by Samaneri Sumangala
The 1st Theravada Buddhist Nuns’ Novitiate (Samaneri) Program at SJBA, Malaysia
In the Nidanasamyutta (SN12.65) the Buddha spoke – “Having followed the Noble Eightfold Path and penetrated the links of dependent origination, I explained them to the bhikkhus (monks), bhikkhunis (nuns), upasaka (male followers) and upasika (female followers) so that this spiritual life has become successful, prosperous, extended, popular and wide spread, well proclaimed among gods and humans.”
Around 6th BCE, in the 6th year after the Buddha established the Bhikkhu Sangha, the Buddha established the Bhikkhuni Sangha. With the ordination of Venerable Mahapajapati Gotami and many other women, it marked the liberation of women from all kinds of taboo and beliefs and above all liberation from the cycle of samsara, the ability for enlightenment. It gave women the platform for practice, the opportunity for development and attainment. Since then Bhikkhuni Sangha continue to flourish.
Around two hundred fifty years later 3rd BCE, Venerable Sanghamitta became the 1st Bhikkhuni who travel far from her home land from Pataliputra, India to Sri Lanka to ordain and start the Bhikkhuni Sangha in Sri Lanka. Princess Anula was the 1st to be ordained and the Bhikkhuni Order flourished for more than a thousand year. In 5th CE, bhikkhuni Devasara from Sri Lanka travelled to China to give ordination for Chinese women. Today, with one mission to propagate the Buddha’s teaching and promote the Buddha’s lineage so this spiritual life is well proclaimed, the Bhikkhuni Order spread to many parts of the world – Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, USA and etc.
In Malaysia, following the footstep of the Buddha and inspired by the remarkable eminent Bhikkhunis of the past and present, the 1st Theravada Buddhist Nuns Novitiate Program (TBNNP) was held in Subang Jaya Buddhist Association, Malaysia from 7th to 16th November 2014 by a dedicated team of TBNNP Organising Committee. This program was initiated by Venerable Dhammapala as Program Director and Teacher of TBNNP. The preceptor teacher for the novitiate nuns was Venerable Hasapanna – one of the earliest Theravada bhikkhuni from Malaysia who is a co-abbess of Dhammasara Nuns Monastery, Perth. The Advisor of the TBNNP was Venerable Saranankara Nayaka Maha Thera, the Chief Judiciary Monk of Malaysia. The event was organised by Subang Jaya Buddhist Association (SJBA) in collaboration with Bodhinyana International Foundation, Australia and the Centre of Mindfulness Limited, Hong Kong. It was also welcome and supported by other Buddhist Organisations such as Theravada Buddhist Council Malaysia, Gotami Vihara Society and all the faithful and generous helpers, supporters and well wishers.
In this program, the Fourfold Sangha came together to support one another and propagate the Buddha-Dhamma and Buddha Sasana harmoniously with lovely thoughts, lovely speech and lovely actions and with deep reverence to the Triple Gem. This TBNNP gave opportunity for not only women in Malaysia but also those who come from a far – Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore and China to experience the life of an ordained novice nun or samaneri. The 1st mission is to pave way for potential candidates to step forward to lead a peaceful and fruitful renounce life and be a good example to others as Dhamma is a way of life. The youngest samaneri was 22 years old and the oldest 69. We even have an upasika of 80 years old. They came from all walks of life – a housewife, undergraduate, director of company and etc.
Although it was only 10 days, this program has inspired many people to walk the Dhamma’s way. The following are some of the participants’ insights into their experiences and realizations – a stepping stone to growth. With confidence, dedication and diligence, the Buddha’s dispensation will continue to thrive for the well being, happiness and benefit of the many.
Manori Tan KC
- I have a better understanding of monastic life and a deeper understanding of dharma.
- It makes me aware of the challenges that Theravada nuns are facing in the current environment.
- I think we need to do more to help the Bhikkhuni Order.
- I always rejoice with this wholesome experience.
Sumita Lim EB
- Those 10-days monastic experience will be very dear and deep in my heart for my constant contemplation.
