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.
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
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
meditation in the elements
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.
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.
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