The Return to Maharashtra: International Bhikkhuni Parisad

Please scroll down to earlier blogs for Bodhgaya and the Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training
Scroll down to the bottom of this blog for info on supporting the Maharashrtrian Theravandan Bhikkhuni Sangha
Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni’s
The Return to Maharashtra: International Bhikkhuni Parisad
& Visit to the Ancient Bhikkhuni Rock-cut Cave Monasteries 
welcoming our arrival at the Aurangabad Buddha Leni Caves Monastery for the International Bhikkhuni Parisad
After another quiet day and night on the Indian train we arrived at Manmat Junction, Aurangabad, Maharashtra.  This was the area of the Buddha Leni Caves Monastery, the main monastery of the Bhante who met us upon arrival and introduced us to the Buddhists in Mumbai (Bombay) and as well as the Punna Ashokan Stupa in Nallasopara and the Vihara of Sanghamitra Bhikkhuni in nearby Thane. 
On the day of our arrival, coming out to the monastery in the forest at the end of the hills, we noticed a sense of unoppressiveness as we passed by another Sanchian gate erected by Dr Baba Saheb Ambedhkar and the College built by him there.
Arriving in the forested area of the Buddha Leni Caves monastery, we were delighted to discover that Bhikkhuni Khema, our constant companion in Bodhgaya (the golden-orange robed figure to the left of center in the photo above) who had returned to Aurangabad with us, was a resident of this monastery along with several other samaneris. 
On the back wall of the main image shelter hall, we were amazed to see familiar faces; lifesize pictures of Bhante Rahula, Bhante Gunaratana and smaller photos of Bhikkhuni Ayyas Sudhamma, Sobhana and Gunanusari on almsround at Bhavana.  This monastery and its caves have often been visited by Bhante Rahula and he is well known there.  Not only that, but it has been the site of the Bhavana Society’s support of the revival of the Buddhist Monastic Sangha in India.
We were lodged comfortably nearby in the Ellora Caves Resthouse, and the following day, returned to the monastery after visiting several nearby friends of Bhante Rahula’s homes, brought to the Buddha Lena Monastery for the First International Bhikkhuni Parisad (Seminar/Assembly)  arranged by Bhadant Vishuddhanand Bodhi in commemoration of the United Nations’ International Women’s Day. 
We were warmly welcomed by the Ubhoto Sangha and a great crowd of devoted flower-bearing Indian upasakas and upasikas. 
Most of these people are the very many formerly "untouchable" Buddhists who have found social liberation, education, and upliftment through the efforts of Dr. Ambhedkar.  Many have also learned meditation through SN Goenka (Goenka Guruji) at Igatpuri and have undertaken lives of service to social welfare in the engaged Buddhist movement of Sangharakshita known as Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) to the West and as the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana (TBMSG) in India. 
I have never been so thronged by such a devoted group of so many people in my life. 
Only loving kindness… 
We entered the hall that is the main "image shelter" in the monastery and the place where the monastics have their daily almsmeal, the danasala, and payed our respects to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, and then to Bhadanta Vishuddhanand Bodhi Mahathera, the Abbot and the assembled Monastic Community.
together with Ven Bhikkhuni Khema Theri and the bhikkhunis and samaneris of Aurangabad.
Before beginning the International Bhikkhuni Parisad, Ayya Gunasari Bhikkhuni from Burma, Ayya Satima Bhikkhuni from Sri Lanka and myself from USA were brought upstairs to a khuti to have our meal in relatively quiet seclusion, surrounded by the waves of sound of the ocean of people who had gathered below.
Then we came forth, mounted the stage to pay our respects to the Buddha and the Sangha once again in front of all and to appreciate Dr Ambedhkar.
Then the talks began.  After the introduction by Vishuddhanand Bodhi Bhanteji, first Venerable Bhikkhuni Satima (originally from Sri Lanka but now associated with the Minnesota Buddhist Vihara, USA), then Venerable Bhikkhuni Daw Gunasari (originally from Burma but now the Abbess of Samadhi House at DhammaDena Desert Vipassana in Joshua Tree, Southern California, USA), then Venerable Bhikkhuni Dharmadharshana (from Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India), and then I offered Dhamma reflections, interspersed with a number of local respected lay speakers. 
The organizer estimated that 6,000 persons attended the gathering ~ 1,000 more expected.
Local Aurangabad and Statewide Maharashtrian Buddhist Newspapers gave front page coverage to the event, the donations from which were dedicated to the development of a training center for the Indian Bhikkhuni Sangha and samaneris.
Listing of Bhikkhuni Viharas, bhikkhunis and samaneris in Maharashtra
Venerable Bhikkhuni Silacara Theri
Prajapati Gautami Vihara
Buddha Vihara, Nagarjuna
Quallonye, Nara Road, Nagpur
Tel: 93-73120078
Venerable Bhikkhuni Katyayani Theri
Itaware Belgao Nak
PO Umared Dist., Nagpur 4400123
Tel: 9326937689
Venerable Bhikkhuni Dhammadipa Theri
Mahaprajapati Gautami Vihara
Sravasti Nagar, West Arvinda Nagar
Post: Sivaji Nagar, Nanded
Tel: 9960435611
Venerable Bhikkhuni Dhammashila Theri
Saptagiri Meditation Center
Post: Kakade Layout, Flat 53
c/o Khadase
Rameshwari Road, Nagpur
Tel: 9822169976
Venerable Bhikkhuni Rupananda Theri
Lumbini Niwas
Kaushalyayan Nagar
(behind Kalpataru Buddha Vihara)
Tel: 9422864353
Venerable Bhikkhuni Khema Theri
Buddha Leni Caves Monastery
Tel: 2400952  pin 0240
Venerable Bhikkhuni Satyasila
Khirada, PO Nimakhed Bazar
Town Najangao
Surji, Dis Amarawati
Projects for lodging and training bhikkhunis and samaneris in Maharashtra:
*** In-monastery Lodging at Education & Training Center for Bhikkhunis and Samaneris
Bhadant Maha Panthaka Mahathera, President/General Secretary
Bhartiya Buddha Dhamma Gnyana Vidyalaya Meditation Center
Maha Pradnya Buddha Vihara
Dharmakirti Nagar, Wadi
Ramnagar, Amravati
Tel: (0712) 2631686 or 9423108291 (Mobile)
Contributions: State Bank of India, Nagpur, AC# 10438707020, Bhartiya Buddha Dhamma Gnyana Vidyalaya
*** In-Monastery Lodging for Bhikkhunis and Samaneris
Bhadant Vishuddhanand Bodhi Mahathera
Buddha Leni Caves Monastery
Tel: (0240) 2400952 or (91)9420264261 (Mobile)
*** Samaneri Sabir (Samaneri Training)
Venerable Bhikkhuni Sanghamitra
Sanghamitra Gandhkuti Buddha Vihara
Mahatheri Hill, Bhim Nagar, Nallasopara (E)
Tal. Vasai Dist., Thane 401209
Tel: 9890477913 (Mobile)
Contributions: Bank of Maharashtra, 9/6 No. SB/GEN/21003, Gandhakhuti Buddhavihar, Bhimnagar, Nallasopara East, Mumbai O

