A Brief History of the Theravada Buddhist Community
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
As remembered by Janice Priddy, one of the founding members
In 1985 I joined the Toronto Vipassana Community, a vibrant group of meditators who held weekly meditation sittings in members’ homes, and three or four times a year offered week-end retreats at Kimbercote Farm near Kimberly, On. The community also organized meditation retreats with various meditation teachers including Kema Ananda, Eric Knut Hansen, Rodney Smith, and Christopher Titmuss.
In the 1980’s Ajahn Viradhammo was making occasional trips to Toronto to visit his parents, and he accepted an invitation from the Toronto Vipassana Community to teach in Toronto. In the fall of 1990 he taught his first nine-day retreat with the community.
Following this retreat, it became evident there were some shifts occurring in the Toronto Vipassana Community. Friends of the Toronto Vipassana Community met to discuss these apparent differences. Two modalities stood out – the traditional monastic form of Theravada Buddhism and the more eclectic approach that insight meditation was offering in the West.
After much soul searching, I decided to put my energies into the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah. I was moved and inspired by Ajahn Chah when I met him in Thailand in 1980. On this same trip I met Ajahn Sumedho, one of Ajahn Chah’s most senior Western disciples, for the first time. The clarity of Ajahn Sumedho’s teachings touched my heart and spoke to my spiritual longings, and I wanted other interested practitioners to experience his clear and open approach to the Dhamma and meditation practice. Now, through Ajahn Viradhammo, our community was hearing the teachings as expressed and taught through the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah.
There was strong support for the monastic vision. As a result, in 1991 a small group of friends decided to form the Theravada Buddhist Community (TBC), and TBC became a registered charitable organization in 1993. TBC’s primary vision was the establishment of a Theravada monastery in the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah.
The community established a weekly meeting for meditation practice and dhamma discussion, and continued to invite Ajahn Viradhammo to teach annual residential nine-day retreats. Throughout the years we were also blessed with teachings from other monks and nuns in the Thai Forest tradition.
With frequent trips to Canada to visit his parents and to teach in Toronto, Ottawa, Waterloo and Peterborough, Ajahn Viradhammo established strong friendships. In 2002 he moved to Ottawa and for 9 years devotedly cared for his elderly mother. Old friendships were sustained and new ones began. It was during this time the idea of a monastery in Ontario began to take hold, and the vision came to fruition in 2006 with the establishment of Tisarana Buddhist Monastery near Perth, Ontario. After 15 years TBC’s primary vision had become a reality.
Another dream manifested in 2009 when Ayya Medhanandi Bhikkhuni, a dear friend and teacher of TBC, established Sati Saraniya Hermitage, a Theravada Buddhist forest monastery near Perth On. where qualified women candidates train as bhikkhunis/nuns in the Theravada bhikkhuni tradition.
I feel tremendous gratitude to all the friends of TBC who have played an integral role in sustaining the community over 25 years. I am reminded of the friends who supported the vision of TBC and then became co-founders; those who ensured TBC was granted registered charitable status; others who freely volunteered their time to sit on the board, organize retreats, act as facilitators, plan and participate in social events, and provide monetary support. At times it has been a rocky road, but the spirit of the community and the teachings of the Buddha grounded each of us in something other and also larger than ourselves.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada