Alliance for Bhikkhunis–situation in Sri Lanka

(Just a clarification…I didn’t write this, simply reposted what I received from the Alliance for Bhikkhunis. Hopefuly some of us can support them)

Have you been reading about the economic crisis in Sri Lanka? Are you wondering how it’s affecting Sri Lankan Bhikkhunīs? In this newsletter Venerable Kundasale Subhagya Bhikkhunī of the Bodhimalakaramaya Nuns Monastery shares some information about the challenges facing the community during this dire time.


The current economic crisis in Sri Lanka began in 2019 and is ongoing. Systemic economic problems have led to a weakened currency and rising prices. Ordinary Sri Lankans are struggling to afford basic necessities of life, and this severely limits their ability to provide support for Buddhist monastics.

Neluwapitiya, Bhodhimalakaramaya Nuns Monastery is located in the village of Danthure in a central province of Sri Lanka. The area is a sacred site with history going back more than eight decades. The main source of income for the residents of this area is picking tea; they support their families with daily wage labor.

Subhagya Bhikkhunī explains how the crisis is affecting local people and their ability to provide support for the monastery: “There are several shortages of essential goods like food, milk, rice, flour, paper, petrol, cooking gas, as well as many kinds of medicine. Inflation is rampant, and the value of the rupee is falling further everyday. When people cannot afford sufficient food for their families, it is difficult for them to offer food to Bhikkhunīs, who are completely dependent on donations.This situation is very serious for our Nunnery because the surrounding villagers are tea pluckers who survive on daily wage labor.

In our Bhikkhunī temple there are more than 15 Buddhist Nuns including…student nuns and elder nuns. We are really struggling with a lot of [economic] problems. The main problem is supplying the basic needs for the Bhikkhunīs, [such as] as food and medicine.”


“Daily we have electricity power cuts (more than 6 hours): 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening. This is really affecting the student nuns’ education…because we don’t have a proper place to study. Once the electricity is off, the water [also stops] because we are pumping water from a well. Elder nuns are also really uncomfortable [in] this situation. We…started to build a residential building in 2021 but cannot complete [it] due to increasing cost of construction materials.”

Alliance for Bhikkhunīs has been a longtime supporter of the construction and expansion of Bodhimalakaramaya Nuns Monastery. Please see Bhikkhuni Project Support more information on the monastery and to learn how you can help support the Bhikkhunīs during this difficult time. In the words of Subhagya Bhikkhunī: “Your contributions and donations give a smile to [student] nuns’ faces and comfort to elder nuns.”

25 Likes

To give a concrete idea of the economic situation in Sri Lanka, the daily income of a tea picker is about 2.60 USD, while the cost of a litre of milk is .83 USD, and rising.

300 rupees = .92 USD

The current price (April) of 400g of milk powder is 790 R = 2.35 USD

4 Likes

I don’t know anything about this monastery personally, but this line did stick out for me. Generally monasteries will have large water tanks on a raised platform so that if the power cuts out, the water can still flow through gravity. The fact that this place doesn’t have a basic setup like that may indicate, not surprisingly, that they are generally under funded and may not have been able to collect the lump of cash to do a project like this.

The article indicates that the biggest issue right now is food. But I can say personally that living in a place that has gravity fed water through this crisis has made things much more bearable. Just imagine the people who do come to give dana at this monastery not having water to clean things or use a toilet. Let alone the extra burden to the monastic community.

If the bhikkhunis agreed that it was necessary, a donation of a tank and pumping system could be a way that someone could have a big impact on their lives for not so much money.

18 Likes

This place is near Kandy which has a high rainfall, so the first thing is to collect water from the roofs in a tank as no electricity is necessary. This means the roofs must have guttering.

Tanks shown which presumably collect water from the roofs, Dhammasara nun’s monastery WA. Perhaps @sujato could explain how those tanks fill and how the water system there works (if it needs electricity), the drainpipes seem to indicate they fill from the bottom. The highest average monthly rainfall there is in July at 181mm:

Also suggested is solar panels if the roofs have good sun exposure. These could be providing electricity and earning money by selling power back into the grid.

5 Likes

Ayya @Pasanna a would know better!

3 Likes

Greetings from Dhammasara maintenance team!
The rain water tank in this photo collects water from the roof of this kuti. It is a 5000L tank. It has a tap on the outside which you can fill a bucket from. The water is used for cleaning our toilet buckets, washing our hands and hand washing. At the older kutis there is an indoor tap (with no gravity offset) to a small wet-area. Which allows for bucket baths. This system is adequate for kutis without power.