- During alms-round, I experienced a very strong feeling of inter-dependency and mutual support of the 4-fold Sangha.
- The advice of “if the condition is not favourable for you to be a bhikkhuni, BE A BHIKKHUNI IN THE HEART” truly touched my inner heart. It will long be a part of this karmic nature for now!
- I was in tears when this question was asked and understood deep inside me: everyone has to walk this purification path alone.
- However, the bhikkhuni, samaneri and upasika need to be united, to be strong mentally and physically. They have to stay strong together to care for each other sincerely while walking this Noble 8-Fold Path.
Sundari Yu MY
- A great pity that we could not interact though we have the same target in life. We were advised to observe noble silence.
- However, I could concentrate learning the meaning and the Buddhist goal in life.
- The monks and the nuns transmitted and conveyed true metta – loving kindness for us to experience.
- I enjoyed and grasped the essence of the dhamma talks.
- Hmm… we are well fed with tenderly care.
Varuna Ng PH
Patience and perseverance are the two beautiful and great experiences which helped me throughout the 10 days program. They may sound simple to others, however not easy to practise, especially to someone who is impatient like me. We learnt how to put on robes with different styles without dropping it off! It’s a challenging mission – got to be mindful all the time. However, never give up things easily as the success could be just after that very moment while we felt giving up. So I learnt, I practised, I gained and benefited.’ Humbly and sincerely I would like to thank all Venerables for their patience, compassion and guidance. Thanks to Venerable Sumangala for being so understanding and patience with me – thank you for allowing me to stay on till the end of the BNNP. I wish I could get well and join Venerable very soon.
Jayanti Ong PH
In this novitiate programme, I learnt to be mindful, graceful in my action and remind myself I am leading a different way of life now. There is something I learnt from the Kappiya (attendant) during the pindapata which I would like to share. Each time when there are steps, she will alert me to ensure I don’t fall down. She also offer plaster if I need it (as we walk barefoot for more than 2 km and on certain stretch spiky tar road). When we return to SJBA, she squat down and wash my feet. Quite surprise but the respect, humility she showed to “the robe” impressed me. Hope I have merits to share with her and everyone 🙂
A short experience for a lay person, the closest as can be with the Sangha. The Living of this kind is most excellent. The Sangha are worthy of offering, salutation and support – is the conclusion.
Sumana Koh MH
Putting on the robes, cleaning the temple ground, listen to insightful Dhamma talks, living harmoniously, lead a simple life is just a wonderful and memorable days for me although it is just only for 10days. It will remain with me for the rest of my life and this is what l benefited from the program. “EHI PASSIKO” Come and see for yourself …
It was a truly enriching experience and no appropriate words can describe the joy I felt after completing the ten days’ program.
Kusuma Ng NH
- Mindfulness can be applied everywhere, including house-keeping activities, eating and physical exercises. As long as we know what we are doing, moment to moment (here and now). Mindfulness is not necessarily only through sitting and walking meditation.
- No expectation for meditation, I faced hindrances and end up physically and mentally tired the first 2 days. After clarification from Venerables, I found my mind and body relax and I can perform better in my meditation.
- To experience Dhamma, it must be through practice and implementation and not through how many suttas or knowledge we knew.
Sati, Rita Lai, Hong Kong
Coming from a Mahayana Buddhist school, this is the first time I came into contact with Pali chanting, the rituals and theology of Theravada Buddhism. It is not without surprise to me. In the end, I do admire the beauty in the simplicity of Theravada Buddhism, of following only what the Buddha said and focus on putting Buddha’s teachings into practice.
Deeply moved and most grateful to the Ven.Dhammapala, the Ven. ladies and the impressive Subang Jaya Buddhist Association, supporters and laity for the well-thought programme, the teachings, the enthusiasm and sincere attendance to participants with genuine loving kindness. Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu !
Thank you, sisters, for being such an amicable community. I can see and feel the positivity radiating from the group. Come on, future nuns. Sadhu Sadhu Sadhu !