May 18, 2022

Blazing a trail for women monastics in the UK - Bhikkhuni Canda

Blazing a trail for women monastics in the UK - Bhikkhuni Canda

In this episode of Spirit Stories our guest is Venerable Candavisuddhi, also known as Ayya Canda, who first encountered meditation and the spiritual path when travelling through Asia as a young woman. This led to several years of going on and supporting ...

In this episode of Spirit Stories our guest is Venerable Candavisuddhi, also known as Ayya Canda, who first encountered meditation and the spiritual path when travelling through Asia as a young woman. This led to several years of going on and supporting retreats in India and Nepal. Whilst the yearning to live the Buddhist monastic life intensified, she found that opportunities for women to lead a meditative monastic life were few, until finding out about a chance to ordain with Sayadaw U Pannyajota in rural Burma. The meditative life suited Venerable Canda very well, but four years of the Burmese climate, diet and parasites took a toll on her health, and she decided to return to the West. A chance encounter led Venerable Canda to the teachings of Ajahn Brahm, and the opportunity to practice and take higher ordination at Dhammasara Monastery in Western Australia in 2014. Now she is blazing a trail for women monastics by leading a project to start a monastery for bhikkhuni sangha in the country of her birth, the United Kingdom. Venerable Canda joins us now to share her Spirit Story.

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Robot generated transcript - expect errors!

00:00.00 sol_hanna In this episode of spirit stories. Our guest is Venerable Candavissudhi also known as Ayya Canda who first encountered meditation in the spiritual path when travelling through Asia's young woman this led to several years of going on and supporting retreats in India and Nepal. Whilst the yearning to live the buddhist monastic life intensified. She found that opportunities for women to lead the meditative monastic life were few until finding out about a chance to ordain with Sayadaw Pannyajota in rural Burma. The meditative life suited Venerable Canda very well but 4 years into the burmese climate. Diet and parisites took toll on her health and she decided to return to the west. A chance encounter led Ven. Canda to the teachings of Ajahn Brahm and the opportunity to practice and take higher ordination at Dhammasara monastery in western Australia 2014. Now she is blazing a trail for women monastics by leading a project to start a monastery for bhikkhuni sangha in the country of her birth United Kingdom. Venerable Canda joins us now to share her spirit story. Welcome to Treasure Mountain venerable.

01:03.44 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Thank you for the wonderful introduction.

01:07.38 sol_hanna If we could turn first to your early life. Could you tell us about where you came from originally and what were the circumstances in which you first became interested in the spiritual path.

01:19.00 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni So I came from Chesterfield in Northern England it's a small town and I guess as a teenager it felt pretty dull and not a lot of different opportunities to choose from. So. I think the first yearning for me to sort of explore my inner world came in my teens when I felt the pressure of having to decide what to do later on in my life. You know we had to decide about the subjects that we specialize in and going to university and I just saw this kind of trajectory ahead of me that didn't seem to make a lot of sense. Because I hadn't yet answered this very foundational question as to why I'm actually here. Um, and this was really burning inside of me. Um, and I needed an answer to that. No one around me seemed to um, perhaps my best friend had a similar feeling but no one else around me could give guidance.

02:01.45 sol_hanna No.

02:13.63 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni And I just had this instinct that I would need to leave my home country to discover more about the world and more about myself.

02:18.72 sol_hanna Wow and that's ah I think a lot people can identify with that experience of being a teenager and just having so many questions and not really knowing where to fit in anyway, how was it that you first discovered meditation and how did it change you.

02:25.89 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni So no. So I traveled to India when I was about 19 with the aforementioned best friend who's um, now one of my trustees on the project actually um so we set off together on a journey and it was completely open-ended. We didn't have even a return ticket and about two hundred and fifty pounds

02:50.96 sol_hanna She.

02:53.90 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni In travelers checks on each of us and obviously that was probably people say to me now that that was a brave thing to do but at the time it just felt like a necessary thing to do um and it was ah really a time of exploration and. Um, learning about myself and about life and so from the time I arrived in India I could sense that the the society the culture was very very different and people seemed to have um, an intuition. Maybe even a connection to something much bigger than themselves and. Was not so much emphasis on the sort of trivial petty concerns that people in the western world can sometimes have when we actually have all the basic comforts in place. We don't have to worry about what we're going to eat you know or um, the being food on the table at all. So I already had a sense that this was a very spiritual place. And then throughout the course of my travels I heard about meditation retreats where you would remain with yourself in a small room eyes downcast for ten days and simply take a journey into the but world of the body and mind and um. Because of these kind of burning questions in my teens and the sort of depression that I also experienced due to not having the answers not knowing why I was here the idea of being with my mind and seeing what was really going on was very compelling for me so I took a ah retreat first of all in Thailand actually. Um, with two western teachers who trained with Goenka and also ajambudadassa and it was everything I've been looking for it sounds strange to say that at the age of 20 or 21 that you know I'd been searching for so long but that's how it felt um, perhaps it's you know, a. Suggestion that there was an intuition about past lives but it just felt like this was finally what I was trying to sort of express to myself for so many years and the buddhist teachings just fit. They just made sense and I made a determination at that point to to try my very best. Pursue them for the rest of my life.

