Report on the Opening Ceremony of Gotami Vihara

The Opening Ceremony of Gotami Vihara, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was graced by the presence of Venerable Saranankara and another Venerable from Sentul, Venerable Siridhamma, Venerable Santini, Venerable Dhammananda, Venerable Dr. Lieu Phap, Venerable Bhikkhuni Nhu The, Venerable Bhikkhuni Nhu Lien, Venerable Bodhicitta Theri, Venerable Sonam Wangmo, Venerable Karma Tashi Choedron, Sister Sumangala, Sayalay Paramacari and Maechi Kai Ping, Sister Ai Lin and Upasika Phuong Anh from Vietnam. About a hundred devotees, some from out of town came to rejoice with us.

The day began after breakfast dana with the first session of the Workshop for renunciants by Venerable Dhammananda who took us back in a lively mood to the time of the Buddha with the “History of Mahapajapati Gotami,’ the first woman in the Bhikkhuni Order.

At 10am, the opening of Gotami Vihara started with our very experienced and creative emecee Sister Wong Lai Ngee setting the pace for a very vibrant and memorable celebration. There was an air of reverence and peace when a line up of three Bhikkhus and thirteen Bhikkhunis and samaneris filed into the hall. This was followed with the offering of lights, flowers and fruits by participants of the Workshop and well-wishers. As they came in single file into the hall in silent mindfulness, we forgot to put on the music. Our emecee quickly rose to the occasion by spontaneously singing the ‘Buddam Saranam Getchami’ and we broke into song!

Sister Barbara Yen, Pro-tem President of the Support Network later welcomed everyone present and shared on how the Support Network started which led to the establishment of Gotami Vihara. The Vihara is dedicated to women renunciants in Malaysia where they can have a safe and conducive place to stay and practise. It also serves as a transit point for local and visiting nuns and is a temporary premise until we achieve our goal of getting a place of our own. Long term goals will be to support the renunciants in their educational and health needs.

In supporting the renunciants, we are helping the Buddha bring back a flourishing Four-fold Sangha and thus help to prolong the Buddha Sasana through their services to the community. She thanked Venerable Saranankara Thera, Venerable Anandajoti, Venerable Santini and Venerable Upekkha for their inspiration and guidance as spiritual advisors. She also thanked the great team of committee members and volunteers who had made the event possible.

We then invited Venerable Saranankara to conduct the Chanting and Blessings of the Vihara after which Venerable Dhammananda, our guest of honour shared her thoughts on the occasion.

Then the hall reverberated with the powerful singing of a great soprano, Sister Au Yang Yao Chih in the ‘Voice of Celebration’ with the hymns she composed, ‘The Buddha Was Born,’ and ‘Great Is The Buddha.’ This was blended with the soulful and mesmerising voice of Brother M.V. Nathan, enchanting us with three hymns, ‘Ho On Ko,’ ‘Tiratana’ and ‘Morning Gatha.’

This was followed by Venerable Saranankara who expressed his thoughts on how we could all live together in Peace and Harmony. It was difficult not to notice Venerable’s joy on this occasion as he had long aspired to see the nuns in Malaysia being supported and had shared his pain to see some of them disrobe for the lack of it.

Sister Au Yang rounded up the morning with a closing hymn, ‘The Spirit of Compassion.’ I felt her great voice nearly shattered the glasses and the new window panes around! Venerable Boddhicitta helped us with the dedication of merits. When Venerable Saranankara was invited to perform the blessings to the devotees, he graciously requested Venerable Santini to do it instead, saying that it was a Bhikkhunis’ event.

The celebration ended right on time at 11.30am. The hall was transformed in no time into a dining area for sixteen monastics. And there was so much food – dana from devotees, from the Maha Karuna group and also catered food.

After lunch, the Workshop resumed till 5pm. Among the Venerables who shared their experience of going forth and Bhikkhuni ordination were Venerable Santini, Venerable Dr. Lieu Phap, Venerable Bodhicitta and Sister Sumangala. Devotees like Dr. Lai Suat Yan, Sister Low Mi Yen, Sister Lee Yuk Suat who are lecturer, clinical psychologist, counsellor and corporate trainers volunteered to share their skills and expertise in areas of personal growth, assertiveness and communication skills.

