|The Story of Sanghamitta - “Friend of the Sangha”
Alliance for Bhikkhunis
International Bhikkhuni Day – 29 Sept.2012
(Speaker’s Notes for the‘Shorty Version’Power Point)
Notes to presenters:
Don’t worry about pronunciation of the Indian or Pali words. Unlikely anyone will know if you mispronounce any think, unless they speak Hindi, and if they do, ask for their help!
There is so much information, but too much may put some people to sleep, so I’ve added some things in italics and a smaller font. If you think the audience is interested, read them. If not, skip them.)
Welcome to International Bhikkhuni Day. Thank you for coming to share in this celebration. The purpose of this presentation is to “enlighten” people about bhikkhunis, their history and their current situation.
This year the Alliance for Bhikkhunis is honoring Sanghamitta Theri, an Indian Bhikkhuni whose name means “Friend of the Sangha”. In 245BCE Sanghamitta left her home in India and travelled to Sri Lanka to establish the bhikkhuni sangha there.It is from Sri Lanka that Buddhism and the bhikkhuni sangha spread throughout Asia, and the world. The current day bhikkhuni sangha traces its roots back to her. So we owe her a great debt of gratitude. We also honor some of the current day bhikkhunis who have followed in her footsteps.
First, what is a Bhikkhuni/Bhikshuni?
A bhikkhuni (Pali) or bhikshuni(Sanskrit) is a fully-ordained female Buddhist monastic.
A bhikkhu/bhikshu is a fully-ordained male monastic.
Both bhikkhus &bhikkhunis are ordained by receiving the precepts of the Vinaya (monastic discipline). The bhikkhunis Patimokkha has 311 rules. The bhikkhu Patimokkha has 227 rules.
The Alliance for Bhikkhunis was founded in 2007 to help support Buddhist women who have chosen this path, especially Theravada women who take vows of renunciation and are totally dependent on others for their support.
We remember that the Buddha was born in Lumbini in the foothills of the Himalayas (now part of Nepal, near the border with India) around 563 BCE.
By the time of his death around 483 BCE, Buddhism was already well established in parts of India, and continued to be spread by his followers.
Very importantly for women, he had already established the bhikkhuni order in India.
What’s commonly told (although there is debate about the dates and the facts) is the story that some years after his enlightenment, the Buddha was in Kapilavatthu at the Banyan Park Monastery. His aunt Mahapajapati Gotami, who raised him after the death of his mother, came to him with 500 women & begged to be admitted to the order of nuns. He at first refused.
Then Mahapajapatishaved her head & came again with 500 women in yellow robes to see the Buddha in Vesali. Ananda interceded on their behalf & convinced the Buddha to allow them to ordain.
Ananda is supposed to have said: “Lord, if women were to go forth from the home life into homelessness in the Tathagata’s Dhamma-Vinaya, would they be able to realize the fruit of stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning, or arahantship?”
To which the Buddha replied: “Yes, Ananda, they would…….” (Culavagga)
The Buddha became convinced of the women’s ability to practice and extolled the attainments of the many enlightened bhikkhunis in his Assembly.(As the Buddha had two chief male disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, he likewise had two foremost female monks, bhikkhunis, Uppalavanna and Khema. )This mural on a wall in Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand depicts the Thirteen Great Arahant Bhikkhuni Disciples,
Before he died the Buddha said: “I will not pass away…until I have bhikkhu disciples...bhikkhuni disciples...layman disciples… laywoman disciples who are accomplished, disciplined, skilled, learned, expert in the Dhamma.”
This is known as the Four-fold Sangha.
The Four Fold Sangha: The bhikkhunis are to the right of the Buddha. Below them are the upasikas, female lay practitioners. Left of the Buddha are bhikkhus. Beneath them are the upasaka, male lay practitioners.
So what part did Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta play in helping Buddhism and the bhikkhuni order spread around the world?(Point to the yellow arrow going to Sri Lankan.) It is this line here, the spread of Buddhism from India to Sri Lanka that is the focus of our story.
I think it is always interesting and important to know the back-story, to know something of someone’s background and what shaped the direction of their life. To understand Sanghamitta we first need a little bit of Indian history, especially about her father King Asoka (or Ashoka, as it is pronounced.)
It is interesting that the Buddhist concepts of compassion, loving kindness, peace and ahimsa (non-violence) that were spread by Sanghamitta actually arose from a time of horrific war and bloodshed in India.
By the time of Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BC), Buddhism was well established in India.Deva, Sanghamitta’s mother was a Buddhistwho understood and practiced her beliefs. Asoka had been exposed to Buddhist thought, but later said that he hadn’t really understood it. This is very evident by the violence and brutality in his younger life.
In the eighth year of his reign, ~261 BCE, Asoka invaded and conquered Kalinga in a horrific battle where 100,000 of his soldiers were slain, as well as 150,000 of Kalinga’s soldiers. The whole of Kalinga was plundered and destroyed.
The brutality of the conquest, and his part in it, began to sink in and it sickened him. Herealized that this was not victory but horrific loss. He also realized that he was the cause of this destruction and was overcome by remorse. He is said to have said in despair, “What have I done?”
(Asoka had a very interesting life and it’s worth reading about. If you want the Bollywood version of Asoka’s life, with a cast of thousands, it is available on Netflix. It’s actually not too bad.)
Asoka sought solace from his pain by converting to Buddhism. He was so inspired by the teachings of the Buddhist monks and Buddhist philosophies that he used his status to propagate the relatively new religion, making it the state religion in 260 BC, and spreading it as far as Rome and Egypt. He erected pillars throughout India marking the significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha, like this one in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha.Asoka pillars have been found in Greek and Aramaic (the language spoken by Jesus.)
During the remaining portion of Ashoka's reign, he pursued an official policy ofahimsa (nonviolence).In addition to ahimsa, Ashoka became a devotee of the values of love, truth, tolerance and even vegetarianism.
By example Asoka taught and persuaded his people to love and respect all living things and insisted on the recognition of the sanctity of all human life. Hetreated all subjects, no matter what caste, as equals. He became a vegetarian, and made rules about the inhumane slaughter of animals, outlawed sport hunting and established hospitals for animals.
Emperor Ashoka undoubtedly has to be credited with the first serious attempt to develop a Buddhist statepolicy. Previously, because of his wicked deeds, he was known as ‘Violent Asoka’, but later, because of his meritorious deeds he was known as ‘Righteous Asoka’.
Not engaging in war gave him the finances and time to concentrate on building his country, as evidenced by some of his accomplishments, universities, irrigations systems and roads. He became known as a peace-loving ruler and ruled of one of the largest, richest and most powerful multi-ethnic states.
The emblem of the modern Republic of India is an adaptation of the “Lion Capital of Asoka” found on some of his pillars, and the center of the flag has the Asoka chakra wheel.
So…… this is the family and environment that Sanghamitta grew up in. She was brought up with the strong Buddhist beliefs of her parents, which obviously strongly influenced the path she followed in her life.
Sanghamitta was married at age 14 to Agribrahmi, a nephew of Emperor Ashoka. Agribrami had also been raised in Buddhist traditions and became an Arahant (a spiritual practitioner who has realized certain high stages of attainment, including Nirvana.) They had a son named Sumana, wholater became a samanera, a novice monk, and lateralso an Arahant.
Both Mahinda and Sanghamitta received Buddhist training. Sanghamitta’s teacher was Ayupala. At the age of 20, her brother Mahinda received higher ordination. On the same day, Sanghamitta, at the age of 18 was given sikkhamana ordination. Sikkhamna ordination, what we now call samaneri training, means being placed in training for two years beforereceiving full ordination as a bhikkhuni. This is what was what was prescribed by the Buddha and is very much the same requirement as today. Two years later she was given full ordination by her preceptor Dhammapala.
Asoka sent out missionaries in nine different routes to spread Buddhism. At the request of King Tissa in Sri Lanka, a group was sent south to Sri Lanka. (Point to arrow to Sri Lanka.) It was lead by Ashoka’s son Mahinda. Accompanying himwas, Samana, Sanghamitta’s son,Mahinda’s nephew.
In Sri Lanka, Mahinda’s dhamma talks drew great crowds, including many members of the royal family and many women.
