June 7, 2022

Guided By Faith - Ayya Santussika

Guided By Faith - Ayya Santussika

On this episode of Spirit Stories our guest is Ayya Santussika, the abbott of Karuna Buddhist Vihara in northern California.
Ayya Santussika was born in Illinois in 1954 and grew up on a farm in Indiana. While being a single mother, she received BS and M...


On this episode of Spirit Stories our guest is Ayya Santussika, the abbott of Karuna Buddhist Vihara in northern California.

Ayya Santussika was born in Illinois in 1954 and grew up on a farm in Indiana. While being a single mother, she received BS and MS degrees in computer science. She worked as a software designer and developer for fifteen years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her search for deeper meaning and ways to be of service led her to train as an interfaith minister in a four-year seminary program that culminated in a Masters of Divinity degree. She began traveling in Asia from 1999, learning from master teachers, particularly in Thailand. It was these experiences, along with time spent at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in California that caused her faith to develop to the point of choosing to live and practice as a Theravadan nun.

Ayya Santussika entered monastic life as an anagarika (eight-precept nun) in 2005, then ordained as a samaneri (ten-precept nun) in 2010 and a bhikkhuni (311 rules) in 2012 at Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles. She has trained in large and small communities of nuns, including Amaravati and Chithurst monasteries of the Ajahn Chah tradition in England.

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May you be happy!

Sol

Transcript

Auto-generated transcript of the interview - expect errors!

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00:00.00
sol_hanna
Welcome to Treasure Mountain venerable. How are you this day?

00:04.25
Ayya Santussika
I'm doing quite Well thank you. How are you?

00:07.51
sol_hanna
I'm doing well as well. Um, look when I was researching about you in preparation for this interview I discovered that you've had so many different experiences and that there are so many parts to your life that I really need 2 or 3 hours to really do justice to your story. And my first question is how did you manage to fit so much into 1 lifetime. You must feel tired.

00:28.38
Ayya Santussika
I am absolutely tired for sure! Yes I think it's karma Actually I do I think that this lifetime for me is cleaning up a lot of karma.

00:33.79
sol_hanna
Ah, look ah do you really?

00:46.90
sol_hanna
Ah, well I think you do it a good job I paid a lot of ground look because we don't have ah so much time to do justice to your whole stories day I thought we'd dip into parts of your life that perhaps listeners can relate to. So to start off I'd like to ask you a little bit about your early life now I believe that you were raised in what was a fairly fundamentalist Christian family. How did that end up influencing your spiritual journey.

01:15.52
Ayya Santussika
Well, it is true that it was a pretty fundamentalist Christian environment all around us. Not just my family. Ah the whole community the whole area. And there were many churches in the small town that we lived near but they all were about the same except there was 1 Catholic Church which is supposed to be very different but I did something very naughty when I was a teenager and I went to the catholic church with some of my friends. Um, not that they said the exact same things little little bit of dealing and a few statues. But other than that it was the same now I want to clarify and it is related to answering your question. It wasn't something naughty in regards to my parents. They wouldn't have thought it was anything wrong with that and that was part of what really shaped my spiritual journey. My parents didn't really quite agree with the church. They um. Particularly my mother was very adamant that she could not imagine people who are good going to hell regardless of what they believe so there were a lot of discussions. After we would go to the Sunday services about what the minister said about correct behavior and I really this this wasn't just my parents. It was also my grandparents on both sides. So. My family was really engaged in religion in a way that was had a had a deep investigation to it and so I learned how to question and to search so I feel like that really. Created the platform for me to look at other religions and ultimately find the answers to the questions that seem to be unanswerable before that in buddhism.

03:35.29
sol_hanna
That's a really interesting answer just before I go on was the sense that it was a bit of rebellion was the sense that in the community where you grew up that there was this kind of divide almost between if you were protestant or Catholic was that was that the perception.

03:48.80
Ayya Santussika
Yes, yes yeah.

03:52.00
sol_hanna
But at the same time within your family There was a sense of um, not just tolerance but almost like an open-mindedness. Um I say this about my wife is from the Philippines from a catholic background. But I say that filipinos are like they're catholics of the heart they they're not very. Ideological is that perhaps how your family was.

04:13.88
Ayya Santussika
I would say that was true at least in varying degrees not with all family members but certainly my mother she recalled when she was young living you know on a farm. Yeah um, in a farming. Area where there was one Catholic family and they were shunned and the man of that family said to her father. My grandfather don't we all have the same God and it it was clear that my my mother's family felt differently.

04:50.94
sol_hanna
M.

