The Unfolding Vision for Karuna Buddhist Vihara
Karuna Buddhist Vihara (KBV) was founded in 2012 as a neighborhood monastery where Theravada bhikkhunis live, where women train to become bhikkhunis, where meditation and Dhamma teachings based on the Pali Canon are offered to the public, and where traditional chanting and ceremonies are conducted. KBV is incorporated as a non-profit, tax-exempt Buddhist church in the state of California.
The intention at KBV is to strive as diligently and energetically as possible for the realization of Nibbāna and to help as many people as possible to improve their lives and do the same. The experience is that as the citta (heart/mind) develops in sīla (moral virtue), samādhi (meditation) and paññā (wisdom), mettā (loving kindness for all beings) and karuṇā (compassion) blossom as well. At KBV, the intention is to share these qualities and this experience along with the example of living a simple life. The inspiration for this way of living has been the many good monks and nuns that the residents of KBV have lived near and learned from over the years, as well as the Buddha himself.
To that end, the nuns at KBV study the Pali Canon, the Vinaya and the Pali language and practice the Noble Eightfold Path with diligence. For the public, KBV holds weekly chanting, meditation and sutta study sessions as well as traditional Buddhist observances, such as Vesākha Pūjā and Kathina. KBV’s abbess and co-founder, Ayya Santussika Bhikkhuni, meets with people for spiritual counseling on request. She also offers meditation instruction, Dhamma talks and retreats at a wide variety of venues outside of KBV. She serves as a regular co-teacher for dharma groups and programs such as the San Jose Dharma Punx, the “Nuns Sharing Dhamma” program at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, and the “Dhamma Tuesdays” program at Wat Buddhanusorn in Fremont, California.
KBV also engages in activities to promote wholesome action on behalf of the world’s poor and for the benefit of the common good. These activities have included organizing fundraising “Walks to Feed the Hungry” in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Escondido, California for Buddhist Global Relief, a charitable organization focused on relieving chronic hunger and malnutrition, for which Ayya Santussika is a member of the board of directors. KBV participates in activities to encourage right action according to Buddhist moral principles such as the Oakland Climate March (February 2015) and the Interfaith Climate March in Sacramento (November 2015). Ayya Santussika has also spoken at conferences such as the International Conference on “Ethics, Climate Change and Energy” at Mahidol University, Salaya Thailand (November 2014) and the “Mindfulness and Compassion Conference” at San Francisco State University (June 2015).
Since KBV began, the community of participants has steadily grown and is uniquely diverse with people representing a very wide range of ethnicities, ages and backgrounds. A number of the participants are second generation Asian immigrants whose primary language is English and who can connect better to an American/Western expression of Buddhism. Whether Asian or Western by heritage, the common theme is interest in traditional Theravada teachings from the Pali Canon as practiced and presented by ordained monastics in English as they relate to modern Western culture. This is in contrast to most of the current Western Buddhist communities in existence around the Bay Area which generally take an academic or scholarly approach and are led by laypeople.
The growth in interest and participation that KBV is experiencing is now calling for a larger facility for which some added support is needed. KBV is currently housed in a two-bedroom apartment of about 690 square feet. It is sufficient for office space and living quarters for the two monastics in residence, Ayya Santussika Bhikkhuni and Samaneri Cittananda, plus the shrine room which can accommodate about 12 meditators or 20 attendees for a Dhamma talk or ceremony. The near term vision is to simply have sufficient funds set aside to cover one year of operating expenses. The mid-range vision is to rent a larger building that can house three bhikkhunis and accommodate gatherings of 20 people for meditation or 40 for Dhamma talks and ceremonies. This would also make it possible to host day-long or longer non-residential retreats. If the building is stand-alone, there would be less disturbance to the meditators and to the neighbors.
The long-term vision is to locate in a facility suitable to house five bhikkhunis in the resident community and have a separate space to accommodate two visiting monastics, either male or female, plus a Dhamma hall large enough to seat 70. With more bhikkhunis, the range of offerings and services for the public will expand according to their strengths and interests. This might include such things as a youth program, Pali classes, or regular tea and Dhamma discussion meetings, and would include regular morning and evening meditation sessions open to the public.
The intention is to remain on the peninsula between San Jose and San Francisco, easily accessible to those who are interested, and for the bhikkhunis to continue to live as simply as possible, providing a striking counter-example to what most people in the area are experiencing.
While the donations of many people have made it possible to establish KBV and do all that has been done so far, there is a need for a leap in support to take the next steps to expand. Any contribution to the realization of this vision will be much appreciated.