Among them was Princess Anula, the king’s sister-in-law. She informed the king that she was convinced of the truth of Buddha’s teaching and that she wished to become a bhikkhuni, as did 500 other women. (Note: The number 500 is often used in ancient records and I’ve read that it generally just means a really lot of people.)
When the king asked Mahinda to ordain the women, Mahinda explained that, according to the Vinaya (monastic rules) he was unable to ordain the women, as ordination must be conferred by five other bhikkhunis, then confirmed by monks. He suggested they send for his sister, the respected Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta. So King Tissa sent his minister to Emperor Asoka’s court in Patna, and along with Mahinda’s request, and asked that Asoka send his daughter, Sanghamitta, to Sri Lanka to train and ordain the women. King Tissa and Bhikkhu Mahinda also asked if she could bring with her a cutting from the Bodhi Tree at Gaya, under which the Buddha had attained enlightenment.
In the meantime, Princess Anula and the 500 other women, took the 10 precepts, donned yellow robes and lived in ‘good conduct’ awaiting Sanghamitta’s arrival. They established a Nunnery that became well known throughout Sri Lanka as the Lay-Women’s monastery.
At this time the Brahmans had fairly rigid ideas regarding women, especially women of royal birth, and it would have been quite a courageous act for a woman to have undertaken this journey on her own, even at the age of 32.
Asoka was very reluctant to send his daughter, feeling that he had already lost his son and grandson in Sri Lanka. ButSanghamitta insisted, and he eventually agreed. She would have been quite a liberated woman to undertake this mission and to defy the challenges of a male-dominated society.
She is recorded to have said to her father: “My brother’s word has importance to me, King, together with the request of the great Queen and the thousand women. Further, I suppose, this is not just my brother’s word and many are waiting for the going-forth, which I also desire to give, Great King, and so now I must go.”
So King Asokafinally acceded to her request, but with much sadness at the absence of both of his children and his grandson. The story goes that as the ship was readying to sail, he waded into the water up to his neck, carrying the Bodhi tree sapling to her, all the time with tears streaming down his face. Sanghamitta setsail from India to Sri Lanka, along with a retinue of 10 other learned bhikkhunis, to accompany her and to give ordination to the Sri Lankan princess and her retinue.
Arahanta BhikkhuniSanghamittais said to have thecutting from the Bodhi-Tree carried in a golden vase. When she landed in Sri Lanka shewas welcomed by King Tissa himself with great veneration for Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta and for the sapling. He is also supposed to have waded into the water up to his neck to greet her and accept the tree. You can see him is the lower right corner of this picture.
They were ceremoniously escorted by the king and his people from the port to the capital in Anuradhapura. The road on which they entered the city was decorated with “silver leaves of cloth strewnlike sand that had been sprinkled”along the road.
The Bodhi sapling was planted with reverence in a lovely pavilion in the Mahameghavana Grove in Anuradhapura. It is still in the same location and is said to be the oldest living tree in the world. Called the Jaya Sri MahaBodhiya, it is the main center of devotion in Sri Lanka today, and is visited and worshiped every year by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
Sanghamitta and the other bhikkhunis ordained Queen Anula and the other women and continued to live and teach in the Lay-Women’s Nunnery. You can see her imagein the circle on the archway. At some time, as the Nunnery was becoming very crowded, the king built her a more secluded dwelling place in a cool place in a mountain grotto.
Neither Mahinda nor Sanghamitta ever returned to India. Mahinda died after 60 years in Sri Lanka; his funeral and cremation was attended with great ceremony.
At the age of about 79 (other sources say 59), Sanghamitta, who had brought so much to Sri Lankan, passed away. The king made supreme offerings and paid respect to the ‘Elder Nun’ for a week, and decorated the city as he had for Mahinda. Her cremation took place on the eastern side of the Sanctuary Monastery within sight of the Bodhi tree.
Her stupa was only recently discovered and restored.
Sanghamitta brought two historic gifts to Sri Lanka, the Bhikkhuni Sangha and the Bodhi Tree. She revolutionized the history of Sri Lanka in many ways, especially for women, as she gave them an organization where they can free themselves from worldly attachments and improve spirituality. They can become worthy of reverence.
