Crawling out from under a rock in Gidgegannup, I felt like a neanderthal arriving at Heathrow airport. Prepared with a stack of letters proving that it was alright to enter a country without money, I stood on the 300 or so long e-immigration line that was manned by two people. It may have been Ajahn Brahm and Ven Canda sending metta at the time, but more likely that immigration officers were on strike – I arrived in the UK safely, and my long-awaited visit to Ven Canda had finally come to be.
Peering into a computer screen in the mornings and putting on my thick coat to walk down the quaint streets of Iffley towards the Thames in the afternoons, I wonder at how transient life can be. Having joined a forest monastery almost 14 years ago, I would never have imagined I would be sitting in front of a computer in a small terraced house in Oxford. As our abbot at Dhammasara, Ajahn Hasapanna often says, ‘Whatever you least expected – is probably what will happen’.
It has been a privilege to be part of and witness the growing community taking shape around Anukampa Bhikkhuni Vihara. Having known Ven Canda since before we took bhikkhuni ordination together in 2014, I know how hard she has worked (and still does). A Bhikkhuni Vihara in the UK is a reality. There is a dana hall, a meditation hall, and rooms for nuns and lay guests.
More inspiring than the Vihara (not to be under-estimated, a roof over our heads!) are all those who have come by. Some long-term Buddhists and others inspired by Ven Canda’s ongoing Zoom sessions; the generosity and sincerity of everyone involved is palpable.
The highlight for me so farwas an invitation from the Oxford Buddha Vihara to teach on their eight-precept day. We were warmly welcomed by the bhikkhu community and Venerable Mahasena proudly introduced the two bhikkhunis in the neighbourhood to his supporters.
A long-term supporter of the OBV wrote afterwards in an email:
“It’s just dawning on me how yesterday was such a historical moment – the four-fold assembly meeting together at the Oxford Buddha Vihara in joy and harmony! Because it was so relaxed and informal it might be easy to miss the significance of the event, but I will always remember it.”
I have been very fortunate in my monastic life – to have the opportunity to practice as a fully-ordained nun, in a harmonious community in a vast forest. But I stand on the shoulders of giants. Those who had the guts to make it possible for women to live the Holy Life to its fullest – and those brave women and bhikkhunis who went before me.
May I be able to give back some of all that I have received,
Venerable Upekkha 🙂