05:01.45 sol_hanna Wow Wow But it's amazing like that you actually came to that point where you found something that fitted for you with I guess it was like coming home in a sense. Yeah, um, now I believe that you spent you actually followed that through and and immediately that meant.

05:09.83 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yeah, yeah, it was.

05:21.41 sol_hanna Going on retreats and also supporting retreats and you stayed in Asia mostly is that correct.

05:26.84 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni That's right? Yeah so I knew that I would need more support to establish a daily practice which was very much emphasized and I also wanted to know more about the teachers of the teachers of the first retreat. So I went to India and I started to sit. Courses with S Engoenka known as goenkaji to his students and he comes from a lineage that's ah from Myanmar um of vipasal lineage where we practice breath meditation and then looking at the body and looking at the sensations in the body in terms of their characteristic of impermanence. Primarily and um so I started to practice on these retreats and very much wanted to make it a part of my daily life. Um, but I knew that I would need more support so I started to give service on the same retreats and this was a really wonderful way of not getting into the trap. Me and my meditation and my progress which I think many of us can fall into you know and still repeatedly as a nun. Also this is a danger on the way you know our own journey becomes so important almost to the exclusion of others.

06:26.96 sol_hanna Um.

06:35.25 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni So for me I'm very grateful that service was always emphasized as part of the path.

06:38.17 sol_hanna Oh you're right? Wow and that's actually often. The Buddha said that you know generosity and kindness are such a great support for our own spiritual progress and as you say stops us thinking about our own little self-centered. Yeah.

06:53.91 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yeah, that's right, That's right.

06:56.18 sol_hanna Ah world. Yeah, so that's great. Did you do any other types of meditation at that time or were you mostly focused on there like the go Anchor method.

07:02.69 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni I was actually entirely focused and committed on the goenka method because it just gave me such enormous benefits in my life. Um, and it was really clear when you close your eyes and go inside and I started sitting on much longer retreats for thirty days forty five days that suffering is. Caused by the way we use our mind primarily of course as something inherent to human existence in that we are bound to suffer you know and at a deeper level. The buddha said the body and mind phenomenon in and of itself is subject to suffering. But um. Along with that understanding a great amount of equanimity started to develop through the practice and this had enormous benefits in my daily life I found that I was much less reactive when things didn't go my way. Or for example, when I was serving a retreat if somebody would approach me feeling agitated or angry and upset often they would project that onto the course managers or the teachers and I would be able to sort of feel the experience in my body that that anger in another produced and stay. Embodied and stay aquamous to that understanding and noticing that it was changing all the time. So there was far less solidity far less to cling to and to hold onto and basically get myself wound up about so um. It was really wonderful I found that there was so much more balance and groundedness in my life and that enabled me to be more present for others. No matter how they were feeling and as you were saying you know the service. The generosity. The kindness is so much a foundation of the path. But um, also my teacher goenkaji would.

08:31.40 sol_hanna And.

08:42.11 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Emphasize that it's an outcome as well. Like 1 of the signs of someone progressing well on the path is a feeling of gratitude and a wish to serve and so this would always be very instructive to me in terms of whether my practice was moving in the right direction and I found that the more I practiced.

08:44.37 sol_hanna Um.

08:50.88 sol_hanna Ah.

09:01.14 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni The more capacity I had to give to others. Um, yeah, yeah.

09:01.64 sol_hanna Wow, that's a pretty wise points and often one that's often missed in the west I think in terms of western buddhism um around this ah period of time when you were in Asia especially in India and Nepal you had that. Yearning to live a meditative monastic life. It was forming it was growing but finding a place to ordain as as none that wasn't so easy. Could you tell us about that challenge and how it shaped your journey.

09:22.16 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, yeah.

09:29.41 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Sure yeah, it was um I guess I didn't know anything different at the time about um, you know the fact that it may have been easier if I was a male you know to find a monastery. Um, so I just took it as ah, a journey as an opportunity to keep practicing and keep asking keeping my eyes open to any opportunities that should arise so I saw that period of time which ended up being around 10 years as a sort of training a sort of preparation for monastic life. But yes, you're right that the um, the calling to ordain was becoming stronger and stronger and especially on the long retreats. It started to get to the point where I didn't see the point in actually coming out again because the process was going really well and I was learning more and more about the practice and going deeper inside my mind. And the craving to kind of engage in worldly activities, especially the world of relationships and sensuality was just getting so undermined I didn't have that kind of impetus to go back out and and sort of dirty the mind that was getting more and more contented more and more satisfied within itself.

