Dear friends and supporters,
those who are wondering how Santi Forest Monastery is developing now – as a Monastery for women with a female Abbott – may you find some answers to your questions here:
Firstly, let me thank you all for your trust! You all probably know – a new leader has been appointed for Santi Forest Monastery. This new leader writes you now, full of appreciation, full of joy for your support, full of humbleness and respect for Ajahn Brahm’s decision on this appointment and full of good intentions to lead Santi into a spiritual, healthy and happy future.
May I be worthy your trust, and may the Sangha be worthy of your gifts of requisites.
Bhante Sujato led Santi for many years as a monastery for monks and nuns, with great success. Bhikkhunis have been welcome and supported – that alone is a great gift to the growing Bhikkhuni Sangha and much more than female monastics can expect elsewhere, as many of my co-female monastics can testify. Not many monasteries, on this entire planet earth, welcome Bhikkhunis.
I was lucky enough to learn at one of the few mixed-gender monasteries in Thailand, where Bhikkhunis are allowed and do receive teaching. Knowing that such monasteries are as rare as a vein of diamonds in a coal mine, you can imagine the amount of gratitude and respect, other female Sangha and I have for those brave monks who stand up for the four-fold Sangha.
Bhante Sujato, who had the idea to hand this monastery over to Bhikkhunis. As he mentioned, he had this plan for some years. He renounced leading, renounced all he had achieved and left Santi Forest Monastery with a small bag, only containing his robes and bowl, to become a wandering monk and to let the Bhikkhunis do their own business, to let us find our own way and remember and activate our own strength. We admire him for his firm resolve to help the Bhikkhuni Sangha and to give us a home, through becoming a homeless one, once more. This act of generosity is unique and remarkable. We do hope that he will stay in the Sydney area, and that we will have many opportunities to meet with him in the future.
Ajahn Brahm, who had the will and compassion to ordain women as Bhikkhunis, encourages us, and teaches us. This is something that not many monks are ready to do for whatever reason. He inspired us and made us see what we really can do. He took away many burdens from our shoulders, by visiting us during his limited and precious time of this past rains retreat. And finally, he appointed me as the leader of Santi. I am deeply grateful that he agreed to be the Spiritual Director of Santi Forest Monastery. Knowing this, I feel strong enough to step ahead, and to be the Abbess, knowing I will not go down an abyss, because Ajahn and his Dhamma are there for us.
Ajahn Suphan, (his name is probably not yet known to most of you), is my teacher in Thailand. He is a noble teacher of the Dhamma, a master of meditation and the Abbot of Wat Rampoeng in Chiang Mai. He understands that we need emancipation, but not women from men, nor men from their bosses or women, but each of us needs emancipation, from suffering. The mind is either defiled or not defiled – and this is completely independent from being in a male or female body. A pure mind is beautiful, in whatever kind of body it may be – male, female, healthy, sick, handicapped, young or old. I learned a lot from Ajahn Suphan and will not stop learning and I hope to be able to welcome him here, in the not too distant future.
Last but not least, I would like to mention Bhante Santitittho. He is here for us on a regular basis and shares Buddhist teachings with us every full moon, thus helping us to keep an important part of our monastic discipline. He appreciates that we, in return, enable him to live his set of rules (which includes the teaching and spiritual care of Bhikkhunis), to its full extent. He had a deep insight about women and ‘motherness’ on hearing about the death of his own beloved mother. This insight made him a man, a monk who is at peace with himself, with other men and most importantly, with women. We welcome him as our friend and elder brother.
With deep respect I bow to these monks.
Following Ajahn Brahm’s and Bhante Sujato’s recommendation, Santi has become a monastery for female monastics. We were asked by concerned friends: are men allowed? Yes, they are.
Santi’s main focus now is the development of a female monastic community, but that is not to be at the exclusion of men. Lay men and women can stay for long periods and hopefully deepen their practice. Monks are welcome to visit for a short time, but for the time being, can not become a resident. While we are in the process of developing a strong Bhikkhuni community, it has been decided not to have monks staying on a long-term basis. This has been the wise advice given to us by our new Spiritual Director, Ajahn Brahm. As our community develops further, this policy may be subject to re-evaluation.
We would be happy to receive visits from nuns of all traditions, regardless of whether they are Theravada, Mahayana or Tibetan. If visiting nuns fit into our community, and should they wish to become a member of the Santi community, they would need to consider the regulations of the organisation that have been applicable to all residents of Santi since its inception. (Check with us for more information, as required).
For all monastics, regardless of gender, we expect that the Vinaya (Buddhist monastic code of conduct), is kept, without contention, as we keep it here at Santi. We do this with compassion, i.e. by understanding the significance, power and value of the Vinaya, and not by forcing ourselves to simply stick to the letter blindly and pedantically. We understand that the Buddha gave the Vinaya to his disciples in order to help them to grow on their spiritual path, to learn restraint and to live the holy life. Even if some of the rules may not be easily understood, seem unfair at first sight, or appear to be hard to keep, here in this marvelous place, with the help of our generous friends, we can and should take them as a great gift, and a challenging chance to approach the final goal – i.e. the end of suffering.
We will probably cut down our ‘out of monastery’ activities a little bit, until the Sangha has become strong and we have the resources to offer teachings in Sydney. The most important priority for now is to build a strong and happy community. We will try to connect with locals and offer teachings and meditation for people of Bundanoon and the Southern Highlands. We hope to offer meditation and Dhamma teachings on a regular basis, in Sydney, as soon as possible, at a time we can’t define right now.
Due to limited accommodation capacity, Santi Forest Monastery will not, for the moment, become a meditation center. Regardless, the primary objective of the people who live or visit here will be to focus on meditation and the practice of Dhamma. Visitors will be interviewed on arrival and receive regular interviews about their meditation practice during their stay. Residents will be afforded retreat conditions as often as possible, given the limitations of the time required to build a community. We will have regular group meditations, Dhamma talks and Vinaya study.
Visitors coming to bring us Dana will receive a Dhamma reflection after lunch, and are welcome to stay for a walk in the bush or meditation in the cave or the meditation hall.
Compassion, friendship and loving kindness, shall be the guidelines for us to live the holy life to the best of our abilities.
For the near future we do not have large, extensive or expensive construction plans. The Stupa project should be finished by Ayya Patacara soon. We will focus our resources and energy on maintaining and improving and adjusting to our needs what Santi already has. Due to new fire regulations, we will also have to do some works on the main building to make it more fire safe and convert existing kuties or build new stone ones, as a future project.
As it always was, Santi will remain environmental friendly. We care for the wildlife and plants as we think it is a good Buddhist practice. Yoniso manasikara, reflecting wisely, we will act and react with regard to our surroundings.
We will not start to charge for Dhamma teachings, nor for meditation courses, but will be, as always, since the Buddha’s time, dependent on your generosity. We hope that we can make this a place of strong Buddhist practice, simple and peaceful; full of the spirit and joy of the Dhamma – a place where harmony, respect for all beings and friendship can flourish. A place that is fit for you to come and breathe and live the Dhamma with us. A place that you can come to when you need a rest from your busy life, in this busy world, and here for you when you need a ‘Kalayanamitra’ – a spiritual friend.
Thank you all for making this possible.