04:53.17
Ayya Santussika
And and she certainly did my father's family was a little more into the calvinist approach some of my aunties would say pretty soon. We're all gonna be in hell things like that.

05:11.82
sol_hanna
Whoa, Yeah, right.

05:13.30
Ayya Santussika
Name is written in the book of life or it's not it was all pretty dark. You know, very yes and and at the same time My my family my father in particular he had these ideas about how we should live.

05:19.95
sol_hanna
That's pretty fatalistic too.

05:32.92
Ayya Santussika
Much more in a much more austere way in a much less happy way. But that's not how we lived and that's he would talk about how yes there shouldn't be music and church There shouldn't be um. You know any kind of activity on Sunday including using electricity and you know, but then we would do whatever not not very moral but you know go for ice cream at the dairy queen on Sunday it was a big deal in that community. Um.

05:59.78
sol_hanna
Um, yeah, right, right? right.

06:07.57
Ayya Santussika
But my family enjoyed nature and really dedicated to each other's you know family very family oriented and and very upright and moral and questioning not going just going along with what they were told.

06:21.30
sol_hanna
Yeah, this is really interesting and I think it really goes against perhaps what some people might have in terms of stereotypes about a more evangelical christianity or fundamental christianity is that there is that real. Ah, interest in in a lot of cases and orientation towards a spiritual life and morality as Well. So it sounds to me like you got something good out of it. You were able to draw the good out of that upbringing. Yeah.

06:48.80
Ayya Santussika
Um, yes, yes.

06:51.39
sol_hanna
Have you had any I mean you've obviously taken a very different path in life have you managed to um, stay on good terms with your family because and I asked this question because I know that yeah wouldn't You wouldn't be the only person in this situation. Many people who've in the west have. Adopted a buddhist path some of them have not been able to stay in touch with their family. How how has it worked for you.

07:17.40
Ayya Santussika
Well went with my with my mother. It was great because she I don't know if you probably know my son became a monk in the thai forest tradition when he was 24 and that's how I was I introduced to the doma. And my mother. Um so dedicated to all of her grandchildren and and her children wanted to visit my son and she actually went to Thailand to witness his vicu ordination her first time ever to go to Asia.

07:53.56
sol_hanna
And.

07:55.68
Ayya Santussika
I was supposed to go with her but my daughter got in a major car accident five days before we were supposed to leave. There was no way I could go anywhere and so she went and when she came back, she was glowing and could talk about nothing else. But the Dhamma and the monks and the whole experience and she really she really loved it and then after that every time I went to Thailand she came with me for maybe another 8 times and she.

08:16.95
sol_hanna
Well.

08:28.85
sol_hanna
Wow, That's amazing.

08:32.65
Ayya Santussika
At 1 point she said this is what I've been looking for all my life.

08:35.30
sol_hanna
Wow How And how unexpected.

08:38.89
Ayya Santussika
Yeah, my father had already passed away but sometimes my mother would say you know I think your dad would be would would be into this I think he would get it. Um, but it didn't necessarily catch with the rest of my family. My. My brother. My only others my only sibling my brother became more and more fundamentalist as he got older and he is part of the Southern Baptist community and he really feels like I've gone the wrong way and.

09:14.43
sol_hanna
Um.

09:17.32
Ayya Santussika
And now that my mother has passed away. We don't have much contact. So yeah, it doesn't work all the time for family members and I feel like he's a good person and um. And so am I and I have no doubts about what I'm doing and I really have no doubts that Jesus would be totally okay with what fact there was a point where I surrendered my life to god and I feel like that's what got me where I am.

09:49.71
sol_hanna
Wow, That is so interesting. Yeah, okay, that is a very different story I Really I Really like that and actually that leads me to my next question because I think for a lot of people who maybe they come from a Christian background from a theistic Understanding. Ah. And then they are drawn to buddhism for for whatever reasons and I know people here in my own community who are a little bit like this. It creates a bit of conflict moving from that theistic to a non-theistic understanding. Um, and I think a lot of listeners would be grappling with that. What was that journey like for you. How did you reconcile that.

10:31.47
Ayya Santussika
Well, ah I think this term um, borrowing from technology field mostly is so it was a real paradigm shift. It's like I had to really change the way I was thinking and the way I saw things and I did it because. I saw how good the monks were in the ajan cha group and how you know they were really living their faith their religion. They were really living what the Buddha taught to the best of their ability as far as I could see and. And I was very impressed by that and the things that they said make made sense and and that's what also got my mother interested it really made sense with one's life experience and also some I had been meditating already and I had for a long time and I had. Various experiences that were described by the buddha and I was like whoa. That's what that was and but it really it did take um some deep searching to shift or to understand where that.

