Aug. 9, 2022

Restoring The Bhikkhuni Sangha For Our Times - Ayya Tathālokā

Restoring The Bhikkhuni Sangha For Our Times - Ayya Tathālokā

Welcome to Treasure Mountain, the podcast that inspires and guides people to find the the treasure within human experience. I’m your host Sol Hanna.
In this episode of Spirit Stories we have as our returning guest, Ayya Tathālokā from Dhammadharini Monas...


  • Welcome to Treasure Mountain, the podcast that inspires and guides people to find the the treasure within human experience. I’m your host Sol Hanna.
  • In this episode of Spirit Stories we have as our returning guest, Ayya Tathālokā from Dhammadharini Monastery and Aranya Bodhi Forest Hermitage in California.
  • Last week when we spoke with Ayya Tathālokā we found out about her journey from discovering Buddhism through many trials until finally being able to achieve her ideal of full ordination as a bhikkhuni. It’s a really interesting story of overcoming obstacles with some unexpected twists, and if you want to listen to that episode you can click on this link.
  • Ayya Tathālokā has a number of achievements and been actively involved in establishing and extending the opportunities for women to go forth and also take higher ordination in the Buddhist sangha. In this episode we are going to find out about her journey since higher ordination and the work she has done and continues to do to expand opportunities for women to ordain and practice in an authentic manner that is true to the bhikkhuni vinaya - the monastic rules for Buddhist nuns. In the process we will also find out about the rapidly evolving opportunities for women within Buddhism as a result of the work being done by leaders like Ayya Tathālokā.

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May you be happy!

Sol

Transcript

Sol:  Welcome to Treasure Mountain, the podcast that inspires and guides people to find the treasure within human experience. I'm your host. Sol Hanna.. In this episode of Spirit Stories, we have as our returning guest Ayya Tathaloka from Dhammadharini Monastery and Aranya Bodhi Forest hermitage in California. Last week, when we spoke to Ayya Tathaloka, we found out about her journey from discovering Buddhism through many trials until finally being able to achieve her ideal full ordination as a bhikkhuni. It's a really interesting story of overcoming obstacles with some unexpected twists, and if you want to listen to that episode, you can click on the link in the description below. Ayya Tathaloka has a number of achievements and being actively involved in establishing and extending the opportunities for women to go forth and also take higher ordination in the Buddhist sangha. In this episode, we are going to find out about her journey since higher ordination and the work she has done and continues to do to expand opportunities for women to ordain and practice in an authentic manner that is true to the bhikkhuni vinaya, the monastic rules for Buddhist nuns. 1s In the process. We will also find out about the rapidly evolving opportunities for women within Buddhism as a result of the work being done by leaders like Ayya Tathaloka. So join us as we find out more about Ayya Tathaloka Spirit story. 5s 

Welcome to Treasure Mountain Ayya. It's nice to hear from you again. How are you today? 

Ayya Tathaloka: Greeting Sol. Glad to be back with you again. Last time I was speaking with you from our Aranyobodi Awakening Forest hermitage on the Sonoma Coast and today from our  Dhammadharini monastery in the Sonoma Mountain area of the San Francisco North Bay. And I'm glad to be back with you again amidst what is it? Sickness, aging and death. So many things all around and circumstances of life are so fragile and precarious. I'm feeling especially fortunate to be alive and to have the opportunities that we have now and it's all uncertain, we never know. So making the best of what we've got 1s sadoo. 

Sol: Well said, well said. Well, I mean, there's so much in your story I don't want to waste any time. I want to dive straight in this morning I'd like to pick up from where we left off in the last episode in which you shared your journey up to your higher ordination 2s at that time there still weren't very many challenges; one of the challenges you must have faced at the time. 2s What were the challenges after your ordination? I can imagine there was quite a few. 1s 

