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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

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)