Buddhist Voices

50 Years, 50 Voices: Karunadevi (Highlights)

On Thu, 24 May, 2018 - 15:00
Candradasa's picture

…these issues that were very controversial, they didn’t make me want to run away. But they did make me wonder whether I could be a part of the Order.

Karunadevi’s Annals
In 1968 I had recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from Iowa with my husband. I was 24 years old, had graduated from Iowa State University in ’66 and was teaching 4th grade. California was a very different culture, especially around San Francisco, and I felt both overwhelmed and enthralled with the alive expression of views and actions to counter the violence and oppression that was occurring in the world. I became involved with antiwar work and the counter culture’s movement toward establishing alternative institutions. Here I had the opportunity to really explore what I value, in company with others who were speaking out.  

In 1978 I was increasingly aware that over the last 10 years I had changed immensely, had found like-minded friends and community, and was living much more in accord with my deeper values. By this time I had divorced my first husband when our son was 5 years old, had remarried, and given birth to my daughter in ’77 at home with a midwife. My son was in a small parent-run alternative school, and we lived on a half acre of land where we raised chickens and much of our food. I was teaching part-time in an alternative program within the public school district and was able to take my daughter to work with me. Ah, the seventies!

In 1988 I had been a practicing unaffiliated Buddhist for 8 years, a member of the Buddhist Council of Northern California, and was studying the teachings of Lama Govinda, but felt that I needed to practice with others regularly and have more structure in my study.  In January at the Council meeting I met Alan Sponberg (now Saramati), and discovered we were neighbors in Menlo Park, south of San Francisco. In March he introduced me to Manjuvajra, chair of Aryaloka Retreat Center in New Hampshire, who was giving a talk and workshop at Stanford University. This sparked the beginning of the San Francisco Buddhist Center. On April 8 Alan, his wife Jean (now Varasuri) and I hosted the first weekly meditation and study group. This group has continued ever since, albeit with different people and in different locations in the Bay Area. Since 1991 it has resided officially in San Francisco as the SFBC. That year I also started working on funding for the Daly City Youth Health Center and became its director when it opened in 1990. In 1993 both Saramati and I were ordained by Bhante at Aryaloka. I became mitra convenor then and committed to working with women who wanted to join the Order.

In 1998 I was just starting to think about retiring from the demanding work of keeping the Health Center afloat, which I did in 2000. I wanted to devote more of my life to dharma work. In 1998 my husband, Tony, now Acarasiddhi (ordained in 2005) and I moved closer to my work and the SFBC. In 2004 I became a private preceptor and continued to coordinate the women’s ordination training retreats in the US and Canada.

In 2008 my parents were getting older and I was frequently returning to Iowa (2000 miles away). My father died in March of 2010. I became closer to my mother and began spending much more time with her. She died in March 2017. In early 2012 I became a Public Preceptor and since then have conducted public ordinations in Spain, New Hampshire, and San Francisco. My brother, who lived alone near me, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and died in 2015. 

In 2018 I am living with Acarasiddhi in a small town just south of SF, Brisbane. It is close to the SFBC and yet quiet and community minded. I am involved in a local writers’ group and a weekly watercolor class. I see the possibility of offering meditation classes here now that I will be home more. I am still coordinating the ordination training retreats and serve as mentor, preceptor and kalyana mitra for those who want to deepen their going for refuge. I enjoy this work, and I am presently involved in succession planning to hand over some of my responsibilities within a couple of years. I have just turned 74. It is time for younger, committed order members to be more involved in the future of the Order in the US and Canada.

Listen to the full conversation with Karunadevi

+ follow to be notified when new voices are released 

Log in or register to take part in this conversation