Most Venerable Bhikkhuni Ayya Tathaloka Mahatheri
Sanghatheri, Preceptor, The Chief Founding Abbes of Dhammadharini Monastery & Senior Teacher in Residence at Aranya Bodhi Hermitage, California, USA
Awakening Our Buddhist Heritage….
Rediscovering the Date of the Final Nirvāna of Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī – “Rattaññūnaṃ bhikkhunīnaṃ Gotamī jinamātuchā Ṭhapitā aggaṭṭhānamhi sadā sotthiṁ karotu no “Among bhikkhunis of long standing is Gotamī, maternal aunt of the Buddha. Attained to the supreme state, may the power of her qualities always be a blessing for us.” – Lanna-Thai chant for Blessings to the Nation based upon Anguttara Nikāya’s Book of Ones. Known as the “founding mother” of the global Buddhist Bhikkhunī Sangha, maternal aunt and foster mother of the Buddha, together with his senior-most leading bhikkhunī disciple, Mahā Pajāpatī Gotamī Therī, in Sanskrit: Mahā Prajāpatī Gautamī. Her name Mahā Pajāpatī means “a great leader with many followers,” “a wife with many children” or “a prolific creator god,” Gotamī “woman of the Gotama clan,” Therī “a female elder established in the Buddhist Path through her direct realization and awakening.” In the Chinese text Tripitaka her name is translated, likely from early Gāndhārī, as 大愛道 Priyapathī, “For Whom the Path is Most Dear,” as well as transliterated as 摩訶波闍波提·瞿曇彌 Mahā Pajāpatī Gotamī.
According to the Sri Lankan Theravāda traditions, at age 80, Mahā Pajāpatī Gotamī and a large cohort of her kinswomen left home and entered monastic life as the founding Bhikkhunī Sangha on the September full moon five years after the Buddha began teaching. Through practicing the Buddha’s teaching well, due to the fruition of her enormous merits and past life aspirations, she quickly became an etadaggā bhikkhunī savīkā buddhā arahantī: a fully awakened leading woman monastic disciple of the Buddha. According to the Early Buddhist teachings recorded in the Taisho Tripitaka parallel to the Pāli-text Gotamī Therī Apadana, at the age of 120, eight days after the February full moon, upon the Buddha’s announcement of his impending Mahāparinibbāna three months later, she herself decided to enter final Nibbāna at that time with a large number of her original cohort of bhikkhunī co-founders, after giving final Dhamma teachings for seven days and nights.
In India this date is known as the Magha Ashtami, specifically, the Magha Masam Krishna Paksha Asthami Upavasath or Uposath; in Pāli, the Māghamāsaṁ Kaṇhapakkhaṁ Aṭṭhamī Uposatha, that is, the Uposatha of the Eighth Day of the Dark Half of the Month of Magha. In the Pāli language, the name of this holiday is: Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī saddhiṃ Mahārahantī Pañcasatabhikkuṇīparivārehi Parinibbāṇaṃ Aṭṭhamī; and in Sanskrit: the Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī sardhaṃ Mahārhatī Pañcasatabhikṣuṇīparivārikā Parinirvāṇaṃ Aṣṭhamī. This means “the Eighth-day Uposatha that is the Day of the Final Nirvāna of Mahā Pajāpatī Gotamī together with her Five Hundred Great Arahantī Bhikkhunī Companions.”
This specificity about the eighth day after the Magha full moon is found in the Taisho Tripitaka in the Āgama Sutra collection of Early Buddhist teachings, specifically the Ekottarika Āgama EA 52.1 at T II 822a-823b, aka T2 822-823. The Ekottarika Āgama is the Chinese-text canon’s parallel to the Pāli-text canon’s Anguttara Nikāya Numerical Discourses of the Buddha. “Uttiṭṭhe nappamajjeyya, dhammaṃ sucaritaṃ care; Dhammacārī sukhaṃ seti, asmiṃ loke paramhi ca. “Rise up! Do not be heedless! In the Dhamma faring, fare ye well! Happy are those who fare in Dhamma, in this world and beyond.” Dhammañcare sucaritaṁ na taṁ duccaritaṁ care Dhammacārī sukhaṁ seti asmiṁ loke paramhi ca’ti. “Well-faring are those who fare in Dhamma, not those who fare not well. Happy are those who fare in Dhamma, in this world and beyond.”* – the Buddha, Dhammapāda vv 168-169.