10:32.89 sol_hanna On this.

10:39.35 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, so I would ask around I would ask some of the teachers if they're new places to ordain and luckily I was in Asia where there is an appreciation of the path of renunciation and so nobody would actually try to put me off I have heard that sometimes in the west teachers recommend that people. Practice as laypeople and and develop virtue and you know a really good foundation in that way. But my teachers did sort of look quite happy when I mentioned about ordination. So it was just a matter of finding the right time and place and this happened actually when I was in India. And I was speaking to one of my friends who just heard about a monastery in Burma opening up and the teacher there had also practiced in the same tradition but was known to be very well advanced in the path and it was one of those intuitive things when my heart just leapt and knew that this is it. This is my teacher. This is my opportunity and I can remember being on a little bus in India and practically jumping up and down on my seat with joy. Yeah, it was. It was really special because of the long kind of training and also weight that had gone before.

11:38.62 sol_hanna This was.

11:51.46 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni So I think for women you know because it is much harder and there's so few opportunities and this is in Asia right? The land of buddhism burma and Sri Lanka still there are far less opportunities that when we actually come across those opportunities. We're very unwilling to let them go. We tend to really treasure them.

12:06.40 sol_hanna Um, moon.

12:10.53 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni And make the best of them as far as possible. So that's what I tried to do yeah.

12:11.38 sol_hanna Good point now this ah step to ordaining is it's a pretty big step anywhere. But you are off to rural Myanmar. It's a very different standard living. It's a very different culture of the food.

12:27.21 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um.

12:30.57 sol_hanna What was it like practicing um in Rural maima.

12:33.86 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yeah, well, um, bearing in mind that I'd already lived in Asia by now for 10 to 12 elve years So the first time I ordained was about 10 years into my life in Asia in 2004 and the second time was in 2006 I had to finish. Um. Some worldly things up first which was basically a degree that I'd started as a backup so I was always very very accustomed to life in Asia and I actually felt much more comfortable there than when I would combat home in the west. Um, the only time I'd lived in England as an adult since leaving.

13:05.60 sol_hanna Are.

13:11.82 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni 19 was to study indian medicine and so even there all my teachers were indian and half of the course students were indian and we lived in a very multicultural area of London near shepppers Bush. So. Actually felt quite comfortable and being young. You know your body is a little bit more resilient. So unfortunately I have you know, got parasite infections at least 2 or 3 times a year throughout those 10 years in India so being in rural burma did exacerbate those gastric issues.

13:31.22 sol_hanna System.

13:46.65 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Ah, but for me, it was the closest thing I could get to feeling like I was back in the time of the Buddha you know the simplicity of the life. Um, the way that that simplicity and even austerity ah kind of points us towards finding happiness within ourselves within our hearts.

13:52.25 sol_hanna Um.

14:05.75 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Find it really conducive and almost magical in terms of the atmosphere you know Burma's really a land of dumbo and a land where you know there are monasteries on every street corner. You can go into town and.

14:16.20 sol_hanna M.

14:19.84 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, just see long lines of monastics monks and nons on arms round in the City. Um, so it felt like a really incredible place and an incredible blessing to be able to ordain there. Unfortunately as you were saying earlier I did get sick. In a more chronic long term way so that was the main problem living there and the heat was really Intense. You know we'd literally be sitting there sweating all day and night and those.

14:41.80 sol_hanna Move.

14:47.80 sol_hanna Yes, yes, ah, um, and I do want to ask you a little bit about that because I guess this and the means other people come across these difficult turning points in their spiritual journey. Ah you said earlier that you know you found that you really loved practicing there. And it felt so authentic. Last you said like the time of the Buddha and I believe that you your early decision was like this it I'm staying here. This is I'm going to practice till I go the whole way kind of thing but at the same time you were having you know your your body just wasn't well suited.

15:07.19 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, and.

15:22.99 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, yeah.

15:25.46 sol_hanna To the conditions in some ways you had you had these parasitetes as you say in the heat and so forth and that's really putting you in difficult position if you stay, you're not going to get any better. It's going to get worse. But at the same time You love the place. How did you navigate.

15:32.40 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yes.

15:39.94 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, yeah. Thank you, Thank you for that really sensitive observation because it was actually very very difficult um to navigate and I guess initially um I felt that my practice was almost strong enough to.