India Journal: Chapter II, Bodhgaya Part 2: Pali Tipitaka Recitation & Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training


Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni’s


India Journal: Chapter II

Bodhgaya ~ Part 2 (please see the 2 blogs below for the Introduction and Part I)



Pali Tipitaka Recitation & Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training




Please see the blog directly below this one for the beginning of this story.




The Mahatheras’ reasoning given to me for delaying the upasampada follows:
(1) as it is now possible to offer women ordination in Theravadan tradition impeccably, it would be best to avail ourselves of this opportunity by doing so in ways that would leave no obvious course for blame. 
a. In my case, i have only 11 vassas since upasampada, not the 12 called for in Vinaya.  There will be a significant number of bhikkhunis in Theravada who will have the 12 vassa qualification in less than one year’s time, a substantial number of them (ordained in Sarnath in 1996) who are senior to me.  Thus it was recommended that i might serve at this time as an witnessing acarya or some role other than bhikkhuni upajjhaya/pavatini, but that a 12+Vassa Theravadan bhikkhuni approved by the Sangha should be the bhikkhuni upajjhaya.
b.  There are many cases of aberrant and improper ordination currently in India, thus there exists a great amount of internal and external doubt about ordination status causing mutual depreciation and alienation, which is a well-known and significant problem.  Publically announced and nondoubtful ordination would help to reduce this doubt and depreciation, and increase mutual faith, esteem and respect within the Indian Sangha and in with its International Sangha collegues.
(2) Of the 28 bhikkhunis who were fully ordained in Bodhgaya 10 years ago, 10 bhikkhunis returned to Bodhgaya this time together with other bhikkhunis and more than 30 samaneris.  It was readily observed and commented upon by many international participants in the Pali Tipitaka Recitation that these bhikkhunis and samaneris appeared to lack in even basic training and education in Buddhist monastic life.  Their appearance was thus characterized as particularly "bitter sweet."  "Sweet" because of such gladness to see the monastic Sangha reviving in India.  "Bitter" because of the grossly obvious lack of the noble deportment that gives further joy and inspiration. 
Thus, it was recommended that further ordination should not be given without being given together with proper training both before and after ordination.
(3) As there is a natural sentiment amongst Buddhists for the Buddhist motherland of India, and also for the revival of the Indian Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Sangha, it was asserted that it is irresponsible and unfair to give ordination without making a reasonable attempt to inform those Monastic Sangha members and Buddhist lay persons who would like to be supportive.  That natural wish to share support should be channelled rightly into ensuring proper training and impeccable ordination.  Additionally, this might make the ordination opportunity available to qualified canditates from countries other than India.
(4)  If the ordination is announced to the greater International Buddhist Sangha and supportive lay organizations, the support in the 2 requisites of proper training & education and well as material requisites may become available for the International Buddhist Sangha in India for the long-term, not only for the short-term. 
In India
Thus it was that the Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Traning Center (established in idea in Feb 2006) came to offer training classes to the Indian bhikkhunis and samaneries at the Mahabodhi Society during the Pali Tipitaka Recitation.  All those who completed the course were offered the opportunity to register for post and pre-ordination training to be given during this coming Vassa.  The Vassa training was made a prerequisite for samaneris applying for further training and bhikkhuni upasampada to be offered in India in February 2009.   The Vassa training and reordination will also be available for those bhikkhunis who were fully ordained by incorrect means.  Additionally the Vassa training will be available for those bhikkhunis who have already been legitimately fully ordained but have had either no or inadequite subsequent training.