Thirty-nine years and eleven months after her first hearing the Buddha’s teaching above, opening the Dhamma eye, and entering the most noble stream of the Arahanta Path, on the Magha Full Moon Mahā Arahantī Mahā Gotamī Therī together with 500 co-founding members of her cohort of awakened women –arahantī bhikkhunī therīs– entered the highest peace and happiness of final Nirvāna (Pāli: Parinibbāna). Their mission was well established, as affirmed by the Buddha in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya Long Discourses of the Buddha, in which the Buddha states his own mission also being complete, his Sāsana well invested in thousands of bhikkhunī disciples who were:…viyattā vinītā visāradā bahussutā dhammadharā dhammānudhammappaṭipannā sāmīcippaṭipannā anudhammacāriniyo, sakaṃ ācariyakaṃ uggahetvā ācikkhissanti desessanti paññapessanti paṭṭhapessanti vivarissanti vibhajissanti uttānīkarissanti, uppannaṃ parappavādaṃ sahadhammena suniggahitaṃ niggahetvā sappāṭihāriyaṃ dhammaṃ desessantī.” – “…accomplished, disciplined, confident, learned, bearers of the Teaching, practising in conformity with the Teaching, correct in their practice, living in conformity with the Teaching, and having learned it from their own teacher, able to declare, reveal, make known, set forth, open up, analyse, and make plain—after giving a good rebuke with reason to the doctrines of others that have arisen—and teach the miraculous Teaching.”
“Aññā bhikkhuniyo sabbā nānāguṇadharā bahū Pālentu no sabbabhayā sokarogādisambhavā May these and all the other many virtues held by the bhikkhunis help us to dispel all fear, sorrow, and disease. Sotapannādayo sekkhā saddhāpaññāsīlādikā Bhāgaso kilesadahanā sadā sotthiṃ karotu no. Giving us the path of training through which the stream is attained: faith, discerning wisdom, and moral integrity; and step by step the afflictions are burnt away. May the power of their qualities always be a blessing for us. Lanna-Thai chant for Blessings to the Nation. The Heroic Biography of Mahā Gotamī and story of her Parinibbāna is told in the canonical Pāli-text Khuddaka Nikāya’s Gotamī Therī Apadāna. The Three Discourses concerning Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī from the Anguttara Nikāya (AN 8.51-53) are translated here. To learn more about Mahāpajāpatī and the lives and practice of more of our awakened foremothers in Buddhism, you may enjoy reading: “Lasting Inspiration: A Look into the Guiding and Determining Mental and Emotional States of Liberated Arahant Women in Their Path of Practice and its Fulfillment as Expressed in the Sacred Biographies of the Therī Apadāna”
My sincere thanks and commendation to Ven Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā for her groundbreaking translations of these early Buddhist texts from the Chinese and Tibetan canons. To Ven Anandajoti Bhikkhu for his advice and publication of the Three Discourses Concerning Mahapajapati Gotami along with a complete translation of the Pāli-text commentaries published on Ancient Buddhist Texts. And to Wendy Garling; for it is through connection with her soon-to-be-published book on the life story of Mahāprajāpatī Gotamī that we have finally come to understand the actual date of our great awakened founding foremother’s (‘) final Nirvāna. The dates of the Māghamāsaṁ Kaṇhapakkhaṁ Mahā Gotamī Parinibbāṇaṃ Aṭṭhamī on our Buddhist lunar calendar going forward for the next two years are (depending on time zone): 5 March 2021 and 23 February 2022.
In modern times, if we look back to the example of the Ancient Arahants we find a very interesting picture. It seems that in the very earliest days of the Buddha Sasana that the Buddha himself ordained bhikkhunis and that he himself instructed the Bhikkhu Sangha to do so, calling for them to fully ordain many hundreds of women. It also appears that the bhikkhunis themselves were active teachers both of lay people in all strata of society as well as teachers and leaders of their own monastic followings, numbering in several cases into the hundreds and even thousands. When we study the women’s monastic discipline of the modern Pali-text Bhikkhuni Patimokkha, we find that a bhikkhuni may not ordain more than one student every other year, ostensibly due to shortage of lodgings (Bhikkhuni Pacittiyas 82 & 83). It has thus been logically theorized that these precepts must have arisen late in the Buddha’s lifetime, after the Bhikkhuni Sangha was very well established, with large numbers of women entering the Order, and the provision of lodgings a concern. For this theory to hold true, we would then expect to find, at least in records postdating the Parinibbana, particularly for those knowledgeable in Vinaya and for those who were Arahantas, that these precepts would be most excellently followed in both letter and spirit.