To keep a healthy mind and body, Venerable Bodhicitta led a session on metta meditation, healthy eating by dietician Sister Felicia Ng, while Sister Lim See Pei and Sister Wong Lai Ngee demonstrated the benefits of yoga and qi gong respectively.

Some of the devotees, many of whom were men, arrived early to sit in at the Workshop and also stayed after lunch to attend the rest of the sessions. They expressed their views and sought clarification on many issues. They returned the next day for the rest of the sessions as well. The interest and support shown by them was really heart-warming.

In Appreciation – Donations in Cash and Kind

We would like to extend our gratitude and appreciation to everyone especially our donors who helped to get this project started and we hope that we will be able to make it a success with your continued support. At the Opening, we received about RM6,000 in donation. One of our friends, Brother Jeen Lim of the Buddhist Business Network went round with the donation box which we named ‘Letting Go Box’ and that helped fill it up. It was on loan to us from Setenang Buddhist Society.

Venerable Dr. Lieu Phap gifted us with a lovely 50 x 80 picture of lotus flowers done in intricate tapestry. Most of the items on our wish list were donated except for the following: 2 foldable seminar tables, chest of drawers (2) for the bedrooms, thermo pot and three donation boxes.

After the celebration was over, Venerable Santini who was supposed to stay on till 14 June to supervise and give guidance to some renunciants, cut short her stay to 11 June to help another Buddhist society with a retreat. In the evenings, Venerable was invited by other societies for Dhamma talks. We accompanied Venerable to some of these talks and were amazed by her stories of how she managed to get children as young as five year olds to be so enthusiastic with meditation retreats.

Venerable also accepted an invitation from Sister Soong of Aloka Foundation Malacca for a Dhamma talk there. She and two of her devotees came to share our joy in our Opening Ceremony and cooked us delicious nyonya food!

Our gratitude and special thanks go to Venerable Anandajoti who although he could not be with us for the Opening, was with us in spirit. He was the prime mover of this Network and was instrumental in maintaining our blog. Brother M.J Chai from Singapore had helped us start it up.

Those who could not be with us due to the school holidays and public holiday that day or were on retreats, sent their congratulatory messages on “this excellent and noble effort” including Ajahn Brahmavamso, Venerable Sujato, Venerable Upekkha, Sister Judy Chua, Sister Amy Khaw, Brother Benny Liow, Sister Julie Tan and Brother Charlie Chia who described it as “a historic and momentous day for Buddhism in Malaysia.”

It is impossible to mention the names of about a hundred friends who came. However a special mention goes to Uncle and Mrs Vijaya, Datin Catherine Lai, Bro. Tan Ho Soon, Sis Doris Ngan, Sis Paruadi, Sis Ling and Bro. Rob Moult, Mrs. Thean, Sister Dorres Fam, Bro. Billy Tan, Bro. Jerry Khoo, Bro. Khor Song Joo, Bro Lim Chin Kah, Bro Benny Ng. Datuk Victor Wee and some Dhamma friends dropped by in the evening. All their presence meant so much to us.

Perhaps the most joyous outcome of the Opening is the idea of forming the Asian Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha Association (ATBSA) by the Bhikkhunis present that day. A wave has begun and we were glad that we could see it happen in our life-time! We wish them every success in their endeavour.

The whole proceeding of the Opening and Workshop is now available on our blog through the untiring and dedicated efforts of Bro. Lim Teik Leong and our photographers, Sis. Quek Mei Joon and Bro. Lim Chung Lu who gave us many beautiful and candid recordings and shots. They are available on:

https://snfwrenms.wordpress.com/ https://dl.dropbox.com/u/42405246/Gotami%20Vihara.rar, https://www.dropbox.com/s/wl3co233vx5rprr/2012-6-2%2C%20Opening%20of%20Gotami%20Vihara%20%28photo%20by%20Lim%20Chung%20Lu%29.zip.
The recording of the hymn singing is on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPrN2Aa-qIM

Anumodana. May you be well and happy.

Barbara Yen,
President,
Support Network for Women Renunciants in Malaysia and Singapore

yyyen46@gmail.com

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