To this day, Sanghamitta Day, the full moon in December, is a national holiday, celebrated not only in Sri Lanka, but in Sri Lankan and Buddhist communities around the world.
Buddhism spread from India to northern Asia (in the form of Mahayana Buddhism) and from Sri Lanka to South East Asia (in the form of Theravada Buddhism). And with it spread the bhikkhuni sangha.
In 429 CE, Bhikkhuni Devasara, a Sri Lankan bhikkhuni, took a cutting from the Sri Lankan tree, grown from a cutting from the Indian Bodhi Tree, and traveled to China with a group of bhikkhunis to establish a bhikkhuni sangha there. These Sri Lankan bhikkhunis gave higher ordination to more than 300 Chinese nuns at a monastery in Nanjing. A second group followed in 433 CE.
There are now thousands of Taiwanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese bhikkhunis. This unbroken lineage became very important about 1500 years later, as we shall see; when the Mahayana bhikkhunis from these orders were able to help their Theravada sisters revive their Sangha.
Between the 11thand 14thcenturies CE both the bhikkhu and bhikkhuni sanghas died out in India and Sri Lanka due to invasions, war, and famine. Not long afterward, at the request of the new Sri Lankan king, the Sri Lankan Bhikkhu Sangha was reestablished with the help of bhikkhus from nearby countries.
There was thought to re-import the bhikkhuni sangha from Burma where there were still bhikkhunis. However, they were of another order, and the choice was made, by the then political and religious leaders, not to re-import the Bhikkhuni Sangha ordination lineage. So it died out in Sri Lanka until within the last 20 years.
The Bhikkhu Sangha, however, was revived multiple times when the Bhikkhu Sangha in one country re-established and ordained bhikkhus in neighboring countries. Sadly, this phenomenon did not happen for Southeast Asian women desiring ordination.
As recently as 1928, the Thai Bhikkhu Sangha issued a decree that the bhikkhunis’ lineage had died out and could not be revived. Even though there is considerable evidence disputing their claim, Thai bhikkhus to this day are prohibited from ordaining women. As recently as the late 1990’s, there were no bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka or Thailand.
Similar laws were also passed in Burma. As recently as 2005 a Burmese bhikkhuni, Ayya Saccavadi, who had ordained in Sri Lanka with Ayya Gunasari, went back to Burma to visit her dying father. She was arrested and jailed for “impersonating a monk”, jailed in harsh conditions (including threats or rape) and sentenced to five years in jail. She was released through the intervention of her family and after her story was carried on BBC, if she agreed to leave their country. She came to the US and lived with Ayya Gunasari at Mahapajapati. Suffering from her traumatic experiences she disrobed in 2008 and has settled near Mahapajapati Monastery in Joshua Tree.(You can read her story at AfB’s online magazine Present, 2010, Vol. 3, Issue 1, “Buddhist Discrimination Against Women in Modern Burma.”)
The bhikshuni lineage was also not established in Tibet due to the difficulty in crossing the Himalayas. While there are a few historical records of a few bhikshunis in Tibet receiving their ordination from the bhikshu sangha alone, it never took hold in Tibet, because a sufficient number of Indian bhikshunis did not go to Tibet, nor did sufficient number of Tibetan women go to India to take ordination and return to Tibet to be able to pass it on to others.
Today there are bhikkhunis and bhikshunis worldwide. So how did that come about, when the situation in many countries in Asia was very precarious for so many centuries, and the Theravada bhikkhuni order had all but died out?
In part bhikkhuni and bhiksuni orders around the world owe a debt of gratitude to their Mahayana sisters.You remember that 1500 years ago Sri Lankan bhikkhunis carried the bhikkhuni order to China, and hence to Korea and Taiwan. Over the centuriesBhikkhuni orders thrived in these countries.
In recent years these Mahayana sisters, along with supportive monks, have been able to ordain women who practice in both Theravada and Vajrayana (Tibetan) tradition. There are now over 1000 bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka and about 50 bhikkhunis or samaneris in Thailand. Many Thai women traveled to Sri Lanka to ordain, back to where Sanghamitta Bhikkhuni started her sangha.