However, when we look carefully at the story of the international foundation of the Bhikkhuni Sasana in the 3rd century BC on the Isle of Sri Lanka by the Arahant siblings Elders Sanghamitta Theri and Mahinda Thera, as well as the extant records of all of the other Asokan Missions, we find that these Arahant Elders seem to have been either: (1) unaware of these precepts because they had not yet been established, or (2) aware of these precepts and aware of reasonable exceptions to them, that is, of variant cases where they applied and didn’t apply – a knowledge now lost in modern renditions of the Vinaya. This is interesting in two ways related to our modern circumstances. If (1) were true, then this might lend credence to the theories that there were precepts established to control the Bhikkhuni Sangha and subjugate it to the Bhikkhu Sangha that were instituted at least several hundred years after the Parinibbana of the Buddha, and notably after the time of the Asokan Missions. This would also importantly tend to not support speculations amongst some contemporary Theravada Buddhists that the Buddha himself established these precepts for the sake of controlling and even stifling the Bhikkhuni Sangha because he did not want it to exist, or wanted it to remain very small and ineffective, or to die out quickly.
If (2) were true, it would also prove, through the authoritative example of the early Arahants, that these precepts, in the way that they were practiced in the early days, as understood by fully enlightened Masters of Dhamma and Vinaya, were circumstantial in application, as other precepts also are, in details that are now lost to us. That is, these precepts were not meant to be kept under every circumstance, but rather that there were exceptions, such as when the women to be ordained were replete with offered lodging and requisite support, as well as support in good quality training and instruction in Dhamma and Vinaya, much as the case of Queen Anula and her large following of several hundreds of women.
It would also prove, once again, that according to the understanding of the Ancient Arahants who lived within the first five hundred years after the Parinibbana — at a time that all traditions agree that the Dhamma was still present in its pristine purity in practice and realization within the Sangha — that it was (and is) a desirable thing to ordain larger numbers of both men and women who faithfully aspire to the full and complete living of the Holy Life in the monastic Sangha. This does seem to be the prevalent mood of both the early Sasana in the Buddha’s lifetime up to the pre-missionary period Buddhism in India under the Emperor Asoka as well as in the ensuing period of the great missions, as evidenced by the early missionary records from this period which proudly relate the numbers of both men and women brought into the Sangha by the Dhammadhuta Arahantas who traveled and taught far and wide, ordaining both men and women.
The case of Sanghamitta and Mahinda is unique, however, as it is the only record in which the presence and the name of the ordaining female Arahanti is recorded for posterity. All other records show only bhikkhu Arahant emissaries ordaining both men and women, or ordaining what in some cases may have meant men alone, or in other cases such as that of Suvannabhumi meant simply ordaining “people” without distinction of gender in one record, the Mahavamsa, but with distinction of gender inclusive of both men and women in other records such as the Samantapasadika and the Sudassanavinayavibhasa. The numbers below are of ordinations given by Arahant Dhamma emissaries of the Asokan Missions period resulting from their initial teaching in these lands.
Mahinda Thera ordains 30,000 men and Sanghamitta Theri ordains 1000 noblewomen (Sri Lanka). Sona and Uttara Thera ordain 3,500 noblemen and 1,500 noblewomen in Suvannabhumi (mainland SE Asia) Rakkhita Thera ordains 37,000 persons in Vanavasa (South India) Yonaka Dhammarakkhita Thera ordains 2,000 persons, more than half being women, in Aparantaka (Indian West Coast) Mahadhammarakkhita Thera ordains 13,000 persons in Maharashtra (West India) Maharakkhita Thera ordains 10,000 of the Yonas (in the Greek lands along the Arabian Sea) Mahadeva Thera ordains 40,000 persons in Mahisamandala (Avanti) Majjhima with Kassapagotta, Dundubissara, Sahadeva and Mulakadeva Thera each ordain 100,000 (Himalayan Region)
The apparent uniqueness of the case of Sanghamitta and Mahinda is largely, if not completely, due to the uniqueness of there being an extant record, the Dipavamsa. This, in turn, may be largely due to the fact that the bhikkhunis of the tradition founded by the most venerable Sanghamitta, as recorded in the Dipavamsa, were highly educated and skilled in practice and teaching of both Dhamma and Vinaya, and for unknown reasons seem to have taken a particular interest, whether earlier or later in their tradition, in recording their own history over a several hundred year period. It was the authoring of the Dipavamsa – the “Lineage of the Lamp,” “Chronicle of the Lamp” or “Chronicle of the Island” – that is thought to have inspired the later Bhikkhu Sangha authored Mahavamsa – the “Great Chronicle” – and perhaps even inspired other Buddhist histories of lineages and traditions such as the Chinese “Transmission of the Lamp”. Or it may simply be that this one particular record has happened to survive the ages, while others have not, or have yet to be discovered.