In addition to the denial of bhikkuni upasampada for samaneris without training at this time in India, women applicants for samaneri ordination who were without a place/teachers to which they would affirm to dedicate themselves for training were also denied samaneri ordination.  This occured both in India and in Australia (Mar 08), with those aspirants who were unwilling or as yet unable to make a commitment to a teacher and place of training.  Commitment to a period of training at and appropriate monastery and with respectable teachers was recommended.  In the absence of such dedication, samaneri ordination was also not given.   For those which such commitment, it samaneri ordination was given. 
These decisions were made with substantial reflection considering the health, wellbeing and wellfare of the Buddha Sasana and its non-degradation.  They were not taken to prevent access to samaneri, sikkhamana or bhikkhuni ordination for women, but rather to support it, considering the fortunate opening of beneficial opportunities, with the intent to further and support them, for the sake of the fulfillment of the higher training in Buddhist monastic life. 





Thus the idea was born to offer a class for giving training and education to the nearly 50 women in saffron robes who had gathered together for the Tipitaka Recitation beneath the Bo tree at the time.  Bhante Seewalee kindly offered us the use of a room at the Mahabodhi Society to hold the class in the evenings.  He also offered us the practical use of the Roman Pali Vinaya texts enshrined in the Mahabodhi Vihara .  Samaneri Dhammadina fortunately recommended a Maharashtrian bhikkhu, Bhante Dhammasevika, to translate the class into Maharti-bhasa who accepted our invitation to join the teachers group.  Bhikkhuni Sama Ayyaji additionally recommended a Maharashtrian Mahathera from Nagpur, Bhadant Maha Pantaka Bhante as a knowledgeable and popular regular guest speaker for teaching directly in the Maharti language.  Wangmo Dixey of the Light of Buddhadharma Foundation offered notebooks and pens.  Bhantes Saddhananda and Gnanananda of All India Bhikkhu also offered the All India Bhikkhu Sangha facilities for the class and accepted invitations as encouraging guest speakers.




In this way, the space, the time, the texts, the supplies and the teachers’ group came into being.  The teachers’ group met and discussed and, thanks to Bhante Sujato, a plan appeared on paper. 


This is the plan for the Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training Class that happened, meant to give preparatory knowledge to the bhikkhunis present to enable them to rightly, clearly and competently perform the then upcoming Uposatha together, in addition to being able to ask important questions relevant to their monastic life and have them heard and answered publicly in community together.







15-20 February 2008, 6.30-8.30pm,

Maha Bodhi Society, Bodhgaya




1. Origin Story.  Introduction to the Vinaya Pitaka and the Uposathakkhandhaka.  How did the Uposatha come about?  What is its main purpose?

2. Ovada patimokkha developing into Bhikkhu/Bhikkhuni Patimokkha.

3. Sima.  Why do we have simas?  What is their purpose?  How do we make a sima?

4.  Confession of offences.  How to confess offences?  What offences need to be confessed?  Shared offences.

5. Recitation of Patimokkha.  Uposatha for less than 4 bhikkhunis

6. Minor matters: chanda, parisuddhi, recitation in brief.






    Having commenced the class at the Mahabodhi Society, upon consultation with him about the ordination requests, Bhante Seewalee additionally recommended that the Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training Center should offer and prepare a Bhikkhuni Ordination Ceremony to be held in Bodhgaya on February 9, 2009. 


The proposal for the ordination was drafted as follows:







February 9, 2009


First Draft by Bhante Sujato, 15 February 2008




In Bodhgaya, Feb 2007, it was decided to form a committee for supporting the training of Indian bhikkhunis, with the long term goal of establishing a Bhikkhuni Training Center in Bodhgaya.  The committee included Bhante K. Gnanananda, Bhante P Seewali (Bhikkhu in Charge, Maha Bodhi Society, Bodhgaya), Bhante Pragnadeep (Secretary, All India Bhikkhu Sangha), Bhante Sujato, Ayya Santini, Ayya Silavati and other who are concerned to support the Indian Sangha.  We feel very deeply that our duty is to help develop the Dhamma in India, the Motherland of all Buddhists.  The committee was formed in association with the annual Tipitaka Chanting Ceremony at Bodhgaya.


The situation for Indian Buddhist nuns is far from satisfactory.  There is little or no training and education available for them.  They often live alone, with little institutional support.  Many of the nuns are illiterate.  Ther is diputing among who is ordained properly, as it seems some bhikkhus or bhikkhuni have been conferring ordination by themselves, without ordination by the Sangha.  In other cases, nuns have been charging fees for the performance of ordination.  Once ordination happens, ther is no ongoing support, and so the nuns, whether samaneri or bhikkhuni, have no guidance in how to develop their conduct.


Bhikkhuni Ordination 2009


The Buddha Vision team wishes to address this problem by holding a Bhikkhuni Upasampada ceremony in Bodhgaya, in conjunction with the 2009 Tripitaka Recitation Ceremomy.  This event will bring together about 1000 Sangha members from all over the world, and so is a highly auspicious occassion for offering teaching and traiing for the newly ordained bhikkhunis.