15:45.40 sol_hanna This this dilemma.

16:02.58 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Put those health concerns to the back of my mind. Um, and so perhaps in that sense I almost neglected my physical health because I didn't really see what I could do at that time. So and there was so much joy and happiness I was really thriving on the path. Um, and it took probably about 4 years I did try to get my health sorted out. We went to ah hospitals actually in Thailand so I actually got to travel to Thailand a couple of times to go to kind of big efficient hospitals. The healthcare system myanmar is really quite poor. Saw a list actually of countries graded in terms of the health systems and Boma was the worst in the world. Can you imagine even below sort of camemarroon and all kinds of other places so that was difficult you know in mi imar to get the proper treatment and.

16:42.57 sol_hanna Wow! Yeah, wow.

16:55.91 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Try as I might nothing would really help so I continued to practice but it came to the point that I realized this wasn't sustainable in the long run and it did cause a lot of inner conflict because I had made this internal commitment to being in myanmoir you know to become my home I tried to learn the language and. You know because my teacher only spoke burmese so I tuned up to all the instructions and um I felt like I was very much under his wing in terms of mentorship. So it was quite heart-wrenching to have to leave but this is around the same time luckily that ah. Joining these trips overseas to try to get better. Someone had given me a Cd of western monastic talks and I have to admit to putting it in the corner of my room thinking. Oh these kind of western talks. They're very diluted. It's not the real thing. You know my teachers enlightened.

17:47.57 sol_hanna Statistics.

17:54.67 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Ah, you know and in in the west people just talk about getting on together in community and the do talk about the deep stuff you know so this was my sort of prejudice my bias towards western monks and but one day I just picked up this Cd and by somebody blamma vamso and I thought okay never heard of him. Put this cd on and um the talk was on a subject that um I don't really listen to that much about body contemplation understanding the kind of um, sometimes it's known as the repulsive aspect of the body but the way that he spoke about it gave it such a deeper meaning for me. And I was really quite blown away the second talk I heard was about meditation off the cushion but he mentioned that normally he likes to talk about Jana's and enlightenment and those kind of things. So again I was my mind was captivated and the teachings just went straight to the heart and I knew that. You know sometimes you listen to a talk and you feel that the person speaking is speaking from a very very deep experience of the same and it has a very different quality and perhaps because I was engaged in sort of up to 14 hours meditation every day and very very sensitive. You know.

19:00.30 sol_hanna Um.

19:10.32 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni To the teachings. Perhaps that they almost landed in my body and mind as an instruction that took me deeper and that really resonated with where I was at so it was a very strong kind of sense that I have to find this teacher whoever they are didn't know who this person was. Um, but it came at the same time that I was trying to make a decision on what to do next.

19:35.83 sol_hanna Okay, that brings us to our next question which is um ah so after a couple of years. You actually got the opportunity to go to dhammasar and practice there and then I think it was a couple years after that and 2014 that you were able to to.

19:38.53 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, okay.

19:55.39 sol_hanna Ah, take ordination higher ordination as a pecuni yourself now by the time you're able to take fullordination. You've been practicing as a monastic for several years I think over ten years I believe but how did taking the higher ordination as a pecuni change your life.

20:12.58 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Great! Great question. Why did I do it? Yeah, why wouldn't you do It is the obvious response. Why wouldn't you do it because I think you know the path of renunciation is such a deep in a calling and you know I had been.

20:14.90 sol_hanna And what and why did you do it? Good answer.

20:30.48 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Ah, waiting for the first opportunity to ordain for 10 years so when I ordained the first time it was never half an ordination in my mind. It was a full renunciation. You know as on the other side of the world for my family I'd already been moving in that direction for so long so it was just a natural kind of affirmation of the way.

20:37.66 sol_hanna M.

20:49.40 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni My life had already become so I think you know it's really important to say that because some people might think that people who are not fully ordained aren't fully committed but in most cases if not every single case. It's often because they simply don't have the opportunity. I mean you don't hear about many monks who stay on 8 on 10 precepts or on 8 precepts for their whole life if the book ordination is available then they they take the BuCo ordination they take that opportunity offered by the buddha and in the same way when I first heard that um this teacher who by now you will know is aju brown. When I first heard that not only were his teachings so deep but that he was promoting and supporting Bicuni orination full orination for women my heart just leapt toward the idea it was like oh my goodness. Maybe this is a real possibility for me so in terms of the renunciation. Honestly, it didn't feel like a very big difference I had been ordained by them for about 8 years ah yeah about 8 years and so it just felt like I guess the main difference was that I was now officially entering the sangha because. And until you take the full orination. You're not actually a member of the worldwide sangga with a recognized platform of ordination and there's a really beautiful line that we chant in the oration it says um, may the sangha lift me up out of compassion and the word used is actually anukapa may they lift me up out.

