July 2012 Changes at Santi (Dec 2012 updated)

Changes at Santi

17 July 2012  Originally posted on the Santi Forest Monastery website.

After Bhante Sujato’s surprising announcement of his resignation as abbot the monastery suddenly went through many changes. Below is the reassuring update that I posted on their website for supporters during that challenging time. (Comings & Goings At Santi *)

Scroll down to the end for an update (Epilogue).

Dear Supporters and Friends,

Each year as the Vassa retreat approaches, monasteries usually see a reshuffling of residents, with some departing to go elsewhere for the 3 month Vassa season, and others coming to stay. Vassa begins with the August full moon (not in July as usual), starting the 3rd of August. Pre-Vassa preparations often make monasteries busy with activity at this time of year, but at Santi, sweeping changes soon to come are creating more of a whirlwind of activity.

This year Santi will see its greatest change in many years, the departure of Bhante Sujato after leading this community for nine years. His last day at Santi will be 27th July 2012; he plans to give the Friday night talk at the Well Awareness Center in Sydney one last time that evening.  Bhante leaves to let go of the weight of duties, and says that he does not plan to return to Santi; but he cannot answer the frequently raised question of whether he will resume any teachings in Sydney in future. “That would be a plan!” he protests, making it clear that a plan would be a bad thing.  Bhante assures everyone that he will remain a monk, just one who is more free.

You may wonder what will change at Santi with Bhante’s departure; will this be the same place that you love and want to visit? Yes!  Santi will remain familiar and welcoming, and will continue as a meditative Forest Tradition monastery that you can visit freely, to meditate, support monastics, learn the Dhamma, or just enjoy the beautiful bushland. However, the upcoming 3-month Vassa will see the usual annual shut-down for intensive meditation.

Other monastics departing before Vassa will be the ever-peaceful Ayya Pasada Bhikkhuni, who will join her bhikkhuni Preceptor in California; our whiz-kid genius Bhante Nandiya Samanera, who goes to a monastery in New Zealand; and delightful visitor from Thailand Ayya Munissara Bhikkhuni.  Our dear friend Ruwinie plans to leave next week but hopes to visit often. (See photos below.)

Who’s still at Santi??  you may be asking.

Of all the past longterm residents, only the talented Ayya Patacara Samaneri, Santi’s beloved Chandra, and our longterm friend Jeanette remain at Santi. Of course I will remain here (Ayya Sudhamma) as well, along with the learned Ayya Dhammananda Bhikkhuni who kindly returned to Santi recently to help with the transition.

Two additional bhikkhunis, Ayya Phalanyani and Ayya Marajina, will soon arrive for their first visit here. A young 8-precept Thai nun, Mae Jii Faa, plans to accompany Ayya Phalanyani if it works out with her visa.

And a number of longterm lay supporters who are like family will soon arrive for Vassa — including the lovely Annie (previously Ayya Analaya Samaneri), counselor Maria Lopez, and the great supporters Tam Ngan Gia Hieu. Affectionately known as “Yahoo“, Gia Hieu and wife Tam Ngan have deep roots with Santi and are embraced like parents by the local Vietnamese Buddhist lay community.

More about the bhikkhunis who will together manage Santi during this Vassa:

Ayya Phalanyani, a German citizen and dedicated meditator for 30 years, trained as a bhikkhuni in Thailand and at Aranya Bodhi under Ayya Tathaaloka before her Teachers granted independence and blessings for her to teach monastics. Ayya Phalanyani graciously agreed to give up her planned quiet retreat at her monastery in Thailand, Wat Ram Poeng, to be of service to the Santi community; Ajahn Brahm personally contacted her Abbot, Ajahn Suphan, to encourage her to come.

Ayya Marajina is a newly ordained bhikkhuni, an American who ran her own ranch in a remote area of Tennessee — often going for days without breaking meditative silence —  before giving up everything a couple of years ago to go forth under Ayya Tathaaloka.  Her  presence will add a quiet calm feeling, and will round out our full quorum of four bhikkhunis; we thank Ven. Tathaaloka for graciously allowing her to join us.

We thank both Ven. Phalanyani and Ven. Marajina for travelling so far, taking a chance on a long visit despite never having seen the place, simply to be of service to the Bhikkhuni Sangha and to Santi.  Ven. Marajina comes on a 3-month visa, departing at the end of October, but Ven. Phalanyani may be able to stay longer, perhaps through December or January.