As we mentioned the Thai Theravada tradition had forbid the ordination of bhikkhunis. In 2009, Ajahn Brahm took a very bold step. With Ayya Tathaloka as the preceptor, supported by AyyasSobhana and Sucinta, four nuns were ordained as bhikkhunis at Bodhinyana Monastery in Serpentine, Australia. Ajahn Brahm was a confirming bhikkhu. Since Ajahn Brahm was in the Ajahn Chah Thai lineage, which does not allow full ordination for women, Ajahn Brahm was ordered to Wat Pah Pong in Thailand. He was asked to recant and declare the ceremony was invalid and that these women were not bhikkhunis. He refused, and he and his monastery were “delisted” from the lineage he’d been part of for about 35 years.
When this began some Theravada monks questioned the validity of this ordination. However, Ajahn Brahm’s, who has been a great supporter of bhikkhunis, says that his research shows that they are almost identical.
Not only have today’s bhikkhunis and bhiksunis been helped by their Mahayana sisters, but they also stand on the shoulders of some very courageous and pioneering women, women who followed the example of their predecessor Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta. We’ll meet a few of them and see how their Mahayana sisters played a part in the ordinations of these women and their contributions to the revival of the Bhikkhuni order.
(Note: You may want to go fairly quickly through this slide, pointing out the different women and emphasizing how they received ordination from Mahayana orders and their current contribution.)
VoramaiKabilsinghShatsena, a Thai wife and mother, began her monastic life by receiving the ‘Eight Precepts’ and lived as a maechee for 15 years.
-She was then ordained as a samaneri with the 10 precepts by an eminent Thai bhikkhu in a Wat in the royal residence.
-Since she could not be fully ordained in Thailand, she traveled to Taiwan to ordain as Venerable Ta Tao Fa Tzu.
-She established Sondhammakalyani Temple outside of Bangkok on land purchased by the Queen, published a Buddhist monthly magazine for 32 years and was very involved with social welfare. “Venerable Grandma,” as she was known, died in 2003.
Her daughter, Ven. Bhikkhuni Dhamananda, was the first Thai bhikkhuni ordained in the Theravada tradition.
Bhiksuni Tenzin Palmo, who follows Tibetan tradition, was one of the first Westerners ordained as a bhiksuni. She received full ordination in Hong Kong in 1972. She lived for 12 years in a remote cave in the Himalayas, recounted in her book, “Cave in the Snow”. She established a Nunnery in the Himalayas to train women.
Bhiksuni Pema Chodron was fully ordained in 1981 fully in Chinese lineage also in Hong Kong. She is currently abbess of Gampo Abbey in rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and it the author of many books on Buddhism.
Bhiksuni Lekshe Tsomo was raised in Hawaii, where a surfing competition led her to Japan, which then took her to India. Compelled by the Tibetan culture & spirituality on a visit toDharamsala, she stayed for a year. When money ran out, she sold her guitar back at home & stayed another year.
She was fully ordained in Mahayana tradition in South Korea in 1982.
She went on to co-found, with Ayya Khema, Sakyadhita (Daughters of the Buddha) International Association of Buddhist Women. Through her Jamyang Foundation in the Himalayas, she has started a number of schools to education Indian women. She also helped to establish the Sanghamitra Institute in Delhi. Most recently she was instrumental in orchestrating the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to San Diego.
In 1979 Ayya Khemafirst ordained as a 10 precept nun in Sri Lanka, where she was active in restoring full ordination for women and setting up many training centers for nuns.In 1988 a group of Sri Lankan ten-precept nuns ordained at Hsi Lai Monastery in Hacienda Heights, Southern California. That group included Ayya Khema, Ven.Dharmapali (the first American bhikkhuni - now disrobed) and the first Nepalese Theravada bhikkhuni in modern times, VenDhammawati. In 1987 Ayya Khema was the first Buddhist nun to address the UN.
Sadly, without support, only Ayya Khema remained a bhikkhuni. (It was awareness of this situation that later inspired Susan Pembroke to found the Alliance for Bhikkhunis, to help support bhikkhunis, but more about that later.)
