This month, in honour of International Bhikkhuni Day on 12 September, instead of writing my own reflections I’d like to share part of an article by two bhikkunis (fully-ordained nuns), Ayya Santacitta and Ayya Santussika, who are also climate-change activists.
I’ve had the good fortune to meet Ayya Santacitta a few times, both when I was on staff at IMS and more recently in San Francisco at Alokha Vihara, the monastery she helped establish with Ayya Anandabodhi. The monastery has since moved to a more rural area near Placerville, California, and friends of mine are helping to organise support for the sisters and their monastery with a special ceremony on International Bhikkhuni Day.
Even though you may not be in a position to visit Alokha Vihara yourself, perhaps you might consider offering a donation in support of the pioneering work these nuns are doing, not only in terms of providing a training monastery for women, but also to find ways of addressing the climate crisis.
You can find more information about the “friend-raising” and “fund-raising” event here:
On the Front Lines
By Ayya Santacitta & Ayya Santussika
We women monastics don’t have the privilege of shutting ourselves off from the need for change. Because we are not part of the establishment, we live our lives on the front lines. As bhikkhunis, what pulls us to the front lines of climate change is the pioneering spirit of the bhikkhuni movement itself. We are already going against the grain to reestablish the order of fully ordained Theravada nuns; we’re willing to step out of a patriarchal system and create something new. And because we lack the “golden handcuffs” of abundant financial support, we don’t have to worry about keeping everybody happy. We have the freedom to respond to the urgent needs of the day, applying the Buddha’s teachings to the crises humanity faces now.
We are working to pass on to the next generation a presentation of the Dhamma that is applicable to this day and age. A contemporary Dhamma has to be embodied by both female and male monastics, otherwise many people will turn away, thinking this religion doesn’t recognize the clear truth that women and men alike are both sorely needed as leaders. The Dhamma must not be confined to the old order of things, which is very much about dominating nature, taking what you can get and throwing back what you don’t want. This is the way women—and the environment—have been treated for centuries. As bhikkhunis, we are stepping out of that.
… Some people may say, “We don’t want our monastics to be political.” But if we monastics are not addressing this very concrete, desperate, ethical issue, then we’re not doing our job. In fact, we find that most people feel a sense of relief when they hear monastics break the silence and speak clearly about the environment and how this topic fits into the framework of the Dhamma. Our aim is to bring a bit more sanity to an urgent situation so that people are able to act effectively. This is what the Buddha did when people were in crisis; he placed it in the bigger context of the reality of aging, sickness, death and rebirth. The crisis of climate change can be framed in these same terms. It’s the death of a worldview and a way of life based on fossil fuels. The kind of rebirth the human family will experience depends on our actions now.
Addressing the environmental crisis in the context of the Dhamma does not mean we will never feel overwhelmed and paralyzed. But when we do, we work with those mind-states using the Buddha’s tools for understanding the mind. When the mind becomes depressed, we need to bring balance to what we’re doing. Here, we can apply the same energy, attention, skillfulness, agility and malleability needed to scramble up the mountain of enlightenment. We move the mind in a direction that’s wholesome so we can continue to act and to awaken. If we do this in accordance with truth, our actions to address the climate crisis are no different than practicing for awakening.
This essay was drawn from an interview conducted by Dennis Crean, former managing editor of Inquiring Mind (1998-2011) and Martha Kay Nelson, also an editor of the Mind (2011-present).
From Inquiring Mind, Vol. 31, #2 (Spring 2015)
The full essay is available here: