Monday, December 22, 2014

Ayya Jayati’s Bhikkhuni Ordination: A Personal Perspective

Ayya Jayati is a newly ordained bhikkhuni from Aloka Vihara. The Aloka Vihara nuns trained for many years as monastics at Amaravati and Chithurst monasteries in England before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009, where they established Aloka Vihara. They have a long-term vision to create a rural monastery for bhikkhunis and samaneris to develop and flourish. What follows is Ayya Jayati's story of her earlier monastic life and her recent bhikkhuni ordination.

Bhikkhuni and Bhikkhu Sangha
From a personal perspective bhikkhuni ordination was something which in my earlier monastic years I had not not even considered as a possibility. The monasteries in England provided a very good training in many ways and there was a strong community of committed nuns and monks living a life of renunciation. I felt very grateful to have found a place with teachings and a style of practice that provided me with the support I needed to live in a way so contrary to the culture I had been conditioned for and felt so clearly wasn't the way to peace or happiness. At that time I have to admit being unable to really take in the disparity between the genders. It did indeed seem to me like things were "good enough!" (an oft-used phrase in Amaravati for the practice of contentment) for the purposes of cultivating the path of Dhamma.

Bhikkhuni Sangha with Aloka Vihara friends and supporters
At the outset, monastic life was a tough journey for me, in those first couple of years especially. We often speak about how kamma ripens for people when they come to the monastery and that was certainly true in my case. I trust that what I learned through my journey will be a resource, which I hope will enable me to be of greater benefit to others who are suffering. I certainly feel very blessed by the wonderful kalyanamittas (Dhamma friends) who were around to guide me and to offer a shoulder of support on the really difficult days.

I must here make a special mention for Sister Sumedha without whom I don't think I would be here today. Thank you dear sister for your boundless patience and truly noble friendship. Also Sister Thitamedha, whose kindness and tender care were truly a blessing. There are so many others I could name here, but these two stand out, both for what they did for me and by the deep impact it had on my sense of things when they, along with many other sisters, decided that the only way to maintain their deepest sense of integrity was to take leave of the nuns’ community. Some chose to return to lay life, others decided to continue to practice alone elsewhere, with the support of kind lay friends.

It was during my third year as an anagarika (eight-precept novice) that there was an insistence at Amaravati for the nuns to agree to a mandate (the five points) which would cement their position as subordinate to the bhikkhu sangha and deny even the possibility of considering full bhikkhuni ordination. As much has been said on this matter already, it is not my intention to go over it all again, I merely wish to offer a personal reflection on why I chose to make the step to join the sisters here in the U.S.

The way forward at that time seemed so unclear. I had no doubt about the clarity of my intention to continue life as a nun, but now had some serious concerns about making that commitment in a place where so many of those I had been inspired by were stepping out in protest at what was happening in the U.K. monasteries. It was hard to find perspective and I felt that some time away was greatly needed. It was around this time that the possibility arose of visiting Aloka Vihara in San Francisco in December 2010. Nothing could have prepared me for the transformative effect of that visit. Seeing the nuns leading the community and offering teachings, as well as the amazing group of supporters who were being drawn to the vihara, awakened something in me. I realized that to return to Amaravati was now no longer something I could do with a full heart. It was with a clarity I had not felt for some time that I requested admission to join my dear sisters here in the U.S. and was accepted. Even with the many challenges of the work it takes on both the inner and outer level to establish a monastery, I have never had cause to regret that decision. Ayya Santacitta once said to me, "You don't need to decide, the Dhamma will decide where you need to be." It's really about trusting the process and living in accordance with what is being offered—this is so central to the renunciant life.

The ceremony is about to begin . . .
It has been a big adventure in many ways. It was not easy to leave my family in the U.K. but I intuitively felt it would be a good exploration to step away from so many of my well known "comfort zones" and feel the edge that could bring to my practice. I took novice ordination as a samaneri in 2012, and then made the request to take full ordination as a bhikkhuni after the required two years of novice training. It felt like a very natural continuation of a path I had been walking for several years. Even before coming to live in a monastery, spiritual life was something I felt deeply called to attend to. The Buddhist teachings have always been a support throughout most of my life, since first attending a Buddhist retreat at the age of twelve.

The meaning of taking full ordination is something I'm still discovering and learning anew each day. I am not so surprised at the bond of connection I now feel with the present-day Bhikkhuni Sangha. I had not, however, expected it would bring such a clear feeling of connection with the ancient lineage of women who have also taken this step. I reflect upon the journey of Mahapajapati and her unwavering determination to be granted the chance to live as one who has completely dedicated her life to follow the path of the awakened ones. It is inspiring for me to feel the sacred sense of responsibility that comes with keeping the way open for those who will come after me. I feel very blessed that there were those who persevered with the bhikkhuni life, even in the face of so much adversity, both in the present day and historically.

Bhikkhuni Sangha
November 1, 2014, my ordination day, was truly a blessed and joyful day for our sangha, with representatives from ten different monasteries in attendance. I bow deeply to all those who were able to be there: thank you for your dedication and wisdom. My heart felt so full of gratitude for all the love and blessings which I was showered with in such abundance. It is something I know will energize my practice now and in the years ahead. I wish to also offer deep bows to the siladhara sangha in England who hold an important role in establishing the nuns sangha in the West. I will always feel grateful for their generosity in helping me find my way in those first few years and for giving me their heartfelt blessing when I took leave of the community in 2011.

A new bhikkhuni is born!
As a final word, I here pay homage to my bhikkhuni teachers, Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacitta. Their work to build and sustain a training monastery for women in the U.S. is something I have always felt inspired by. None of us could have imagined all that would really entail. It truly is an unfathomable undertaking and one we are still learning so much about on a daily basis. I feel very fortunate to be granted this opportunity to experience daily life here as a nun. It is both humbling and ennobling. Humbling, because I am so frequently seeing in the daily life of the community all the places within where I still have so much work to do. Ennobling because I am also learning that with practice, I have the choice to respond with compassion and a kind heart.

With love and blessings,
Ayya Jayati

Photos courtesy of Marina Kocherovsky

Ayya Jayati Bhikkhuni

Sister Jayati was born in England in 1974. She first encountered the Buddha’s teachings at the age of twelve while attending a retreat with the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. She felt a deep sense of resonance with the teachings on metta and made a commitment to cultivating this in her life. Since 1986 she has continued attending retreats and developing a meditation practice that increasingly became the most important reference point in her life. This eventually led to her decision to ordain as a novice nun at Amaravati Monastery in 2007, in order to fully devote her energy to the practice. After spending three and a half years in training at Amaravati and Chithurst Monasteries she decided to join Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacitta in the work of developing a Theravada Buddhist monastic community for women. Having respectfully taken leave of the Siladhara Sangha, she moved to the U.S. in June 2012. In 2014 she was then given bhikkhuni ordination at Aloka Vihara with Ayya Tathaaloka Theri as preceptor.

Aloka Vihara
2409 Tolowa Trail
Placerville, California, 95667
(530) 647-8262

No comments:

Post a Comment