11:33.46
sol_hanna
So yeah.

11:50.50
Ayya Santussika
Theistic concept where that fits and the way I the way that unfolded for me was that I would listen to the doma. The monks would talk about. They're not being an all powerful all present all-knowing God and that made sense to me too because some of the questions around how can an all knowing all prison all powerful and all loving God Kind of. Allow this San Sara conditions to continue those kinds of questions and and when I when I um had these feelings like this incredible love for God and for other beings. I had to what I did was following the teachings of the Buddha really look at what I'm layering on that experience with my conceptual ideas and you know what if I just drop. My preconceived notions or what I had been told before what's Left. What can I experience directly and I started to realize that my concept of God and my concept of me were very related.

13:25.56
sol_hanna
I Ah true.

13:27.84
Ayya Santussika
I Wanted to postulate that God is there with a plan for my life. No less and that made something solid that I could think of as myself and so the willingness to drop all that.

13:32.62
sol_hanna
M.

13:45.84
Ayya Santussika
Comes from a very strong desire to know what's true, really true regardless of what it's going to upset in terms of my you know structure of my perception of reality or what I believe in or what ah what I think who I think I am or anything else so that determination to really just really just see what's actually there and not add anything to it and then come to the conclusion. The Buddha was right? not because I was being told that but because I could see that for myself.

14:29.88
sol_hanna
Wow so it was that sense of that search for truth that help you to cut through any clinging or to to previous ideas and so forth. Wow that's ah that's important um look I'd like to skip ahead now and talk about. Spiritualque in Thailand and you mentioned previously that you went there maybe around about 8 times or so um, wow that's quite a few times. It's a it's a long trip from the United States um

14:53.85
Ayya Santussika
Goes more actually my mom came along about 8 times. But.

15:06.87
sol_hanna
Listeners may be interested to know that you came into contact with the Thai forest tradition in a somewhat unconventional way in that it was your son who became a bi who um, could you tell us just a little bit about um how that unfolded and um, you know. How are you went from going to just visit your son to coming to have faith and confidence in in the buddhism and the Thai forest tradition in particular.

15:36.49
Ayya Santussika
While my son and I both became serious about the spiritual path at the same time and it was the result of my father's sudden death excuse me.

15:59.19
Ayya Santussika
My father was a farmer. He was very active healthy. He was in a family that lived into their 90 s or over 100 and we never would have thought. He would just die one day at the age of 69 those expectations of course make it a lot more shocking when something happens and the result for my son and for me both I was then 40 and he was 20 and I realized I didn't have any skills or understanding that could help me deal with this I really had no idea what happens when we die and my son. At that time was a jazz pianist getting his degree in jazz performance at the Berkeley school of music in Boston and and he stood at the graveside and he said. This is real and everything I'm doing in my life is not and so we both became serious and started searching and he almost immediately found Buddhism because of ah of a course he was taking. In college and he started meditating at the Cambridge insight meditation group and just really from there started going to korean centers doing retreats and various things and it. Ah. So the 2 of us were talking regularly about what we were learning what we were thinking how it was going and then when he decided he wanted to become a buddhist monk I was very interested in what that was going to look like and there's quite a bit of. Stuff in between but fast forward when he got to Thailand he finally said I found it and I want to stay here and of course I was really interested in visiting him and I showed up about six months later or so and I spent a month at wapping on a chat and.

18:08.50
sol_hanna
Efficient.

18:24.50
Ayya Santussika
I was pretty deep into practicing in the yoga tradition and the interfaith kind of center and really liking the Kirton and you know the very very. Kind of enthusiastic and still very theistic and um and that first visit really exposed me to living by the 5 precepts which you know takes a ah. Um, well I want to say it held at a higher level than ordinary just kind of good morality I felt you know like growing up on a farm. There's no real concept of there being something wrong with killing insects or animals. Even though it felt horrible I didn't and I never wanted to do that that it's like to really get clear I love the way. The buddha is so clear about what is wholesome and what isn't. So that was all of a very strong exposure to the fundamentals of the Dhamma and living there seeing it in action. But shortly before I left I said 1 thing I know for sure I'm not a buddhist.

19:38.31
sol_hanna
Right.

19:49.70
sol_hanna
Yeah, that's funny how that happens isn't it. It's like you get these ideas of what you're going to do and it fate has other other plans. It seems. Ah, um.

20:00.16
Ayya Santussika
So.

