Finally, Peace - Sanghamitta's Spiritual Journey Part 4
Excitement! A Theravada Buddhist monk has moved close by. This happened in the late 1990's. His name was Ajahn Sona.
He was living in a house monastery on the outskirts of Princeton, BC. Not exactly next door, but at least in Western Canada.
For several years I attended retreats with him in Edmonton and Calgary, until he moved his monastery to a remote area about 40 minutes outside of Kamloops, BC: Sitavana/Birken Forest Monastery. Now I attend retreats there once or twice a year. Ajahn Sona became my main Buddhist teacher. Under his influence, the CTBC gradually took on a Thai Forest Tradition flavour.
Around 2014, Ajahn Sona started an Upasika training at Birken. Upasika means "one who sits close by". This refers to dedicated lay Buddhist practitioners who draw close to monastics in the practice of the Dhamma and who commit to follow the Three Refuges and Five Precepts laid out by the Buddha. I entered the training at that time. Ajahn Sona gave me the Buddhist name of Sanghamitta. It means, friend of the community of monks and nuns.
I have a famous namesake: Sanghamitta, the daughter of King Ashoka. He lived in India about 100 years after the death of the Buddha. He became Buddhist and did much to promote the Buddha's teachings. He sent his daughter, Sanghamitta, a nun and his son, Muninda, a monk, to Ceylon to teach Buddhism there. So Sanghamitta ordained the first Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) nuns. She also brought a slip of the Bodhi tree to Ceylon and the original tree is still alive in Anuradhapura.
So these were my formative teachers for Buddhism: Mechele, Thich Nhat Hanh and Ajahn Sona.
Since then I've had the privilege to study with many other wonderful teachers.
Bhante Gunaratana, another Sri Lankan, was Ajahn Sona's ordaining teacher. Ajahn Sona completed his training in Thailand at Ajahn Chah's International Monastery. This is the lineage he now teaches from.
Bhante Gunaratana established one of the first monasteries in the USA, Bhavana Society, in West Virginia. He is a strong, supportive voice for Bhikkhunis (Buddhist nuns).
In 2012, I did a two month driving trip across Canada, scattering my husband's ashes with friends and relatives.
I decided to do a tour of Canadian Theravada monasteries at the same time.....all four of them. I had already visited Birken many times. The remaining monasteries were all in Ontario.
First I visited Arrow River Forest Monastery, a remote site about an hour out of Thunder Bay, Ontario. There I met Ajahn Punnadhammo. He is in the Ajahn Chah Thai Forest lineage. In 2017 he completed a monumental work on the cosmology realms talked about in Buddhism. It is available from Amazon or as a free download from his website.
From there I visited Sati Saraniya Hermitage in rural Perth, Ontario, and finally met my first Buddhist nun, Ayya Medhanandi. She was alone when she first started her monastery. Since then she has trained 3 nuns who are now Bhikkhunis (fully ordained Buddhist nuns) and has one Anagarika currently in training. (An Anagarikais is someone who would like to become a monastic. They usually spend a year at the monastery to experience if this is the life they wish to live.)
Ayya started her spiritual life studying under a guru in India. Next she studied as a nun under U Pandita of Burma. When she wasn't allowed to remain in the country she moved to Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in England, studying under Ajahn Sumedho......a student of Ajahn Chah. She then lived on her own as an alms mendicant nun for some time before returning to Canada to establish a monastery.
I asked Ayya Medhanandi if she would be willing to come to Canmore to teach. She agreed and has come yearly to lead meditation retreats.
Twenty minutes from Sati Saraniya Hermitage is Tisarana Buddhist Monastery. The abbott is Ajahn Viradhammo. He also was trained in the Ajahn Chah Thai Forest Tradition. He writes excellent books directed towards lay people practicing Buddhism.
All three of these monastics are Canadian born.
It was due to meeting Ayya Medhanandi and learning of the challenges facing Buddhist nuns that I came to the idea of offering my home as a future residence for them. Initially this was to happen after my death. But when the opportunity arose for a nun to locate to Canmore in the near future, I changed my mind. I contemplated the decision at a month's meditation retreat at Birken. I decided that I was willing to share my home starting now.
In 2015 I went on pilgrimage to India, to visit the important sites associated with the Buddha's life. The trip was led by Ajahn Brahmali of Bodhinyana Monastery. Each night he would read us a Sutta which the Buddha had given in the site we were to visit the next day. It was a very inspiring trip.
In 2016 I attended the 3 months Rain Retreat at Bodhinyana Monastery near Perth in Australia. The abbott is Ajahn Brahm, a gifted teacher.
In 2017 I attended my first ordination ceremony. It was for Ayya Anuruddha, a nun trained by Ayya Medhanandi and for Ayya Niyanika. At the ceremony I met many other nuns and extended an invitation to them to visit CTBC in Canmore.
Out of this invitation grew a relationship with Ayya Santacitta of Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery, near Sacramento, California. She has been twice to Canmore and, if our plans work out, she will move here to be our first resident monastic. (Update: This did not work out. Ayya felt a calling in another direction. We spent a year looking for another nun from North America to no avail. So we invited a Canadian monk to become our resident monastic. This occurred from June 1, 2020 until Dec 1, 2020 when the monk felt drawn to be in a more remote area with the company of other monks. The Board has decided to return to our original idea of offering space to a Buddhist nun, realizing we will have to look overseas to find someone. We are currently in the process of searching for a nun).
What benefits have I experienced, immersing myself in Buddhist meditation since 1991?
I rarely experience anger or irritation. My patience has increased tremendously. I feel so much calmer. I have coped with tragedies, like the unexpected death of my husband at age 61, with more equanimity than I could have imagined. I am content with a simple lifestyle.
Peace is beautiful.