It is important to acknowledge, however, that Northern and Southern records differ in their inclusion of Sanghamitta Theri in the history of the conversion of the Isle of Lanka, for the Northern records mention Mahinda (Skt: Mahendra) alone, and do not say how many people he ordained, but simply that he firmly established the Sangha in that land. This suggests the tendency in at least some branches of the tradition to record only the names of the great male leader for posterity. Nonetheless, these early records, fully half of which record both very large numbers of men and women being ordained by early Arahanta Dhamma teaching emissaries, whether by bhikkhus alone or by bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, do show one thing: They show an attitude of tremendous positivity to the ordination of women alongside the ordination of men in this early original period of the Buddha Sasana, within the first five hundred years following the Parinibbana. And significantly, for the Theravada tradition, it is useful and important to acknowledge that Sanghamitta Theri and Mahinda Thera are the co-founders of the International Theravada tradition that has been passed on and lasted until this present day, in the Theravada traditions of Thailand, Laos, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Burma. Thus, the example of the attitudes and behaviors of the founding Arahants of this tradition, in its early and pristine days, might be considered most excellent precedent and example for those who would like to conserve and perpetuate the authentic and original Theravada Buddha Sasana.
Amazing Golden Steps….
Written in commemoration of the lunar anniversary of our Most Venerable Foremother Sanghamitta Theri’s arrival on Lankadvipa twenty-three centuries ago as an inquiry into the ordination practices of our early arahant forebears, particularly those great Dhamma emissaries who spread the Buddha’s teaching beyond the central heartland of the Indian Madhyadesa to foreign lands far and wide in all directions. We have heard and read that in the early days of the Buddha Sasana, while the Blessed One still lived and breathed and walked the dusty paths of India’s ancient heartland, there were very many fully enlightened women, bhikkhuni Arahantis. The Buddha’s most beloved former wife, foster mother, half-sister, and many more Sakyan daughters were amongst the ladies of the Madhyadesa who became the Blessed One’s Foremost Disciples, preeminent in all good qualities and virtues. For when the Sakyan ladies emerged en masse from their native home Kapilavastu, on foot, hair shorn, bereft of all but the humble robes of samanas, it was the Blessed One who received and ordained their leader, his foster mother, she already attained to the first stages of sainthood. And to his Bhikkhu Sangha he gave the honor and responsibility of bestowing ordination upon her many saintly and aspiring companions, uplifting and entering five hundred more of these daughters of the Sakyans into full communion in the monastic Sangha. Thus the Bhikkhuni Sasana arose in the world in this Fortunate Eon, although there are the rumors of other early solitary wanderers amongst women, quick to be enlightened, called directly to the Path by the Conqueror.
Not long after, in praise of the effectiveness of his teaching, the Blessed One, the Noble Lord Buddha himself, testified to the attainment in his twofold monastic Sangha, and to the complete enlightenment of five hundred of his monastic women disciples to the Noble reaches and heights of the Path, to Arahant. But then there were more. For amongst the women Elders, the Theris, there arose those who themselves excelled in leadership and teaching: Theris Khema and Uppalavanna, preeminent in leadership of the women’s monastic Sangha; Theri Dhammadinna for her Buddhavacana, the words from her lips likened by the Blessed One to his own; and Theri Patacara preeminent in her deep knowledge and teaching of the monastic discipline of the Vinaya. It is said that the venerable Patacara herself had five hundred enlightened disciples, and likewise former queen Anoja Theri five hundred, and the great Theri Mahapajapati Gotami too, together with the thousands following the Theri Bimba Yasodhara, unequaled in Vision of the Ages.
But those were the early days of the Sasana, when Arahantis flourished upon the lands of Middle Earth; the Noble Path of the Ariyas and the banner of the Arahants blazing forth in all its glory in robed feminine and masculine form. But you may ask, what of the Arahants of later days, after the light of the Tathagata passed from the world into the great and final bliss of Parinibbana?