20:08.16
sol_hanna
You spent quite a bit of time in time in Thailand and you met with some of the revered masters of the forest tradition I know we're skipping over this a little bit too lightly. But perhaps you'd like to mention some of the teachers that you met and what was. 1 or 2 of the lasting impressions of your time staying in monasteries in Thailand.

20:32.98
Ayya Santussika
Well, there were there were many wonderful, wonderful encounters and experiences of a lot to really show me the duma and um. Actually I'm not sure I like saying it that way. It's not personal at All. You find an opportunity to um, experience this delma in a very profound way and and.

20:51.70
sol_hanna
M.

21:05.53
Ayya Santussika
Ah, je mohabua made a huge impression on me by John Dean Aja blean ajinpaaato and it wasn't just their teaching or their presence. Although those. Things were incredibly important, but there was also something at work internally that brought about major changes and I and I and nudgent done had a big impact on my path as well. And.

21:32.72
sol_hanna
In.

21:42.68
Ayya Santussika
And you know the other people like Ajipasano and ajin jayesarro who were more who I was more engaged with on a regular basis were also super influential influential for me and and ah and I would say. That I I've come to get the feeling that this isn't something that these great masters or teachers do intentionally I think it's just something that. Arises out of their intention to help people awaken and our intention to wake up because something will happen and I think it's them. But if I talk to them. They're like huh.

22:30.60
sol_hanna
M.

22:38.74
sol_hanna
Since in.

22:40.61
Ayya Santussika
I Know act like it was not. You know it's a whole different thing on the on the sort of material plane but it's still something really happening and. Really really life altering I Hope that's enough Detail I.

23:00.75
sol_hanna
Mm well the question I asked was very general and I was listening to an interview which was done by the monks on the clear Mountain Dhamma Youtube channel and I'm going to link to that. Yeah, um, in the description below this podcast. Ah, it's really worth taking a listen to it gives you more detail about that time but 1 of the stories that you told which I would love if you could elaborate upon it because I really love this story was about not actually. So much meeting a monk but a dream about a monk which you're waiting for which was ajan mahabua and the story about the 3 boxes could you share that particular story with the listeners.

23:50.36
Ayya Santussika
Right? I was at Aja Mabus monastery hoping to meet him because of a previous dream that had happened that had a huge impact on me where he encouraged me to practice relentlessly and that it is possible to awaken. Possible for me to awaken which I think is something that we all should take seriously. But then I was at his mo and he wasn't there for some long period a few weeks I think it was maybe two or three weeks and while while waiting. There was this discussion happening among the monks and with ajupaioato about whether or not it's all right for typhor his monks to eat breakfast and the dream. Was ajamabua pointing out these three boxes. You know these ones plastic boxes with the tight lids that have the clamps you know and saying and basically there was a different meal. Plan.

24:57.97
sol_hanna
And.

25:07.28
Ayya Santussika
In each box. The first box had one meal. So ah, obviously that way of eating just one meal a day. The second one had 2 meals breakfast and. Meal midday and the third one 3 meals like you would eat as a lay person and my my quest at that time because I already really felt strongly that I wanted to. Practice the doma as fully as possible live it in every aspect of my life and that I would want to know how to do it and yet and I also had my family situation. My mother was alive I was married at the time and. It would have been something I could do if I wanted to ordain as a nun I would have to wait I didn't want to leave them for their sake and so I this is what was in my mind. And the dream was Ijam Mahubu showing me these 3 boxes and telling me that I could get enlightened regardless whichever one I chose.

26:41.48
sol_hanna
I really love that dream because I mean it's hard to so I'm um I'm wondering I guess that must be the wisdom of your subconscious coming through the dream unless perhaps I don't know maybe Aja Mahapu was into interceding somehow. But I feel like that is somehow.

26:42.95
Ayya Santussika
Um.

27:01.14
sol_hanna
Connected to the spirit of Buddhism and often in Buddhism we often get into these quite technical debates and I think they're motivated by a good intention. You know we want to do the best and it's important for us to have really good sealer and so forth. And a good standard of practice. But at the same time we sometimes lose track of the the bigger picture which is that you know this is the middle way. The gradual path and there are yeah there are options for practice. You know so I kind of like that dream. So that dream said to you there are options you mean which included that third option you can take a lay path but you didn't end up doing that. What was it that led you ultimately. To decide toward day.

27:58.91
Ayya Santussika
Well I like I said I wanted to engage as fully as possible in.

28:04.96
sol_hanna
But you were married and you had family and that's not easy in that circumstance right.

28:16.31
Ayya Santussika
It's true and I I didn't It wasn't my first marriage It wasn't the father of my children but it was a very good marriage and I didn't want to upset that so I thought well.

28:26.60
sol_hanna
M.