Ayya Dhammananda made significant sacrifices to come to Santi, as she was already torn between conflicting duties elswhere: her Dhamma sisters struggling with a new Theravadan bhikkhuni monastery in her homeland of Vietnam expected her to return to help them; and many devotees in Hawaii, including women who wish to ordain, begged her not to leave.  To appease these devotees she continues to give regular teachings by Skype, with a group gathering in Hawaii each week to listen. She returned to Santi at Bhante Sujato’s urging to help with the transition; she can stay at least through November.

I myself have resided at Santi since mid-February and plan to stay through 2nd December.  I came intending to learn from Bhante Sujato, and his teachings have vastly expanded my horizons.  How amazing to me that my visit coincided with Bhante’s departure. As a senior bhikkhuni I will gladly try to repay Bhante by serving his beloved community during this fragile time, helping to bridge the period from his departure until a new management structure beings to form.  If you need me to return to Santi after my December visit home to the USA, I will do that gladly, as well.

People often ask whether I will take over Santi as Abbot. I believe that no one can fill those big shoes of Bhante Sujato’s! But four bhikkhuni friends, a complete Sangha working together harmoniously, can guide the Santi community in a good way, I believe, at least for now. Bhante Sujato says that it is up to the bhikkhunis to step up to the plate, to develop a model of leadership that works. He and Ajahn Brahm feel inspired and excited by our intention to bring ideas from early Vinaya of leadership by the Sangha group, rather than the hierarchy of an abbot which was a later development in Buddhism.

After the Vassa, by the way, you can look forward to seeing our dear friend the irrepressible Ayya Adhimutta Bhikkhuni (whom you may recall as Ayya Adhi Samaneri who went AWOL from Santi a few years ago).  We spent a Vassa together at Aranya Bodhi in California, and I helped in her ordination ceremony in California; we can all look forward to her return home to Santi.

Bhante wants to turn this place over to bhikkhunis, and explains that he has been building up Santi all these years with this plan in mind.  He leaves behind a wonderful place with beautifully preserved bushland, excellent monastery infrastructure, a strong lay Committee of directors, and many devoted supporters like you.  It would be a great gain for the Bhikkhuni Sangha: finally giving English-speaking Theravada bhikkhunis a forested refuge, free from the worries of trying to build the infrastructure & the community support from the start. Perhaps this decision by Bhante will make the difference in whether the world sees Buddhist nuns 200 years from now, and beyond.

A question remains, however: We know that’s what Bhante wants, but what does everyone else want?  You see, the Bhikkhuni Sangha will not come in like a group of bandits. We will offer our assistance, and see how things go, feeling our way to discover what will serve the Dhamma. We will seek your honest feedback, and remain open to other visions for Santi.

Bhante Sujato’s longterm supporter Renee, who works professionally in Change Management — that is, helping corporations to undertake large-scale structural changes with minimal losses — kindly offers her expertise to Santi residents & supporters. She led our first Change Management workshop last Sunday, starting the work to help make the upcoming transitions go as smoothly as possible.

I say transitions, plural, because the upcoming changes will have at least a few phases:

  1. The 3-month Vassa, when bhikkhunis will be experiencing what it is like to run the place without Bhante’s guidance;
  2. The first months after Vassa, when a second reshuffling of residents will bring further changes and start the outline of a slowly-emerging picture of what Santi’s new management structure may become; and
  3. A period from, say, December until this time next year, during which the new management structure shapes up and begins to gain competence.

The overall process of recovering and moving on from such a big change as Bhante Sujato’s departure, Renee states firmly, shall take Santi at least a year, if not longer.

So how are things going at Santi right now?  Bhante Sujato seems weary of all the goodbyes and the efforts to wrap up many projects, but underneath the tiredness he shines with joy at his anticipated new freedom. We cannot begrudge him his soaring happiness at this time, even though we feel our loss keenly. As usual at Santi, we continue laughing more than grieving; yet still, this is an emotional time for residents, as it is for everyone who views Bhante Sujato as their spiritual guide.  We will miss him terribly, along with our other excellent companions who shall soon depart.

Kindly be patient with those of us who remain in residence as we learn how to look after Santi. We appreciate your support and your help to enable us to develop Santi in the best direction possible over this challenging period.


