December 2015 Greetings
“We are sangha family; I got all my sisters and brothers with me…” – Borrowed from an optimistic, upbeat Sisters Sledge song.
Recently the Aloka Vihara community needed unexpected help in the form of a cook or lay people to provide and prepare meal dana during vihara personal retreat time. Many responded, and we thank all who rallied to quickly fill the need. Many who volunteered visited the vihara for the first time. It felt magical to put out the request and in a snap have it fulfilled. So what about this magic?
You and I are Saranaloka Foundation; we stock the shelves and the fridge, pay the electric bill, and fill the car with gas. We work together to co-create the monastery, in the hopes that our material support can allow the Ayye and Vihara Manager to focus on their co-creation, with the four-fold sangha benefiting. Want to give yourself a gift? Offer meal dana at the vihara. It’s as simple as showing up with a whole or partial meal for 4-5 people. If you are worried that your culinary skills aren’t good enough, don’t be; you do not need to be a 5-star chef! The sisters are grateful for what is provided. (Trust me on this. I’ve offered some real dud dishes, which they’ve eaten with a smile.) You can also trust me that every time I’ve visited the vihara I’ve been uplifted and inspired. Doing anything positive for or at the vihara always turns out to be a gift for me.
The Board and Sisters recently welcomed our new board member Robert Hohn. If you visited the vihara this spring or follow Saranaloka Foundation on Facebook, you may have seen him as he was crafting the gorgeous wood yurt platform. Robert lives in Sonora, California, and he’s a welcome addition to our ‘team’. You can learn more about Robert and the other board members on the Saranaloka board biographies webpage.
The Board is often asked about how the Foundation is doing financially. Finances in 2015 focused greatly on encouraging donations to the Founders Fund for our property purchase and improvement-related projects. We offer our thanks to you for your generous donations to this fund – including those made at our annual Almsgiving Day, other benefits, and teaching events near and far. Over the past year, we’ve received nearly $255,000, which together with earlier donations, bring Founders Fund donations to $330,000. This leaves us with $85,000 to go toward our goal of $415,000.
We have applied some of your donations to paying down our property loan, and we now owe about $127,000. In the last 6 months Saranaloka has also used some of these funds for a much-needed renovation of Aloka Vihara’s office. The dark, dingy room got a total makeover, including new carpet, paint, and skylight. And as 2015 winds down, Founders Fund resources will be used to help us soundproof the shrine room from adjacent kitchen noises, making the vihara’s sacred space quieter and more conducive for reflection and meditation. In the kitchen eating nook we’ll replace the window with a door to the outside patio to provide better traffic flow.
What’s next? The Board and Sisters will formulate our 2016 financial and project steps at our January board meeting. Stay tuned and start looking at your calendar for a good time to come visit next year. The community will again be welcoming guests in April following their winter retreat.
Please know that the Board is grateful for all kinds of support …and hopes you feel the fruits and magic of your giving. We feel blessed and encouraged by your ideas; physical and monetary energy; and good will from near and afar. You are a valued member of our sangha family; we are all co-creating Aloka Vihara monastery.
Saranaloka Board Member
Summer Greetings from Aloka Vihara
Hope this finds you well at heart.
We have enjoyed the cooler summer here this year; cloud cover has brought relief from what could have been intense heat over many days. We are getting to know the land and some of the creatures we share it with. Just this morning we found a family of Praying Mantises in the lavender patch near our shrine room – a fitting place for them! We have seen Bobcats playing on the lawn, Coyotes loping across the meadow, signs of a black bear on the property and a fledgling Bald Eagle came to us one day, not quite ready to hunt for it’s own food. It took us a while to decipher what bird it was as it was so big and hefty, but had just flown the nest and still had fluffy down feathers on it’s breast. Deer continue to graze around the vihara, and many birds grace the trees and skies. Of course there are challenges too – the long drought, deer ticks and poison oak to mention a few – but these are all part of life, reminding us of the true nature of samsara; never quite perfect. Or, if viewed in another way, always perfect.
