Just over two weeks ago, we relinquished our lovely little rented Bhikkhuni Vihara to her new owners. When the 4-bed Victorian terrace previously went up for sale, our charity considered buying it, but decided to hold out until we are in a practical and financial position to find something bigger. Thankfully, around the same time and due to covid, the owner delayed the sale and we were able to extend our contract for another year. During the two and a half blessed years I lived on Jeune Street, we operated both as a mini urban monastery ~ hosting guests from Europe and as far afield as Hawaii and Singapore ~ and as an online Dhamma dispensary, serving hundreds of people from around the globe. From the first UK lockdown in March 2020, our lovely dwelling became the birthplace of “Zoomi Bhikkhuni” and filled up no longer with guests, but with the inspired energy of Dhamma service, giving rich meaning and purpose to the solitude that I more often enjoyed than endured! Behind the scenes I put long hours into developing the project and our wonderful volunteer teams, and with the help of many, including my Revered Teacher Ajahn Brahm, we were able to offer a regular teaching programme to support one another, during various stages of lockdown.
It was also in Oxford that I spent my very first bhikkhuni vassa (rains’ retreat) in the UK, last year. This was my 15th vassa as a nun and 7th as a bhikkhuni, (owing to the eight years I spent previously in Myanmar and Australia as a samaneri (novice), before I was able to find an opportunity to take bhikkhuni ordination ~ not an uncommon trajectory for a female monastic!). To the best of my knowledge, this was also the first vassa any Theravada bhikkhuni had spent in the UK, in a fit for purpose bhikkhuni dwelling! That 3-month retreat period was one of deep gratitude, contentment and peace, made possible only by the generosity of hundreds of known and unknown people who offered their practical and moral support.
Whilst I feel some sadness that Britain’s first Bhikkhuni Residence is no more, I am satisfied and grateful for all we have accomplished together so far. Our monastery vision is alive and gaining momentum, and I am highly optimistic that our warm-hearted community will continue to grow and meet our aims. But for now, it is time for retreat!
I am pleasantly surprised by the remote and pretty location of our rented retreat cottage in rural Wiltshire, which is excellent for quiet meditation. As I gradually settle in and become oriented to the change, I can feel my body and mind relaxing and slowing down. There were a few teething problems ~ the first Tesco delivery driver got lost, only to arrive 4 hours and 38 emails later at 10pm! ~ but those problems seem to be solved! There is barely any mobile signal, but internet is working well, so my Skype interviews with Ajahn Brahm can proceed, and I am breathing many a sigh of relief and delight to turn inward.
Before I fully disappear with your blessings, I wish to express heartfelt gratitude to all our wonderful friends and supporters whose confidence in our project – and in me – spurs me on; and to all those who have contributed ~ and continue to contribute ~ in big and small ways towards developing a peaceful and welcoming “Forest Monastery,” where women will have the opportunity to renounce and live the Holy Life proclaimed by the Buddha in its fullness, perfect and pure.
May all beings end suffering and realise Nibbana, with minimum hassle and maximum bliss! May every step we take on this glorious Path be motivated by the compassionate intention to benefit all beings, including ourselves. May we all continue to find the encouragement, inspiration and strength to gently meet, understand and finally end suffering and along the way become beacons of light, hope and direction to others.
If you wish to support Anukampa during this time, you can make a monthly, or a one-off donation of any amount here: www.anukampaproject.org/donate. There is a programme of events during my retreat period, with guest teachers Ayya Anandabodhi Bhikkhuni and Ayya Cittananda as well as peer-led groups, see www.anukampaproject.org/events. Our property search committee continue to work towards finding a permanent base ~ and don’t forget to sign up for our online December retreat with Ajahn Brahm and I!