28:30.49
Ayya Santussika
Maybe I'll become a nun after my husband dies and after my mother dies and then I threw in one more when my unborn grandchildren are old enough to drive to come visit Me. Ah. Well so I've learned now that a lot of times people with the I'll say the karma to ordain think in these terms much later much later and then it happens pretty fast and so I was already sort of mentally really.

28:59.61
sol_hanna
Mm.

29:07.30
Ayya Santussika
Headed in that direction but I wasn't going to do anything to make the conditions line up for that and so other people did that for me about six weeks later my husband said I don't want to be married anymore.

29:22.66
sol_hanna
Wow.

29:25.28
Ayya Santussika
And I was totally shocked and it was There was a lot many waves of emotion and it was an incredibly valuable time for me to practice with observing that whole.

29:27.72
sol_hanna
M.

29:44.98
Ayya Santussika
Whole thing and to acknowledge recognize that you know from his side. He said he wanted to find someone else and. That was okay with me I wanted him to be happy I Really can say that of all the people I've loved in my life I loved him with that kind of selfless expansive. Love more than anyone I'd ever been with.

30:05.10
sol_hanna
Mm wow.

30:21.86
Ayya Santussika
And I really did want him to be happy and it didn't take a very long time for me to realize that I didn't want to try to have another relationship I didn't want to try to find another house and kind of reconstitute my life at that.

30:33.76
sol_hanna
In.

30:41.76
Ayya Santussika
Point out it was between Jobs I didn't want to go find another job I wanted to live in a community of nuns and really dedicate my all to the to the path and I did it. It took time to do it in a way that was. Gonna be and also still supportive of my mother and my daughter my son was a monk. He was okay but I wanted to also make sure that they were gonna they were gonna be all right and so it took long a little longer that way.

31:16.76
sol_hanna
Yeah, it it does sound almost though like perhaps I don't know whether intentionally or not intentionally, but he was clearing the way like he wasn't just doing something selfish. It was all meist as if he was like.

31:18.51
Ayya Santussika
Words.

31:34.57
sol_hanna
I Know where you need to be I let I let you do it I don't know I'm not sure if that's true. That's the way it sounds.

31:36.24
Ayya Santussika
Well, he didn't seem. Yeah, he didn't seem to have that conscious awareness. He didn't say things like that he seemed almost he seemed almost like not quite sure.

31:43.70
sol_hanna
And okay, but just worked out.

31:55.86
Ayya Santussika
Just that he wanted to feel different in in his relationship and um, yeah, it was really interesting and I I really feel like there was a karmic or um, something else going on the davis.

31:56.93
sol_hanna
O.

32:04.42
sol_hanna
Yeah, okay m.

32:14.77
Ayya Santussika
Planting seeds something was happening I'd pick.

32:17.10
sol_hanna
Ah, yeah, okay, well, all's well that ends Well um I do want to go on now to talking about taking higher ordination as a bicuy and for the benefit of the listeners. Um there you know there has been a recent.

32:19.98
Ayya Santussika
Nothing.

32:31.39
Ayya Santussika
Um.

32:36.35
sol_hanna
Movement within buddhism to revive ah the higher ordination for for nuns and there's been a lot of interest in it but having said that there is still not as many opportunities. Ah, for women to take the higher ordination. So It's It's a challenge. Um, now I just wanted to ask you about this I I get the impression you didn't take the higher ordination as a vicuni because you're on a mission For. To fight for equality. Um, what was it that drew you to endure the difficulties to take high coordination and how did that process play out for you.

33:30.18
Ayya Santussika
Unshakable faith in the Buddha so this is the form. The buddha gave he set it up. He created it for bikus and bikunis because it was the the most conducive structure.

33:32.28
sol_hanna
Wow.

33:47.67
Ayya Santussika
Within which to live and practice and I realized that I needed to just bypass all the nonsense of the last thousand years that has come about in you know with people and. Go back to what the Buddha did and what he said and and and to see how it works um as it was given and follow that.

34:21.99
sol_hanna
Saddu Sad Doo well said um and can I just ask where did you end up ordaining What was the circumstances and which took upaumpadar the higher ordination.

34:32.17
Ayya Santussika
It was in Los Angeles thanks to Bonte Piananda who's a very senior Sri Lankan Monk who actually started working on um, bringing about. Modern bacuni ordination back in the 70 s started with some of his colleagues. They were really the driving force along with some of those Sri Lankan women who were working on on.

34:50.75
sol_hanna
Wow.