Bhiksuni ThubtenChodrun was full ordained in 1987 in Taiwan and went on to establish the Sravastri Abbey in Washington State.
Several prominent bhikkhunis in the United States are now ordaining other women worldwide. Among them are Ayya Tathaaloka, Ayya Sudhamma and Ayya Sobhana. Ayya Tathaaloka was ordained in Los Angeles in 1997 and founded Dhammadharini Vihara in Fremont, CA and Aranya Bodhi Hermitage in Northern California.
Ayya Sobhana, trained by BhanteGunarantana and ordained in Sri Lanka, has also been a prominent leader on the American bhikkhuni scene. She is the Abbess of Aranya Bodhi Hermitage in Northern California. Ayya Sudhamma was originally at a hermitage in South Carolina, but now heads a monastery in Australia.
Like Sanghamitta, the women who ordained earlier taught and ordained other women. In 1998, Bhiksunis Thubten Chodron and Karma Lekshe Tsomo ordained new bhiksunis at Bodhgaya, India.
In 1996,Sakyadhita, along with South Korea & Sri Lankan monks organized and sponsored the first International higher ordination in Sarnath, India. At that time 10 Sri Lankan nuns received full ordination as bhikkhuni. Although it did not occur in Sri Lankan it reestablished the Bhikkhuni sangha in Sri Lanka
One of those Sri Lankan women was Ven. Bhikkhuni Kusuma, MA. Ph.D.She has pioneered the re-establishmenttheTheravada Bhikkhuni Sangha in Sri Lanka and has taken upon herself the task of carrying on the efforts of her mentor, Ayya Khema, in establishing the 'Ayya Khema International Buddhist Mandir.
In 2003, Sri Lanka came full circle from the time the Sanghamitta first brought the bhikkhuni sangha to the island.The first bhikkhuni higher ordinations in modern times were held on Sri Lankan soil. Ordained at that time were American Ayya Sudhamma, and Burmese Ayya Gunasari and Ayya Saccavadi, as well as Thailand’s Venerable Dhammananda .Ayya Gunasari was the first Burmese and Ven. Dhammananda the first Thai woman to be fully ordained as a Theravada bhikkhuni in modern times.
Many of the bhikkhunis went on to build the bhikkhuni sangha. Ven. Sudhamma established the Carolina Buddhist Vihara, a Theravada Buddhist center in a small house in the suburbs of Greenville, SC. (but is now in Australia.) Ayya Gunasari is now the abbess of Mahapajapati Monastery near Joshua Tree, California. And Ven. Dhammananda is abbess of a monastery in Thailand
Ven. Dhammananda was the first Thai woman to ordain as a Theravada bhikkhuni. Her renowned mother Venerable Voramai ordained in a Taiwanese temple when Ven. Dhammananda was ten years old.
In 2006, in a secret ceremony in the ancient ruins at Ayutthaya in Thailand, three more Thai women ordained as bhikkhunis − Bhikkhunis Rattanavali, Dhammamitta, and Silananda. Bhikkhunis Rattanavali, Dhammamitta, and Silananda now have their own viharas and are well supported by lay people in their communities.
In 2007, His Holiness the Dalai Lama called, “The First International
Congress of Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha” brought the issue of full ordination for women to world attention. Leading Buddhist monastics met to discuss the history and legitimacy of the ordination of women.
Pictured, left to right: Burmese Bhikkhuni Ven. Gunasari (retired physician); American Ven. Sobhana from Bhavana Society; British-born Ven. Tenzin Palmo (Cave in the Snow); American Ayya Tathaaloka, abbess of Dhammadharini; Ven. Dhammananda, first Thai bhikkhuni, renowned scholar
In 2005, the North America Bhikkhuni Association was established. Since then it has almost doubled in size.
In Aug. 2010 four women were ordained by Ayya Tathaaloka at Aranya Bodhi. After being ordained by the Bhikkhuni Sangha on one side, the bhikkhunis then went over to the assembled Bhikkhu Sangha for the confirmation of their ordination, which completed the bhikkhuni ordination.The four samaneri ordained as bhikkhunis: Ven. Thanasanti Bhikkhuni (United States), Ven. Adhimutta Bhikkhuni (New Zealand), Ven. Suvijjana Bhikkhuni (United States), and Ven. Phalanani Bhikkhuni (Germany) were ordained as bhikkhunis (fully ordained nuns) in the Theravada Buddhist tradition.