The years passed and the Dhamma spread, and then a great king emerged, who by bloody conquest terrorized and took for his own land after land, amassing an empire previously unknown until, upon seeing a gentle monastic recluse, Asoka the Black stopped, transformed, and became Asoka the Benevolent. Two hundred and six years had passed between the Blessed One’s Parinibbana and the birth of Asoka’s noble daughter, the great Lady Sanghamitta, later remember as The Wise One. And upon this noble daughter’s reaching the age of eighteen, ninety-six thousand bhikkhunis, the majority of them Holy Ones, converged upon the beautiful capitol city of the realm, Pataliputra, together with six kotis of such holy bhikkhus, for the dedication of 84,000 monasteries and reliquary stupas across the land, as called together by her father, now Dhamma-Asoka, the Emperor, Uniter of the Continent. And to fulfill his wish that he become true relative of the Sasana by gift of his own flesh and blood, with her father’s blessing, she too went forth, received the Pabbajja ordination. With her Preceptor Dhammapala Theri and with Ayupala Theri as her teacher, the princess undertook the preliminary Sikkha training and then the full training of a bhikkhuni, no long time passing before she joined these Noble Theris in destroying the fetter of individual existence, entering and then fulfilling the Arahant Path.
Her blessed brother Mahinda also went forth and awoke, excelling in the Buddha’s Path, and after the passing of a decade, joined with other excellent messengers of the Dhamma who went far and wide to foreign lands, sharing the word of the Blessed One’s noble and liberating Doctrine, enlightening the multitudes everywhere. For the Blessed One had told the bhikkhus: “Go forth for the weal and welfare of the manyfolk…” “‘There are those with little dust in their eyes’… the gates to the Deathless are open.”And then he called for her as well. The great Thera, her brother the Noble Mahinda, sent word by messenger from that lamp of an island Sri Lanka, far to the South where he had traveled teaching. For there Anula Devi, queen of the king’s noble brother, together with 500 of her retinue of royal virgin companions, assembled and whilst listening to the Discourse on the Noble Truths, the Sacca Samyutta, had attained Sotapanna, entering that most noble of all streams, opening the Dhamma eye, gaining vision of Nibbana. Then telling her king Tissa Beloved to the Devas, “Lord, I would go forth,” she made known the inclination of her heart to renunciation. Faithful as he was to the Doctrine, the king in turn told this to the Noble Thera Mahinda, his teacher. For this the Great Thera called for the Great Theri, making it known: “It is not for a bhikkhu to do, when there are bhikkhunis such as this sister of mine, Noble and Enlightened, Friend of the Sangha, Sanghamitta. May she come here.”
And then for Queen Anula, at his direction, the king built for her and the saintly ladies, noble in birth and Noble in Dhamma vision, the Upasika Vihara that they could live at ease with the dasasila ten precepts and await she who would ordain them. Although reluctant that his daughter the Venerable Lady Sanghamitta too should leave his land, faithful in his dedication, Dhamma-Asoka, Lord of the Continent, then made ready for her both ship and company, and as the Thera Mahinda had named them, the Wise Theri’s companions: The Noble Ones: Uttara, Hema, Pasadapala (Masagalla), Aggimitta, Dasika, Phegu (Tappa), Pabbata[-cchinna], Matta, Malla and Dhammadasiya, bhikkhunis free from desire and firm, with pure thoughts and wishes, firmly established in Dhamma and Vinaya, their passions subdued, with senses under control, attained to the three knowledges and supernormal powers, and well grounded in the Highest Bliss.
With sapling of the winter blossom-covered Bodhi, southern branch of the fair and sacred fig under which the Blessed One awoke, she came with her bhikkhuni retinue across the land and sea, blessed and accompanied by both devas and nagas; calming storms, subduing the wilds of the ocean; until they could see the shore, and the Lankan King Beloved to the Devas, waist deep in the waters, hands held high in reverence above his head in welcome and exalted joy. It was the first full moon of the Indian cold season when they descended, came ashore and then up and into Anuradhapura, that most beautiful and beloved city, with streets clean-swept in anticipation, lined with banners and strewn with rain of flowers showered down by devas. The five hundred royal virgins surrounding Anula and five hundred palace women, all free from passion and steadfast, received the Pabbajja ordination from the Great Theri, not long after fulfilling the Arahant Path in the illustrious Doctrine of the Conqueror. And from them arose a great history, the Dipavamsa, the Chronicle of the Lamp or Chronicle of the Island, and a great tradition of excellence in enlightenment, long lasting, undying, to this day.
The Ideal Place….