35:04.16
Ayya Santussika
That side of things organizing women getting them to be aware that this is possible and so they had already ordained started ordaining Sri Lankan women who had been nuns since ninety ninety six. That that was the first orion that really took hold with ayacusima being the first modern bakuni and there were 10 or eleven but they walked in order of age and the youngest none in that group. Was 24 years old and her name is aya sudarshna and she was my preceptor she she's close close closely connected with ponte piananda she lives in Florida and bonte piionane regularly brings her out to California.

35:46.47
sol_hanna
Oh Wow. Okay.

36:00.70
Ayya Santussika
To make sure the ordination all goes right? and well and the women's side of it is secure and so she's a wonderful humble person and I am forever grateful. They both were. There to officiate over my my novice ordination and then two years later my Bacony ordination.

36:25.78
sol_hanna
Wow, that's a really interesting story and I didn't know all of that story but 1 of the things that strikes me about it is like the international cooperation that has been required and that has been brought about in this process. And one of the things I note about the bakuni sangga which is re-emerging is that it is very diverse, very international whether in the United States or in Asia or indeed or here in Australia um I did want to ask though. Um. If you could comment on your experience so far practicing as a picuing in the United States you know how has that been for you. Do you feel well supported. Um, yeah, well, what's your experience.

37:14.34
Ayya Santussika
I do feel well supported sometimes just last week someone was visiting here and they when they saw 1 of the beacon monasteries they said I just can't quite let go of the. Discrepancy between what the big queenies have and what the bigots have and it's like no don't even think about that. It's like we are. We are well supported. We have a little piece of property. We have a place to live we have robes we have never gone without food.

37:31.48
sol_hanna
See.

37:38.21
sol_hanna
In.

37:50.57
Ayya Santussika
People want to support this there. They are caring and and it and it is true that there is an element of people who really kind of want to fight for equality but that that is not our. Approach it all and because of our approaches we do this be out of faith in the buddha and so we tend we tend to that's gonna say a tract that's not quite right? people who tend to have that same feeling. The ones who come usually and and it's been. We've gradually grown in the early days. It was really touch and go as to whether we could make the rent for the house that we were renting and. Um, and now we don't have to worry about that and we've got donations to build more coies so you know kind of we're growing about as fast as we can manage I think and it's fine and I I will say that. There is you know this idea among people in Thailand particularly but in other places too like 8 precepts is enough. You don't need to be a bacuni. Why would one one baou said why would you want to become a baconi I wouldn't want to be a baconi but then. Why does he want to be a bigku you know, but yeah, and yeah, exactly and and I I was in white robes for 5 years which is the eight precept form that is prevalent in Thailand and.

39:28.86
sol_hanna
Ah, it's an odd thing to say cut coming from a bigu.

39:46.92
Ayya Santussika
In Thailand people know what that is but in the United States they do not they don't know if you're well I won't even go into the possible things they might think you're doing but it's not actually understood but bicuni ordination is.

39:56.89
sol_hanna
In.

40:05.67
Ayya Santussika
They can recognize us as Buddhist monastics and have a sense of what that means and and what we can offer them in support of their practice. So it really doesn't make sense to do anything else. In America.

40:25.91
sol_hanna
That's really interesting. So it's almost if you're saying that in the cultural context the United States ah it's almost like a fresh start. There isn't the preconceptions but perhaps um for all the benefits of people maybe in the United States or other parts of the west it is worth restating that.

40:32.24
Ayya Santussika
Okay.

40:43.86
sol_hanna
Um, this, you know the the bicuni ah Sangga is it what we have now is a revival. Ah and I think it's really important to support our biconnis and I say that I want to say that Um, as ah as a man in this life at Least. Don't know what we're going to be in the next One. Ah, but as a man I would add as buddhist. Why would we want to not encourage half of our community to go 100% of the path if we encourage all buddhists including.

41:15.94
Ayya Santussika
Yes.

41:22.87
sol_hanna
Half of the buddhist community to go to go to completion or to live fully as you set the path everybody benefits everybody Benefits. So I. But I do want to reiterate this Point. It is so important to support the biconi Sangga It's it if we it's an opportunity to really expand the opportunity for women to practice the path fully at those those opportunities. Still are not widespread and if we support nuns like is and Tusica and others those opportunities can grow in Future. So I think it's really a really valuable point that I think it's worth Making. Um.

42:15.33
Ayya Santussika
Um, yeah, thank you.