22:13.47 sol_hanna Who who.

22:19.90 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Compassion and it really did feel that I was being invited into this family of practicing monastics into this international sanga where my ordination was you know equivalent to everybody else's which means that you can go to any place and join in. The monastery practices including the patimokka chanting the rules of training along with other monks and nons nuns for nons and monks for monks. Um, so that was very special and yeah I guess Also the robes that I was. Be wearing then with the kind of traditional robes are the Paddy field robes that again, go back to the time of the Buddha and the arms Bowl. So All these things are signs of renunciation and that just reminds you of the step you've taken and reminds you that you are is something to live up to. And it's something that generates a feeling of gratitude every day because as an arms Mendicant you're dependent on the charity of others. So that inspires you to practice as well as you can and to be worthy of the robes.

23:24.91 sol_hanna Ah I'm curious. Ah because even now there's still a little bit of controversy around the Picuti Ordination. Do you feel that there's been.. It's been a challenge. To be a burconi or do you feel that you've been really well supported or or maybe a bit of both.. What's been your experience so far.

23:44.31 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yeah, yeah, yeah, they do say there's a controversy and I don't know in whose's mind that controversy exists I don't know why we're fabricating it because you know everything is actually mind created so you know you can choose to have a controversy about it or you can choose to rejoice I'm not quite sure I think there are a lot of political.

23:55.28 sol_hanna Church.

24:03.81 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Politics involved in in the controversial side that I try to just distance myself from. But unfortunately you're right? that? Um, that controversy and that lack of acceptance by some more conservative sectors of ter ofva da buddhism does create difficulties for women because we don't find that the conditions. Living a monastic life are easily attainable so because I ordained in Perth where a lot has been done to support both sanghas the monks and the nuns I did have suitable conditions in the beginning. Although I have to admit. That um I didn't have as much access to the teachings and especially to my teachers's teachings as I would have wished for um, but that's also because the biunni sangha the non sangha is younger and we don't have so many and night and nones simply because we haven't had as many opportunities to practice. Um. So then after about two or three years in Perth living at Dharmasara Monastery Ajuraham asked me if I would consider going back to england and trying to start something for bikunnis there because there's absolutely nothing in this in my own home country his home country too for women to take the full ordination. And I don't know if it was a bit of a joke between us that oh just let's give it a go I don't think we really felt like it would be a serious thing but somehow or other like I was devoted enough to give it a go. You know out of gratitude to our John Brown and bit by bit. We have generated some. Port but it's been really really difficult and I do think the general um disposition of the main dominant sangga there towards biunnis which is one of basically not approving her ordination not supporting. It does make things very hard. Um, you know it's. Almost every supporter that I have in England is I'm in a personal some kind of personal relationship with like I've had to cultivate a relationship and and um and teach a lot. You know it's not as though the support that's forthcoming simply because I'm a bicuni. Um. It's as though we have to really prove our worth.

26:16.73 sol_hanna That's interesting I mean if you're in a buddhist country like a monk and a buddhist country is going to get support and reverence straight away if they come to the west. They've got to kind of earn it a little bit but it sounds to me like as a bicoy you've got to like go to 3 times the the.

26:17.91 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni And. Yes.

26:31.51 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, yeah, absolutely I'm not sure how many more times difficult it is it could be up to a hundred times or thousand times without wanting to sound like poor me because I think you know it makes you strong.

26:33.65 sol_hanna The the distance to get that kind of support is is that I'm on I'm on the right track with saying that.

26:50.56 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni But um, what I've noticed in in monks communities even in the west. Especially I mean for someone like adja brown. He's obviously worked very hard and he's leading a community but there are other monks in the sangga who don't have to put themselves out there. They can live a very simple life. You know, not every monk has to be. An administrator a teacher someone who talks with the guests someone who does the website someone who uploads the Youtube talks whereas for nones we have to do all of those things to start our own places. So it's like you have to ah if you're not good at everything you have to learn to be at least. Okay. In order to survive especially when establishing our own places. So yeah I think for monks they're stepping into an established system that's understood by buddhist communities I mean how many times for example, do you hear teachers refer to stories of the wise old monk or you know refer to.

27:42.66 sol_hanna M.

27:45.10 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Great Ajans from the forest tradition. There's barely any talk about the wise old non that just isn't really a thing. It's more like the old spinster.

27:54.53 sol_hanna Yeah, it's it's ah it's That's true and I think it's ah it's very sad because that wasn't the way it was to begin with we we we know that there were enlightened nuns. We know that they were well supported. Um and it was something that was lost and.