Ayya Tathaloka: Yeah. Well, you know, at that time, my higher ordination as a bhikkhuni came in 1997, which was not quite ten years into my monastic life, and Ayya Khema had just passed away. She was part of the first cohort of Theravada women monastic who went for full bhikkhuni ordination in California in 1000 988. And they did so through the, 3s which is a different vanilla tradition. It's an early Vinaya tradition. There are three such early Buddhist Vinaya traditions that are still alive and existing today. And one of them is the Theravada Mahaviharavamsa tradition, and one of them is the tattoo Vagika magica tradition, which is widely used for bitcoin and ordinations in East Asia and East Asian Buddhist traditions around the world. And then there's the Mula Sarvasiwada tradition, which is widely used by the 3s of the Tibetan and Himalayan traditions. To this day. And I did just say bikinis of the Molass arvasta vada tradition. And that's actually something that was just revived in the last couple of months. Really? Pretty amazing. Yeah, amazing. I mean, I feel like, wow, in our lifetime, that's incredible. In Bhutan, with the direction and blessing of the King and Queen and Queen Mother of Bhutan and the royal preceptor, there were more than 100 women of Himalayan traditions who received full bishuni or Gelongma ordination. And there have been so many others from Tibetan and Himalayan traditions over the past 1s more than say 30 years at least. And quite a number in 1988 also the same time as Ayakima, who received who got the blessings of their teachers to go out to this other vinaya tradition, the East Asian Tarmacoptica vinaya tradition, and receive full bishooni ordination. But the issue is that that wasn't in their own vinaya tradition and so not the same they weren't ordained in the same school or the same tradition as the monks, the big shoes gelong who were their Sanka and their teachers. And so there was this sense then of difference. 1s The bikunis and the bikini were not of ordained in the same vinaya tradition. And for Ayakama in that first group in 1000 988 also, it was like that they also ordained in the Tarmacuptica tradition. And so that was great and important because there were terravada women renunciates from around the world who did that from Sri Lanka, five of them, and also from Nepal, and then also like Ayakima and aya Dhamma from Germany and. 1s So that was really important. 1s And for many people, it didn't seem like 1s it seemed like still there was that one step of separation because it was ordained into a different vinaya tradition. So then less than ten years later, in 1996, then a whole group of Sri Lankan women, led by Venerable Bkunikusuma, who passed away of Kovich this last year, then they received full bequeni ordination also in the Dharmaguptica tradition in Sarnat, India. And that was really important. And as I mentioned in our last podcast interview, I myself at that time was in Korea. That was supported by the Korean Biku and Bikunisancas they organized that together with the Mahabodi Society in India and Shaky Ditto, Sri Lanka. And so I was asking hearing about that at that time, I was in Korean, can I go over that? And I said that was organized for the Sri Lankans, like with shaky, ditto Sri Lanka. And so they also received full ordination in the Tarmaguktuka tradition. And it wasn't until two years later that then those who ordained in 2s had a conversion ceremony, a telecom, they were then accepted by Sri Lankan Baku Sanka. And then they went back to Sri Lanka, and then they started with Terravada form via the Polytech tradition, full dual Biconi ordinations in 1998 in Sri Lanka. Yeah, so my ordination was in 1997. That was before that had happened. So at the time of my ordination in 2s the Ananda Seymo Hall, the international Buddhist meditation center in Los Angeles, there had not yet been any Terravada ordinations. 1s So on that day in November of 1997, nearly 25 years ago, then, what happened was quite unique because Teravata Baku Sanka, a full Sri Lankan Baku Sanka, 1s led by my late, most venerable preceptor, venerable Doctor Havampola Ratana sarah Nayaka Mahatiro, who not long after was appointed as the chief prelude for the Western Hemisphere for Sri Lankan Buddhism. Si Malwata Chapter that might not make any difference to anybody, but it makes some difference to a lot of people. 1s Like which order, which school, which tradition. Right, 1s so the Siam Nikaya is the one also that from Sri Lanka, then refunded the Bikustanca in Thailand and then also the majority of the in Southeast Asia other than Burma. So then that's something that's important to them care about. 