Ayya Sudhamma Bhikkhuni

18 July 2012


August- October 2012

Ayya Sudhamma Bhikkhuni

Ayya Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

Ayya Phalanyani Bhikkhuni

Ayya Marajina Bhikkhuni

Ayya Patacara Samaneri

Upasaka Chandra

Jeanette (who avoids photos so this is the best we’ve got)

Tam Ngan

Gia Hieu

New resident Marty may stay for Vassa

Mae Chee Faa hopes to come from Thailand (wish well for her to get the visa!)


Bhante Santitthito (Bhante Santi) of Germany, Australia’s most senior Western monk, plans to arrive at Santi sometime after Vassa.

Ayya Adhimutta will arrive in mid-November.

Sayalay Santacari likely will arrive by December.


Bhante Sujato Bhikkhu

Ayya Pasada Bhikkhuni

Ayya Munissara Bhikkhuni

Bhante Nandiya Samanera


Some former residents who recently moved on are Galia (previously Ayya Mahacitta Samaneri), Ani Tempa, and Alex:

Galia and Ani Tempa



Epilogue (December 28, 2012)

My July 2012 post on the Santi website did its job of encouraging supporters to continue coming to Santi, soothing unnecessary anxieties, helping residents & primary supporters to stay focused and confident, and preventing the appearance of being vulnerable to takeover by hostile outsiders (such things have happened at other monasteries in times of transition).

How much did the predictions turn out to be accurate?

Renee’s 3-phase description of how changes would evolve turned out to be correct: during the 3-month Vassa, the 1st phase, we were just figuring things out; the 2nd phase was the post-Vassa re-shuffling; then finally Santi settled down into its new form, the 3rd phase. However, things settled down sooner than predicted, once Ayya Phalanyani began to serve as Santi’s new abbot.

Some of the announcements regarding in-coming residents turned out to be overly optimistic. Ayya Marajina did not join us, instead canceling her flight several days before she was due to arrive, reportedly having found the retreat centre where she was staying to be a comfortable place to continue her meditation. Ayya Adhimutta corresponded intensively with us and with supporters, but ended up attending to other priorities, not returning to Santi.

The white-robed Thai nun Mae Chee Faa who came along with Ayya Phalanyani turned out to be a great asset, taking care of much of the nuns’ daily chores. Her ordination as a novice (samaneri) in early September helped to bring the new Santi community together in a most encouraging way, aided by the participation of our new spiritual director, Ajahn Brahm. It marked a new beginning for the nuns of Santi.

Most of the lay supporters who had intended to help run Santi during Vassa did join us happily, but two great supporters, Tam Ngan & Gia Hieu suffered ill health and were only able to visit occasionally. Other new friends filled in.

With only three bhikkhunis running Santi we were not a full Sangha, but we made up for it with visits by bhikkhuni friends staying in Sydney, Ayya Sudhira and Ayya Yeshe, who enabled us to recite Patimokkha. Ayya Patacara, though a samaneri (novice), joined us in making decisions like a 4th bhikkhuni.

Bhante Santitthito’s plan to join Santi was delayed by his work for the monastery where he resided (helping them get through a difficult legal case). By the time he was available to move in, Santi residents and close supporters had gotten comfortable with the idea of allowing Santi to become a bhikkhuni-run monastery. For the nuns’ best chances of success, Ajahn Brahm decided, with the approval of the Committe and the nuns, to ask monks to give the nuns some room and not join Santi as residents for at least the next two years. Bhante Santi remains a great friend of the monastery and continues to make visits to teach the nuns at their request.

Sayalay Santacari’s plan to join the nuns of Santi changed during her visit to Aranya Bodhi in the USA. She joined that community, gained Ayya Tathaaloka as her teacher, and ordained as a samaneri.

The 3 bhikkhunis rotated duties of leadership during the Vassa, with the unexpected result that the natural leadership ability of the most junior among us, Ayya Phalanyani, became clear to everyone, not overshadowed by the senior nuns. Before the end of the Vassa Ajahn Brahm asked her to become Santi’s new abbot, effective Oct 30th.

Within weeks of Ayya Phalanyani becoming Santi’s abbot, several women visitors asked to go forth as samaneris. (Such a number of good women seeking ordination within a few weeks was an astonishing show of confidence in the leadership of Ayya Phalanyani.) Two have already gone forth as of this writing. As stated in Comings & Goings, Ayya Dhammananda and I moved on not long after the Vassa; therefore Santi currently has five nuns in residence, Ayya Phalanyani & her four samaneris: Ayya Patacara, Ayya Taapassii, Ayya Chanda, and Ayya Thu. Let us wish them all the best!


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