Currently there are perhaps 20 samaneris who wish to be candidates for ordination.  Many of them have been samaneris for several years, and have the sincere wish to take higher ordination.  In addition, we will offer re-ordination for any nuns whose upasampada credentials have been questioned, and who wish to remove cause for doubt or criticism by taking upasampada properly in accordance with the Vinaya.


The ordination ceremony is supported by the All India Bhikkhu Sangha and the Maha Bodhi Society of Bodhgaya.  A full Sangha of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, both overseas and local, will perform the ceremony.


Preliminary Training


During the Tipitaka Chanting Ceremony 2008, the Buddha Vision Team was able to meet with a large group of Indian bhikkhunis and samaneris.  We took the occassion to speak with them and learn of their needs and aspirations.  We took the opportunity to hold a series of classes, during which we decided to focus on one specific aspect of the Vinaya, that is, Uposatha.  The teaching group for these classes was Bhante Dharmasevaka (who also translated into Maharti), Bhante Sujato, Ayya Sama, Ayya Tathaaloka, Ayya Santini, Ayya Gunasari and Ayya Satima.  The teaching focused on a reading of the Uposathakkhandhaka, with explaination and discussion.  At the end of the classes, the local and international bhikkhunis held a Patimokkha recitation.


Ordination Requirements


* Candidates should read Rahula Sankrityanana’s book Vinaya Pitaka.  This gives a complete summary of the Vinaya in Hindi, prepared by one of the most eminent Indian scholar monks.  It has been printed for free distribution, so we can provide a copy for all the nuns.  Those candidates who are illiterate should find someone who can read the book orally for them.


* Candidates who are illiterate should try to take a course in reading and writing.  Buddha Vision will, if necessary, offer financial support.  Som candidates however are to old to learn.


* Candidates should find a senior bhikkhu or bhikkhuni who can act as their teacher.  Buddha Vision will try to locate and recommend suitable Indian Sangha for supporting the bhikkhunis through the All India Bhikkhu Sangha. There will be a seven-day training period before the Upasampada Ceremony in 2009 (2-8 February, 2009).  All candidates must attend the full seven days.


* At the commencement of the seven day period, the candidates will be given a short written and oral test.  Then then will be ongoing assessment before the final decision about who can ordain is taken. 





During the class a meeting was invited with the Venerable K Gnanananda Bhante.  Bhante Gnanananda kindly volunteered to extend his offer of Vassa-period training to the Bhikkhu Sangha in Bodhgaya to the Indian Bhikkhuni Sangha as well.  After meeting with him we went to visit the land that had been suggested as the permanent site for the Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training Center last year (2007).



             That evening, Gnanananda Bhanteji also attended the Buddha Vision nuns’ class as a guest speaker and advisor.




On the full moon Uposatha, bhikkhunis requested the Ovada from Bhadant Maha Pantaka Mahathera who had been specially appointed by Sanghakamma to serve as a bhikkhu authorized by the Bhikkhu Sangha as qualified to give Ovada to the Bhikkhuni Sangha.  Samaneris were also welcomed and allowed to listen to the special teaching. 




The Bhikkhuni Patimokkha Recitation was then held in the sima at the Burmese Vihara.  Bhikkhuni Ayya Tathaaloka Theri recited the aradhana or invitation while Bhikkhuni Ayya Sama Theri recited the Pali Patimokkha text within 2 and 1/2 hours.  


In the evening of the Uposatha one final concluding class was held, with registration of bhikkhunis and samaneris for the Vassa-time training carried out on the final day in Bodhgaya. 




Indonesian friends of Ayya Santini Bhikkhuni’s offered robes and other requisite supplies to the bhikkhunis and samaneris who completed the class.  On the final morning, Indonesian upasakas and upasikas offered the morning meal dana to all nuns and the teachers of the Buddha Vision class.  






End of the second chapter of the India Journey: Bodhgaya ~ part 2.




Bodhgaya: Pali Tipitaka Recitation & Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training

Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni’s
India Journal: Chapter II
Pali Tipitaka Recitation & Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training
After 33 hours on Indian train from Bombay and through Maharashtra, at the end of the second night we arrived at Gaya just as dawn began to break.
To our surprise, we were met by the now familiar faces of the Maharashtrian Sangha: Bhante Kitipiyo Nagsen, Bhikkhuni Sanghamitra and her samaneris — kindly arranged by Bhante Vishuddhanand Bodhi.
We were brought first to check in at the Mahabodhi Society Vihara were the first image that greeted us was that of the statuary bust of Sri Lankan Anagarika Dharmapala, great savior of the Mahabodhi shrine. 
Entering into the main shrine of the Mahabodhi Societies Vihara we were amazed to learn that to the right and left of the main Buddha image were stone statues of, not Sariputta and Mahamoggallana — as is common in Thai temples, but rather of Mahinda Thera and Sanghamitta Theri, the children of Emperor Ashokan who brought the Dhamma to Sri Lanka. 
From there we went to the All India Bhikkhu Sangha where we payed our respects to its Secretary General Bhante Pragnadipa Mahathera, know to us as one of the founding committee members of the proposed Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training Center, the project that Ayya Gunasari Bhikkhuni, Ayya Satima Bhikkhuni and I had come, as representatives of our North American Bhikkhuni Association, to support.   Within 5 minutes of sitting down and speaking together, Pragnadipa Bhante had discovered my 11 vassas and mentioned to me the presence of samaneris in Bodhgaya who were ardently desirous of the bhikkhuni ordination and had requested his help in receiving it
I explained to the Bhante that Vinaya only allowed bhikkhunis to act as preceptors in granting the full bhikkhuni upasampada ordination after 12 vassas, and that this had been a subject already discussed with my mentors and teachers, who had mostly strongly recommending waiting until the 12 vassas before giving ordination, such that there would not be this or other cause for criticism, rather that the ordination be given impeccably.  That this would be for our happiness and the welfare of the Sasana.  I explained that even in Sri Lanka, the bhikkhunis have done so with Sangha approval and appointment, not on their own initiative.  Thus, i said that i would inquire with my teachers about the matter again, and that if the Bhikkhu Sangha agreed, that i would also honor their wish and decision in this regard.   It would not be until that evening and the following morning that i had the chance to telephone to my mentors in Sri Lankan and Thai Sangha in the USA to learn their thoughts about this subject. 
In the meantime, Maharashtrian breakfast was offered to us and all the monastic visitors and residents at the All India Bhikkhu Sangha compound, served on leaves, a great ancient sustainable and renewable disposable alternative to paper.  It was our first meal with the Sangha in Bodhgaya; our first real meal since leaving Bombay 2 days before.  We were full of love for Sangha, gratitude and the possibilities of the day.
Just after breakfast, we were given a tour around the compound.  Reading the incription on the side of the impressive Thai Buddhamonthon-style standing Buddha image, I was touched to realize that i knew the Thai names, and it was that very image that was donated and arranged for while i was staying at Wat Pak Nam meditation monastery in Bangkok several years ago.  I was also amongst those monastics for whom a donation was made in dedication on their behalf.  It was sweetly moving, after wishing so for the welfare and support of the revival of the Indian Sangha from afar, to meet in direct contact, the places and people that we had heard about and wished well from a distance. 
From All India Bhikkhu Sangha we then set out to visit "Ningma," the enormous Tibetan monastic compound connected with the Light of Buddhadharma Foundation that was the main sponsor for the Pali Tipitaka Recitation and for the basic requisite needs of all the members of the Monastic Sangha participating in the event.  Holes were being dug in the roadside for restraining posts for the upcoming visit of the Indian President.  We learned Ningma has been built to accomodate up to 2,500 persons and had just done so during the recent "Ningma Monlam" event.   Sanghamitra Bhikkhuni and the samaneris and other nuns who had arrived the day before were moving there.
At Ningma, a large 50-person room with mats next to communal bathroom facilities had been allocated for the lodging of Bhikkhuni Sanghamitra and her samaneris and, as we were soon to realize, others as well.  We were not there but a few minutes when Wangmo Dixey, who i had email contact with prior to coming arrived to welcome us with here team of Western white-clothed Light of Buddhadharma volunteers.  Wangmo Dixey is daughter of Tibetan Ningma Master Thartang Thulka and Executive Director of the Light of Buddhadharma Foundation, based in Berkeley, California, but now in full swing in internation charitable projects in Buddhism.
Wangmo explained that they were planning on hosting quite a large number of incoming "nuns" this year in addition to the 800 bhikkhus expected for the Tipitaka Recitation.  She also explained that the Light of Buddhadharma Foundation had sponsered and supported the last year’s vassa-time training by Bhante Gnanananda of 50-80 of the bhikkhus who were going to be leading the recitation and the Foundation had committed to supporting this year’s vassa training of 108 bhikkhus.  I expressed my thoughts that it would be great if that training were offered in the future for any candidate bhikkhunis, which Wangmo readily agreed to.  Of course, we would have to see if there were any such bhikkhuni candidates.
From Ningma we then determined to make our way back towards the heart, for our first visit to the main Mahabodhi temple beneath the Bodhi tree.
Along the way we stopped in at the Thai temple.
Inside is an image of the Buddha modelled after the Pitsanulok image considered most beautiful of all by the Thai people.
And, together with the Phra Buddha rupa, there were four Theravadan bhikkhuni rupas (a Sangha) from 4 countries (a truly multi-ethnic international Sangha).
From there we came amidst the shack shops, snake charmers and wandering cows
 (for my first time) to the main Mahabodhi shrine. 
We walked around the main shrine and sat for meditation before the Vajrasana beneath the Maha Bodhi tree.
And then they came to us there beneath the Bodhi tree ~
Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni Sama Ayyaji and the bhikkhunis and samaneris from Maharashtra and other states
and we found ourselves surrounded by those we had so much wished to hear of, to know of, to meet.
And then the Thai offering table appeared, and the bhikkhus leading the Tipitaka Recitation began their puja, and
like magic, the whole thing began.
The leading Sri Lankan bhikkhus, training by the Venerable Kiribathgada Gnanananda Bhante are noble, mindful, harmonious; beautiful and inspiring to behold.
~ ~ ~
We visited the sites where the Buddha abode around the site ~ both after his enlightement at Mucalinda Lake and the other places
and Dangeshvara Mountain before, the place where the Buddha had his long striving rigourously practicing escetic austerities.
  We all squeezed in one little open taxi together to go there and then had a long hike up.
We had meditation time inside the cave and chanting, and then went inside the Tibetan Buddhist shrine built there.
  Then came out and looked back down the mountain across the Neranjala River, to where the Bodhisattva bathed, Sujata offered milkrice and to the Bodhi tree.

