Many of you will have heard of the recent announcement by the ex-Amaravati sisters of Saranaloka, California, that they intend to seek bhikkhuni ordination. A great big sadhu! for making this courageous decision.
I have no doubt this will be for the long term benefit of Ajahns Anandabodhi and Santacitta, as well as the Buddhist community as a whole. It is so wonderful to see these steps, each one seemingly minor, but taken together leading to a broader, more embracing and powerful sense of communion and Sangha for all Buddhists.
The letters were originally published in the comments to an old post, The Time Has Come. They are republished here for convenience.
For those still following the Bhikkhuni debate.
A letter from Sister Ananadabodhi and Sister Santacitta.
Dear Friends in Dhamma,
Warm greetings from Aloka Vihara.
Firstly, we would like to express our gratitude to all who contribute in any way to the beautiful community that has gathered around Aloka Vihara. We very much appreciate this precious opportunity to live and practice here, and the possibilities it brings.
Some of you will know that our nuns’ community at Aloka Vihara has gone through many changes in this first year since our arrival. We would like to share more of where we are in regards to our taking root in this fertile soil of the Bay Area.
We are living in an historic period where the unfolding of full participation and ordination for women is happening in most world religions. Our community is no exception: When we came here for the first time in January 2008, our intention was to look into establishing a training monastery for siladhara. As three sisters who have trained in the UK monasteries for about 18 years, we each felt ready to enter a space of new growth, inwardly and outwardly.
Meanwhile in our own communities in the UK, the response to the international attention on the position of women and the feminine in Buddhism, was to reaffirm a conservative stance. In October of 2009, just shortly before our move to the Bay Area, we as a community of siladhara in the UK, agreed to the ‘Five Points’ in order for siladhara ordination to continue:
Saranaloka Foundation is the first trust that has been established with the specific intention of supporting nuns of the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho. Our heartfelt wish in coming here, was to establish a training monastery for nuns within our lineage; an aspiration that was complicated by the imposition of the ‘Five Points’ in August 2009.
Since our arrival here in December of 2009, we recognize more and more the impact on our hearts of those ‘Five Points’ and the vulnerability of the siladhara ordination, which is valid only in the Ajahn Chah / Ajahn Sumedho lineage. The training itself has been of immense value to us on our Path and we are deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to train with the siladhara for so many years. Now, living outside of our larger communities in England, we feel unable to pass on the ‘Five Points’ to other women wishing to live the renunciant life. Our own process is a movement of the heart; responding to the ‘Five Points’ and the conditions which gave rise to them.
The ready availability in the US of bhikkhuni ordination, the ordination given by the Buddha, offers us a new platform for the establishment of a training monastery for women. Taking all these things into consideration, we have come to the decision to move towards taking bhikkhuni ordination to provide a stronger container to pass on to other women. In keeping with the ‘Five Points’ we will take leave of the Ajahn Chah / Ajahn Sumedho lineage in order to later receive full ordination.
We have already informed the elders of our community of this intention and will formally ask forgiveness and take leave of our community in April 2011, when all the nuns and other elders will be gathered at Amaravati. We recognize that this is a huge step and truly want to honor all that we have received over the years.
Having considered this very deeply, we feel the loss and turbulence that such a big step inevitably brings. We experience this within ourselves, and some of you may also feel this in regard to the changes. We want to acknowledge the many questions and inner inquiry our move may stimulate in you, our friends and supporters. The creative tension is very evident.
We feel a strong heart connection with the siladhara community in the UK, wishing that they flourish in their practice. The aspiration towards liberation and providing a sustainable form of training for women samanas is a goal we all share.
We want to acknowledge Ajahn Metta’s presence and input during the initial phase of Aloka Vihara and thank her for all that she has contributed. Ajahn Thitamedha and Sister Sumedha have also spent time with us here and expressed how important it has been for them to experience and take part in the evolution of Aloka Vihara.
This process has sometimes been quite rocky and although at times we would have liked it to have been gentler, we feel it has been similar to ploughing a fertile field, to prepare it for planting. We thank you all for your generous support and interest in our project so far. We continue to be committed to our vision of establishing a training monastery for Theravadan nuns, practicing in the Forest Tradition; a style which is found in all Buddhist schools.
The Forest style of practice emphasizes renunciation, simplicity and meditation as a path of awakening. When the time is ripe, we intend to relocate to a rural setting, more suitable to the Forest style of practice. In the mean time we are very happy to stay at Aloka Vihara with its peaceful presence and close accessibility for our community, the wild ocean and beautiful Golden Gate Park.
We look forward to seeing you at Aloka Vihara, though we recognize that some of you may no longer feel congruent with the unfolding of our vision. We regret any disappointment this may cause and look forward to welcoming all of you as part of our evolving community.
With much gratitude to you all for your support of Aloka Vihara in so many ways.
Many blessings in Dhamma,
Sister Anandabodhi and Sister Santacitta
A follow on letter from Jill Boone – Board member of Saranaloka.
Dear Friends of Saranaloka,
I am writing to follow up on the recent letter from Ajahn Anandabodhi
and Ajahn Santacitta. The vision of the Saranaloka Foundation is to
support the expansion of possibilities for women in the west to pursue
the dhamma in a monastic form and to deepen their practice for the
benefit of all. The original form of our vision was to support a
women’s monastic community for siladhara in the Ajahn Chah lineage.
Going forward, we will continue to offer support to the siladhara
visiting and teaching in the United States. In addition, after
extensive research, discussion, and thoughtful consideration, the
Board of Directors has decided to expand its vision to support the
Aloka Vihara nuns in their pursuit of bhikkhuni ordination, which is
not possible for siladhara.
The weekly routine at the vihara and the style of practice will remain
the same, and we hope you will continue to visit and support the nuns.
More information about this evolution will be provided on the website
in the coming weeks. In addition we will be communicating directly
with our donors. You are invited to attend supporters’ meetings on
Nov. 28 at 3 pm and Jan. 9 at 1 pm at the Aloka Vihara.
Thank you again for your support of the nuns and the Saranaloka