The following month five women were fully ordained at Dharma Vijaya in Los Angeles.
Three ceremonies were held on the same day. The first was for a Canadian-born woman, Brenda Batke-Hirschmann, who became an anagarika by taking Eight Precepts; the second was for two American-born anagarikas who received ordination as samaneris; and the third was for five samaneris who took full upasampada, or higher ordination, as bhikkhunis. The new samaneris are Santussika and Dhammapali; the new bhikkhunis are Lakshapathiye Samadhi (born in Sri Lanka), Cariyapanna, Susila, Sammasati (all three born in Vietnam), and Uttamanyana (born in Myanmar).
The most recent bhikkhuni ordinations took place on Oct. 17, 2011at Spirit Rock Meditation Hall. It was significant is that it was very much “mainstream” and widely attended by bhikkhus and bhikkhunis from around the world.–L-R: Ayya Nimmala, Sati Saraniya Hermitage, Ontario, Canada; Ayya Santacitta and Ayya Anandabodhi, Aloka Vihara, San Francisco, California.
Thailand old large dark stone markers are often used by monks to tie the string around. At this ordination the sima markers were tall plant stands with flowers cascading down from the pots. A veryfeminine touch.
So, now a little about Alliance for Bhikkhunis (AfB) and what they do. It was founded in 2007 as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization to help support the creation of a Bhikkhuni Sangha in the U.S. and its revival overseas.
As we mentioned, Theravada bhikkhunis and bhikkhus take vows comparable to Christian vows of poverty. Their only possessions are their robes and their eating bowls. They cannot drive, handle money, hold jobs, cook their food, nor many other things. Try to imagine how you would exist if you lived like this. They are totally dependent of others for everything in their lives. Could you live like that? Give up all your attachments??!!
Probably the two most important undertakings of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis are:
1) To educate lay practitioners about the essential role bhikkhunis play in preserving the dharma.
2) AFB offers financial assistance to provide monastics with their four requisites: food, clothing, shelter and medicine/health care
In addition to the items pictured here, AfB has sent donations to Thailand for construction of living quarters as well as for computers to help with education of nun. Just recently AfB send donations toward the building of a meditation halls at a monastery in Canada and one in Sri Lanka.
Alliance for Bhikkhunis has a fund donated by a very generous anonymous donor which pays for medical and dental health care as well as insurance premiums for some bhikkhunis.
According to Ayya Tathaaloka: Several women who thought about ‘going forth’ had to reconsider when confronted with the fact that there were not funds for health care coverage. She has also not been able to accept other women from other countries who are bhikkhuni candidates as they cannot provide health coverage. They have joked that they are only able to accept women who are ‘DNR’ ‘Do Not Resuscitate’! The Dhammadharini Board does not want to accept any new candidates under these conditions.
Alliance for Bhikkhunis contributed to transportation and conference costs so bhikkhunis could attend this international meeting. The AfB also pays for travel so bhikkhunis can come together during Vassa and attend retreats.
Alliance for Bhikkhunis, through its online magazine Present and its digital Library, provides information on bhikkhuni news, activities, challenges, achievements and history. Through its Facebook page, it creates a virtual community.
So much of the work of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis is the dispelling of misconceptions about bhikkhunis and their history, and the empowering of women through a recovery of their spiritual legacy and education about the attainments and achievements of past and current bhikkhunis. Vital to these tasks is the additional activity of educating lay practitioners about why it is essential to have women monastics in the modern world.
Alliance for Bhikkhunis’ Annual International Bhikkhuni Day is a critical component of AfB’s mission to honor and celebrate bhikkhuni history. This annual event is one of the primary ways the AfB protects the inspiring stories of women monastics as well as enlightened laywomen.
A little bhikkhuni humor.
Thank you again for coming and sharing in this celebration.
May all beings be happy.
(Power point created by AfB board member Donna McCarthy.)