27:58.72 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, correct.

28:13.40 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yeah.

28:14.44 sol_hanna It's that that in itself is a great shame and why wouldn't you want to bring it back to the way things were as the Buddha established them. It seems but it does sound like it's It's quite a bit challenge. Although I dare say a very worthwhile one. Um.

28:20.42 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Exactly exactly? yeah.

28:28.63 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yes.

28:32.37 sol_hanna I Do want to take just one little step back here and go to that point where our jump Brahm suggested this idea of starting the cooneney monastery in the Uk and it's interesting to hear you say he was joking about it because you never know he may have just been joking about it to though he got jump bra but he does that. Um.

28:46.49 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Her her.

28:51.60 sol_hanna But what were your what were your first impressions of this idea and you know that's a pretty daunting kind of proposition I would have thought.

28:57.94 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yes, absolutely as I say I mean at the time that we discussed it. It was one of those times where everything's so wonderful and you're so supported and this is great I'm going to get to work with my teacher so it was kind of like oh yeah, why not try and he said you know if it doesn't work. You can always come back. But when I actually got back to England I had my return ticket to Perth and I had a visa extension in process to continue training in Perth and at some point it started to dawn on me that if I was going to do this I would have to cancel that visa and stay in england where there was literally no support. And even my parents made it clear at that time that I couldn't just stay with them and I of course didn't want to either as a monastic. It wouldn't be appropriate longer term. Um so I have to admit there was a lot of terror in my stomach and there were several nights that I didn't sleep well at all I was thinking oh my goodness. What do I do here? do i. Go back to Perth and you know and sort of try and start things up from a distance or do I just plunge ahead so I spoke to Agen Brown and I said look if we're going to do this then I need you to come over to england and do some teaching and sort of. You know spread the word because I don't have any support networks over here and also I need you to would you be the advisor to the project because you already advise me anyway, there wouldn't be any difference really, it would just be a continuation of the teacher's student relationship and you could advise me on setting things up. And to my surprise he immediately said yes, sure and anyone who knows Adjan knows that he already has many many responsibilities and he's not that keen to take on new things. But obviously this meant a lot to him so much so that there was no hesitation in his mind at all.

30:41.66 sol_hanna Um.

30:46.90 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni So suddenly I had my teacher coming over sort of eight months later and here I was in England with nothing no support nowhere to stay and I had to basically arrange a tour as well as figure out how I was gonna get my next meal. So. So this is why I had a few sleepless nights and a couple of friends came to the rescue and told me they were renting a little cottage in lanzaroti an island out of Spain in The Atlantic Ocean where they were going to have a little retreat and they invited me to come along so I had a um. Ah, non-self retreat I'm not going to call it a personal retreat an impersonal retreat for for three weeks in lanzarotti on this little island where I could gather myself and let things sink in and I think at that time I wrote a few emails to Ajan about sort of what name we might call ourselves and.

31:26.83 sol_hanna Shift.

31:42.46 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Just very basic preliminary things and we took it from there. So.

31:47.50 sol_hanna And after that the coronavirus came and no one can travel anywhere. So how did you? Yeah, how did you find because you how long have you been in the UK now

31:52.91 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni That was a few years later

31:59.17 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni So um, this happened in early 2016 so that was when we organized Adjun's first tour and I still remember that year. We had to sort of set ourselves up to have a website to have an organization find trustees etc and I still remember when the first ten pounds came into our account and I was like oh my goodness somebody knows about us. They've donated £10 it was amazing. Um, so that was the first year and since then after the tour we did get a very generous donation from an overseas supporter who wanted to remain anonymous which was incredibly touching.

32:20.77 sol_hanna She.

32:37.45 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni And that was the time I realized this could well this had to happen actually so suddenly the responsibility hit home. So between 2016 and 2019 I was still moving from supporter to supporter to. Depending on them. Basically for my food and my board and trying to work on the project and I was also coming to Perth every year for the reins retreat. So every year for three months I had supportive conditions I had the teachings and I could just relax. Um, and it wasn't until 2019 that we were in a position to rent our first um place our first vihara and that was in Oxford so the beginning of 2019 about a year and a half before the current. Actually only about a year before the corona pandemic hit.

33:29.22 sol_hanna How how did you endure the pandemic because ah you still don't have your own monastery. You got to vihara by this stage. But that's it was quite hard in the Uk um Ajam Brahm's not going to be able to come and visit how did you navigate that.

