Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Yet Another Nun to Disrobe

Sister Sumedha is to leave Amaravati and disrobe. In the following letter she explains her decision.

"Dear Venerable Sisters, Brothers and friends, having lived in the communities of Amaravati and Chithurst for 12 years, I am writing to let you know of my intention to leave the Siladhara training. I will go to Aloka Vihara in San Francisco until mid-November and disrobe after my return to the UK at the end of the year.

This decision comes with sadness. Many of you are aware that there is a spate of sisters either disrobing or stepping outside the Siladhara order (wishing to continue to live as nuns outside of our current structural framework). My own decision to leave is very much related to my sense of practice and that the the ethos of our community as it has been evolving is not one I can align myself with. What I have learnt as a Siladhara includes a lot about focus and discipline and I do very much appreciate having a container that encourages the reflective heart. Meditation and the teachings and
friendships I have received have helped me to access a sense of inner spaciousness that is indeed precious and a ground from which reflection and wisdom can arise. I have always practiced with Luang Por Sumedho's teaching of embracing what arises and trusting that awareness will bring a sound spaciousness or response - what is truly liberating - in each situation. What I recognise through this is that the inner space I find in my own heart is not one that simply withdraws from the world. Even if our world is a monastic world, we all belong to one; we all have conditions in which to cultivate spaciousness and presence, or not. What I recognise now - and what inspires me - is that the inner space we can each find has a capacity to respond and relate beyond the patterns of the purely conditioned mind. This for me is the beauty of practice. Connecting with our innate spaciousness we can transform and liberate ourselves through the material of our conditioned lives - how we relate internally and externally. Both, in my own sense, are part of awakening. This is what has worked so far for me, and what I want to continue to cultivate.

I am truly, deeply grateful for this learning and want it to continue. The actions and responses (or non responses) of our community in the past couple of years - and the way these have been supported with reference to Dhamma Vinaya - have been deeply painful. The encouragement to reflect on the suffering one creates in ones own mind is valuable, but, as I have said above, for me it is not where our responsibility (or the liberative quality) of practice ends. There is also the aspect of bringing the spaciousness into our lives - opening the heart to responses in the present - new ground in ourselves and in each other, the willingness to trust and inquire and free ourselves and each other from identities. This is not what I have experienced in the process with the 5 points, nor what I hear encouraged. The relational is tending to be seen as more' worldly' than as a valid ground for supporting each other in awakening. With this model of practice what I experience is the hierarchical system as we have inherited it can stay in place without reflection, processes such as that with the 5 points can happen, and in my sense, a lot of unnecessary fear and power identities can be preserved. I don't want to judge, but if I really look into what inspires me as a vehicle for awakening - my heart no longer sits within this.

The crux of the matter, it seems clear to me, is the integration of the feminine. The whole aspect that respects the relational as a field of inquiry and awakening has been clearly discounted in our own tradition especially in the past couple of years. There has been a kind of closing ranks. With this movement not only is a more masculine model reiterated but this model is able to hold up the male institution without a clear need for reflection. If the field of awakening is only that which arises in ones own mind there is no need to inquire, for example, into how we are holding our model of vinaya, or how we are living in relation to each other. This level of inquiry is frightening and uncertain (for everyone) - and so, as I experience it -the feminine, and women, are once again pushed to the edges, and what is 'safe' is preserved. What is sad is the lack of trust, inner and outer. Such an inquiry would not necessarily remove the structures - but it would ask an aliveness and presence which is challenging for every human being.

Personally I feel this is worthwhile - how structure and aliveness work together seems to me one of the greatest jewels monastic life can highlight. It can encourage exploration and courage outwardly and inwardly so we find freedom also with our own inner structures. It is because of the closing down to this level structurally that I feel concerned - and why, in my own sense of practice there is a need to move on. I have sat with this process over a long period because I feel this tradition has such a wonderful pearl at its core; because I love community life and have wished to support it, and continue to learn, in all ways that I can. And because I profoundly appreciate the friendships and teachings, monastic and lay, that nourish and sustain ongoing opening and inquiry and deepening of spiritual practice. I still feel connected on this level.

May all beings awaken, with love Sr Sumedha"

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