A stay at Santi… and a bad foot…

For all those interested in the inside scoop on a stay at a contemporary forest monastery, have a look at this. Sometime commenter on this blog Dean Crabb has made an extensive writeup of his recent visit. Complete with videos and photos – and a black snake. Very cool.

On a less happy note, another of our commenters, Lisa Karuna, has injured her foot while visiting relatives in Perth, and had to cancel her visit to Santi. She went through Sydney airport in a wheelchair… It reminds me strangely of an occasion I ended up pushing a bhikkhuni in a wheelchair through Sydney airport… Anyway, let’s dedicate our merit for Lisa and a swift recovery!

12 thoughts on “A stay at Santi… and a bad foot…

  1. I enjoyed the Dean’s diary and pics of his visit. Thanks!

    And so sorry to hear of Lisa having to cancel. Lisa, didn’t you travel half-way around the world to visit Santi? Disappointing I’m sure… ah, changing conditions….. May your foot heal quickly and may you have another opportunity to visit Santi.

    I too would love to visit sometime, though it doesn’t look too likely that will happen. But it’s so nice to get a sense of the place through this blog, the website, and others sharing.

    • Dearest Linda,

      Prior to getting bogged down by crushed foot, I had the immense privelege of spending time at Santi (one month) and Dhammasara – and made a short visit to pay respects to Venerable Brahmavamso.

      The experience with our Sangha family in Australia was deeply nourishing and healing. A few words until more time and space allow, as there is so much worth sharing.

      The beauty of the lands at Santi, Dhammasara and Bodhinyana are stunning. Santi is on the edge of a national park that stretches for more than 1,700 square kilometres of cliffs, waterfalls and gorges – the winds at the upper level dance through gum trees and bottle brush, stirring kidnas, wallabies and the most magnificent population of exotic birds. Valleys descend into the river below, immersed in rainforest, whose species include myriad medicinal plants, as Ayya Analaya, a true Forest Samaneri took great care to teach me. There must be one million caves in this park. That glow in the dark. It is a yogi’s paradise.

      As some of you know, the land for Santi was purchased (along with the land for Wat Sunyatarama) many years ago by a glamourous young Austrian woman who began her Dhamma journey on a retreat with Munindra (who was visiting Australia from India) and following this experience, as a layperson helped Ayya Khema and Khantipalo establish Wat Buddha-Dhamma. This extraordinary woman is now one of the senior nuns at Dhammasara.

      Dhammasara adorns a landscape similar to the land at Santi but on a smaller scale and Bodhinyana is – well-I risk some readers feeling this is over the top but it is rather like one would imagine the Garden of Eden to be! A natural paradise.

      Lay supporters of the three communities are rich in their cultural diversity and in their steadfast support, some coming every two days during vassa, many visiting regularly from long distances. On several occasions I was surprised to learn some were visiting from other Buddhist traditions expressly to show their solidarity with Bhante Sujato, Bhante Brahm and the nuns at Dhammasara. During my viits, they were as many men as women, more Asian than Western, (including many from Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka) and there were often visitors from outside Australia.

      The most refreshing of all was how laypeople and monastics in the communities are informed and aware of the discourse around the Fourfold Sangha, free and at ease in discussing these things and unwaveringly supportive of a Bhikkhuni Sangha in the Theravada family.

      Spending time with the Bhikkhunis, at Santi, at Dhammasara, and sitting in the company of Bhikkhunis on Tudong journeys from Sri Lanka and Vietnam to pay their respects was deeply healing. It was completely natural, joyful and free from controversy. So clearly the right path for women and for the community. Overall, the community at Dhammasara is well and growing in numbers. (I have promised not to say more until Dhammasara Sisters share their upcoming newsletter)

      This being said, it isn’t an easy time for Bhikkhunis in any of the Theravada traditions. Into the tapestry of Sanghakaya are woven very hard work by the Bhikkhunis themselves; the work and the risks we witnessed first hand on the part of the supportive Bhikkhus- which is deeply appreciated; growing support within the international Sanghas; outstanding efforts on the part of lay people, who are clearly inspired.

      Spending longer periods of time in monastic settings offers a window into the magnitude of work involved. Alongside the special celebrations, occasions and daily commitments come administration – good maintenance of the land and forests, architecture and construction, managing unpredictable resources and personalities from the most diverse cultural backgrounds and constant pressure to meet varied expectations. (And give great Dhamma talks, develop the right monastic training; make sure the time and conditions are there for Samadhi practice; write a few books; contribute to Vinaya scholarship; run a blog; you get the picture! There is some speculation that an old stall behind Santi is actually a time machine.)

      All of this on a few hours of sleep and two meals per
      day and served with an unswervingly gracious disposition. On top of this, step out and speak for the truth and face whatever additional burden that generates?