Dangeshvara Mountain seen from the Sujata Stupa (where Sujata offered the Buddha milkrice to regain his strength for his final striving to Nibbana.

The Mahabodhi site seen from across the Neranjana River (mostly dry in this season) on the Dangeshvara side
Upon return to the main there the next major event was the lunch at the Dana Sala next to the Maha Bodhi Society, set up to offer food to the 1000 Sangha members who had arrived.  
It was here that we had a first main and key meeting with Bhikkhuni Sama Ayyaji and the Indian bhikkhunis and samaneris.  And it was here that we began to learn more about what the issues of the Indian Buddhist Women’s Monastic Community are
As with the Indian Bhikkhu Sangha, there have been many types of ordination: some valid, some not.  There are "ehi bhikkhunis" ordained by themselves, or by one monk, or just a couple of bhikkhus.  There are properly ordained bhikkhunis with little or no education or training living isolated here or there, and there is little more than that.  There are many samaneris, some having lived as novices for one or two decades, desirous of training and ordination.  And there is Sri Lankan bhikkhuni Sama Ayyaji, ordained in Sarnath, India in Winter 1996, who training in India and returned a decade later to Maharashtra to outreach to the Indian Theravadan Buddhist Women’s Monastic Community.  We learned that Ayya Sama has learned some Hindi language and has been doing her best to share her knowledge and experience with the Bhikkhunis in Nagpur, Maharashtra, to the best of her ability.
The bhikkhunis ordained in Bodhgaya a decade ago inquired about others whose ordination they doubted and what is to be done for them.  The samaneris sincerely requested to be fully ordained as bhikkhunis at that time.  I introduced to the bhikkhunis the fact that the full moon uposatha is coming in a week’s time, and that there are more than five bhikkhunis gathered together, thus it would be called for to observe the Uposatha Sanghakamma of Patimokkha Recitation.  There was a general lack of knowledge about this, and it was confirmed that few had much experience in this regard. 
   Ayya Sama and I met with Bhante Sujato afterwards to discuss the situation with him.  We in turn then went to speak with Bhante P Seewalee Mahathera, "Bhikkhu in Charge" of the Maha Bodhi Society in Bodhgaya. 
I consulted by telephone with my senior Mentors and Acaryas in monastic life on the subject as I had earlier promised. 
After consultation with my senior bhikkhu mentors in USA of both Thai and Sri Lankan traditions, with some amount of trepidation, i respectfully declined these eminent bhikkhus’ request and that of the Indian samaneris, due to my agreement with the reasoned advice given me by my Elder mentors and teachers. 
The trepidation comes from stories in Dhamma and Vinaya that we have of the Buddha himself criticizing the non-ordination of a novice who died before failing to receive the delayed ordination.  It also comes from a symethetic compassion for the wholesome aspirations of those who wish to be ordained.
(the story continues with the Mahatheras’ reasoning in the blog directly above this one)

Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni’s Journal from India & Australia Travels: Chapter 1









Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni’s




    from the end to the beginning




It is very good to be back to the quiet peace and supportive container of our Vihara here.  It is amazing that we have such a place in this world.  

The trip was a very good one. 




It was wonderful to sit near the Vajrasana –the "Diamond Seat"– the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment and recite the Middle Length Discourses of the Majjhima Nikaya in the Pali language beneath the Bodhi tree for many days.   The first year of the Pali Tipitaka Recitation 200 Buddhist Monastics gathered from around the world; the second year 400, the third year (this year) 1000.  This year was the first year that there was not only participation from the Theravadan Bhikkhu Sangha, but also from the Theravadan Indian Bhikkhuni Sangha and samaneris as well.


This is significant as one of the main purposes of having the Pali Tipitaka Recitation in Bodhgaya on a yearly basis was to give support to the revival of the Theravadan Indian Monastic Sangha in its homeland.



Some prehistory of the India journey ~




Last year, I received news from Bhante Sujato, the Australian Abbot of Santi Forest Monastery, (a monastery associated with the lineage of Thai Forest Tradition Master Ajahn Chah), that he had participated in a founding committee meeting for the proposed Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training Center in Bodhgaya.   He related that some land had been proposed for the training center site and recommended coming to India for the Pali Tripitaka Recitation the following year (2008) on my way to accepting an invitation of to visit Santi Forest Monastery in Australia.,


From 10 years ago, i’d heard that 28 Indian women from the Indian State of Maharashtra had gone to Bodghaya to receive bhikkhuni ordination there, in the official revival of the Theravadan Indian Bhikkhuni Sangha, the records of which had disappeared entirely from the 14th century in its homeland.  Inquiries during the past decade into their survival, whereabouts and wellbeing had yeilded not a single fruit.  I wondered if any of them were still alive or not.  Inquiry with the founding committe members of the Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training center about them again yeilded an unknown.  I hoped to find them.