According to Buddhist traditions, our best chance for enlightenment is not in a heavenly realm, but here in the midst of elements and aggregates: within these bodies that age and sicken, among the earth, rain, wind, fire, space, and consciousness elements. We wake up here, not in another ideal place. This is the ideal place. Vulnerability is such an important part of the holy life. There is this unique interplay between vulnerability and true equanimity, safety, and security. As freedom from dukkha can only come from having the heart to fully see and know it, true fearlessness and security can only come from deeply seeing, knowing, and experiencing our vulnerability. I very much relate to the passage in the Bible where Jesus tells his disciples that to follow him they must leave everything, including their money, and keep no more than the clothes on their backs. It sounds similar to what is asked of us in pabbajja—going forth and becoming homeless to become a true bhikkhu or bhikkhuni, not just in name and form, not by rite or ritual, but in the utterly deep and complete recognition that we all come into this world in the same way. We are vulnerable and at one another’s mercy. These bodies and all structures of this world, no matter how pious-appearing, are no refuge— it is all vanity. Nothing is left but the core of the heart laid bare, whether smoldering with fire or having gone through the burning. This is radical and touches deep in the heart and is fundamental to the spirit of early Buddhism. A saint (or saint-to-be) can any day turn up outside your door because he or she is called to be there.
Although the Buddha and the early monastics lived in a society where Pindapata (almsround) was known and monastics were (sometimes) honored, there were ample days of receiving the throwout slops aimed for the compost pile, little or unfavorable almsfood, or nothing. Our whole life is Pindapata. It can take a while to realize the depth of what it means that everything is Pindapata —that most of everything we are receiving, including the mind we use to see, know, and meet our experiences is a product of our kamma. It is happening according to fixed laws of nature. Every bit of our experience is colored by the state of our mind. Our practice of samvara—training in the precepts and training of our six sense faculties—helps bring that into a focus that can be effectively worked with. Our practice of the brahmaviharas (divine abidings) makes the mind great enough to do so, and our practice of deep meditative absorption makes the mind fearless and strong and gives the context for the liberating depth of insight that can pass through everything.
Rather than hold untrue ideals, it is important to realize and allow in the truth of things as our primary refuge. This allows the mind to f low while remaining stable. Allow yourself time to pause, to just abide with what is there or not there—in the heart, the mind, the body, the space around, in everyone. We need not be moving directedly all the time. Sometimes just abiding in awareness with what is, just as it is, is the best thing to be doing. Then when the move comes, and it always does, we move, but we need not push. Please allow yourself to feel what you feel, and know and honor that with little judgment—in an unbound, unstilted way, allowing the feeling its own time and space, shifting like the coming and lifting of morning fog on the cliffs. It’s sweet and beautiful, all just as it is. We don’t know what will happen now . . . do we? Be open to that. Allow the heart to move in good energy, sending metta, karuna, mudita, and upekkha (goodwill, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity). These things give great support energetically to us and everyone around us, but we should not try to make anything happen any particular way—our way is openness and freedom in the truth of things.
There is a growing and blossoming happening here in the Bhikkhuni Sangha. It is a wonderful time for those who like to be a part of such things. This time has its special uniqueness. There is so much joy in the discovery process of being a beginner; so much gladness in the compassion and understanding, and having what is good to share later on. It is all so worth it on this path. Check what’s going on. Is there Dhamma matching well with this circumstance? Consciously consider, recollect, and bring it up and you’ll be switched to a different mode. When we remember such Dhamma, when we turn on our conscious awareness, things shift. They change, especially if we’ve developed this practice. It happens quickly, so you want to develop it beforehand, like speed dial. The analogy I learned was warrior training—good warriors should know how to use all their weapons and skills before they go into battle. Practice beforehand and have them ready. Then, having survived the battle, bring what was learned back to the training ground. In this way, the training is further refined.
Another image is of the Buddha’s words being likened to wildflowers gathered together as a bouquet, bound by string. The amazing assortment of wildflowers is us; the string is the Vinaya. The bouquet is beautiful and rich because of its variety and represents the strengths and memorable qualities of all the great monastic disciples. You are, in some sense, perfect just as you are. Unique kilesas (defilements) transformed by Dhamma become unique parami— qualities that pass through everything. What you will contribute to the Sangha, no one else can and the same is true of others around you. It is an incredible process of discovery. Please let examples of those who inspire you—the qualities within them, their embodiment, and presence—move deeply into your heart. Let them be your spiritual parents. Let their example create you and take birth and life in you. Their qualities are most important, not the person. If you are inspired by these qualities, you have them latent in yourself. Allow these examples to nurture and guide you. Compassion and understanding allow us to deeply appreciate the blessing and benefit of others while being true to our own way. This is right in the Sangha—like the field of various wildflowers bound by one cord that makes us all part of this enormous ancient and multifaceted intentional community. I would like to widen and deepen the intention to include personal support for all those involved who are experiencing difficulty, including the monastics and many supportive lay friends. If that were us on the other side, what would we hope for? What would be helpful and deeply beneficial? We might not immediately have answers, but it is good and important kamma to incline our minds in this way. Sometimes, in a search for answers to difficult questions, we find empty space more fruitful, which leads to exploring unfamiliar heart ground before the unknown beneficence we were hoping to find emerges. Sometimes this takes years of applying our mind, heart, and efforts so intently. It is well-spent time—worthy effort, not unworthy.
