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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
year it will be held in Sacramento in June.