Remembering Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri on Her 70th Birthday – Story 22 : The fly in the spider web

STORY 22 – THE FLY IN THE SPIDER WEB

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

Have you ever heard a fly caught in a spider web?

I heard the buzzing sound for the first time when I was working with Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri in a room in the nuns’ cottage at the monastery. We turned around and searched for the source of the buzzing sound. We saw a fly caught in a spider’s web and it was making its last scream for help.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri climbed onto a chair, apologized to the spider for taking its food away, and took the fly out of the web. She then carefully and gently unwrapped the web from the fly. When she finally removed the last bit of the web from the fly, the fly stretched its wings and flew away. I felt relief and joy watching the fly flying towards its freedom.

I heard the buzzing sound again a few months ago in my room at Jhana Grove Meditation Retreat Centre. The desperate sound of crying for help.

I remembered Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri, and so I climbed onto my chair and took the fly out of the web. I said sorry to the angry spider staring at me. I told the fly I was not as gentle and skillful as my teacher, but that I would help.

In addition, I have poor eyesight at night even with my glasses on. But I tried my best to unwrap the web from the fly. I then took the fly to the front of the cottage and opened the door. I had tears in my eyes as I watched it fly away in freedom.

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Remembering Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri on Her 70th Birthday – Story 21 : Thank you

STORY 21 – THANK YOU

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

When Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri could still speak, she always said “thank you” to me every night before she went to bed. I told her I knew in my heart that she appreciated all the things that I did for her. She did not need to say “thank you” to me every night.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri said she wanted to say “thank you” to me whenever she could because she might not wake up tomorrow to say “thank you” again.

I would like to put my hands together in anjali and say “thank you” to my teacher, Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri.

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Remembering Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri on Her 70th Birthday – Story 20 : “You look very nice”

STORY 20 – “YOU LOOK VERY NICE”

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri was very observant. She would notice and be aware of small changes or details of the surrounding environment and people.

She noticed new hairstyles that the volunteers or the support workers had. She was also aware of a new shirt or dress that they wore. Sometimes the volunteer came at 11.30pm to help me to offer Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri’s personal care. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri always made sure she stayed awake so that she could talk and acknowledge their help and even told them: “You look very nice with the new hairstyle (or new shirt)!” She also always said “Thank you” to them before they left.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri was always full of gratitude and appreciation for all the people who helped her.

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Remembering Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri on Her 70th Birthday – Story 19 : The insects in the blue water lily pod

STORY 19 – THE INSECTS IN THE BLUE WATER LILY POD

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

I remembered Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri’s compassion, care and kindness to all beings, even the very small beings around her.

In the monastery I saw her pick up a fallen leave from the bush and try to rescue a drowning bee in the blue water lily pod. She carefully lifted the struggling bee to the rim of the pod and left it there to dry out its wings. 

Later, when we were at Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage in Jane Brook, she would do the same. Whenever I pushed Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri in her wheelchair and passed the puss’s water container outside the sliding door, she would stop to check whether any insects had gotten into trouble in the water. If she noticed any insects struggling in the water, she would ask me to pick up a leave or a twig on the ground and help them out of the water.

I was amazed and appreciated Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri’s care to the beings around her. I was also grateful for the opportunity to offer life and safety to the beings.

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Remembering Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri on Her 70th Birthday – Story 18 : Grandma

STORY 18 – GRANDMA

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri had offered a lot of valuable advice and coaching to me regarding how to interact with Grandma gently and how to prepare my 98-year-old Grandma for her impending death.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri also gave me instructions to pay full attention to Grandma whenever I spoke to her and patiently listen to her complaints and stories. It was a good opportunity for me to practice the Dhamma.

When Grandma was admitted to the hospital at the emergency department in June 2014, Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri was very kind to Grandma. She went with me to see Grandma at 1.00am just before her surgery. When the surgeon tried to introduce himself and shake hands with me, I told him I would not shake hands with a man. The surgeon was apologetic and kind.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri laughed at me later and said that I could be a bit gentler with the surgeon who had woken up in the middle of the night to perform the surgery.

I had a loving relationship with my Grandma. She had great trust in me and was proud of my decision to let go of my career in pharmacy and naturopathy and ordain as a nun. It was hard to watch Grandma fading away in front of my eyes.

I chanted ‘Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma-Sambuddhassa’ continuously for Grandma and she was calm and at peace whenever I was chanting. I was also wondering what else I could do for Grandma at that time. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri told me that I could just sit quietly next to Grandma offering a piece of my peace, goodness and lovingkindness.

Grandma passed away in the hospital with me sitting next to her.

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Remembering Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri on Her 70th Birthday – Story 17 : Pilgrimage to Sri Lanka 2012

STORY 17 – PILGRIMAGE TO SRI LANKA 2012

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

We went on a pilgrimage to Sri Lanka in 2012. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri had already been diagnosed with MSA – Multi System Atrophy. She had difficulty walking. So, we took her around Sri Lanka in a wheelchair.

During the pilgrimage, we were always on time with all our designated group departures and gatherings. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri never used her disability as an excuse to be late.

She was also very kind and considerate. She asked me to take extra time to rest and she would call me when she was ready and needed my help. Even though I had to get ready for both of us, we always turned up bright and early for our appointments.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri also had an excellent memory and a great sense of direction. The group leader put me, Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri and a lay supporter, Merry, into a taxi to take us to visit Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri’s 90-year-old supporter, Chandra, in Kandy.