I encourage delving deeply in this, not just dipping in and out and then walking away, because we are not yet proficient or not yet able to quickly and easily draw out what we were looking for—patient perseverance applied to emptying, seeing, knowing, and the wish to wisely and compassionately respond. There is sacrifice that is pure gift—no strings, no need for results to be any particular way, a pure dana (offering). Then there are other types of sacrifice—the kinds in which attachment plays a big role. I have found it good to train myself, repeatedly, from the small things to the large, to do what I am doing freely as an offering, otherwise, it can become a trap, a cage with an unfriendly animal inside that bites. It is important to sit with things—not to react quickly. Go to your kuti (hut) or into natural spaces and spend a few hours sitting. Let the process of reactions and responses go through their full spectrum of unfolding. What is left, glowing in the center after all the leaves have opened out, is excellent. I believe in all of you. This process of pausing, centering, grounding, and then looking deeper can reveal great things. It also leads to a steadiness and if practiced regularly, a sense of deep, ongoing steadiness. This steadiness and clarity are the heart of the path, the antithesis of dukkha. Steady with release and consistent moment by- moment mindfulness—clear, full awareness. I am finding the patterns of nature to be conducive as metaphors for meaning in life and the unfolding of this path—both the blossoms and fragrance of sweet springtime, now abundant, and the fires and frosts. Each with its season, its blessing, and its beauty. The fire tempering the blade, the frost giving rest and the time to go deep within, the springtime glory. The shadow providing cool shade, giving shape and definition illuminating the light.
“The meaningful Monastic Life”….
Normally, a man or women would come to stay at a monastery where they think they would like to train. Sometimes they visit several monasteries to find where seems best. Most monasteries allow someone to stay to see if they feel well there initially for one week or two weeks. If one feels inclined to stay and enter into the training at a particularly monastery, they should make their aspiration known to the teacher, abbot or abbess there. If it is agreeable to the teacher and the monastic community, the aspirant is welcomed to return. Upon their return they undertake the eight precepts (if they hadn’t already) as a pre-postulant or nekkhamma, normally with an as yet unshaven head, wearing white or black and white clothing. The pre-postulant’s eight precepts are the same as the layperson’s five precepts plus three additional renunciate precepts, as well as the significant change in the 3rd precept from no sexual misconduct, to brahmacarya or no sexual conduct whatsoever. The fundamental Buddhism is summarised by Shakyamuni in the Dhammapada: Not to do any evil, To cultivate good, To purify one’s mind, This is the teaching of the Buddhas. It is simple but not easy. When a kid is three years old, he knows it. However, when he is over 80 years old, he cannot really practice it in his daily life.
Morality – Morality is the preliminary stage on the path to attain Buddhahood. It is a necessary condition, though not sufficient, leading to wisdom. It is absolutely essential for enlightenment. Morality in Buddhism is a rational and practical mode based on verifiable facts and individual experience, which is regarded as the one of the most perfect moral code ever known in the world. What is the criterion of morality according to Buddhism? In the admonition given by the Buddha to young Rahula, there is the answer. If there is a deed, Rahula, you wish to do, reflect thus: Is this deed conducive to my harm, or to others’ harm, or to that of both? Then is this a bad deed entailing suffering. From such a deed, you must desist. If there is a deed you wish to do, reflect thus: Is this deed not conducive to my harm, nor to others’ harm, nor to that of both? Then is this a good deed entailing happiness. Such a deed you must do again and again. Thus, in assessing morality, a Buddhist takes into consideration of the interests of both himself and others – animals not excluded. To understand the exceptionally high standard of morality, one can vigorously study Dhammapada, Sigalovada Sutra, Vyagghapajja Sutra, Mangala Sutra, Mutta Sutra, Parabhara Sutra, Vassla Sutra, Dhammika Sutra. Good deeds are essential for one’s emancipation, but when once the ultimate goal of holy life or enlightenment is attained, one transcends both good and evil. Morality is a means to an end, but not an end in itself.
