Thu, 2012-10-25 12:30 — editor
By Dr. Stephen Long
BGR Walk Santa Monica
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, one of the most brilliant and prolific Buddhist scholars of our time, was a guest at Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles this past weekend. Ven. Bodhi, author of approximately 25 books – many of them important translations of the Nikayas and other ancient Pali texts – was ordained as a Theravada monk in Sri Lanka in 1972 under the aegis of Ven. Ballangoda Ananda Maitreya Maha Nayake Thera.
He spent many years as editor of the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy under the direction of Ven. Nyaponika Maha Thera, and later served as BPS’s second president. The immense contribution he has made to the Buddha Sasana and Buddhist literature is immeasurable, and we are all grateful for his 40 years of selfless service and his vast body of work. Bhikkhu Bodhi currently lives and teaches in upstate New York.
He arrived in LA this past Friday to lead a three-mile walk through Santa Monica on Saturday to raise funds for Buddhist Global Relief, the non-profit he founded whose mission is not to proselytize for Buddhism, but to combat chronic hunger and malnutrition. Bearing in mind the Buddha’s statements that “hunger is the worst kind of illness” and “the gift of food is the gift of life,” BGR sponsors projects that:
• promote hunger relief for poor communities around the world. It pursues its mission by:
• providing direct food aid to people afflicted by hunger and malnutrition
• helping develop better long-term methods of sustainable food production and management appropriate to the cultures and traditions of the beneficiaries
• promoting the education of girls and women, so essential in the struggle against poverty and malnutrition
• giving women an opportunity to start right livelihood projects to support their families.
BGR also seeks to raise awareness of global hunger and advocate for an international food system that exemplifies social justice and conduces to ecological sustainability.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ven. Walpola Piyananda, abbot of Dharma Vijaya, led a group of over 250 participants, both laymen and monks, in the Santa Monica walk, which was one of a dozen BGR fund-raising walks held each year in various cities of the United States. (Please visit www.buddhistglobalrelief.org to learn more and/or make a donation)
On Sunday, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi presented a fascinating two-hour lecture at Dharma Vijaya to approximately 200 mostly-American guests, in addition to members of the Maha Sangha from various temples in the region. I gave a welcome speech, as did one of my Dhamma School students, Kalpa Samasinghe. The event was emceed by Ven. Maitipe Wimilasara, and organized by Ven. Kalabululande Dhammajothi and Ms. Cynthia Shimazu. A speech of gratitude was given by Dr. Ananda Guruge, and at the conclusion of the event Dr. Gamani Jayasinghe presented a gift to Buddhist Global Relief on behalf of Dharma Vijaya. Ven. Bodhi’s talk, which had been promoted in the Los Angeles Times, was entitled “A Path of Guidance Fitting for Our Time.” In the lecture Ven. Bodhi identified the three most serious problems that he feels currently challenge our global community (inequality of wealth, drone missile warfare, and global climate change), and he offered solutions for solving them based on teachings from the Buddha Dhamma. An insightful question and answer session took place after Ven. Bodhi’s revealing talk.
The following day Ven. Bodhi participated in a bhikkhuni ordination ceremony, which was officiated by Ven. Piyananda. During the past three decades both of these venerables have been strong supporters of the ordination of women into the Sangha, and on Monday four new bhikkhunis were added to the Order. Three of the women were of American origin, and one is from Sri Lanka. It is interesting to note that since the ordination of bhikkhunis began in America, thanks to the efforts of Ven. Piyananda, the late Ven. Dr. Hawanpola Ratanasara, and Ven. Henepola Gunaratana in 1986, the Order has grown each year so that now there are approximately 25 Theravada bhikkhunis in various monasteries in America. The ordination of American Theravada monks, however, continues to be quite rare, and is not a growing phenomenon.
The moving, two-part ordination ceremony was attended by approximately thirty-five male and female Sangha members, and 25 lay guests. A very special guest was Ruth Denison, the legendary 90-year-old pioneer Vipassana meditation teacher. She was the first Buddhist teacher in the United States to lead an all-women's retreat for Buddhist meditation and instruction. Her center, Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center, is located in the Mojave Desert, in Joshua Tree, California. She was also a teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and she sometimes still teaches at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. Her presence was an inspiration to the female Sangha members to whom she offered words of encouragement. Ven. Piyananda and Ven. Bodhi offered special messages of advice to the new nuns, and the entire event was filmed by a Los Angeles filmmaker for inclusion in his upcoming documentary film about Buddhism in America.
Of particular interest – and most-definitely a historic first – was the ordination of Bhikkhuni Santussika. She is a white American, originally from Indiana, who now lives at the Karuna Buddhist Vihara in Millbrae, which is located in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Her son, Ven. Ajahn Guna, has been a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition for the past thirteen years, and is a student of Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and his traveling assistant during his current visit in California. Ven. Guna was not only present at his mother’s ordination; he also played a key role in the ceremony. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first case of an American mother joining her ordained American son in the Theravadan Sangha. Mother and son joined each other Monday night – along with Bhikkhu Bodhi and many of the bhikkhunis – at a five-day Western monastics conference at Thich Nhat Hahn’s Deer Park Monastery near San Diego.
Ven. Piyananda and the monks of Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara are grateful to have been able to participate in such a Dhamma-filled three days with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi as their resident guest. All of them bless Ven. Bodhi for his work for the Sasana, and wish him good health and a long life in which to continue to write, translate, and interpret the teachings of the Buddha.
- Asian Tribune -