The Aranya Bodhi Hermitage is a forest hermitage for monastic women and dedicated monastic life aspirants to practice for liberation … to live in a quiet forest environment, to practice solitary meditation, to receive alms food offered in faith, to hear the Dhamma, and to be part of a democratically organized sangha in accord with the ancient monastic code. There is seclusion for extended meditation, study and practice with daily activities.
In our branch of Buddhism, conditions for women’s monastic sangha have been slow to ripen. The bhikkhuni order died out over 900 years ago, and has only been revived in modern times. For over 25 years women have patiently sought to establish Theravada bhikkhuni sangha in America. So far, we have been too divided and subdivided … by the strong individualistic spirit of pioneer women; by the different ordination forms available in different Asian lineages; by the chicken-egg problem of reviving the bhikkhuni form without experienced noble leaders. We go on, step by step, trusting the Buddha’s advice that this community form of practice is the best and surest way to the goal.
The Buddha’s plan for us is actually simple — a community of bhikkhunis living together in harmony, close to nature, in utmost simplicity and frugality, no burden on society, supporting new aspirants to enter and mature in the holy life, and each one methodically working out her own liberation. The public face of Buddhism should emerge from this: monastics who have matured in strong communities may properly lead retreats, teach, counsel, and offer religious services.
Despite the obstacles, a sense of sisterhood has grown up among the diaspora of Theravada bhikkhunis world-wide. For example, Western, Thai and Indonesian bhikkhunis have organized a seminar on bhikkhuni concerns; joined for patimokkha recitation from time to time; joined for vinaya training; conducted novice and full ordinations; and formed a loose network of sister monasteries in six countries. Now, for the first time in America, we will have a complete sangha of four bhikkhunis living together in community for Vassa, the three-month rains retreat starting on July 25. Including the novices and lay aspirants, there will be from 10 to 16 women. At the full moon of August, we plan to conduct a bhikkhuni ordination at our hermitage. After Vassa, a few will stay on the land, holding the space and form for secluded practice.
We can feel the wind at our backs — much larger beneficial forces working in our favor. It seems that now is the time for the four-fold sangha to be fully established in America. Even though our funds are meager and our core volunteers stretched to their limits, we are lifted up, inspired by a sense of history. Many dozen volunteers and donors have joined to set up our physical infrastructure. We enjoy the ongoing support of well established practice communities, committed to helping monastic women. Substantial support has been pledged to help with the monastics’ medical needs.
Over this next year, our most urgent are for financial help to complete the infrastructure, builders and laborers at all skill levels, as well as transportation help from nearby airports to the hermitage. To receive announcements about projects, work days and useful items to donate, join Friends of the hermitage.