    higher ordination of the bhikkhunis from Maharashtra in Bodhgaya 10 years ago



Although planning to use the frequent flyer miles awards ticket offered by a friend, in a twist of fate, it turned out that the only available destination for me in that area was to Mumbai (Bombay), India, the capital of the State of Maharashtra.  In a second amazing cooincidence, i received my first ever phone call from the Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo, President of Sakyadhita International, and one of the facilitators of the multi-national ordinations which included the Maharashtrian bhikkhunis one decade ago.  She had an address.  In a third stroke of amazing good fortune.  Within 2 weeks of departure for India, Ayya Sudhamma referred me to Bhavana Society’s Bhante Yogavacara Rahula, a regular years visitor to India and meditating pilgrim to the ancient Buddhist caves of Maharashtra such as Ajanta, Ellora, Bhaja and Karle.


Bhante Rahula, just days before his own international departure from Bhavana was able to put me in touch with Bhadant Vishuddhanand Bodhi, an elder Indian bhikkhu from Aurangabad in Maharashtra, who knew of Indian bhikkhunis and samaneris in numbers both at his own Buddha Leni Caves Monastery in Aurangabad, as well as in Bombay, Nalasoppara and five further places in Maharashtra. 


  Bhadant Visuddhanand Bodhi Mahathera


It was great good news.  And not only did he know about the living bhikkhunis, he knew well about the ancient rock cut caves monasteries, many important in the history of the Theravadan Bhikkhuni Sangha in India from the 2nd century BCE through the following 1000 years.  With the discovery of the Bhaja rockcut caves, we knew that the scholastic thesis proposed at the Hamburg Congress on Buddhist Women in July 2007 that "no remains of any ancient bhikkhuni monastery in India has ever been found" to be false.


Bhante Vishuddhanand Bodhi turned out to know Bhante Rahula well, as well as Bhavana Society’s Bhante G (in fact he has stayed at the Bhavana Society!) and to be highly interested in spreading the world amongst the Maharashtrian bhikkhunis and samaneris about the proposed Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training Center in Bodhgaya and the Pali Tipitaka Recitation (but he didn’t let us know this ~ we only found out later.:)  He also organized a First International Bhikkhuni Parisad (Conference) at his home monastery in Aurangabad, in conjuction with the United Nations Observance of International Womens’ Day, to which he invited us. 


Just days before leaving the US for Bombay, we received the news that an Indian monk had been lynched there, hung from the ceiling fan in his Vihara by luxury housing developers (a kind of India Mafia) leading to riots of the very large number of former untouchables (Dalits) resident in Bombay, now liberated by Dr. Babasaheb Ambhedkar and Buddhism. 




Entering India: Mumbai (Bombay) & Nallasopara



This was the invironment that we flew into.  No reply had come to the last emails trying to confirm whether we were meeting anyone at the airport or whether our train tickets to Bodhgaya had ever been obtainable or not.  We went in faith and trust that the "Dhamma upholds those who uphold it."


At the Mumbai Shivaji International Airport, Indian men appeared with palms folded in anjali, bowing, saying "Vandami Mataji" and taking my bags from me.  The beamed and identified themselves with pride as fellow Buddhists.  One after another appeared in the airport and as i stepped outside, saffron robed women appeared in front of me with flowers and garlands that i was soon to be covered in.  Male monastic forms also appeared identifying themselves as the Bhadanta Vishuddhanand Bodhi Bhante with whom i’d had email correspondance and Bhadant Kitipiyo Nagsen (Nagasena), both of whom spoke English.  The saffron-robed women were introduced as Nalasoppara Bhikkhuni Sanghamitra and her 3 samaneri disciples. 



We were soon to discover that although Ven Bhikkhuni Daw Gunasari (age 75, originally from Burma, now resident at Mahapajapati Women’s Monastery in Yucca Valley, Southern California) and our upasika kapiya-karika had arrived well and safely, our third bhikkhuni companion, Ven Bhikkhuni Ayya Satima (age 72, originally from Sri Lanka, now associated with the Minnesota Buddhist Vihara)’s flight from Singapore had been cancelled and that she wouldn’t be arriving until 24 hours later.  As we’d planned to be on the train to Bodhgaya by then this was a dillema, but as it turned out our rail tickets had never been purchased, we were free to wait the additional day for her. 


When inquiring as to what to say in Maharashtrian language (Maharti) in response to people bows and "vandami!," we were instructed that the best words of blessing were "Jayabhim."


Situated in the nearby Railway Hotel, where we discovered a mysterious Western bhikkhu of Thai forest tradition has also stayed recently, we were invited for the next day’s lunch dana in Jayabhim Nagar and to visit the Buddha Vihara there.  We were then left on our own, having affirmed that we would be alright to find the place ourselves the next day by lunchtime .


And eventually we did find it, the tiny, blue Vihara dwarfed and utterly surrounded by the construction of the enourmous lakeside luxury residential and shopping complex that had grown up around it.  We had entered live into the news, for the Bhante Vishuddhand had been pressured by developers to leave, but was holding his ground, his Sangha and friends holding out hope that they would be able to keep and even develop the Vihara there, with the support of their local resident friends. 