Three Poisons / Three Evil Roots – In Flower Adornment Sutra, it says that; For all bad Karma created in the past, Based upon beginningless greed, hatred and delusion, And born of body, mouth and mind, I now repent and reform. It is the well-known Repentance Verse in Buddhism. In Buddhism, the distinction between what is good and what is bad is simple. It hinges on the intention or motivation from which an action originates. The deed which is associated with greed / attachment, hatred / ill will, delusion / stupidity is evil. Greed, hatred and delusion are called the Three Poisons or Three Evil Roots, which are the primary source of all evil deed. It is the Three Poisons that create all bad Karma, resulting all kinds of suffering in accordance with the Principle of Cause and Effect. The Three Poisons are also obstacles to the attainment of good Karma. Thus we have to abandon them by all means. Greed – Greed is the cause of many offences. The five greedy desires are: wealth, sex, fame, eating and sleeping. Greedy desire is endless and therefore can never be satisfied. The lesser the greedy desire, the happier and more satisfied we are. The best prescription to deal with greed is in giving away. Anger – Hatred to people is another cause of evil deed. We should not lose temper and get angry when we are unhappy. We should be calm and patient. Delusion – It means the persistent belief in something false and distorted. We have to observe and think in an objective and rational manner, so as to avoid prejudice and misunderstanding. For instance, if we don’t believe in cause and effect, and then commit offence frequently and heavily, we will suffer from the retribution.
After staying for some time as a pre-postulant (normally 2 weeks to 2 or 3 months), if both the aspirant and the teacher as well as the monastic community feel amiable about going ahead, the aspirant may request ordination as an anagarika. Anāgārika means homeless one due to their having left home life, sought refuge and being accepted as postulants in the monastery. In English we call anagarikas at this stage “postulants, aspirants” or “candidates.” Anāgārikā (with a long “a” at the end) is the female form, anāgārika the male form. The anagarika has a shaven head, wears white robes and keeps the 8 precepts. The anagarika period is normally around a year, but sometimes can be as little as six months, or as long as several years, depending on individual circumstances. As a postulant, one is still officially a lay person, and as such still able to use money, hold property and finances and support oneself. Although normally lodging and food are shared by the monastic community with anagarikas at a monastery, special health care needs, travel (not related to the training) or other such expenses, are still covered by the anagarika herself. Most nuns in Burma and Thailand, for whom novice and full ordination has not been available for some time, live as anagarikas for short-term or long-term monastic retreat in this way with the “uposatha” eight precepts. Thai, Lao and Cambodian angarikas are called maechees and donchees. In Burma the anagarikas may wear light-pink, peach or dark-brown colored robes and are called Sayalay or thilashin. A samaneri is a female novice samana, or a samana-in-training. A samana is a monastic recluse. Samaneri is the female form of the word; samanera is the male form.
After an average of a year as an anagarika, with the approval of her teacher, an anagarika may request the samaneri pabbaja, the “going forth” as a novice into the monastic life. If an aspirant for novice ordination is under the legal age of adulthood (or age 20), she must have the permission of her parents or guardians in order to receive novice ordination. Novices undertake the ten novice precepts, which include 8 precepts plus the additional precept of not handling or keeping money. In most forest monasteries, novices also no longer drive cars. The novice precepts and training are exactly the same for male and female novice trainees. In addition to the going forth, a novice also takes “dependancy” upon the elder Sangha member who will be her acariya – her personal teacher, mentor and guide through the ordination process. Again, in the absence of bhikkhunis, bhikkhus are both permitted and enjoined by the Vinaya to give both the novice and probationary novice ordination to qualified women candidates. In the currently (at least in the West!) very rare event that a woman has married very young, or become a novice as a young girl, she might be qualified to be ordained as a sikkhamana from age 10 or age 18 respectively. For a child bride, having proven her maturity and responsibility by completing 2 vassas of the sikkhamana training, she may be fully ordained as a bhikkhuni even before age 20. The Vinaya normally considers age 20 to be the age of adulthood, at which time one may, if having met all requisite conditions, request full ordination, the bhikkhuni upasampada, from the monastic community. It is noteworthy that, in some Thai, Korean, Chinese and Tibetan tradition monastic communities, women currently receive and complete the sikkhamana ordination and training for two years before fully ordaining, no matter what their age. A bhikkhuni is literally an almswoman or female alms mendicant. Bhikkhuni is the feminine form of bhikkhu.