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19th Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering

October 30, 2013

By: Amma Thanasanti Bhikkhuni

Friday was the culmination of the 19th consecutive Western Buddhist monastic gathering. I share with you some snapshots of who came and what we did so you too can benefit from our gathering.

To give you a sense of who were were – we numbered 42 from nine states. We had monastics who had traveled here from Canada, Korea and New Zealand and came from ten different countries of origin. Our gathering included Theravada, Soto Zen, Chinese Chan and Tibetan traditions. Some monastics were newly ordained while some of our elders have been ordained for 30 – 40 years. Together our years as monastics added up to 583 years. Like me, some have been living as a solitary monastic. Others were living in communities in monasteries. We were at City of Dharma Realm, a Chinese Chan Nun’s training monastery in Sacramento. Gratefully, we were immersed in an environment that was endowed with people keeping precepts, minds turned towards cultivation, shrines and a daily schedule of meditation, sutta recitation and devotion to the Buddha Dhamma and Sangha.

Seeing all of our beautiful robes was like being in field of bright marigolds – with our varied colors of yellow, ochre, orange, red, maroon and brown. Being one of many in this field, I felt a deep ease and joy as if smiles were forever coming out of every part of my body. When I heard a new phrase “a bonanza of bhikkhuni’s”, I felt our collective joy in this Mecca for monastics.

Over the 5 days we met new friends and got caught up with old friends we hadn’t seen in a while. We covered many topics related to the theme of monastic formation- what are the ingredients that shape us into monastics? One topic that had a lot of energy was the effects of our personal narratives on our experience as monastics. Most in the room were born into a Judeo-Christian culture and family. When an Asian born monk asked, “What is guilt?”, our attention was riveted. He genuinely wanted to know. This sparked hours and in depth discussion about the range of guilt, shame, self doubt and the effect these had on our practice in development as monastics. One monk shared that every single day he had to bring awareness of his conditioning into shame in order that he not let it color his perceptions and motivate his actions – a personal share that I suspect others resonated with. One nun shared her experience growing up as a Native American knowing that everyone was originally whole and complete. Another nun talked about the lens of right view as she reworked her previous belief in original sin into an understanding that made sense for her – looking at things in terms of cause and effect and the choices we make with our thoughts once they arise. I talked about the transformation and peace I experience when I rest in awareness held and supported by nature.

Another topic that came up in many different ways was the significance of being shaped through the the power of precepts. We saw this silently enacted in our gathering in ways of saying hello and goodbye to our elders. Many saw precepts as a teacher itself illuminating what was going on in our minds. We discussed the ways that living with monastic precepts has its challenges in a modern world and yet we could see the way that precepts gives rise to a deep resource that supports our meditation and insight.

All around us was evidence of the phenomenal generosity that made this gathering possible. One notable expression were our hosts and included a team of ten people who travelled three hours to join us to set up the facility, prepare delicious, nutritious and artful vegan food and see that all our needs were taken care of. Every time someone expressed appreciation for the care, kindness and blessings showered upon us having this valuable time together, our hosts responded with, “The gratitude is ours for the opportunity to serve in this way. It brings us so much joy!”

The photos are in and uploaded to the Facebook sites. Nice to share the joy!

All of us have formations- what shapes us into who we are, what we think and how we view ourselves, each other and the world. As important as it is to understand these formations, and get a sense of how these are operating in ourselves the ones dear and near to us, when what is beyond formations is known and brought into the world, then the highest potential of being human is realized. Is there a greater joy?

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