      The worst is over. The wheel is turning.

      What strikes the heart is that this unfolding is the result of collectively courageous, conscious practice.

      And it is a beautiful thing to behold.

      _/\_

  2. Hi Linda and Dear Bhante,

    The wheelchair express, via hundreds of kind hands shuttling body and suitcases through twists and turns and missed connections has landed me unexpectedly in a completely different city than planned – the best outcome really- at my parents’ home in Montreal. Outside are below freezing temperatures, inside are glowing fires, family love and warm apple pie with ice cream.

    This morning I awoke in Australia. At this moment, some 33 hours later, tis but a distant dream. When I fall asleep I shall dream of Brigadoon, one of my favourite films – an ‘oldie’ with Gene Kelley. The story is about a mythical village that appears once every hundred years in the dense forest of the Scottish Highlands. What are the odds of catching a glimpse of such a beautiful village? Let alone walking into it and being invited to stay?

    At nightfall the village disappears and those who stay behind live on eternally outside the conventional world. For those who choose to leave by nightfall, returning to the drudgery of the mundane world, they may return once again but only if they have grown to love deeply enough to make it reappear.

    There is a beautiful parallel, as Australia has two towns that call themselves Brigadoon, after the legend. One is in Western Australia, a breath away from Dhammasara, – the other is in NSW a breath away from Santi. There are parallels too to the ripening of Dhamma and the wish to go forth, and to my experiences in Australia – Allow me forty winks and I shall attempt a few words that does justice to the precious Australian Sangha family – _/\_

  3. Great post about the stay at Santi (I haven’t known this blog, thanks, Bhante for sharing).

    Lisa, speady recovery, enjoy your stay in Montreal, I’m looking forward to your article! Love! :)

  4. That’s a very nice writeup.

    Interesting experience with seeing the snake. Ayya Analaya says the snakes are usually too fast to see – the only big red belly black I’ve ever seen here was at night when it was cool, so it was moving slowly.
    Perhaps the reason why I rarely see snakes is that I walk quickly (and thus somewhat noisily). They probably hear me coming a mile off and move off. Perhaps walking less than mindfully is the ticket for avoiding snakes ;).

    But I’m really not even the slightest bit afraid of the snakes here (frankly, the kind of person a snake probably goes for is the drunkard trying to beat it to death with a stick). I’ve had nearer brushes with death with the eucalypts.

  5. Dear Lisa,

    I hope your foot is healing well. So glad to hear the injury was near the end of your trip, not the beginning (though of course sorry it happened at all!)

    Thank you so much for sharing the beautiful and touching description of your experience and reflections. So good to hear.

    Yes, the tide seems to have turned, and despite (or through) the various waves of “opposition” that have swelled and crashed around all involved, the ground looks different now. The strong deep current of heartfelt aspiration for the full realization of the 4-fold sangha and the commitment and courage (world-wide) to that unfolding process and all it entails (and in particular for those on the most tangible leading edge of it) cannot be stopped. May it flow on to the deepest peace and highest good for all.

    Nibbana paccayo hotu (may it be a condition for realizing Nibbana)

    (sorry for the somewhat silly ocean metaphors. Living in
    the desert–talking about the literal geography here, which I actually do love–it’s so far away and I find myself missing the ocean, and my mind drifting to it, at times!)

    Much metta,
    Linda

    • Dear Linda,

      “Yes, the tide seems to have turned, and despite (or through) the various waves of “opposition” that have swelled and crashed around all involved, the ground looks different now. The strong deep current of heartfelt aspiration for the full realization of the 4-fold sangha and the commitment and courage (world-wide) to that unfolding process and all it entails (and in particular for those on the most tangible leading edge of it) cannot be stopped. May it flow on to the deepest peace and highest good for all.”

      I loved this entry. Thank you.

      How can we not indulge in ocean metaphors? They are so pervasive in spiritual teaching. The Buddha is described as the Ocean of Infinite Compassion…The word Dalai – in Dalai Lama is Mongolian for ocean…

      …life in a human body – we are the elements. If we are mostly water, how then can we ignore a longing for the resonance a moment by the sea offers? And the teaching, where did I learn this – when we are agitated and need to still the mind, to look at the ocean or a pool of water…

      The desert must be wonderful too. I haven’t spent much time in a desert. My finest recollection is driving through a desert like landscape in Senegal this past June. It was my first trip to Africa – to a country steeped in Sufi mysticism. I had just arrived by plane at 5:30 am. The sun was rising and as we passed through early morning Dakar, men were emerging from their first prayers of the day, dressed in their finest kaftans, clutching their prayer beads. A lovely peaceful energy streamed through the vents and windows of our dusty run-down van.

