December 11, Gwyn Waterfield formally took the traditional 3 refuges and 8-precepts and made a commitment to being an anagarikaa (postulant) in the Theravada Forest Buddhist Tradition for one year. About 50 people came, many from far away, to support Gwyn and participate in this ceremony. You can see photos in the gallery called Precept Ceremony.
We live in Colorado Springs, Colorado where there isn’t much familiarity with Buddhist monasticism and the traditions that are connected to it. To give you some idea of what happened, we invited some of our friends who came to support to reflect on their experience of the ceremony. The talk that is referred to (discourse) “Going Forth” can be downloaded and listened to.
Below are some responses to the following questions:
What happened for you when you were observing the ceremony?
How has this ceremony affected how you relate to your own choices and/or your meditation practice?
What is your understanding of sangha (spiritual community) and how has Gwyn’s precept ceremony affected your understanding?
Are there other reflections you would like to share?
What is your relationship with Gwyn/Awakening Truth – and how long have you known Gwyn or been involved with Awakening Truth?
May all beings be well.
Ajahn Thanasanti Bhikkhuni
I met Gwyn at a 10-day retreat, taught by Ajahn Thanasanti and Ajahn Metta in 2009. During our drive back to Boulder, CO, we shared our enthusiasm about the dharma, the teachings of Ajahn Thanasanti and she also shared with me her aspirations of someday ordaining as a Buddhist nun. Less than two years later: here I was, honored to be at her Anagarikaa ceremony.
I do not often have the opportunity to bear witness to one’s deep commitment to the dharma. I did not see all the steps leading to Gwyn’s moving to Colorado Springs to take the precepts, live as a renunciate and study the dharma with Ajahn Thanasanti. But having seen Gywn’s intention come to fruition was inspiring. During the ceremony, I had a deeper realization of the interconnectedness between myself, Gwyn and the rest of Sangha. We truly are a continuous circle. There is no hierarchy to it: we are simply connected and interdependent and that is the way it is. It has made Gwyn and Ajahn Thanasanti’s commitment to the Dharma, as well as the fullness of this dharmic community more real to me.
Since the ceremony, the words which Ajahn Thanasanti spoke of : “highest aspirations” have stayed with me. I have invited myself to question “what is my highest aspiration in this moment”, so that whatever is arising, no matter how difficult or “sticky” it feels, or how” checked out” I want to be, there is opportunity to awaken in that moment. This has brought what I feel is the essence of the ceremony to my daily (both on and off the cushion) practice.
I have not been able to stop drawing from the ceremony. It was and is a moving experience for me. 2. I am trying to be a better person. 3. I am glad to see the beliefs still exist in so many young people. 4.Yes.The ceremony, beliefs and devotion should be universal. I will work on me first! 5. Since birth! In fact at times, I felt I was holding her in my arms again as baby and there she is a strong, devoted and caring young woman.
Gail Waterfield, Gwyn’s Mom
The simplicity of the ceremony was very reassuring to me and made me feel relaxed the rest of the evening. Usually, ceremonies make me withdraw; they give me a feeling of tightness in body.
I had scarcely known Gwyn before seeing her on the day of the ceremony except for being in a silent meditation retreat together last New Year’s. However, I had heard of her from Ajahn and would always wonder what transformed her to dedicate her life, in steps, towards Awakening. It is with this wonderment and a curiosity that I drove 6 hours to come for the ceremony. I too had taken the precepts on several occasions so I thought, “That’s it! that’s what it takes to becomes an anagarikaa!” Even if I disregarded the white clothes and the tonsure, I was mistaken.
The discourse by Bhikkhuni Thanasanti that followed the ceremony made it clear as to what it means: a higher degree of adherence to the precepts while singularly focusing on attaining Awakening.The discourse was informative. On my way to the ceremony questions were arising as to what this step by Gwyn means to me, I as part of the society, the Sangha (community). The variegated references to interdependence talked about in the discourse helped me with answers. So, it is with a greater appreciation of my place in the society/sangha that I left the town, and to know that it gives me (and other lay people in/out-of the sangha) one more opportunity to be generous. In these talks I have heard, “generosity enables the goodness in a person to come forth.”
