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January 3, 2006 > Fremont home to Buddhist women's monastic residence

Fremont home to Buddhist women's monastic residence

by Venkat Raman

Earlier this year, Fremont became the home of the first monastic residence in the Bay Area solely dedicated to Southern Buddhist women when Dhammadharini Vihara
opened its doors on August 21.

Dhammadharini Vihara fills the void of the growing demand for a women-only retreat for peace and meditation. "Dhammadharini" refers to a woman who is an upholder of the teachings of Buddha. "Vihara" means monastic residence.

There are many Buddhist temples and monasteries in the Bay Area that cater to male monastics (or Bhikkhus). The largest Western monastery is Abhayagiri, a forest monastery located in Redwood Valley near Ukiah in Mendocino County.
However, monasteries in the Bay Area that cater to female monastics (or Bhikkhunis) are few.

Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni, the residential director of Dhammadharini Vihara, investigated Buddhism 17 years ago when she decided to turn away from life as she knew it and take up a life of peace and reflection. Bhikkhuni had a brush with death through illness at the tender age of 15 and several years later, while in college, she suffered the loss of a friend to pneumonia. The realization of how impermanent life could be made her reevaluate her priorities in life.

"You realize that a lot of things you used to consider important are not important at all," says Bhikkhuni. Aware of a desire to seek truth and recognizing the inadequacy of youth to delay death, Bhikkhuni, formerly known as Heather Buske took the step into renunciation and changed her name to Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni.

After initiation into monastic life, Bhikkhuni traveled to Europe and India to become immersed in Buddhism. Later she was encouraged to travel to Northeast Asia and seek a path to full ordination. She went to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea seeking a mentor and finally found one in Korea with whom she spent time learning Buddhist traditions especially those applicable to women. Bhikkhuni eventually obtained full ordination in Los Angeles in 1997.

Buddhism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama , a prince of the Sakya tribe of Nepal in approximately 566 BC. Buddism gradually spread from India throughout Asia to Central Asia, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Southeast Asia, as well as to East Asian countries such as China, Korea and Japan. It is usually divided into two main branches: Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. Dhammadharini Vihara adheres to Theravada Buddhism which is associated with Southern Buddhism referring to the general region of Southeast Asia.

Originally, Buddhism provided a process of offering full ordination of men and women. Northern Buddhism (practiced in Northeast Asia) maintained this practice but over the years Southern Buddhism lost its ability to ordain women. Theravada Buddhism claims to be closest to original Buddhist teachings. Through its adherence of Theravada Buddhism, Dhammadharini Vihara supports full monastic ordination of women.

Dhammadharini Vihara offers regular daily sessions of chanting and meditation to anyone interested from 6 to 7 a.m. as well as 7 to 8 p.m. Those who wish to have specific questions answered or seek additional instructions for meditation may remain at the center between 8 and 9 p.m. Private Buddhist meditation instructions and Buddhist counseling are also offered by appointment.

Month-long meditation courses are offered from time to time at Dhammadharini Vihara. The next sessions will begin after the holiday season. The center also offers ongoing Buddhist sutta (a discussion group for Buddha's original teachings) on Friday evenings and there is talk of beginning youth yoga and meditation classes.

On December 17, Dhammadharini Vihara achieved a first important milestone, when an initiation ceremony was held to accept Laura deYoung into monastic life as sister Santussika (meaning contentment). More than 30 friends and family from deYoung's pre-monastic life gathered at the center. A simple but elegant ceremony was conducted by Bhikkhuni for the transformation of deYoung to "Santussika" that was symbolized by her newly shaved head and the adoption of a pure white robe. The occasion was commemorated with moments of meditation and reflection, marking the beginning of Santussika's new life. She will follow a path similar to Bhikkhuni and will attain full ordainment in time.

While Dhammadharini Vihara does not seek to convert non-Buddhists to Buddhism, its doors are always open to everyone. Anyone who would like to learn more of the teachings of Buddha are invited to come by the center. All services are free of cost, but in order to sustain the operations of the residence, monetary and/or other support is always welcome.

Dhammadharini Vihara is located in a residential neighborhood in the Niles District of Fremont. The center can accommodate three permanent residents. Guests may stay up to two weeks and use the facility as a retreat. Everyone is welcome for daytime activities, though only women may stay overnight.

For more information on Dhammadharini Vihara and its activities, please visit www.dhammadharini.org or call (510) 791-2331. You may also send email to tathaaloka@msn.com.

 
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