1s So then there were other candidates from Sri Lanka and from Nepal who had lived for a longer time as nuns in the Terravada tradition, as ten precept nuns. And we all received Be QuinnI ordination together in 1997 via the Polytext. Right. According to the traditions of the Siam Nikaya, there were also four BKUs there, which is a bikusanka from the 2s Siam Nikaya. It's pronounced in Thai? Saam nikaya tradition or saam upalivansa. So the Chief abbot of Thai La has long since passed away, but he was a great leader in the Thai Sanka early on here. Then he gave four monks and that's a full Bkusanka also to participate. So there's a full Sri Lankan Baku, Sanka and full Thai Bkusanga and then also Be Kus from like, Laos and Vietnam who were there. And there were also Bikuanes who were present from the East Asian Dharma Guptica traditions, who gave the exam 1s and who were part of the training for weeks beforehand and all of that. But there was no Sangha karma on their part. No sangha karma on their part means there was just the Sangha karma of the Baku Sanka and the Polytech tradition 2s in which we had the ordination. And so this was actually a first at that time, 2s I think I was the first non Asian 2s woman or female renunciate then to receive that ordination in that way. And there were a number of teachers who hadn't had been. 3s Like amongst our highest level international baku teravata Vinaya scholars who had been recommending this method. But, you know, those who are supportive are kind of on the fence, like, want to knowledge and appreciate the existing Beiquini sankas but also want to have it be like pure terravada and that's like with the power of the Bkusanka. And so my late, most vulnerable preceptor and then the Bkusenka who gathered together, then accepted his word, his knowledge, his authority, his leadership as a preceptor to go ahead with that on that day. So that was the first and then not so long after 14s in 1998, the next year. So just looking back now, it's nearly 25 years. 2s Well, thinking about how it's unfolded from there. 1s I mentioned to know, you said that you were one of the first female renunciates from the west and of course you stayed on in the United States, although you've traveled a great deal. How did you at that point begin practicing? In particular, becoming a vacuonie means that you're keeping the linear. 1s So 1s not having a whole lot of role models, but you do, of course, have the ridden linear. How did you start putting that into practice? What challenges did you find with that? Thank you for asking. And I just want to say I absolutely was not one of the first female renunciates from the west. There were so many before me. Just the first Western female renunciate to receive the bikini ordination in the polytext tradition, in contemporary times. In the polytech tradition, 1s just to be clear about that part, so many other female pronunciation is before me and Westerners. As well already for decades before me. 1s So how did I 1s think about putting the vinaya into practice? I'll say I already started did studying biku and bikini vinaya. Before that, one of my main sources for studying biku vinaya was the Buddhist monastic code, which I found such a useful resource. And I lamented at that time that there wasn't something similar for bequenies that I could just 1s turn to and be studying and have as my guide. But of course, 2s if we look at our patimoka precepts and 200 some precepts for BKUs, 300 some precepts for beiquinis, more than 60% are shared, completely shared with the bekusanca. And then there's a whole other percent that's like almost. 1s Completely shared. So that's a lot. You say more than half of the discipline is like a shared with the Bekusanka. And I had already spent time for, you know, I've been in monastic life for nearly ten years by that time. And I'd already spent a good amount of time 1s with Bikinisanka in South Korea learning the way that the Bikwanese Sanka lived and practiced. And I had also visited the still existent Bequini sunkas in a whole number of other countries. Even as I mentioned before, before I decided to then connect with and make a commitment with Bequini mentor. And also I had the opportunity to have a lot of time with Baku Sanka. Mostly Baku Sanka from the Thai forest traditions of Ajancha Or also connected with Lampoon Man who is the teacher of Ajan Cha and like first and second generation teachers in this tradition who I look to as an example. 1s And also from the monks of Sri Lankan traditions and also my teachers in Burmese Vipassana traditions. Many of whom are quite serious and strict about vinaya. Although almost always practicing according to some commentarial traditions. So then that brings in some variety of interpretation according to which teacher it is. 3s There were the texts themselves and then there were the lived examples from the Bkusanka and also from the bkwines who I had the opportunity to live and train closely together with and I'll just say for the text themselves. 3s On the day of my bequini ordination, I received a number of gifts, as is normal people give gifts at that time. You mentioned venerable dominant in Thailand, although you may have been speaking to me personally as a documentary came out today. 