Buddhist Society of Western Australia
Religion & Spirituality:Buddhism
Celebrating World Bhikkhuni Day! An interview with Bhikkhuni Ayya Tathālokā Maha Theri | 20 September 2022
Ayya Tathālokā was born in Washington, DC in 1968 to environmentally-minded scientist parents. In 1988, at age nineteen, urgently inspired by the sudden death of an associate, she left her Pre-naturopathic Medical studies in university and made her way first to Europe and then on to India, entering monastic life as an white robed anagarika and then two years later undertaking ten-precept nuns ordination. Wishing to connect with the ancient lineage of the Bhikkhuni Sangha, she sought and found her female mentor in Buddhist monastic life in South Korea, the most venerable bhikkhuni elder Myeong Seong Sunim (和法界 明星), who gave her the name “Tatha-alokā”, and went on to train under her mentorship for ten years.
Returning to the United States in 1996, with her bhikkhuni mentor’s blessings, in 1997 in Los Angeles, with an international gathering of bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, Dharma teachers and supporters in attendance, she received bhikkhuni higher ordination from the Sri Lankan bhikkhu sangha led by her preceptor, the Venerable Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara Nayaka Mahathero. Since then Venerable Tathālokā has focused on meditation, and on both the study and practice of Dhamma & Vinaya. Her meditation training in Theravada Buddhism has been largely with the masters of the Thai forest traditions stemming from Ajahn Mun Buridatta: Ajahn Maha Bua Nyanasampanno and teachers of the Ajahn Chah tradition, together with the Burmese mindfulness and insight masters of Sayadaw U Pandita’s tradition and meditation master Pa-auk Sayadaw. Overall, her practice and teachings are profoundly influenced by the Buddha’s own advice and injunctions as contained in the Early Buddhist suttas.
Recognizing the growing number of Theravadin bhikkhunis and samaneris in the United States and the true value of coming together in harmony, Ayya Tathālokā proposed and participated in the founding of the North American Bhikkhuni Association (NABA) in 2004. Several months later, she also participated in founding the first residential community for bhikkhunis in the western United States named “Dhammadharini”. Ayya Tathālokā is the first Western woman to be appointed as a Theravada Bhikkhuni Preceptor, and she has contributed to the going forth and full ordination of more than 50 women as nuns in the USA, Australia, India, and Thailand.
Ayya Tathālokā’s primary role is as the founding abbess and preceptor of both the Dhammadharini Monastery at the western foot of Sonoma Mountain in Penngrove and the Aranya Bodhi Awakening Forest Hermitage on the Sonoma Coast in Northern California, where she provides Dhamma and meditation teaching and guidance, and monastic mentorship. And since 2021, she has been actively involved in the United Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha International working group together with other international bhikkhuni preceptors and leaders of Theravada traditions.
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