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12th Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering

On June 30th, 2006, I attended the 12th Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering. It met on the east coast after many years of meeting annually on the west coast. Monastics, both male and female, from all over the country and beyond came by plane, train and car to joined together for five days, renewing old friendships and making new ones, encouraging and sometimes inspiring each other in the Left Home Life.        



Link to Other pictures - Male Monastics - Female Monastics

We were hosted by The Bhavana Society in High View, West Virginia, a Theravada Forest Monastery and Meditation Center. Set in a forest with Kutis (individual cabins) space out among the trees, with winding paths for walking  to the sound of rushing creek and  rustling leaves and the croaks of frogs in the lily pond, a meditation hall (Buddha Hall) open for silent meditation between programs, a library where one could follow up on a thought or check their email, a large dining hall, and a Sangha room where the monastics could sit and get to know each other over a cup of tea.

In this beautiful setting, forty one monastics from all different traditions spent five days practicing together, listening to learned masters and discussing this years topic “Holding the Ancient Traditions.” It was especially helpful to hear insights from different traditions which expanded our understanding of each others’  practices and brought us closer together as a group.

At this point I would like to say that the monastics and lay people associated with The Bhavana Society did an outstanding job. With so many monastics coming to and from the airports and train stations at different times of day, a superb job of organization was done and with good humor. The food they prepared was excellent and because some monastics have different food rules, they bent over backwards to see that no one went without. 

Bhante Gunaratana opened and closed the proceedings. Rev. Daishin Yalon from Shasta Abbey, a Soto Zen Monastery gave the first presentation after which we broke up into groups for discussions of the presented topic. While the talks were illuminating, the discussions helped deepen our understanding from various points of view. Some of the topics were the Vinaya (rules for monastics), Celibacy, Tibetan Tantric practice, and Bhikkhuni/Bhikhsuni ordination both in traditions that were resuming it after hundreds of years and those that had never had it. Among speakers who made presentations were Ven. Heng Liang, a Bhikhsuni from the Chinese Chan tradition, Bhante Bodhi, a Theravada Bhikkhu, Ven. Thubten Chodron, a Bhikhsuni from a Tibetan tradition, and Khenmo Nyima Drolma, a Bhikhsuni from another Tibetan tradition. With so many traditions represented it was a very colorful group with robes ranging from deepest brown and maroon to brightest yellow and orange.   

We had many new experiences as we participated in the life of the Bhavana Society. The mornings started off with Yoga followed by Meditation and Devotional Pali Chanting. After breakfast, the first presentation was followed by group discussions.  Lunch was followed by Tai Chi lead by Ven. Ji Ru, a Mahayana Bhikhsu from Indonesia.  The afternoon presentation  and discussions started at 3 p.m. followed by tea and allowable medical food. Later in the meditation hall  a bit more discussion and meditation. On Wednesday morning, some of us were driven into Winchester, Virginia for a Pindapata (alms round). It was kept fairly short as it was new to some of us who come from traditions that don’t encourage alm round practice. 

All in all, the forty one participants were made up of fourteen nuns and twenty seven monks and represented approximately ten Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions. The fully ordained monastics ranged in Dharma age from 59 years to two weeks. The richness of Dharma study and monastic living experience of this group was an example and encouragement of living the Left Home Life especially appreciated by the younger participants.  

Next year it will be held in Sacramento in June.