42:19.19
sol_hanna
I do want to move on now and talk briefly about establishing the karruna buddhist forhara in California one of the reasons I wanted to interview you was that you are a pioneer not only in terms of the revival of the bakunni sangha but also in terms of. Establishing buddhism in the United States in the current era at this time the project you're working on is Karina Budti bahara which is located in the Santa Cruz mountains in Northern California and our listeners can find a link to the kruina putd fahara in the description below aa could you tell us. About Karuna Buddh fahara

42:57.16
Ayya Santussika
Well, we started out with the vision of being a place where women could come to live life as a bakuni eventually you know pick up the training pick up the lifestyle and also people could come for teachings. So my personal resolution resolve aditon if we want to use the of poiw word and is is to awaken realize Nivana and to help. As many other people along the way as possible and the underserved group as you've mentioned is women who want to ordain there are plenty of opportunities for laywomen and lay men and men who want to ordain. Very few for women who want to ordain. So my son who was in the United States at that time. Um, helped establish Koruna Buddhist bihara and he particularly wanted to name it Karruna because it means compassion he said this is definitely the. The sense out of which this place is being established out of compassion for that underserved community if you will and and ah and I'm and I'm am afraid that there are many women who would be.

44:18.50
sol_hanna
A.

44:26.37
Ayya Santussika
Would love to be bakunies who don't even consider it because it's not available or in some cultures in some context they've been told it's not appropriate that there's something wrong with it and so if that were to change I think many women would want to take up the robes.

44:37.16
sol_hanna
In well.

44:45.48
Ayya Santussika
And we want to give them more options for doing that as you said.

44:49.81
sol_hanna
Could you tell us just a little bit about the um, the monastery itself like how big is it. Where's it located. But also if you were there. We have women listening who are interested in either staying for a while or maybe even. Trying out life as a nun no is there an opportunity there or could you maybe say a bit more about that.

45:14.85
Ayya Santussika
Well I as I started to say our intention when we started corona of Buddhist Fira was to be in town kind of really accessible for people and that's what we did for the first eight years I guess and then um. And it was in a rented property. We were in the heart of Silicon Valley like a mile from Google Headquarters in a really and really available people would look up. You know where to find a monastery or something and they'd find out. We're right around the corner. That had its advantages but it's also been praised by the buddha to be in the forest and there was one person who came to our place from time to time during a retreat. She got the insight or inspiration.

45:58.94
sol_hanna
A.

46:11.89
Ayya Santussika
To try to and she put it forces to go to the forest and she's decided to do that by granting some money for forest property. So that's how this got started and it.

46:24.58
sol_hanna
Mm ah.

46:28.44
Ayya Santussika
Brought relief to a number of people who were supporting us because they could see the and the property values the the cost that it would take for us to really establish a sustainable place in town would have been quite quite expensive and here you know for. Hundred and $65000 this property was purchased which is fourteen and a half acres of redwood forest with a creek running through it and the cabin the cabin is prettyvy rustic but it's certainly livable. And right now I'm sitting in it and the buddha came with us and the redwood trees are guard guarding us all the time and we are starting to build you know meditation huts cotis and things and we're so we're.

47:06.25
sol_hanna
Sis is. Say.

47:25.31
Ayya Santussika
You know, gradually expanding. We ah went early on in mountain view. Another woman joined me and she went through the aniggarica phase the novice and she's been in bicuni now. For several years and we've been doing this together. The 2 of us her name is aya chitananda and it's it's a a good. We're a good team and this place really has a tremendous amount of love and kindness in it. So that's the general atmosphere and we're growing slowly because we want to really have a very healthy community and we have recently ordained and. Another person as a nanagarica she is a Mexican citizen and she will be able to join us once we kind of clear all the hurdles with immigration which we're hoping will be possible. Can we have other people that come to stay who are interested and and. You know if this is the right fit for them then there is a place right now the way that one can get started on that track is to first of all join us online. So it's been amazing with this pandemic because. Reach has gone out so much farther and people can get involved without having to to fly in from somewhere so we have a couple of weekly programs and some other offerings sprinkled through at the calendar and if people. Are interested in finding out more about us tune in it's that's an easy way to get a sense of the way we teach we are very dedicated to the early buddhists teaching so the early suit is. And we actually have 3 criteria for anyone who joins the community and it's first of all to be really very interested in the early buddhist texts. We don't mix much other stuff in so it's something got a really love to be here and the second one is that you feel like you can have a good relationship with the residents who are already here each of them. It's not just about any 1 of us.

49:52.39
sol_hanna
E finishing.

50:11.10
Ayya Santussika
We want a really harmonious community and everybody of course we in the holy life you wind up working on the deepest most difficult things because you have to but we do that as much as possible in ah in a way that is. Not harmful to ourselves or others so we want to be careful to you know work work on things in a good way and know that having a good relationship with each person here is is a good start. And then the third thing is that the person needs to be willing and able to change because when we're awaken. We won't be the same as we are now it requires being.

