Blessings and Bliss – in Memory offered for 7th-day Memorial 27-28th November 2021 by Ayya Tathālokā Bhikkhuni
Back before internet, as a teenager meditating in the 80s, then as a new anāgārikā out exploring the world, these names were living legends for me: Ven Nyanaponika and the Forest Hermitage, Ayya Khema and Nuns Island, Anuradhapura and the sacred Bo tree….It was so encouraging to hear what Ayya Khema was doing with the Nuns Island, and the westerners who came there, living the brave and rugged forest/island monastic life. Sister Vayama was there, among them.
Later in the last years of the 90s, suddenly bhikkhunī ordinations started happening east and west, and the rumors started coming from afar of a lone brown-robed nun out in the bush of Western Australia, striving to make a first place in the west for dedicated women renunciates of meditative forest traditions – amazingly and uniquely, with the support of Ajahn Brahm and the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. That was Ajahn Vayama!
It seemed like there was possibility, things were opening up, there was hope for people with aspirations like me.
Ten years later, during the Bhikkhuni Seminar at Santi Forest in early 2008, I finally met Ajahn Vayama and Ajahn Brahm, and then got to visit the great forested land of Dhammasara that i’d heard of for so long. I can’t tell you how happy and pleased i was to find fellow women renunciates with such commitment to shared values of peace, living with love for the forest, animals and birds. Love for the Buddha’s way, for sīlā, samādhi and paññā, there in the Western Australian bush, amidst the wild bird calls and hopping kangaroos, beneath the deep, (and to me) upside-down and backwards, awesome dark and bright night sky of the bush.
Ajahn Vayama and the sisters had many questions about how to have a well-livable renunciate life of integrity, faithful to the bhikkhunī precepts—for days we met to discuss all the many accumulated important questions of special and unique interest to us, not in public forum, but amongst one another as dedicated practicing sisters.
Later, returning to the US, i too—encouraged and inspired by the time at Dhammasara, and with a better idea of “how such things can work”—moved ahead with launching Aranya Bodhi forest hermitage on California’s Sonoma Coast, and began giving sāmanerī pabbajjā to western women. We can see here the fertile inter-relations spanning the globe.
Then one day, by surprise, a phone call came from Ajahn Brahm, with an invitation to return after Vassa in 2009, for special purpose. A letter came in the post from Ajahn Vayama from Dhammasara, letting me know, in Ajahn Vayama’s respectful way, about her considerations and the unified decision of the Dhammasara nuns’ community to go ahead.
Ajahn Vayama and i had both entered monastic life in the mid- to late-80s. Ajahn had ordained as a ten precept nun in 1985, i had left home life and began entry into monastic life in late 1987-early ’88. Much shared territory and experience and one big difference: I, having received bhikkhunī ordination in 1997, by 2009, that Vassa was my 12th as a bhikkhuni, which allowed me, although younger than her, to be appointed and to serve as a bhikkhunī preceptor (pavattinī-upajjhāya) per Vinaya.
I cannot express how much of an honor it was to serve together with the first bhikkhunīs of Dhammasara, with Ajahn Vayama as first among them—together with the bhikkhu sangha of Bodhinyana, and with the BSWA—in offering the first Theravāda bhikkhunī ordinations in Australia. From the inside, i can testify to how faithful and considerate the process was from among the dedicated women renunciates, the bhikkhunīs. Different than what was being posted in the blogosphere. Faithful to the Buddha. To the Dhamma. To the Sangha. And to the Path, and its full living and fulfillment. I can also testify to how challenging it was.
Even from the time of the Bhikkhuni Seminar at Santi in ’08, Ajahn Vayama already knew her health was seriously awry. Me too: I had been through cancer treatment not long before, and felt this body marked with the sign of death. There is something about such Maraṇasati which can change one’s values, and give bravery and intrepitude. Knowing it is brief and impermanent, one wants to do what will be of value, blessing and benefit for oneself, and for those one loves, or the cause that one loves, with the brief opportunity that one has—like the turtle coming up, its head coming through the “life preserver,” piercing the waves of samasāra, seeing the Island of Nibbāna. It is hard to express with words the gratitude, and the dedication, to the Buddha’s Sāsana in the heart.
I commend Venerable Bhikkhunī Ajahn or Ayyā Vāyāmā Therī for giving the gift of her life to this most excellent and worthy cause. And Venerable Bhikkhunī Serī Therī for her dedication, courage, strength and support, unfailing in Dhamma.
Unwavering in Dhamma is certainly the most excellent and brilliant way to live, in this world of wavering conditions, like an undulating sea or flowing brook.
The stream of the Dhamma is the best of all streams, quenching taṇhā, craving, thirst. The ocean of Nibbāna is truly the best of all oceans, beginningless and endless, unqualified bliss and freedom.
Etaṁ santaṁ…etaṁ panitaṁ.
May our venerable Dhamma Sister, Ajahn Vāyāmā, enjoy this most excellent peace and happiness of Nibbāna, for which good women and men, good people, rightly go forth from the home life into homelessness.
Warm greeting from Canada. I am writing to you on behalf of our community to express our loving compassion to you and to all the close community around you who have been so faithfully caring for Ajahn Vayama these many years.
We just heard that she passed away peacefully. We have been chanting for her regularly and we will also chant for you and continue to hold you in our hearts. Such a life she lived creating boundless blessings and inspiration for this world – a truly noble legacy. She will be deeply missed.
We shall continue to chant for her and make dedications for her. May she realise the highest peace, final Nibbana.
We deeply appreciate your unwavering commitment and loving service to Ajahn Vayama over these many years, providing for all her needs during a very long illness which for ordinary beings would be devastating. And yet you served in the most touching and impeccable ways with joy and courage, giving her the best of care. We have read the posts you kept up on the Patacara Hermitage website over the years describing your incredible life together and we have felt the profound example of both of you, her dignity and faith and your selfless kindness to your beloved teacher.
We are grateful to you and to all who surrounded her during her years of illness to offer joy, comfort and every conceivable medical support to create an environment of so much peace and calm.
May all the good kamma of her life be fulfilled in freedom from all suffering. We wish for you through your strong Dhamma practice and the power of your refuge in the Noble Triple Gems great peace and equanimity at this time of separation. May your heart abide in the clear stream of Dhamma, bearing witness to anicca and abiding in the faith of the Noble Ones.
With hearts of compassion and uplift, in the blessings of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, mahametta-karuna,
I am Bhikkhuni Santini from Indonesia
I want to send a few words below:
The late Ajahn Vayama …
With samvegacitta may you continue your journey to go to the other shore. Anumodana for your wonderful inspiration in this life as a bhikkhuni. All your effort and hard work meant so much for so many beings.
Thank you for the kind message. I feel sad hearing about Ayya Vayama’s
passing but think she has done what she wanted to do in her life. I listened to her teachings many times.
May she attain ultimate peace and the happiness of Nibbana.