The taxi driver did not know how to get to Chandra’s address. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri gave the taxi driver specific instructions and directions. Winding around crowded streets, no signposts. Chandra was delighted to see us when we arrived. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri’s last visit to Sri Lanka was in 2005. Merry and I were in awe of Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri’s ability to remember the directions to get to Chandra’s place.

We had a memorable time on the pilgrimage to Sri Lanka. We visited most of Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri’s favorite places and I remember all the kind and generous people that we met.

Theruwan Saranai.

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Remembering Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri on Her 70th Birthday – Story 16 : One thing at a time

STORY 16 – ONE THING AT A TIME

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

This was a teaching that I received from my teacher ten years ago in 2012.

There was a time I found a big tear in my robe. In the forest Theravada tradition, the monastics only have one robe. I had to stitch a patch on my robe by hand as we did not have a sewing machine.

I told Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri I was going to do the sewing in my room and listen to a Dhamma talk at the same time. She turned around and looked at me. She reminded me that as a monastic, I should practise staying in the present moment and be aware and mindful of what I was doing in front of me.

This meant ‘doing one thing at a time’. If I would like to listen to a Dhamma talk, I should give my full attention to the talk. If I would like to repair my robe, I should pay full attention to the sewing.

I repaired my robe that afternoon. I did not listen to the Dhamma Talk.

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Remembering Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri on Her 70th Birthday – Story 15 : The name ‘Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage’

STORY 15 -THE NAME ‘PATACARA BHIKKHUNI HERMITAGE’

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri was always simple, precise, straight to the point and elegant with her choices of words. She gave the name ‘Dhammasara’ to the Nuns Monastery, ‘Jhana Grove’ to the Meditation Retreat Centre and ‘Patacara’ to the Bhikkhuni Hermitage.

‘Patacara’ is such an appropriate name for the Bhikkhuni Hermitage. Venerable Patacara Bhikkhuni was an enlightened nun during the Buddha’s time. She was foremost in Vinaya amongst the nuns, and a great teacher.

It was a fitting choice of name for our Hermitage. Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri was an excellent teacher. At that time, I just finished memorizing the Bhikkhuni Patimokha and recited the Patimokha for the first time from memory in September 2010. I was also very interested in the Vinaya. Most importantly, Venerable Patacara Bhikkhuni represented our inspiration and aspiration to practice for enlightenment, Nibbana.

Another very interesting coincidence at that time, October 2010, was that Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri had received her diagnosis of cerebellum dystrophy – a degenerative neurological condition. We had just left Dhammasara Nuns Monastery and were staying at my Grandma’s house for 5 months while Grandma was away on holiday.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri and I had no certainty of a roof under our head, had minimum support and an unfavorable medical diagnosis. I felt like everything was crumbling down around us and the ground had been pulled away from us. This was very similar to Venerable Patacara Bhikkhuni’s predicament.

Venerable Patacara Bhikkhuni lost her husband, her young son and a newborn son in a storm in just one day. When she returned to her hometown to take refuge in her family, she found her parents and brother were killed in a house fire just one day before she arrived. She lost her mind with her misfortunes. Venerable Patacara Bhikkhuni met the Buddha and the Buddha opened her eyes to see the Dhamma. She practiced the Dhamma and became fully enlightened.

Ploughing the field with their ploughs,
Sowing seeds upon the ground,
Maintaining their wives and children,
Young men acquire wealth.

Then why, when I am pure in virtue,
Practising the Master’s Teaching,
Have I not attained 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. 112-16 by Venerable Arahat Bhikkhuni Patacara)

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Remembering Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri on Her 70th Birthday – Story 14 : 7.00pmItis

STORY 14 -7.00pmITIS

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni Theri

After we left the monastery in 2010, we were facing much uncertainty, challenges, and difficulties. There was Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri’s degenerative neurological condition. We were also staying at my Grandma’s place in Leeming temporarily with no other place to go to.

I went through doubts and asked myself a lot of questions. “What is happening?” “Why is this happening?” I was also experiencing the good old ‘perimenopausal syndrome’ and would get emotional and teary when I was talking to my teacher about my doubts and questions.

Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri laughed at me and said: “Your 7.00pmITIS.”  My emotional outbursts and discussions normally took place at 7.00pm!

I was very grateful to have a wise and compassionate teacher and kalyanamitta like Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri. Her steadiness, loving kindness, and most importantly, her unwavering faith in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha guided me and supported me through my 7.00pmITIS.

During the rains retreat of 2010, we spent hours practicing meditation together, listening to Dhamma especially on the topics of lovingkindness, compassion and forgiveness. She also helped me with the memorization of the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha. It was my growth spurt in Dhamma. I was very fortunate to have my teacher with me.

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Remembering Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri on Her 70th Birthday – Story 13 : The doorknobs

STORY 13 – THE DOORKNOBS

by Ayya Seri Bhikkhuni

Most of us rushing through life seldom stop for a moment to notice what is in front of us. When we go from point A to point B, we walk through all the doorways but hardly stop. Here is a teaching from Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni Theri regarding doors and doorknobs.

She was giving a teaching to the nuns, trainees and residents at the monastery after breakfast. She would like all of us to use the door as a reminder to stop and to establish our mindfulness before we put our hand and fingers on the doorknob. She encouraged the community to turn the doorknob gently and walk through the door slowly and quietly. In this way, it was a great opportunity to practice lovingkindness and not to disturb the person who was sitting next to the door. It was also a wonderful way to remind us to stop, to take a breath and to re-establish our mindfulness.

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