As a community at Aloka Vihara, we are currently making a living study of The Noble Eightfold Path, using Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book of the same name as a reference point each morning. We investigate suttas on that theme in our weekly sutta discussion and offer Dhamma reflections related to the Eightfold Path. Going steadily through this training as a community, provides rich food for reflection and brings a deeper integration of the practice into our daily lives. In Anguttara Nikaya 5: 25, the Buddha states that when assisted by virtuous behavior, learning, discussion, calm and insight, Right View has liberation as it’s fruit. This is such an accessible teaching and brings a sense of gratitude for the Buddha’s realization. A sense of gratitude for the Dhamma, so accessible here and now. And for the Sangha, without whom we would be stuck with our own limited perspective, unable to discuss and deepen our understanding.
In our community, Anagarika Susan, decided to return to lay life on the completion of her 6 month commitment to the anagarika training, in order to be part of a lay community in Seattle. Susan was with us from the beginning of our time in Placerville and was a good support in many ways. We wish her well in the next phase of her life and are adjusting to being “Anagarika-less” for this time. Over the past weeks we have also had very few guests, so things have been quiet in a way, and busy in a way, with less people to cover the work that needs to be done. From mid-August, we are happy to be welcoming guests again, with Emily and Nancy coming back to stay for a few weeks, and we hope to have a steady stream of guests through the rest of the year. We now have a trailer that is being renovated to serve as accommodation for men. There is also a three bed dorm for women and until the trailer is complete, tents on this beautiful land are another good option. If you are thinking of coming to visit, have a look at our info page and please get in touch with Ayya Jayati, our Guest Nun at <email@example.com>.
Looking ahead, we are happy to be welcoming Mindy Zlotnick back to Aloka Vihara after her long time on the East Coast. She will be coming in December and staying through our winter retreat (January through March); taking on the role of the Kitchen Manager for that time. Mindy initiated the weekly (now bi-weekly) mail back when we first arrived in San Francisco, and was the key organizer of our Bhikkhuni Ordination in 2011. We are grateful to have her solid support for our winter retreat and are currently looking for one more person who could come for 3 months, or 2 people who could each cover half of the retreat time. They would need to have a mature mediation practice and be able to offer a few hours in the kitchen and some cleaning, 5 days a week. If this is something you feel you would be able and interested to do, please get in touch with us to discuss it further.
Mindy and Emily have initiated ‘Friends of Aloka Vihara’ (FAV) and will be organizing the Almsgiving ceremony this year at Aloka Vihara on September 12. If you would like to take part in any way, please get in touch with them at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
As we shift from a rental situation to our more permanent forest monastery here in Placerville, the Saranaloka Board also look to expand from four members to five or six, in order to cover the many aspects of developing a monastery. Dennis has now kindly taken on the role of President of Saranaloka, allowing Wren to step back and offer her support and guidance as a regular board member. We are so grateful for the board and all they do, and look forward to welcome new members later this year.
At our recent board meeting, we were gladdened to have a visit from Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Karunadhammo , who were both part of founding Abhayagiri Monastery in Ukiah. They offered valuable advice, bringing their years of experience and sharing some of the trials and successes of their own endeavors in establishing a monastery in California. In the evening, Ajahn Pasanno inspired us with a Dhamma reflection (sorry, it wasn’t recorded) and the next morning we walked the land and brainstormed ideas for future development.
We continue to be touched and humbled by the many ways that people take part in this monastery; offering food and other useful items, money donations, organizing events, driving, gardening, handy work, kindness, sharing practice, staying connected… There are so many ways! We are grateful you are part of this journey.
If you would like to come and practice with us, registration for our New Year retreat, which will be held at the Angela Center in Santa Rosa this year, is now open.
With metta and wishing you all blessings,
Ayya Anandabodhi, Ayya Santacitta, Ayya Jayati & Marina