A Personal Perspective: Ayya Jayati’s Bhikkhuni Ordination
Earlier this year I was asked if I would write a message about the experience of my ordination, so here goes….
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 which 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 often used phrase in Amaravati for the practice of contentment) for the purposes of cultivating the path of Dhamma.
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 really 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 and return to lay-life. It was during my third year as an Anagarika (eight precept novice) that there was an insistence for the nuns to agree to a mandate (The Five Points) which would cement their position as sub-ordinate to the Bhikkhu Sangha and deny even the possibility of considering 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 US.
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 so inspired by were stepping out in protest at what was happening in the UK 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. With a clarity I had not felt for some time that I requested admission to join my dear sisters here in the US 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, as Ayya Santacitta once said to me: “You don’t have 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 which is so central to the renunciant life.
It has been a big adventure in many ways, it was not easy to leave my family in the UK, 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 12.
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 their 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.
November 1st was truly a blessed and joyful day for our Sangha, with representatives from 10 different monasteries in attendance. I bow deeply to all those who were able to be here, thank you for your dedication and wisdom. A special word must be said here to thank the Dhammadharini sangha, who have been so supportive to our community and especially to Ayya Tathaaloka for so graciously offering herself as our Bhikkhuni preceptor, it is our great good fortune to have her blessing. Particularly I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Julie DeHart, it was so enriching for our community that we were able to host the event here at Aloka Vihara and that was largely possible due to her amazing generosity and hard work as the ordination co-ordinator. I also wish to express deepest thanks to the Saranaloka board for all the fantastic work they do, “you’re all amazing!”
My heart felt so full of gratitude for all the love and blessings which I was showered with in such abundance, I’d like here to express thanks especially to – Kolsoum and Jim Ginney, for the signs and beautiful flower arrangements – Lynne, for the amazing tea-table – Holly Oswald, for your support throughout it all – Sue Boeger and Gayle Wilson, for graciously offering their homes for some of our guests – Marina, Susan, Chau and Emily for all your work at the vihara – Claire, Candace and Holly for their shuttling service – Meira and Linda for doing such a great job with the parking. BASICALLY… A BIG THANK YOU TO ALL WHO HELPED IN ANY WAY.
Last but by no means least I must here make mention of Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacitta. Their work to build and sustain a training monastery for women in the US is something I have always felt inspired by. None of us could really have imagined all that would 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, put simply I experience daily life here, and as a nun, as being 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 blessings and metta,
Ayya Jayati Bhikkhuni
More photos of the ordination day.