It was in late August that Gotami, a thilashin born in Italy and trained in the Burmese tradition, notified me, in a flurry of excitement and gratitude, that she had the opportunity to move to America to oversee the establishment and something extraordinary. “My master is impatient to establish this temple, and he trusts me to steward it as the first Burmese nuns’ temple in the US, and perhaps the world,” she told me. “I am extremely grateful for what is unfolding, since nuns should be staying in nuns’ temples. But sometimes it happens that they do not have a place (especially in the West), so they may have to live in monks’ temples. But this time, we female monastics will be the hosts.”
The temple is located at House 2638, in a quiet suburb of Indianapolis in the state of Indiana, and many of the supplies were donated by devotees. It is a lovely property with a large backyard where the celebrations were held over the weekend, when the temple opened on 16 September. It is all the more special to Gotami, as the temple has been named directly after her: Siri Gotami Buddhist Temple-USA.
Another monk who played an important role in the opening of Siri Gotami Buddhist temple was Ashin Kundala, the Monk abbot of the Uttama Vihara temple which is located a few minutes’ drive away. He gave his support and compassion to Gotami by sharing his knowledge and experiences about her new city. He also provided guidance on managing a monastery in Indianapolis.
In over a decade of reporting and commenting on religious affairs, this is the first time I have seen a women’s temple of its kind outside Myanmar, and one which has been placed in the care of such a young and up-and-coming monastic.
Gotami’s teacher is Ashin Nayaka, who was born in the state of Rakhine. As a former visiting scholar at Columbia University and the founding director of the Buddhist Missionary Society in New York, he is focused on helping impoverished and disadvantaged in Myanmar and especially Rakhine state. So special was this occasion, he came to Indianapolis to give his official blessing to the center.
Currently, the temple is a work in progress, with donations of household items and provisions being sought by Gotami. But the fact that this young, charismatic monastic with a large online following has been entrusted with establishing a temple, a deed sanctioned by her preceptor, is something to be celebrated and lauded. “I am happy and lucky to be getting this favorable treatment, but at the same time I recognize my privilege and I want to be helpful and share what I have with the nuns that have lesser advantages than me.”
She further explained how her personal experience as a foreign-born young woman in Myanmar shaped her desire to found this temple. Her path has been relatively smooth, which aroused a powerful motivation – not necessarily out of guilt, but certainly one of agitation at seeing the plight of her fellow sisters.
Thanks to this “tag team,” the world of Burmese Buddhist women is opening up farther and wider with each day and week Siri Gotami Buddhist Temple-USA attracts attention.
Related blog posts from BDG