51:00.14
sol_hanna
For.

51:07.23
Ayya Santussika
Willing and able to change if we come into the holy life wanting to dig our heels in and make things accommodate us instead of the other way around it. It's a tough. It's a tough road. So yeah.

51:20.25
sol_hanna
Yeah, thank you very much for that and I will be putting a link to the crew in a buddha fahara program in the description below. We're getting close to the end of this spirit story episode. But I don't want to lay you off the hook. Without asking you a curly question and um, I'm asking this question as an outsider with my perception or possibly skewed perception as an australian buddhist because in Australia we've been heavily influenced by our proximity to Asia and the large asian community here. And as a consequence we've tended to gravitate towards more orthodox expressions of Buddhism whereas when it comes to emergent american buddhism it does seem to be a colorful mix of just about anything goes from your vantage point though you're in the thick of it. How do you think the buddha sarsonana is playing out. In the us right now. What stage is it at and where is it headed.

52:22.10
Ayya Santussika
Um, well I would agree with your perception that there is some kind of sense that just about anything goes which is one of the really important reasons why we're. So adherent to the early Texts. That's where you really know is it according to what the Buddha taught or not and when people start redefining things like stream entry and um.

52:42.69
sol_hanna
Is. In.

52:57.40
Ayya Santussika
You know what it means to follow your own inner experience around whether something's right or wrong. You know we can take a pretty clear stand based on what the Buddha taught and and help help people. We hope to come back to those. Very clear definitions of the Buddha had and a cohesive complete system. So there is there is a lot of variety here in America as you mentioned and. We have friends in all the different buddhist traditions and we have a lot of respect for people practicing in different ways and we have some really good conversations. Deep inquiry into you know what did the buddha really mean and what did he do and how can we.

53:42.83
sol_hanna
Is.

53:51.14
Ayya Santussika
Live more in alignment with that where do I think it's headed I'm not sure but I think that the truth Wins. Um. And I think that as long as there are voices and people who act upon what they are teaching that is really clearly attributable to the Buddha That's gonna. Hopefully hold a kind of center point that other things might revolve around but eventually settle down and then it's Sansarra. You know it's like it's always going to be a mess.

54:32.72
sol_hanna
M.

54:45.80
sol_hanna
Ah, never a truer word. Never a true word. Well I think on that note I really do want to thank you. It's been an incredible privilege to have you on this baby podcast. Thank you and much better to you for taking the time to share with us today.

55:01.33
Ayya Santussika
Is my pleasure. Thank you so much brother chance.

55:05.26
sol_hanna
And just before I sign off I want to remind listeners that are there are links below in the description to several of the matters that were discussed in this podcast notably There's a link to where you can donate to guru Abuddhas forhara. I've been involved with buddhism and buddhist organisation for nearly thirty years now which encompasses the period of the revival. Perhaps we could even say the renaissance of the buddhist piunni sangha and I can tell you that because it is so difficult for women to take the highordination every bucuni that I ever come across is very sincere and dedicated in her practice. And that's certainly true. Ah via San Tusica projects like crew and a buddhaist farhara have tremendous historical and spiritual significance if more women have the opportunity to practice this noble blaful path to completion our whole community will have more wise and compassionate teachers. If you can spare a few dollars please help support karrubuddha fuhara by going to the donation link in the description and help make history and a reminder if you've enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to treasure mountain podcast using your favorite podcasting app so that you get the latest episodes as they come out. And tell your friends about treasureja mountain so that they can benefit to may you all be happy. May you find clarity of mind and peace of heart see you next time.

Ayya Santussika Profile Photo

Ayya Santussika

Abbott of Karuna Buddhist Vihara

Ayya Santussika was born in Illinois in 1954 and grew up on a farm in Indiana. While being a single mother, she received BS and MS degrees in computer science. She worked as a software designer and developer for fifteen years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her search for deeper meaning and ways to be of service led her to train as an interfaith minister in a four-year seminary program that culminated in a Masters of Divinity degree. She began traveling in Asia from 1999, learning from master teachers, particularly in Thailand. It was these experiences, along with time spent at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in California that caused her faith to develop to the point of choosing to live and practice as a Theravadan nun.

Ayya Santussika entered monastic life as an anagarika (eight-precept nun) in 2005, then ordained as a samaneri (ten-precept nun) in 2010 and a bhikkhuni (311 rules) in 2012 at Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles. She has trained in large and small communities of nuns, including Amaravati and Chithurst monasteries of the Ajahn Chah tradition in England.