Auto biography of Ven.Bhikkhuni Tathaaloka.
In a preparation for the up-coming full ordination in Australia in 2009, Ven.Bhikkhuni Tathaaloka, one of the most senior bhikkhunis in the U.S. has been invited to perform the full ordination. Many who have not heard about her and her work, this biography will be self-explanatory. As the Theravadin bhikkhuni sangha is growing, we need to keep our record straight and this introduction is a necessity for the re-establishment of the Theravadin bhikkhuni sangha.
I became an anagarika in 1989 and travelled to Europe and then India. In India I received novice ordination from a Ven.Saddhananda (Shraddhananda), a monk in the Bengal area who has identified himself as the Shraddhand Bhante now with the All-India Bhikkhu Sangha. (However, I am doubtful if it was an entirely proper novice ordination, so I don't know if i can say I was a novice or anagarika still at that time (10-precept anagarika is safer) although we were asked to study and keep whole bhikkhuni vinaya whether ordained or not). The Indian monastic's situation was very confused and unclear, and also mixed with Hinduism. Also I got very sick. Having the choice of ticket offering to Bangkok or HongKong, I chose Hong Kong.
Departing India in 1991, I was encouraged if I had the opportunity, to go to places where there was strong women's Sangha and learn from them, also to be fully ordained by them. Travelling into China, Macau, Taiwan, even Russia, Mongolia and Japan, I came to S Korea where I had heard the situation in training, ordination and meditation for female monastics was best.
In 1993, in S Korea I found and took refuge with my bhikkhuni "Eun-sa"--Anusasaka Acarya--the most Venerable Myeong Seong Sunim, then Abbess of Unmoon-sa, which had the reputation of being the best women's training monastery in S Korea. She did not allow ordination only as in Taiwan, but rather that candidates must completely do the full training for ordination. So, I trained and studied from the beginning with her, as a pre-postulant, then postulant, then taking novice ordination. As was the custom in the Korean Chogye Order at that time, I took the "going forth" with my bhikkhuni mentor as a postulant (haeng-ja), but my samaneri (Kr: samini) ordination was again with a bhikkhu, the late Most Ven.Hye-Am Sunim, previous Patriarch of the Chogye Order and one of the last Masters of the Tung-San Yul-Jong--Tung Mountain (Southern Chinese) Vinaya School. This school is also called "Northern Theravada" or "Sravakayana" as they keep Vinaya discipline and study and practice with the Sthaviravadin Buddhist Agama Sutras. It is one of 5 old Southern Chinese Vinaya Schools. My bhikkhuni mentor was herself ordained by another and even more famous of the last masters of this tradition--the late Most Venerable Bhikkhu Ja Un Sunim (Nam-Bang Yul-Jong). Ja Un Sunim was a Tung San Vinaya School Master who travelled to Sri Lanka and was reordained there before returning to S Korea and ordaining my bhikkhuni teacher. I will attach his photo. He is my grandmaster on the Korean side.
Because of Visa trouble, I had to leave S Korea only a year after novice ordination and was repatriated to USA, where I continued in a Korean temple training with that abbot under my bhikkhuni teacher's long-distance guidance and blessing. Unable to return to S Korea for full ordination because of denial of Visa, after another year, I accepted the recommendation of the Western Buddhist Monastic Conference to participate in a multi-ethnic training and higher ordination to be offered in Southern California. There I had 3 weeks of training by many Venerable local masters, particularly by the late Most Venerable Havenpola Ratanasara Maha Nayaka Thera, then Head of the College of Buddhist Studies in LA. During that time I also served as assistant to Ven.Dr.Karuna Dharma who had recently had a stroke and was incapacitated, but had gone ahead with organizing the ordinations anyway. This was 1997, in Los Angeles. My full ordination bhikkhunis' part was done by Dharmagupta tradition in English with Ven.Karunadharma serving as pavattini. Ven.Ayya Chan Nyu, a Vietnamese bhikkhuni Elder served as our bhikkhuni training teacher. That was followed by the bhikkhus' part of the upasampada which was enacted by 3 Singhalese bhikkhus in Pali-language of the Sri Lankan Siam Nikaya tradition, with Bhante Ratanasara serving as upajjhaya. Bhikkhus and bhikkhunis of Sri Lankan, Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Korean ethnic traditions participated, with nearly 200 local Sangha members and Dhamma teachers gathered. I received the upasampada together with women from Sri Lanka and Nepal, Ven.Bhikkhuni Sumitra and Ven. Bhikkhuni Ruja. There was a plan for Bodhisattva precepts to be administered following the upasampada, but we did not do that, for the sake of not offending or casting doubt on the Theravadin authenticity of the ordination by the Sri Lankan Sangha when Ven. Bhikkhuni Sumitra returned to her country.
At that time, I received your (Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh's) book for my Vinaya studies and promised to study for two years, also with the guidance of my bhikkhu abbot and the long distance guidance of my bhikkhuni teacher. Actually these studies took 8 years, as it was hard work to collect, collate and analyze available materials. This work has been republished in several drafts as "A Bhikkhuni Handbook". I did not received independance from my Ven.Bhikkhuni Master after 2 years as that is not Korean tradition, rather she came to visit me 10 years after my pabbajja with her. She asked me to return to S Korea, there she established me as a junior teacher (like Associate Professor) in the Sangha College, put me in the graduate school, entered me into the monastery's Council of Elders and then, 12 years after my going forth with her, gave me independance and blessed my endeavors in Thailand and USA. for the revival of the Theravadin Bhikkhuni Sangha. I had a confirmation with Bhante Piyananda and Bhante Seelawimala then here in Northern California related to my ordination with the Sri Lankan Sangha, and later Bhante Seelawimala officiated in performing a blessing ceremony for me with my changing from the Korean robe to the Sri Lankan (actually Thai) robes. He gave me training and instruction then in a number of practical things. I also learned from the Thai monks at Wat Buddhanusorn and from the monks of Thai forest tradition at Abhayagiri Monastery in Northern California, in addition to the Thai forest monks in Thailand, monasties from the Bhavana Society in USA., monks of the Sri Lankan Aranyavamsa and monks of the Burmese forest/vipassana tradition.
At the recommendation of one of my elder bhikkhu mentors, in 2005 we founded the North American Bhikkhuni Association and Dhammadharini Vihara of which I became abbess. In late 2005 our first anagarika was ordained at Dhammadharini Vihara.
In 2006, I celebrated completing my 10th vassa since upasampada and ordained our second anagarika trainee at the Vihara. The UN Outstanding Woman in Buddhism Award was given in Bangkok.
I participated in the first Bhikkhuni Patimokkha Recitation in North America, formally demarcating the existance of our Theravadin Bhikkhuni Sangha here.
In 2008, I ordained my first novice disciples in both Australia (at Santi Forest Monastery) and here in USA. (at Dharma Creek) and received the gift of mountain forest land on the Sonoma Coast that has become our Aranya Bodhi Hermitage.
I also travelled to India to support the revival of the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha in Maharashtra, gave International Bhikkhuni Parisad in Aurangabad and administered Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training in Bodhgaya. Additionally visited the BSWA's Dhammasara Nuns Monastery twice for bhikkhuni ordination resourcing, I served as organizer and facilitator for the Bhikkhuni Seminar at Santi Forest Monastery and led the first Bhikkhuni Patimokkha Recitation at Sanghamittarama.
In 2009, I have continued with development of the Aranya Bodhi Awakening Forest Hermitage and moved from Dhammadharini Vihara, to our new Buddhist Women's Monastic Residence at the Bodhi House in Northern California.