Guide to Supporting our Bhikkhuni Sangha

Supporting Our Bhikkhuni Sangha: A Guide for the Lay Community

Supporting the Theravada Bhikkhunis 
at Aranya Bodhi Hermitage,
Dhammadharini Monastery in Penngrove 
and the Peace Pagoda in Niles Fremont.

Fully-ordained Theravada Buddhist women monastics of the Forest Tradition, choose to live in a way that may mystify many people raised in the West. 

Such a lifestyle of renunciation not only requires them to live on faith — utterly dependent on others for their very survival — but also offers a unique opportunity for laypeople to deepen their understanding of the Dhamma through direct service.

While supporting monastics is an integral part of life in Buddhist countries like Thailand, Burma or Sri Lanka, it demands an adjustment for Westerners culturally attuned to self-reliance and independence. The process of reflecting on how, when, or even if, to offer support to the bhikkhunis and their mission is, in itself, a fruit of the reciprocal, interdependent relationship between monastery, Sangha, and the greater community. 

 Monastics are trained to be content with what is offered, whether it is shelter for a night, a meal, or any of the Four Requisites (food, shelter, medicine, and robes). Please consider not only how your offering may serve the bhikkhunis and their work, but also how it may serve you. As with dana (donations; see below), you are invited to investigate how you value the teachings in right relationship to your financial and energetic capacity.

The following suggestions are intended to help laypeople feel at ease
when hosting or visiting bhikkhunis. 

In all cases, if you have a question about anything, please feel free to ask the monastics or email to Friends of Dhammadharini at dhammadharini@gmail.com for guidance.

Etiquette 

  • Añjali is a lovely gesture of respect that can be used when greeting monastics. The gesture consists of placing the palms together at the heart level. You may also bow slightly and smile if you wish! 

  • You may use the titles ‘Venerable’, ‘Ayya,’ or ‘Ajahn,’ all terms of respect for bhikkhunis; ‘Ajahn’ being for those of more than ten years standing in Thai Buddhist tradition, and ‘Ayya’ meaning ‘Noble’ or ‘Venerable Lady’ in the ancient Pali Buddhist language. You may also use ‘Sister’ to address samaneris or women novices. 

  • An invitation to offer requisites can be made at any time. This involves asking a monastic to let you know if there is anything she needs that you could offer. It’s helpful to be specific about what you have in mind, e.g., “Please let me know if you need transport to the retreat center,” or “I would like to offer to take you anywhere you need to go during the time of your stay,” or “Please let me know if you need any medicines/sandals/a toothbrush.” 

  • The monastery standard is that a bhikkhunis should have another woman with them when conversing with a man in a private or secluded place — including while driving — and during interviews. 

Teaching & Receiving Dhamma

  • Buddhist monastics may teach Dhamma when asked or invited to do so. 

  • When a bhikkhuni is giving a Dhamma talk, listeners should sit in a way that is attentive and respectful. It is customary for the teacher to sit on a slightly raised mat or chair. 

  • It is polite to avoid pointing the soles of the feet toward a Buddha image or teacher. 

  • When listening to a Dhamma talk it is respectful to remove any headwear (unless for health reasons one needs to cover the head). 

  • Individual and group interviews may be offered to both men and women. 

Transportation

  • Hosts are asked to arrange for transportation to/from Dhamma talks, daylong retreats, interviews, and appointments. This is both practical and gives bhikkhunis the welcome opportunity to spend time with members of y/our community. 

  • Please check with the bhikkhuni you are driving whether she’d like to talk about Dhamma or drive in silence. 

  • It is best for bhikkhunis to travel in the company of at least one woman. 

Shelter

  • Hosts are asked to provide simple private sleeping accommodations in any household that includes a woman unless a bhikkhuni is traveling with her attendant or another female monastic, in which case they can share a room, if necessary. A private bathroom, while not essential, is ideal. In warm weather, a tent or other outdoor sleeping space is often welcome. Please do not inconvenience yourselves by, for example, giving up your own bedroom. According to the protections of their discipline, bhikkhunis may not lie down to sleep in a place to which men have open access. 

  • Some bhikkhunis travel with laptops and/or may be happy to have WiFi access. Others might not, so please ask. Bhikkhunis may also occasionally need to do printing or faxing. Is so, these resources are most welcome if you have them. 

  • It is good for monastics to be attentive and attuned to when they are available for interaction or need to rest; do let them know when you may also need quiet time. 

  • Please do not feel that you need to entertain them! 

Rejuvenation & Healthful Activities


  • Nature and meditation are important healing resources. When they are staying outside the forest, offers to take monastics to beautiful natural places where they can walk and/or be still may be warmly welcomed. Please ask. 

  • Monastics from the Forest Tradition refrain from activities that may make them look undignified in public, so they do not participate in yoga classes and the like. Bike riding is allowed only for necessary transportation, not for sport. 

Meals & Afternoon Tea

  • In the Forest Tradition, monastics may receive meals only between dawn and solar noon (1:00 pm during daylight savings), so bhikkhunis need the nourishment most people get during an entire day in either one or two early meals! Their level of intake varies. They cannot consume food or drink, other than water, unless it is explicitly offered by body (i.e., physically handed to them, given on a tray, or placed in the alms bowl while they are holding it). 

  • It is best if meals are prepared and offered to them directly. If you are leaving early in the morning, the ingredients for breakfast and lunch may be offered and once offered, they can help themselves or warm things up themselves. Most of the items for afternoon tea and some of the medicinal allowables (detailed below) can be offered once during their stay with you, after which she can help herself. When bhikkhunis are traveling with an attendant, their attendant can help with offering food at the right time and may also be able to help prepare meals. 

  •  Due to the principles of alms mendicancy, most Buddhist monastics are not vegetarian, but some are.
     Please check with them about this. 

  • There are certain ‘medicinal allowances’ (or ‘allowables’) that can be offered after noon. These include tea, fruit and vegetable juices and clear broths, hard and soft cheese, miso, crystallized ginger, dark chocolate, sugar, honey, and soymilk. 
To learn more about offering Meal Dana see our Meal Dana Offering page.

Medicine & Medical Care

  • Medicine is one of the four monastic requisites, and is essential important in the life and wellbeing of many monastics. Most medicines may be offered to monastics at any time; medicinal foods only at the time they are allowed to be consumed. If you would like to offer needed medicines, please ask what might be useful. Both Dhammadharini and the Alliance for Bhikkhunis have Monastic Medical Funds that provide for monastic medical care when needed as well as for basic monastic individual and group health care insurance. 

  •  When you make a donation, whether online, by check or by cash donation, please know that you can specify your donation as designated for medical care, other purposes or whatever is most needed. If you would like to support the health and physical well being of our women's monastic community, please consider designating your donation for "Monastic Medical Care". To learn more, please see our Monastic Medical Care page here

Robes & Monastic Clothing

  • Bhikkhunis use one basic five-piece set of robes. Clothes additional to the robes may be worn when needed for warmth, however, Theravada Buddhist monastics will always wear their robes and should not wear lay clothing. 

  • Monastic robes and robe cloth are offered by the lay friends of the monastic community after the monastics complete the Vassa-season Retreat. If four or more monastics have come together for the Vassa, this robe offering is done ceremoniously, and is called the Kathina. After the Kathina, monastics can receive offerings of ready made robes and robe cloth to make new robes for the month following. This time is called the Kathina Season or Robe Making Season, and it lasts from one month to the four months following the Vassa. 

  • Monastics may receive goodwill offerings of robes and warm clothing according to need. If you would like to offer either robes or additional warm clothing, please ask a monastic what is most needed. 

Money & Dana

  • Dana means ‘generosity’ in both Pali and Sanskrit. In Buddhist tradition, the teachings are considered priceless and so every effort is made to see that they are accessible to everyone interested. The highest form of generosity is to take the teachings to heart and put them into practice; that is the greatest way that the teachers can be repaid for their teaching. 

  • It is also true that in order to live, teachers’ basic needs must be met. The Theravada tradition supports itself only on the free-will donations of those who offer. Giving dana is meant to purify and transform the mind of the giver who has benefited from the teachings and is used to support the teacher’s material needs as well as her ongoing spiritual deepening. In addition to material needs that can be offered directly or sponsored with donations, there are many ways that your time, effort, and skills can be offered so that the Sangha may continue, the vision of revival of the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha may become a manifest reality, and others can benefit from the teachings. 

  • Bhikkhunis cannot receive, carry, or use money, although money substitutes, such as transit tickets, frequent flyer miles, or meal/beverage gift cards, may be accepted. If you wish to offer something for a monastic's personal use, the item can either be offered directly or funds can be given to their attendant, a layperson who can purchase the item and offer it to the monastic or Sangha, or as a designated donation to the Dhammadharini Support Foundation. Meal purchases and restaurant gift cards, as well as tax-deductible donations are most welcome. Donations can be made via Paypal or Network for Good on this website
To see how to make a donation, click here.

The host of a talk or retreat may give any dana collected in the form of cash or check to the bhikkhuni teacher’s attendant, send a check to DHAMMADHARINI SUPPORT FOUNDATION, PO Box 942, Petaluma, CA 94953-0942, USA, or make a Network for Good  or PayPal contribution to the Dhammadharini Support Foundation.


Bringing the vision of the revival and establishment of the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha in the United States to fruition is a complex undertaking, and offerings of skills, knowledge, and contacts. 

All these are needed to help develop the infrastructure, funding base, and organization.
 (including outreach, graphics, web development, computer support, data base management, logistics, land acquisition, grantwriting/grantmaking, and more) 

Volunteers with any of these skills are highly welcome. 

Please contact dhammadharini@gmail.com to offer your support.

Much metta! May your offerings bring you abundant joy and return
many-fold for your own benefit and for the benefit of the world!

The above text is gratefully adapted from the Guide for Laypeople at www.awakeningtruth.org