33:40.50 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yeah, okay, yeah, that was tough and I guess in the beginning I was a little bit shocked that I wouldn't be able to get to Perth but I made a decision fairly quickly. I think partly influenced by watching what was happening in other parts. World that um I would just reflect on my good fortune for having a safe place to stay um compared to many people that were struggling in much more desperate ways I remember seeing um reports in the news about India and about people just having to. Go home and some of these people were sort of uncontracted workers in the cities and they'd have to literally walk on foot maybe hundreds if not thousands of miles to their homes. You know, starving not getting enough water on the way and obviously very vulnerable to catching the disease. So I just felt.

34:23.80 sol_hanna Um.

34:36.38 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni So grateful and it was almost like a conscientious choice to look at what I had to be happy about and at that time we were still renting the vihara and I just felt so protected and so blessed to be there. Um, the other decision I made was to move the teachings online. Which was not very obvious. My friend's instinct was to just have a retreat but ah I grappled with the Zoom thing and decided to do about 2 or 3 sessions a week and we grew an online community which has been a massive boon for the project and.

34:58.00 sol_hanna Citizen.

35:15.49 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Extremely rewarding for me even yesterday I was doing my last online teaching before I'm going to enter a long retreat and there were about 30 people coming ah the same kind of core group but different people from all over the world. People from America from Perth from Thailand from all over the place and and so this has been really wonderful in supporting myself in feeling that I have something meaningful to offer and also in supporting a community. So. That's basically how we did it and from that group. I was teaching online people offered to basically provide the weekly food that I would need and I've had to make allowances that ah that the buddha very compassionately gave in the vinaya um to cook for myself. So people have been sending like weekly shopping to the monastery and then I've been basically doing that for myself in order to stay safe. Um and the buddha did say that in times of famine and danger I allow you to do this. So yeah, yeah.

36:20.57 sol_hanna Yeah, right? That's interesting. Yeah, very interesting. Okay, um, if it is can other people join in on these online teaching sessions. How how would they do that.

36:31.47 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yeah, they can um as I say at the moment I'm about to enter a really long retreat to resource myself more fully. But um, we are going to continue with weekly Dhamma teachings from a number of other baconiss and you can look on our website anu camper project. Dot org slash events for the list of teachings and you can also sign up to our newsletter through that website. Um and the links will be there in the newsletter that you can join the Zoom sessions. So.

37:01.96 sol_hanna And for all the listeners. Those links will be in the description below this podcast so just look in the links below. Um, now we we've learned that you had this huge and very challenging journey. Ah, that's brought you to this point of.

37:09.67 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, yeah.

37:21.87 sol_hanna Working on the anukampa project startup picuy monastery in the Uk could you tell us a little bit more about the anukampa project. What? what are you aspiring to achieve yeah tell us a bit about that.

37:28.29 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Sure. Okay, great I guess the first thing we're aspiring to achieve is to have a resource for women where they can take the full ordination and practice and live as bikunis in England or in the Uk. So as I say you know my journey so far has made it clear that there were very few opportunities and since leaving Perth that's become even more obvious you know there is just a handful of bicuni monasteries really around the world and in Perth there's a huge monastery relatively speaking with about 14 I think biconiss now. Um, but in most parts of the world. You're lucky to have a small temple with 1 or two nums. Um, so realistically, we're going to be starting small but the whole idea is to give people more options because just as for monks they have not only opportunities to ordain but also a choice. They can choose the community that suits their own practice at a given time you know, maybe the teacher they have a particular connection with or members of the community or a particular tradition a particular schedule etc. So even though there are a few little places. There's nothing in England and we just need more so that other biconis can also start to rotate between different monasteries and we can enrich each other and learn from each other as well. So I think that's also part of it to give women a start but also to. Contribute to the bikuni sangha to the opportunities that already ordained women have and increase those opportunities so that they can learn from each other and contribute to 1 another's communities.

39:13.96 sol_hanna I'd like to just ask you about that. Um, there seems to me to be developing like a kind of international biconi network at this time and it must must be a fairly tight Knit Network it's not it's not an enormous number of.

39:22.37 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, and.

39:29.52 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, this is.

39:31.68 sol_hanna Mccuney's what's that like and what's the state of development of that kind of network and how and how are you supporting each other.