Our whole monastery relies on rain water to fill our 1million litre collection system. With have 3 dams and the rest is rain water tanks. The gutters on our main sala buildings feed into collection tanks below the sala. From there the water is pumped to the top of our hill with an electric pump and then gravity fed down in our water purification system before it is used for drinking, kitchen and laundry. Our dam water is pumped using a solar pump (can only pump on non cloudy days- often fails) to our header tanks on the hill and is gravity fed down for use in our gardens, toilets and some washing machines.
With regards to solar panels it is worth understanding that you need clear sky for them to work well. It is also worth noting that if you have solar panels installed on buildings the power is fed back into the grid unless you have a battery storage system. We have many panels on our buildings but the battery technology isn’t adequate to make it worthwhile storing, so if there is a power outage, we have to use petrol generators (sometimes for days) to keep our fridges (and internet) going. When the power is out we don’t pump water up the hill, but what we have is adequate for 2-4 weeks. However, to pump enough water for our monastery one single solar pump like these would be enough (with a backup petrol one).

What Venerable Snowbird. says about gravity fed water is probably the most important. You need somewhere high for a header tank and a collection tank. The collection tank can be from the well, gutters etc. That way when the electricity is working the water can be pumped from the well to the collection tank and the collection tank to the higher point. A single solar pump like one of these would do the job in place of a electric pump, but you would want a backup electric or petrol pump for cloudy days or something wind or hyrdo powered.

9 Likes

Is there a downpipe unseen in the photo which feeds water from the kuti roof into the top of the tank? Does the downpipe from the roof of the walking path feed into the separate main system?

1 Like

The walking path and kuti feed into the tank pictured. There is a downpipe on the back of the kuti and 2 on the low side of the walking path. The come together under the walking path to the pipe that feeds into the top of the tank at one end and flows out into the forest at the other end. The pipe that flows out into the bush allows us to flush out the dust and dirt from our gutters with the first rain of the wet season, then we put a cap on this pipe to block it off. The water then backs up and eventually fills the tank. 2 or 3 good rains (60–100mm) is enough to fill the tank.

Our kuti system doesnt feed into our main system. Some of the older kutis in the background of that photo feed into our ablution block tanks which is a smaller system hooked up to two shower, toilets and sinks for the 7 huts nearby.

2 Likes

Thank you. The Danthure Sri Lanka monastery already has a mains operated pump and system, so they must have a header tank. Your information has a solution to their problem when the power is off by suggesting a solar operated pump working from the well. This would be outside the well. But the high percentage of cloudy days seems to indicate a roof collection system.

Rainy/cloudy days:

1 Like

A pump of some kind is required to pump to the header tank. Wind, solar, petroleum or micro hydro options would all work. The pump would not need to work every day, but enough to keep the tank topped up.

3 Likes

Exactly. Even a large tank would still be abled to be filled on a 12hr cut day.

I know this is the water cooler category, but I just wanted to point out that the OP really was about their overall bad situation. The tank idea was just something that occurred to me. I hope there have been people who have reached out to them to offer them support.

4 Likes

While I’m no longer working with AfB (I’ve ‘retired’ lol), I just wanted to jump in and say that this particular monastery has been struggling for quite some time and are working to support quite a large number of bhikkhunis/samaneris in comparison to other monasteries.

One of the largest issues we saw during the pandemic was bhikkhunis in India and Sri Lanka barely able to survive due to their supporters becoming sick and no longer offering dana.

Bhikkhunis receive far less support than the bhikkhus do, and it’s so important to ensure the survival and flourishing of not only the nuns themselves, but also of the bhikkhuni lineage overall.

12 Likes

Can you provide a map location and phone number for the Danthure monastery?

I agree with Brenna. It’s all very well to hear about what the most supported Bhikkhuni monastery in the world has, but it’d be great if people could get behind AfB and support these nuns so that they can have a basic standard of living.

I don’t think we need to come up with the engineering. Sri Lanka has plenty of lovely engineers. It sound like urgent material support is needed for these monastics.

10 Likes

Absolutely! I wish the conversation was focused more on helping them rather than figuring out what is best for them. I only mentioned the tank so that people not familiar with life in SL would have some idea about what it’s like there.

3 Likes

I don’t have a map location, but I can give you the email of the abbess if you’re interested.

2 Likes

Please send it by PM. Thank you.

2 Likes

The Sri Lankan monastery says, " The water problem has been solved by an Australian lady."

11 Likes

2 & 3 relate to specific projects:

"donors’ primary stated motivations for giving were as follows:

  • Believing in the mission of the organization (54%)
  • Believing that their gift can make a difference (44%)
  • Experiencing personal satisfaction, enjoyment or fulfillment (39%)
  • Supporting the same causes annually (36%)
  • Giving back to the community (27%)
  • Adhering to religious beliefs (23%)"

Ancient times used a diagonal walking ground hand held wheel pump for water n usage of energy struggles or with a mule or fire heating pressurised chamber containment or of a generous voluntary manner of keeping your hut upkeep with modern facilities would be to manually master it your self without the hinderences of upkeeping from another in India and afar they use bicycles for electronics battery storage back ups and hand pumping water supply from the wells for their individual use as no wastage is detail on their behalf when you live with unpredictable outcomes with the seasons and growth what can you do but research what the ancestry communities did effectively for themselves to work together with nature and themselves …Go back to basics in a material way to withhold a resasonable lifestyle their in the gathering of community’s as a tribe would