      As we headed out of town, the earth deepened to a rich red, rather scorched looking with hardly a shrub or a blade of grass as far as the eye could see. Eventually the Baobabs appeared. Like elephants lumbering elegantly across a vast, red and otherwise deserted landscape. An experience of emptiness flooded me and quite naturally, the voices of two of my Dharma teachers in Canada arose as clearly as if the decrepid van had suddenly grown a set of high definition speakers. There they were, with me, in a manner of speaking, these unexpected guests, enjoying this vast emptiness and the Baobab trees. (I wanted to say quite oddly, but in this “space” of emptiness, it wasn’t odd at all)

      I learned in Australia that too much of one element (for example, wind, lots of spectacularly windy environments and much time close to the magnetic ocean) can shift the balance of the elements in wee sentient beings…I longed to stand and dig my hands into the earth, where the air was still, or sit in the embrace of big, solid trees, barefoot in a grassy garden.

      I wonder if, in the long run, the desert is a dry and shifting environement that tips the inner balance of elements from earth and water towards wind? And if perhaps from time to time – especially if one was nurtured near the sea, a pilgrimage of the body to pay homage to the sea would not be unwise.

      I leave you with a snippet on Rumi’s use of ocean as a spiritual metaphor:

      “To use Rumi’s own metaphor, the Mathnawi is an ocean, with myriad elements swimming and adrift and growing in it: folklore, the Qur’an, stories of saints and teachers, myth, the sayings of Muhammed, jokes from the street, actual interruptions, whispered asides to Husam. There is an enormous generosity and humor at play here, and at work. Fresh, wild moments within a profound peace. Drunken, lyric dissolvings within a starry clarity. Spontaneous pleasure within discipline.

      You may have heard the Sufi story about an Ocean-Frog who comes to visit a pond-frog, whose pond is three feet by four feet by two feet deep. The pond-frog is very eager and proud to show off the dimensions of his habitat, which in the story signify the limits of mind and desire. He dives down two feet to the bottom and comes up and asks, “Did you ever see water this deep? What is it like where you live?” The Ocean-Frog (from the Ocean of Ilm, the Divine Wisdom, which has no boundaries) cannot explain to the pond-frog what his Ocean home is Like, but he says, “One day I’ll take you there, and you can swim in it.”

      I am very much the pond-frog before the Mathnawi. I love the feel of its motions, its shifting variety, its music and its wisdom. The Mathnawi is a sacred text that invites one to drown in it. I don’t claim to have done that. It’s a continuing work, for me, this digging in Rumi’s Mathnawi, to let the Ocean come up through the effort-places, to let the words drift away and the experience flood in (p. 63).
      (From Coleman Barks)”

    • Dear Lisa,

      Thank you for this beautiful post and the lovely ocean metaphors in myth, poetry and story. And I loved the story of your experience in Africa.

      In the suttas, my favorite metaphors are all the various ocean and stream ones (and others with water) that the Buddha so masterfully uses.

      I agree that the elements can have a profound effect, not only in the external environment, but also shifting our internal mind-body balance as well (though sometimes I’d like to be less sensitive in some ways… and be able to remain balanced no matter what the conditions are…).

      Where I live the elements of air/wind & fire are very strong. Also a very powerful earth element, though not the rich, humus filled earth, supporting huge trees and all sorts of moist , green living things as in many other places…. Here it’s the earth of ancient rocks and arid mesas, dry sand and sun-baked clay, where the high desert meets the mountains. I love the vast open space, deep blue skies, firey sun, clear air and brilliant light, star-filled nights, the hardy, tenacious, often prickly plants which have learned to live in harsh conditions and produce some of the most exquisite wildflowers, and the myriad types of wild creatures…

      There’s something so open, clear, uncluttered about this environment that has a profound effect on the body, heart/mind… though wind, which can be relentless some times of the year, is the element I often find challenging and unbalancing…

      Water, relatively so scarce here, a constant reminder of how precious it is… the sound of a summer monsoon pouring down, a trickling mountain stream, a little spring-fed pool emerging form a dry canyon, or a winter snowfall brings much needed nourishment (and joy) to all us sentient beings and plants.

      Due to various conditions in my life, I haven’t been able to travel for quite some time, but yes, one of these days, a pilgrimage to the ocean would be wonderful.

      Much metta. I hope your foot is healing well,
      Linda

  6. Fantastic write-up Dean!

    Thanks for sharing – wonderful photos – and great news about Edward, Andrew and Matt! It is always inspiring and heartening to hear about Friends’ sincere investigation of renunciation, what it means to them as a path and their journeys as its’ form shifts and changes …

    I would not hesitate for a blink to encourage others to make the journey to Australia to deepen their practice with the wonderful Sangha and ideal forest seclusion at Santi. _/\_

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