In goodness it becomes easier to get more insights and to be on the path. Indeed, the interdependence with the monastic sangha would imply for me more guidance towards my own Awakening. Through I can see the practice of Anagarikaa Gwyn is at a higher degree. Participating in the ceremony reinforced and reinvigorated the sense of awakening together.
I felt it was a real special occasion for me just to be there and take part in such a significant commitment to the truth, to enlightenment. I benefited just from being present.
It reminded me of the time I was fully engaged in teaching and being on long-term retreats and living in a community of only meditators. It made me reflect on how fortunate I was to have that opportunity in my life and that I could renew my own diligence and my own commitment even though I’m living a pretty secular life.
(My experience of this precept ceremony was) extremely powerful… and wrapped in gentleness of pursuit. That it’s a very rare and powerful opportunity to seek truth with fellow travelers. And I feel honored and privileged to be a part of it.
It’s pointing me to fulfilling a longing for the silence and the occasional being present. Yet being okay with my commitment at this stage in my life. Even still, I admire the courage and the commitment of Gwyn and Sister to the commitment which clears the path for me to go forth, in a small way.
(I know Gwyn) maybe a month – and I know her just because she greeted me with a smile and open arms and spoke to me on the phone when I called to inquire about it. It makes me aware of how superficial secular life can be . With any worthwhile pursuit, it has to be accompanied by awareness and consciousness. Through showing up, I can start to change my habits, perceptions and choices. And these awarenesses are re-enlivened just by being a participant in meditation, having the privilege of showing up.
For me participation in the precept ceremony extended far beyond the event of the ceremony itself. I was fortunate to have arrived in Colorado Springs three weeks preceding the ceremony, as I had arranged to visit Ajahn Thanasanti Bhikkhuni and Gwyn prior to Gwyn’s decision to become an anagarikaa. Though I met Gwyn for the first time then, it feels we have known each other always; it is a rare and beautiful connection. Similarly, Ajahn I met just over a year ago, and her teaching and presence in my life continue to be profoundly transformative and healing.
I arrived with a pre-existing commitment to this path and practice, but with a very foggy understanding of monastic life and discipline, carrying vague imaginings of a placid calm tranquility. Being here I have been happy that this foggy notion has sharpened into vibrant focus, seeing that here too (of course!) all the richness of what we call ‘life’ flows. There has been busy-ness and bustling activity and schedules and the range of emotions just like anywhere. There have been robes to sew and errands to run and meals to prepare and countless tasks to attend to. The difference that I am finding is that all of this is held by the container of a very conscious intention to balance the inevitable activities of life with stillness, quiet and reflection. There is also daily routine of sitting, walking and sharing and being quiet and chanting together.
The Buddha described the importance of the four-fold Sangha- of monks nuns and lay men and lay women. Before coming here this was just an abstract notion that I had not much considered, but now my perspective of this has shifted considerably. Going into a public place with Ajahn and Anagarikaa Gwyn, I see the faces of people light up who may have not a scrap of exposure with Buddhism. While momentary, these encounters are not insignificant. They are widening rings of dana (generosity). Sangha members come in and offer their presence and support, their time and energy and meals, all as gifts. The teachings are a gift. It is not a transaction. The teachings are impossible without the generosity that supports them. In this flowing, the giver and receiver meld.
One significant difference from lay life is the keeping of precepts. Keeping the 8-precepts with Gwyn, and beginning to learn about the intricacies of 300+ precepts that Ajahn keeps as a Bhikkhuni, I have begun to see that rather than being mere rules to follow (which would turn one into an automaton), the precepts create a container a structure within which there is endless space for investigation, opening, listening, unfolding of life through the Dhamma- the truth of the way things are.
I believe it is because of the safety of this container that so much can emerge and some of the edges of self can be released, healed and cared for, lead to greater freedom, to awakening. The things that the precepts address such as appearance, meal times, and inter personal conduct are tempered by this cradle of the structure of vinaya – (discipline) and support of community. Being here with Gwyn as she is entering this new territory, I can see that the transition is challenging and gradual. It is profoundly inspiring to learn from Gwyn, from her deep dedication to work with all that is arising through this transition.
I feel gratitude encountering the depth to which both Gwyn and Ajahn are willing to let go and trust the unfolding of life. I can see that having more choices does not necessarily bring more freedom.
