Sunday, June 16, 2013

Reply to "Welcome Back Ayya Tathaaloka & Ven. Nibbida"

Dear friends,

It is so good to be back in this peaceful forest surrounded by my Sangha sisters.  

To my surprise, i was greeted on return by a full hall of several groups of friends who came throughout the afternoon, which we all, young and older, spent enjoying meditation and joyful Dhamma reflection and discussion together.

meditating together before almsmeal dana

making Buddha mudras with the children

I returned to find that two new tent platforms had been built by -- us! -- while i was away :-).  Several venerables and friends had their very first mentored experiences using power tools, as well as blessing the new platforms together.  Friend Lee will be staying on one which is her new secluded spot of meditation.  The other will become our temporary kitchen, as we are about to have an outdoor camp kitchen for a week or two of this fine weather while our hermitage's kitchen trailer undergoes much needed renovations. 

teacher and student building the new meditation platform

new temporary camp kitchen is up

blessing this new place of forest meditation

we did it ourselves!

It brought joy for us to do it ourselves, and we also always very much welcome your helpful participation.  Our 4th of July Volunteers Week at the hermitage is coming soon!  Please do join us for all or any part.

I hope to write again soon to share with you a little about my time away with the Generation X Buddhist Teacher's Conference and the International Vipassana Teacher's Conference -- both very different and very valuable and enriching gatherings. 

Also, look out for further news on the coming Volunteers Week and other preparations for our Three-Monthlong Vassa-time Retreat which begins just 5 weeks from today.  We have a full house here at the hermitage now with 7 bhikkhunis and samaneris as well as 3 aramikas (hermitage stewards) in residence -- a total of 10 of us :-)).

Sending metta to you
heart to heart,
from this peaceful patch of regrowth forest,
amidst these amazing and peaceful robed beings and friends,
in the life of the Dhamma ~

Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Interfaith Women for Peace visit our Awakening Forest

Good things on top of good things, gladdening the heart ~

Friends and sisters of the Tri-Cities Interfaith Women for Peace drove up the coast and joined us today in the quiet Awakening Forest, bringing abundant food to share for the late morning almsmeal offering, joining us for blessings and the meal, Q & A on everything from Buddha images to God and Nibbana, and then a walking tour of our women's monastic hermitage land, meditation sites and stupa.  

The meeting of Ayya Tathaaloka and Sr. Gloria, the abbess of the Dominican Sisters' motherhouse in Mission San Jose, in Fremont two years ago sparked the advent of Interfaith Women for Peace, which has now grown into a lovely and lively contemplative gathering of women religious leaders of multiple faiths in the San Francisco East Bay Area.

Meeting our Interfaith Women for Peace friends here in the forest

Today's visit of Sr. Annette, a Catholic nun of the Order of Notre Dame, Muslim sister Nabeela, Japanese Buddhist Sets and Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Barbara Meyers to our Aranya Bodhi Hermitage followed on Ayya Sobhana's presentation on Buddhism to an Interfaith Women for Peace gathering at the Peace Pagoda in Fremont last month.

Ayya Tathaaloka, when asked about the concept of God, speaking on Nibbana, "the Unconditioned"    

Ayya Sobhana comments ~
"We felt such a connection with these women, who care enough about mutual loving-kindness, compassion and peacefulness.  This is so meaningful.  It is not just a theoretical interest in interfaith relationships, but a genuine heart connection.  Its really beautiful and lovely."

Ayya Sobhana giving a walking tour of the land and speaking on the Dhamma while showing Kalyana Kuti

In the blessings of the good heart
of peace and kindness,
and the bright heart 
inclined to truth and the Way,

Yours truly,
Aranya Bodhi Sangha

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Heart, Land & Sangha Time | Vesak-week Bhikkhuni Camp at Aranya Bodhi

Heart, Land & Sangha Time
2013 Vesak-week Bhikkhuni Camp at Aranya Bodhi  

For all dear friends of our Bhikkhuni Sangha and Venerables far and wide ~

Warm greetings from the quiet peace of the Awakening Forest, our Vesak-week Bhikkhuni Camp now complete.

For 5 days this past week under the bright Vesaka moon bhikkhunis and samaneris from around the country and around the world gathered for "Bhikkhuni Camp", the third time Bhikkhuni Camp has happened on this hermitage land, although the first time since our hermitage has come into being here.

Let us share with you something of this year's camp.  

  the camp

Bhikkhunis and samaneris stayed in little huts in this redwood forest by the ocean, or pitched tents up high on the mountain meadow called "the saddle".  Our hermitage land was in full spring bloom, with myriad forest and meadow flowers and birds singing. On the first day -- our day of gathering -- after a long and unusual spring drought, a heavy spring rain came in, moistening the land and alleviating the fire danger.  The second day monastic campers experienced the famous mountain mists, and then the sun broke through clear and bright, blessing all our remaining days together.


Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni-theri from the Pacific Northwest, USA 
(Aranya Bodhi Hermitage, Dhammadharini), 

Ayya Sudhamma Bhikkhuni-theri from North Carolina, USA 
(itinerant teacher, Bhavana Society), 

Ayya Sobhana Bhikkhuni from Iowa, USA 
(Aranya Bodhi Hermitage, Bhavana Society), 

Ayya Suvijjana Bhikkhuni from Northern California, USA 
(Aranya Bodhi Hermitage, Dhammadharini), 

Ayya Anandabodhi Bhikkhuni from Wales, UK 
(Aloka Vihara),

Ayya Dhammadhira Bhikkhuni from Southern California 
(Mahapajapati Women's Monastery),

Sr Sumedha Samaneri from Seattle, Washington, USA 
(Ekayanamagga Galena Aranya, Sri Lanka),

Sr Santacari Samaneri from Adelade, AUS 
(Aranya Bodhi Hermitage / Pa Auk Tawya May Myio & Chanmyay Myiang, Mingaladon, Myanmar (Burma))

Sr Jayati Samaneri from North London, UK 
(Aloka Vihara)

  meditation in the elements
  chanting together  
  monastic council

Early in the morning monastics gathered to chant together in our DhammaSala yurt, or to each practice sitting, walking and standing meditation independantly in the clear and elemental beauty of the forest and meadows.  Later each morning bhikkhunis and samaneris gathered for Council together, speaking on matters important to the heart of this path and the way.  Topics ranged from our individual practice and experience to the important matters of monastic communal life to working together on knotty points of monastic discipline--delving into the Pali-text Bhikkhuni Vinaya which hasn't been practiced for so long and now once again returns to life.  Each day a different bhikkhuni teacher led the council, so we all learned from and benefited from each others' unique experience and methods.

  pindapata ~ almsround

Later in the morning all of us arranged our almsbowls and upper robes and set off walking silently, in line as a flock of geese, moving through the forest, down the mountain tracks, cross the creek, and emerging in the little forest village on the other side of the canyon.  Two houses in this tiny forest village had specially welcomed us to come by for pindapata on two days of the camp, but after the second day, they invited us back for the next two days as well!

  sharing blessings & sharing in Dhamma

When we were invited in to receive almsfood and take our meal at the forest village dwelling; on receiving food we chanted ancient Pali verses of blessing and appreciation. For the first time, we also chanted the "Yata varivaha..." verses in English as well, led by Ayya Dhammadhira and Ayya Anandabodhi.  This was beautiful, everyone sharing in their thoughts of dedication for loved ones and aspirations on the Path. 

After the meal offering and drying of alms bowls in the sunshine, each day a different bhikkhuni teacher offered the Anumodana Dhamma-katha, a Dhamma reflection offered in gratitude and appreciation to those who have made the offering.  After the Dhamma reflection, all those gathered enjoyed lively Dhamma discussion. On one day the discussion went on for several hours!  It was wonderful to hear Dhamma reflections from different bhikkhunis each day and to have excellent Dhamma discussion amoungst dedicated lay and monastic practitioners and community leaders. 

  creek walk & time on the land

Jill Rayna, leader of the DharmaCreek Sangha, kindly offered a "creek walk" to gathered monastics and supportive friends.  Creek Walk is a highly mindful experience walking the pools, waterfalls and great logjams and boulders of the creek that flows down through our land from north to south, and out into the ocean.  It is excellent for getting deeply in touch with the four-fold elemental nature of the land, water and air, heat (and coolness); internally and externally, in these bodies as in all of nature.  Thank you Jill for offering this!

  evenings on the saddle with the stupa

Later in the evening, as the light began to fall, we all gathered up on the high mountain saddle around the ancient Shilla reliquary stupa that graces our Aranya.  Sitting together, we spoke as sisters quietly, and then all became silent to listen to a Dhamma talk from one of the longtime monastics, senior bhikkhuni teachers.  

On one evening, Ayya Dhammadhira chanted for us the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta--the Discourse on Turning the Wheel of the Dhamma--again, in English, in a beautiful rendition rendered during her past Winter Retreat time.  It is so good to hear the Dhamma in one's native language so beautifully and well expressed. 


  katannyuta ~ gratitude

Our days and nights passed together in this way.  No one was eaten by cougars or coyotes; the land was filled with peaceful metta and a great appreciation for the life of all co-dwelling living beings.  No one fell down the mountainside on the steep trails; a spirit of mindfulness and the goodness of the training held and protected and blessed us all.  And no one even met a timber rattlesnake, scorpion or tarantula, although we learned lots about them thanks to Samaneri Sumedha's excellent orientation.  

Many thanks to gifts from local friends and the supporters of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis, there were jugs for hot water to keep us warm, and propane to heat the water.  There was a new shower tent in which to bathe, and eco-friendly bio-degradable soap to bathe with.  Many thanks to Jill Rayna, there was a newly recleared trail to walk pindpata and cross the canyon to the village on the other side; and thanks to friends there, the welcome place to walk to, and a place for friends to gather.  Many thanks to local friends from near and far who offered our daily almsmeal, warming and sustaining these bodies, our vehicles for living the holy life in the way of the Buddha.

Many thanks for the friend who has so generously offered the use of this beautiful Aranya land to us, our women's monastic community, its elders and new bhikkhunis, its aspirants and friends, and those who seek solace together in the forest recluse life. And deep, deep thanks and gratitude to friends Lee, Tess, Holly, Ashley, Jill, Ann, Jeannie, Ying & Hisayo, Maryann, Lal, Jocelyn and Amanda who, together with our Dhammadharini Support Foundation, were the team of supportive friends who made it all possible.

With much love and appreciation,
sharing the abundant blessings of this time,

Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni
for all of our forest hermitage sangha