Last night I attended the dharma talk at SFZC City Center. The speaker was an invited guest, Ayya Anandabodhi. As one of the first nuns to be ordained in America in the Theravadan tradition she, and Ayya Santacitta, have received quite a bit of attention. Myself, I’d been inspired by their vision of starting a practice place for women, and had been meaning to visit the Vihara for a while. It’s just down the road a piece, near the ocean at the edge of San Francisco. But, this nun’s life was full enough that I never quite made it there.
Still, as sometimes happens, our paths crossed. What a lovely, unexpected arising. I’d gone down to visit another nun, Sister Santussika, who has even more recently begun a nunnery, this one in Millbrae. When I arrived, I found that the Ayyas were there, as well as Anandabodhi’s attendant and other women who give generously of their time to the two sanghas. I was quite pleased to make all of their acquaintance. As it happened we, together with Ajahn Guna, Santussika’s son who is also a monk, gathered together in front of the main altar and chanted a bhikkhuni blessing for the new temple. We chanted in both Pali and English, and despite the fact that it was all a new form for me, I felt comfortable and integrated.
So it was with a sense of anticipation that I went over to City Center, to visit with a new friend, in way. And a truly fascinating thing happened. I’d had a late dinner due to waiting on another friend. When I went up to Blanche’s apartment to change into my robes, I noticed that Anandabodhi and Maria, her attendant who will soon be ordained sangha too, were waiting in the usual place to go down to give the talk. Stepping past them into Blanche’s room, I became aware that the sky in the window seemed to be a bit more colorful than usual. I pulled back the curtain only to find a broad, wondrous rainbow arching over the entire city, framed by a rose-colored sky. It was stunning, and I motioned to the nuns to come have a look. Then, the most amazing thing happened. Ayya Anandabodhi looked at the rainbow and said, “Oh, it’s for a woman we know. The rainbows seem to come out for her.” Even though it had just appeared, even though it could be seen in this place where she was waiting, even though, as Maria pointed out, there hadn’t even been any rain that day and it was nearly twilight, Anandabodhi didn’t think that the rainbow was for her. Her first thought was that it was for her friend.
This was, for me, a teaching in generosity and selflessness – a way of seeing the world that didn’t being with “me” or “mine.” She saw the world as a gift for others and smiled in gratitude for my having shown it to her. Reflecting on this moment, I’m reminded of the 10 Oxherding Pictures, wherein the practitioner, represented by a boy growing up, goes through two phases of realization about his relationship to the world. In one phase, he experiences the joy of releasing the deluded view of the world as being about him or related to him. Later, that same practitioner sits down to ponder the stillness of releasing the sense of himself as defined by the world. For me, Ayya Anandabodhi demonstrated at least the first and maybe also the second when she, in a fleeting instant, declined to accept the rainbow as a gift to herself. Beautiful!