Saturday, 18 September 2010

Latest News from the Saranaloka Nuns’ Community

Saranaloka Foundation, based in San Francisco, was established in 2004 to support nuns from Chithurst and Amaravati monasteries to go to the United States to teach. Since that time, and numerous visits later, enthusiasm for the presence of women monastics has been tremendous and is the driving force behind an invitation to the nuns' community to set up a permanent monastery in the United States. Effectively it is an opportunity for "nuns" from the Thai Forest tradition to practice away from the male authority structures that dominate back home here in the U.K. and that are causing so many problems.

The following is a news update on what's been happening there...........

Now for the news! Ajahn Thitamedha expressed our current situation so well, when she said (I’m paraphrasing) that the foundation had to crumble so that something even better could arise out of the ashes. This update covers both the crumbling and the conscious consideration of a new way forward.

In June, Anagarika Santussika and lay woman Hitesi both decided to leave the vihara to pursue their spiritual paths in other ways. Their leaving opened a door of reflection that is proving fruitful to the community.
It requires a putting down of self and views and a looking deeply into each of our visions and way of working in the world for all of us—the nuns, the board, those who left, and the community.

In July, Ajahn Thitamedha announced her intention to disrobe—an unrelated but sad event for the community, as many of us had hoped she would return to San Francisco after her journey to India. Seeing her happiness now helps us to hold mudita around this step. But her announcement added to the groundless space we find ourselves in.

The community reflection and discussions about how to move forward with increased consciousness continues. An ongoing conversation focuses on how to create a monastic community that will train women in America in a way that is both grounded in the dhamma and considerate of western culture. The nuns decided to hold off on training women for a bit while they fully arrive in America (and California!) and find the ground beneath their feet.

Every community offers opportunities for growth, and living and working so closely with others in our tiny vihara is no exception. So, the “ashes” as Sister Thitameda named the groundless feeling, also inspires personal reflection and practice.

The Board of Directors for Saranaloka continues to support each and all of the nuns during this time as they settle into San Francisco and a vision unfolds. Our intention remains to create a monastic community in which women can train and ordain. The best way to provide training in this new environment and the best way to structure this monastic community are questions that are still unanswered.

And now, Ajahn Metta, who is loved dearly in our community, has decided that her vision of a community is more contemplative and quiet than a start-up monastery can offer and she is following her heart for the next six months to go deeper into her practice before returning to England or Europe. Saranaloka continues to support her during her time of retreat and teachings in Portland, Colorado and New Mexico and on the East Coast.

Ajahn Anandabodhi and Ajahn Santacitta are inspired by the energy and possibility here and, although looking forward to two months of retreat in the winter, are fully engaged in establishing the monastic community. Sister Sumedha is visiting for three months before returning to England to carry out her earlier decision to disrobe (!) and we expect to have a visit from Ajahn Candasiri in the near future as well!

Another unexpected but joyful event took place just up the coast from San Francisco—several women ordained as bhikkhunis in the Theravada tradition, including Sister Thanasanti, now Ayya Thanasanti. Ajahns Anandabodhi and Santacitta attended, along with Ajahn Pasanno and other monks and some members of the Saranaloka Board. It was lovely to see nuns being ordained as bhikkhunis so close to home.

Even with all these changes and considerations and opportunities for reflection, there is an energy and inspiration that exudes from the vihara. There is sadness, loss and grief about individuals moving on in their lives, but at the same time the refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha holds us all.

We continue onwards, creating a stronger vision of the monastic community and taking the next steps. The Board is grateful for the continuing generosity of the lay community in supporting the nuns and is inspired by the nuns’ ability to navigate the groundless state with commitment and faith.

Much love to everyone!

Jotipala (Jill Boone)

September 12, 2010

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