My admiration and respect deepens every day for both of these women as I witness the difficulties of being in a more defined and tighter outward form as well as the blessings that come from living in a field of generosity. Support pours in for Gwyn. This step she is taking is both personal and symbolic, extending far beyond her, connecting us all.
The ceremony was a blessing to experience. First steps into the church were breathtaking, not only from the beauty and sacred feel of the church, but the observance of silence from those who had taken their seats. There was a strong sense of respect in the silence. Such silence was acknowledging the importance to leave personal feelings and perceptions at the door. As an open feeling of compassion and love was able to come up freely and to enjoy in the listening of silent air.
I admired the hours of preparation in each sense of being and through the community’s ability to commemorate this step in a woman’s path. The first of these senses was when Gwyn sounded well trained in her Pali verse, and the resonance of the bell at silent sit reached into my chest. The smells of slight incense and various flowers from friends and family brought in simple scent. The taste of curry from dinner and the reflection on the precept to refrain from (eating after mid-day) for Gwyn in her movement forward. Finally, from looking at the carefully knitted seams on her robes, there was a sense of peace in each element coming together. From all those that helped in the making of the robes, the vow that they represent, and the transformation they will soon possess beneath them.
With Gwyn’s Anagarikaa precepts comes an eagerness to support and learn from the humbling of renunciation. I’ve known Gwyn a short time, about 4 months, but she is so graceful in her words and her presence that I immediately felt close to her. I remember walking under the moon on the rocks with her and thinking to myself, may this woman be a strong influence in my life and may I let our relationship flourish as it may. I’m happy to be a part of Gwyn’s path as a reflection of my own. Many blessings the community has shared and many blessings to Gwyn in the next steps of awakening.
I felt gratitude at being able to offer support and be a part of Gwyn’s formal declaration of the precepts and her intention to become a nun. I also felt like I was part of a much larger tradition, an ancient tradition begun by the Buddha.
I’ve thought about the precepts and considered ways in which I may bring more awareness to my choices in a way that is in alignment with the precepts. In what ways do I participate in incorrect speech and in what ways do I distract myself with forms of entertainment and are my choices skillful?
My understanding of spiritual community is of a group of like-minded people committed to awakening who practice together and support each other on the path.
I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to participate in the precept ceremony and appreciated the talk by Ajahn as she went through the precepts and explained why each one is practiced.
I have known Gwyn only since she has moved to Colorado Springs and have been involved with Awakening Truth since this past summer.
I went to a place of ease and centeredness. It gave me great pleasure to see Gwyn fulfill her soul’s leadings. I loved seeing Ajahn in the role of Buddhist “sister” and “teacher.” I’ve known there was something missing in her life that none of us could fulfill. That she is most at ease and comfortable with companion “sisters” is quite evident. I am very glad to have this element back in her life.
I have always been attracted to the monastic life and so can live vicariously through Ajahn and Anagarikaa. Though it is not the path that is suitable for me now, it is quieting and calming to participate in supporting them. There are times when I get bounced out of meditation as a way of life, but since I have frequent contact it is easier to regain the calm, peaceful qualities consistent with meditation practice.
Being part of the Tava Sangha community has endless value for me. Having supported and then observed the precept ceremony was very powerful.
I have heard the precepts illuminated several times and profit with each telling. That Gwyn is a friend who is fully dedicating her life to contemplation and renunciation is significant to me. I want to support her. In a sense she is taking a little part of me on her journey. It is good for me that the lay community can participate in the life of the vihara (dwelling of monastics).
I am getting more comfortable with the traditions and rituals of Buddhism. It feels very good and feeds my soul. I experience the reciprocal relationship that is supposed to occur between the monastic and the community. I appreciate the patience I am shown as I learn what is appropriate and valued. The journey of coming to Buddhism has been slow and natural. I appreciate the gentleness with which my experience has unfolded.
I have known Ajahn since 2003 and of Gwyn since the very first retreat. That she was interested in becoming a nun has been anticipated event for some time. I met her for the first time last July when she moved into the Tava Vihara. She is now my beloved sister just as Sister Thanasanti is. I have been involved with Awakening Truth since its inception.