And we learned that "Jayabhim" means: jaya=victory, bhim=Dr. Bhima (Baba Saheb) Ambhedkar, the forth refuge of India’s former untouchables.  This was the beginning of what was to be our ongoing education into the amazing life and dedication of Dr. Ambhedkar and the untouchable Buddhist movement in India. 


Within the tiny blue Vinaya (not to be called a "temple" as that is for Hindu shrines) i was quickly introduced to photo albums with the familiar faces of Bhavana’s Bhante Rahula and the mystery monk now identified, Ajahn Jayasaro.



Moments later we were brought straight up and into one of the luxury condomium highrises for our meeting and almsmeal dana with the lovely, highly-educated and socially engaged Buddhist people who could never have previously lived in such a way under the Hindu caste system. 



Nallasopara Ashokan Stupa & Bhikkhuni Vihara


After lunch we were driven north along the Arabian Seacoast, out of Bombay, past the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (site of the Kanheri (Krishnagiri/Black Hills) Caves which are also important in Bhikkhuni Sangha history, and into an area called Thane and within that Nallasopara.


Nallasopara is the ancient area known to Buddhist history as the Sopara Seaport, from which Buddhism travelled abroad greatly in the old days.  Nalla-sopara is the site of the (as yet undeveloped) 3rd century BCE Askokan stupa, built at the site where the Buddha’s contemporary the merchant-turned-bhikkhu, Arahanta Punna, enshrined the Buddha’s almsbowl in the Gandha Khuti built for him at the monastery there.  The area is known to the older texts as Aparanta Pradesh. Those with knowledge of the Great Savaka Disciples of the Buddha might remember Punna Thera for his story which appears in the Mahavagga of the Vinaya texts. 


He is said to have come from a rough area (Nallasopara, Maharashtra).  After his enlightenment he thinks of returning home.  The Buddha asks him whether he will be alright or not to go, as the people there are quite rough, in a series of progressively worsening questions, to all of which Punna Thera replies that, "i will abide with a mind of loving-kindness, grateful that at least they don’t do worse to me."  Until finally he is asked how he will respond if the people go so far as to kill him, to which  he beautifully answers, "then they will have saved me the trouble of it." 


Driving into the area, a peculiar dejavu occured.  The shape and formation of the hills seemed strongly familiar and i felt drawn to them.  Questioning the resting Bhante about our location, he (opening his eyes and looking around) then directed the driver to make a u-turn as we had just missed our turnoff.  The familiarity continued as well went off the main road through an old pass through the hills.  I imagined having walked through there in the past and a sense of nostalgia arose wafting off the rising karmic fermentations. 


First we visited the stupa, quiet, surrounded by trees, undeveloped.  The nearby and surrounding land was hoped to be purchased to return the site to a Buddhist shrine, monastery and meditation center, but is owned largely by Christians and the price of land has skyrocketed with developments there.  Still the site itself is a protected one, and Sanghamitra Bhikkhuni and her samaneris live with the dream that it may be possible.  Apparently the area is part of the homeland of Ashokan emporer’s wife Devi and her children turned monastic missionaries to Sri Lanka, Mahinda Thera and Sanghamitta Theri.




There, i was requested to give the 3 refuges and 5 precepts to the local Buddhist people who had come and to speak a few words of Dhamma.   We had a Dhamma talk then before the crumbling bricks of the stupa on the impermanence of all formations and on the quality of the Dhamma as being like a rock that never crumbles.  Photos were taken which appeared later in the local Buddhist newspaper of our foreign Buddhist monastics’ visit to the holy site of pilgrimage, and we went on about 15 minutes drive away to climb the site of the modern bhikkhuni vihara, up Mahatheri Hill. 




For those interested in supporting or contributing to Venerable Bhikkhuni Sanghamitra’s dream may contact her here:


Sanghamitra Gandhakuti Buddha Vihara Trust (Reg. No. K.E. 3602)

Founder President: Ven. Bhikkhuni S. Sanghamitra, Secretary: Ven. Bhadant Kirtipiyo Nagsen

Mahatheri Hill, Gandhakuti Buddha Vihara, Bhim Nagar

Nallasopara (E), Tal Vasai Dist., Thane 401 209, Mumbai, Maharashrtra, INDIA

Tel: 0250 – 3207707, Mobile: 9890477913. 





Returning to Mumbai that evening we bid farewell to Bhikkhuni Sanghamitra, her samaneris and Bhante Kitipiyo Nagsen at the train station (as they had reserved train tickets to Gaya, and went to meet Ayya Satima’s night flight from Singapore at the Mumbai International Airport.


The following day, before boarding our own night train to Bodhgaya we were to learn much more about the phenomena of the Ambhedkar movement in Maharashtra.



  visit to the Arabian Seacoast Bombay Seagate. 

Sanchian Gate built by the followers of Dr. Ambhekar


  Ashokan Stambha built by the follows of Dr. Ambhedkar



   Our visit to the Memorial Stupa of Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedhkar appears in the Mumbai Buddhist newspaper 



  Inside the memorial stupa of Dr. Ambhedhkar chanting the Buddha’s teaching


here ends the first chapter of our Indian journey.