Venerable Bhante Suhita Dharma died suddenly on Dec. 28. (Please see Mushim Ikeda’s beautiful tribute to Bhante on Turning Wheel Media)
My dear friend and teacher Mushim has asked me to write a reflection on the impact Bhante Suhita Dharma has had on my life. I received the ten Bodhisattva precepts from Bhante in December, 2012.
In fall of 2012, I started feeling increased curiosity about monastic life, and a yearning to move in that direction. I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant or how to turn my life there, but I set out to explore this with many of my Dharma friends and mentors. Mushim questioned me about what I really wanted and why. The essence of the desire I could distill was that I wanted to firmly root my life in Dharma practice, to devote my life to the Dharma. She immediately directed me to her friend Bhante Suhita Dharma. Bhante knew first hand what it meant to ordain in all three branches of Buddhism (as well as some other traditions), and had been a friend, guide, mentor and preceptor to many on the path.
Mushim went home and called Bhante to make my introduction, then Bhante and I set a time to talk on the phone. I felt excited and nervous, blessed by Mushim’s encouragement, trusting her instincts for me, knowing that connecting with Bhante would be a step toward my heart’s longing, and feeling open to the mystery.
I called Bhante at the temple where he lived in Los Angeles and we talked for an hour. He loved to laugh, and his gentle spirit put me at ease. I asked him about paths to ordination. He asked about my life and my practice. I asked about his. What did his monastic life entail? He was very clear that a life of devotion to the Dharma, for him, was about service to others. Doing whatever we can, wherever we find ourselves. As we talked, my heart began to swell with the realization that the devotion and practice I wanted to cultivate was right in front of me. Bhante suggested that a good next step for me was to take the ten Bodhisattva precepts. He asked if I knew what they were, and offered to give them to me. I had written my own version of a Bodhisattva vow several years previous, but there hadn’t been any precepts involved. This was a new idea for me, and I loved it. “So how does it work?” I asked. “Should I come to Los Angeles?” “No,” he said. “I will come to you.” Wow, really? I was astounded that he would make such a trip for this purpose. We parted without a concrete plan, but knowing something would come together soon.
Mushim emailed me the following day to say, “You really got the ball rolling!” Bhante would come to Oakland in December and give precepts to me and other students from Mushim’s year-long “Practice in Action” group at East Bay Meditation Center. A whole ceremony was being planned, and there was much to do! Over the next several weeks, Mushim and Bhante worked closely to plan all the details, carefully choosing Dharma names for each person who would receive the precepts, asking for my help in creating beautiful certificates for each person. They really wanted this ceremony to feel special to each of us, and they put so much love into it.
In the kitchen of EBMC the morning of the ceremony, Bhante patiently answered my questions about how he became a child monk, but he didn’t want to linger too long on his stories, saying we could talk about all that later. What he really wanted to discuss the possibilities for doing an internet radio station. He had lots of ideas and enthusiasm for sharing the Dharma.
During our ceremony, Bhante impressed upon us that we were committing ourselves to simply do what needed to be done, and that while this was simple, it wouldn’t always be easy or pretty. As he gave us each our new name, he told us its meaning. He was both playful and plainly serious. Most of all, he was kind and loving toward us. Having received our Dharma names, he said, we were now part of his Dharma family, and we could use “Dharma,” as he did, as the second part of our names to indicate so. Afterwards we took him to Fenton’s, which was apparently a regular stop for him when he visited the bay area. He loved their “Berry Go Round” sundae, and enjoyed it thoroughly.
The name I received is Sunanda, which Bhante says means “bringer of happiness.” Mushim says it was chosen just for me. I try to hold it lightly, while also knowing that it’s an invitation to live into my true nature. Somehow with the confidence of Bhante, it feels possible. I’m finding my way there. And sometimes, I know I’m already there.
My introduction to Bhante and receiving the precepts has ushered in some major life changes for me, which are ongoing. Bhante’s blessing has been exactly what I knew it would be – the beginning of stepping into a new life, in which I agree to simply do what needs to be done. The rest is a mystery.
My heart aches to think that Bhante is gone. Especially knowing what a tremendous loss this will be in the coming days for those closest to him. I know that Bhante was a rare creature who embodied the truest spirit of friendship.
May the spirit that flowed through Bhante Suhita Dharma flow through my actions, and those of all his Dharma family, to benefit all beings in all directions.
A deep bow to you, the most Venerable Bhante Suhita Dharma
~Sunanda Dharma, Oakland, CA, December 30, 2013