was too late, the dog had been bitten, and although she was given antivenom was dead within the hour. I sat outside and listened as the Nuns chanted prayers for her, and then the three of us, as well as another little puppy who had arrived during my stay, set out on a procession to the other end of the Island to bury her. After nearly a month I continued on my way to India, and as the boatman took me across to the mainland, Vayama waved me goodbye. I will never forget her final words to me: ‘Don’t forget your good intentions’ she said.
The memories I have recounted are all vivid, though not nearly exhaustive. My intention is not to outline my friend’s life, that’s been done elsewhere. I just wanted to share some common memories as a way of paying tribute to her. In the intervening years Vayama continued to climb in the Theravada Buddhist world as her innate qualities of intelligence, compassion, generosity, sincerity and self discipline, as well as her leadership and communication skills were recognised. She knew the Dhamma intimately, and practised it impeccably. We continued to correspond a little – her letters often arrived at just the right time for me, emotionally, often pulling me out of a dark place – but eventually the letters stopped.
Just three years ago, I decided to try and find her online, and discovering she was serving as Abbot in a forest monastery in Perth, wrote to her. I was thrilled when an email came back, dictated to her assistant, Ayya Seri. By that stage Vayama was wheelchair bound, suffering from a degenerative disease called Multiple System Atrophy. She was still as clear-minded as ever, and as active as she could be in service of the Dhamma and Sangha (the Buddhist community).
We wrote again for a while, and then stopped again. Just last night she suddenly popped into my mind, and I wrote to Ayya Seri to ask how she was, only to discover that she had passed away in November. I was deeply saddened that I hadn’t made more of an effort to keep up our correspondence in the two years that had intervened. If I needed yet another reminder that we shouldn’t ignore our promptings to reach out to others, then this was it.
Vayama’s passing has hit me as age bears upon me, as well as many of my friends and family. Loved ones are fading, and many have passed. I recall Wordsworth’s words: –
“What is the worst of woes that wait on age?
What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow?
To view each loved one blotted from life’s page…”
Vayama may no longer be here in the flesh, but she made a beautiful contribution to Life’s page, and will be remembered and loved by many. I am just one.
A Buddhist scripture states: “To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.” Vayama had both.
Rest now, my friend, your work this time round is done. Thankyou for your inspiration and friendship. I’m sorry for any grief or pain I ever caused you.
All my love,