39:35.74 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Right? I mean? Yeah Thank you for that question. That's wonderful and it's nice to see that you have that observation because I am starting to feel more um, connected to that network I'm probably haven't had as much time as somb bioonies. Really become a part of it and to engage saying bikunni conferences et cetera because I've been so focused just on surviving in the robes and also trying to establish something in England for that purpose and other purposes. Um, but I have recently been traveling in America a little bit and I've visited a couple of monasteries there I think I've visited 3 there now 3 or 4 and it's really inspiring to see the way people are doing it and as I say there's a real difference in the sort of culture in each of those monasteries. So it's inspiring to see that. You know there's not just a one form fits all or a certain way that we're supposed to be or present as female monastics. You really can bring your whole self into this holy life. You know and understand your own conditioning as it manifests for you. So it's really great to go to different places and to have those friendships. And a few people in America said that they'd love to come and stay in England when we have a place and that I can also go there so we can do a little bit of exchange. So this really helps with for me, it helps to lessen a feeling of overresp responsibility because sometimes the project can feel like a very heavy burden on my shoulders that I've got to do this for. For me and for people in England and you know it's my place so I've got all this responsibility but actually it's not my place it's a place for biconies and I'm just you know in a role whereby I'm trying to help get things started and taking some of the lead in terms of teachings. But um, actually it's not my place it's a place for biconi sangha the bikuni sangga as a whole

41:27.60 sol_hanna We have to say that this is a very inspiring and worthy project of venerable and could you tell us how could people our listeners offer support to the newcompat project.

41:40.29 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Yeah, thank you? Well firstly I guess for me the most important thing about this project is community on the ground. It's having people around. It's having people to benefit from this on a regular basis. And also to offer support to the bukunies and the residents who live in the monastery. So if you are local to the monastery you know if you live in the yeah uk and if you do like going to monasteries remember the abucuni to support. You know it's not that you're going to get more merit by supporting monks than nones or even. By supporting nuns the monks. The Buddha said that the greatest merit the greatest benefit you can have is to support both s sangas the bickers and the buconis. That's the best gift of all so make sure you visit Bicuis and ask them what support they need. Sometimes it's help with things like admin. Um, that very much is relevant to us websites anything technical to free up our time so that we can really engage in the practice and take it deeper so we have something truly truly beneficial to give you know if monastics are still in situations where we're working around the clock from. Not just 9 to 5 but sometimes 7 in the morning till midnight literally on trying to set things up then we're going to be run dry. We're going to be tired and you know we're not going to have as much to give so do try to support monastics wherever you see them in their practice. You know so that they can really get the blessings the benefits, the fullest benefits of the holy life the deeper our practice the deeper the teachings that we're able to offer so that's a really wonderful way. Of course there are also ways to be involved from afar so you can join the online sessions. That's a great way to get to know you and also of course monitory donations are always very welcome because we're still trying to raise funds for a bigger property in the long run.

43:40.16 sol_hanna I have to say this is a very not just inpiring but a pioneering project. So I think it'd be great to be like a volunteer or even just a donate a few dollars to help support this really worthwhile project anyway.

43:53.30 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Um, they are.

43:56.33 sol_hanna Thank you very much venable chander for sharing your inspiring sport in story with us today. We wish you every success with this important anukapa project.

44:02.65 Ven Canda Bhikkhuni Thank you, Thank you so much sal. It's been wonderful to talk to you and I really appreciate your questions and your interest and support.

Ayya CandavisuddhiProfile Photo

Ayya Candavisuddhi

Spiritual Director

Bhikkhuni Canda was born in Chesterfield, England, in 1975. She came into contact with the Buddha's teachings in India in 1996 at the age of twenty, through the Vipassana tradition as taught by S.N. Goenka. During her first retreat she decided to devote the rest of her life to ending suffering through practising the Buddha's teachings.

For the next seven years she meditated and gave service on numerous retreats, mostly in India and Nepal, as her aspiration to renounce lay-life intensified. However, ordination opportunities for women were so rare that she was unable to find any suitable monastery. Eventually, while undertaking an Ayurvedic Medicine degree in London, she heard about a promising monastery in rural Burma called Thephyu Tawya, and took temporary ordination there with Sayadaw U Pannyajota at the next opportunity. In 2006, after graduating, she returned to ordain for the long-term, and spent the next four years in intensive meditation and service under Sayadaw's guidance. During this time Ven Canda also encountered the Thai Forest Tradition through Ajahn Mahaboowa in Thailand, and became increasingly drawn to samatha practice as a means to develop deeper insight.

By 2010 the ascetic lifestyle, climate and diet in Burma had taken its toll on Ven Canda's health, leading to a return to the West. This happily coincided with the chance discovery of Ajahn Brahm's teachings. His emphasis on love, kindness and letting go resonated so deeply and immediately that learning directly from him became a new goal. After 2 years as a wandering nun in Europe Ven Canda finally had the opportunity to travel to Australia and has been living there since 2012. She joined the Dhammasara community in Perth and took Bhikkhuni ordination in April 2014, with Ayya Santini as preceptor (pictured above to the left of Ajahn Brahm).

In October 2015 Ajahn Brahm asked Ven Canda to take steps towards establishing a monastery in UK, to increase equality in practice and ordination opportunities for women. She is currently practicing wherever support is available, with a view to settling in England when conditions are ripe.