The community of nuns began in 1979 when four Western women became interested in the monastic lifestyle and were admitted as white-robed anagārikās (Eight Precept nuns) at Chithurst Monastery. For the first five years they lived in a cottage located on the edge of Chithurst Forest, about ten minutes’ walk from the monastery’s main house, observing a celibate, contemplative life. In 1983, with the permission of the Elders in Thailand, the first four anagārikās were given the opportunity to become Ten Precept sīladhārā nuns at Chithurst, with Ajahn Sumedho as preceptor. (Normally an anagārikā may be admitted as a sīladhārā after two years).
In 1984 the nuns’ cottage was no longer able to accommodate the increasing number of women interested in leading a monastic lifestyle, and the whole nuns’ community, by then five sīladhārās and three anagārikās, moved to Amaravati Monastery. Some years later a small group of nuns returned to Chithurst Monastery to establish a second sīladhārā community there. Recently a nuns’ hermitage, Milntuim, has been established near Perth in Scotland. However, most members of the nuns’ community reside mainly at Amaravati.
Ajahn Sundarā was born in France in 1946. She studied dance in England and France. After working for a few years as a dancer and teacher of contemporary dance, she had the opportunity while living and studying in England to attend a talk and later a retreat led by Ajahn Sumedho. His teachings and experience of the monastic way of life in the Forest tradition impressed her deeply. Before long this led her to visit to Chithurst Monastery, where in 1979 she asked to join the monastic community as one of the first four women novices. In 1983 she received ordination as a sīladhāra, with Ajahn Sumedho as her preceptor. After spending five years at Chithurst Monastery she went to live at Amaravati Monastery, where she took part in establishing the nuns’ community.
Ajahn Sundarā spent the three years from 1995 until 1998 deepening her practice, mostly in forest monasteries in Thailand. In 2000, after spending a year as the senior incumbent of the nuns' community at the Devon vihāra, she went to live for some years at Abhayagiri Monastery in California. She returned to Amaravati in 2004 and has been senior nun here since then.
Ajahn Sundarā is interested in exploring ways of practising, sustaining and integrating Buddhist teachings in Western culture. Since the late eighties, she has taught and led meditation retreats worldwide.
Ajahn Candasiri was born in Scotland in 1947 and was brought up as a Christian. After university she trained and worked as an occupational therapist, mainly in the field of mental illness. In 1977, an interest in meditation led her to meet Ajahn Sumedho, shortly after his arrival from Thailand. Inspired by his teachings and example, she began her monastic training at Chithurst as one of the first four anagārikās.
Within the monastic community she has been actively involved in the evolution of the nuns’ Vinaya training. She has guided many meditation retreats for lay people, and particularly enjoys teaching young people and participating in Christian/Buddhist dialogue.
Ajahn Candasiri recently established Milntuim Hermitage in Scotland, where she now normally resides.
Ajahn Bodhipālā was born in South-East Asia in 1940 and had three children with her now deceased husband. She also has five grandchildren. She studied applied mathematics and worked as a computer programmer for nearly twenty years. She was able to 'go forth' as an anagārikā in 1998 and received sīladhāra ordination in 1999. Venerable Ajahn Sumedho was her preceptor.
Her daily life in the monastery is challenging, since she has to simplify the complexity of her thoughts in order to give space to the intuitive knowledge to develop. Owing to her mathematical training, she is not surprised that this process involves a lot of patience and endurance, and is time-consuming. She considers her work in the monastery as a tool to measure her level of practice, and also as a litmus test of her ability in maintaining herself as an observer instead of as a doer. She realizes that no better place exists on earth for being able to observe the activities of her mind, and at the same time she can accumulate good deeds by serving the sangha at Amaravati.
Ajahn Cittapālā (Jutta Richter) was born in Germany in 1949. She worked for nearly twenty years as a teacher and artist in Hamburg. In 1990/91 she visited Indonesia to study awareness movement, a practice which connected her more and more with the Buddhist teachings. In 1994, overcoming her resistance to visiting a monastery, she followed a retreat with Luang Por Sumedho at Amaravati. His teachings on 'the way it is' were so supportive that she felt drawn to Amaravati, where she has been living since 1996. In 1999 she received ordination as a sīladhāra.
Ajahn Cittapala now supports the sangha at Amaravati, where until recently she was involved with leading the family activities. She is still continuing to lead the Creative Weekends for adults. During these weekends, she is interested in exploring ways of practice which combine formal meditation with intuitive activities such as painting, play and movement as means of liberating insight. She uses her training in Source Breathwork, as a skilful means of using the breath to become aware and let go of unconscious holding patterns that are based on negative beliefs and reactions acquired during early childhood. She has integrated this into her own practice and teachings, focusing on cultivating loving awareness for the body and breath as gateways to a deeper understanding of how suffering arises and ceases and who we are and are not.
After a year on sabbatical, with visits, teachings and times of solitary retreat at different places in Thailand, Indonesia, Germany, Switzerland and the UK, Ajahn Cittapālā returned to live at Amaravati in November 2014.
Ajahn Brahmavara (Susan Pritchard) was born on 6 August 1964 in Reading, England. She studied medicine at Sheffield University, trained as a doctor in Auckland, New Zealand and worked as a general practitioner in Shropshire. She started meditating under the guidance of SN Goenka while she was a medical student, and spent a few years in India at Goenka centres, studying Pali, meditating and serving on retreats. She came to live at Amaravati in October 2000 as manager of the Retreat Centre, but soon after arriving requested to 'go forth' as an anagārikā. She received ordination as a sīladhāra in October 2004.
Sister Tisārā (Miriam Dean) was born in England in 1967 and grew up in Belgium. She spent fourteen years of her life at the European School of Brussels, a large, busy, diverse, multinational establishment which shaped her outlook on people. After receiving a degree in Biological Science, she worked in the scientific publishing industry, leading an active, independent social life as most young people do. Apart from a phase in her teens when she was involved in a Christian community modelled on the spirituality of Taizé, for a long time she did not know how to give form to her aspiration for real freedom. Eventually, life’s disappointments and a bereavement made her take stock and return to that teenage wish for contemplation. She encountered the Buddha’s teachings in 2002, notably through Bhante Bodhidhamma, with whom she did periodic intensive retreats from 2003 to 2005, and to whom she will always be grateful for his guidance and good humour.
A heart wish to live as a monastic came about at this time, so although she did not have much idea of what monastic life was all about, in autumn 2005 she left work and life in London to find a place of practice. Events conspired to bring her to the community of sīladhārā in the UK, taking anagārikā precepts in November 2006 and the sīladhāra pabbajjā in March 2010. These days she has a somewhat better idea of what life as a nun is like (not easy!) - but much more than that, she feels deeply fortunate to be having the chance to explore how to live in the Dhamma.