Venerable Bhikkhuni Ajahn Vayama, the founding abbot of Dhammasara Nuns Monastery near Perth, Australia, died 20 November. She was 70 years old. Ven. Vayama was noted as one of the first Theravada nuns to take higher ordination in the Western world when she became a full bhikkhuni on 22 October 2009 in Australia.
The Alliance for Bhikkhunis, a US-based non-profit organization, wrote: “We are sad to learn that Ajahn Vayama, one of the first bhikkhunis ordained in Australia, has passed away after a long illness. May she find freedom from suffering and may she attain nibbana.” (Facebook)
Ven. Vayama began her career as a social worker after graduating from the University of Sydney. At the age of 25, she traveled to Sri Lanka, where she met the Buddhist monk, Ven. Nyanaponika and began studying Buddhist texts. She would later travel to Calcutta, inspired by the work of the Catholic saint, Mother Theresa. Soon after moving to Calcutta, her mother became ill with cancer and Ven. Vayama returned to Australia to care for her until her death.
In 1982, Ven. Nyanaponika encountered Wat Buddha Dhamma, founded by the internationally renouned Ven. Ayya Khema. In 1984, she joined Ven. Khema at a newly established monastery for nuns in Sri Lanka, finally ordaining as a 10-precept nun in 1985.
She went on to spend the next 10 years in Sri Lanka, witnessing the bloody civil war. Peace Weekes, author of a biography of Ven. Vayama, writes:
Since the nuns were being supported by people from both sides of the conflict, she witnessed that suffering was widespread amongst all the people who shared their stories with her. This confirmed the Buddha’s teaching that the roots of suffering – namely greed, hatred and delusion – are within the hearts of everyone; no-one is excluded.(Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage)
After leaving Sri Lanka, Ven. Vayama spent a year in England at Amaravati Monastery under the guidance of Ajahn Sumedho. In 1997, she returned to Australia, where Ajahn Brahmavamso, spiritual director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia and abbot of Bodhinyana Monks Monastery, invited her to inaugurate a nuns’ monastery near Perth, which would become Dhammasara Nuns’ Monastery.
There she endured great hardships before a cottage was completed in 2001. That same year, Ven. Vayama had her first trainee, who later became her first 10-precept disciple. From there, her community of nuns grew slowly but steadily, gaining ever-wider renown.
During this period, the global movement for women to receive full monastic ordination in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism grew strong, leading ultimately to Ven. Vayama’s 2009 ordination.
In 2011, after a period of ill-health, Ven. Vayama resigned as abbot of Dhammasara Nuns’ Monastery. In a message announcing a commemoration ceremony for Ven. Vayama, The Buddhist Society of Western Australia noted:
In honour of this great teacher, the BSWA Committee will be organising a Commemoration Ceremony on Sunday, 28 Nov 2021 at 3pm at Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre.
Please join us as we remember Ajahn Vayama with gratitude for all that she had done for the nuns’ community, as well as her teachings that the lay community has immensely benefitted.(Buddhist Society of Western Australia)
They provided a link for live-streaming the ceremony when it happens. More links and information on upcoming events for Ven. Vayama can be found in the Alliance for Bhikkhuni’s Facebook post here:
Alliance for Bhikkhunis (Facebook)
Commemoration Ceremony for Ajahn Vayama (Buddhist Society of Western Australia)
Ajahn Vayama (Buddhist Society of Western Australia)
Ajahn Vayama (Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage)
Most Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso turns 70 (The Island)
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Thanks for sharing Ayya Vayana’s legacy. I understand that Alliance for Bhikkhunis is a US based organisation (incorrectly identified as an Australian organisation in the article). With metta from Australia, Suvira Bhikkhuni
Dear Suvira Bhikkhuni – many thanks for spotting the error and letting us know. It has been corrected.