3s So venerable dominant then as Dr. Chasma and Cabosingh had authored a book, The Bikini Patimoka of I think, of the six schools. And so somebody gave that to me as an ordination present. And so that was really useful and interesting. Then also, somebody, one of my friends, Korean bikini Dama's sister, then gave me a book, which is the one that was being given to Korean bikinis at the time. They received full ordination at that time. And that one was more, in a way, kind of more like the Buddhist monastic code 1s books because 1s it has the precepts and then like commentary and analysis. But it was also a comparative vinaya work that was done by some of the vinaya masters in Korea who I greatly admired. And then I started to study their work more and more because they did comparative in our work. And that led to me then in studying over not only the next two years of the next five years, but the next seven years of concerted study of comparative Biquini vinaya and then publishing an internal Sunka book called The Iqini Handbook, which was then modeled after that text that I had received at the time of my full ordination. And, you know, that was one of the things then later on connecting with Bantesujato and the studies at Sundy Forest Monastery that were then leading up to the first Jordan in Australia when I served as a preceptor for the first time. All that work then led also into Sute Central to be able to have a better online open access forum to be able to share these comparative studies for vinayan and also for the sutras, and just as widely as possible to make that all accessible. So a lot of study there that's still really ongoing. It's a great 2s path work of life. But I'll remember I remember something succinctly, 1s you know, I had wanted to meet long time Mahabua. 2s I admired his book Straight from the Heart. And then he had been sick and seemed like not a good time. Finally, I got a chance to go to Thailand and to go to visit Wabantat 1s and to meet him. And 1s the first dummitok that he gave when I was there, like, sitting up front, 1s the monks had warned me he will talk about specific people in his dummitok, but he won't name names, but, like, everybody knows what he's talking about. 3s And it was my first day there. Sitting up front, he had the Bkusenka sit on one side of him. Normally, the Bkusenka would sit on both sides of him, but he directed on that day, he said, in the Buddhist's time, the Buddha would sit and then the Bkusenko would sit on one side and the Beiquini Sunko would sit on the other side. And so you directed the Sunko to do that. Except for there's this whole lot of people on one side. There's just one big one. 2s All these tons of people came in buses from Bangkok to make marriage and listed and all just one up front there. So I was feeling kind of like, sticking out like a sore thumb. And so then I had a companion, a white robed, necklace lay woman who is my traveling companion and who is translating. And so then he starts to talk about those who have studied so much in vinaya and so much detail. This is the end of my seven years of the studies, right. Who have studied in so much detail like this and memorize the numbers and the letters and everything. And he says, but then they have to go to the next step. 2s Yeah, I could just feel the eyes. 3s We're looking down, right? But I kind of, like, feel the mental eyes of the others who are there. Who is he talking about? Right? And so he said, Then we have to study 3s Adhesila. And then he gave this whole hamatog on Adhisla. What is that? And so he was really then giving a very powerful and encouraging talk for supporting the study of the letters and numbers, but then also, like, going much deeper with how we're looking at and how we're practicing the vinaya. So 2s that was a great encouragement and support that stays with me to this day, to this moment. I remember this. Although he's passed away years ago now, 2s No, that's very interesting. It kind of leads me on to the next question, because obviously, 1s putting the vineyard into practice is a challenge in and of itself, but what are the other challenges that you've faced at that time when you're trying to establish? Because in one sense, you know that you're going to be establishing your own practice as a vacuum, but also you're kind of leading the way for others as well, and I guess you must have felt a sense of wanting to do it. Well, I'm what were the biggest challenge, do you think, at that time, apart from putting the veneer into practice? Oh, well, number one, no support structure in place. 3s Number one, I don't know if you remember from last time, but I had been expatriated back to the United States as a novice, and, yeah, there wasn't, like, a whole lot of support structure just waiting there to receive me for that. And those who are dying together with me, also from Sri Lanka and from Nepal, 3s we had come from different places, and the big money from Sri Lanka went back to Sri Lanka. 2s Yeah, what to do, right. 3s Did you find also that you're in the United States, and there are Buddhists there, but 1s it's not a Buddhist culture. Did you find that in itself was do you find that Americans didn't necessarily know how to support a bikini, but then also, perhaps Buddhists Americans are not. This is a new thing. And was there a disconnect there, did you feel? 2s Well, not necessarily. You know, there were already quite a lot of Terravada Be quiz in California at that time who had been in the way that you're talking about, like, far more groundbreakers. And 2s during that time also then, 3s I think from when I was first expatriated back to the United States, that was the time that also Ajan Amaro was coming and, like, having the first vasa in San Francisco, which led to founding the Abayagiri Monastery, which is just to the north of us here, just to the north of the San Francisco Bay. I actually really admired the work that the founders of Abaya Giri, first Ajan Amaro and then Ajan Pasono in the community there, the way that they were educating people and introducing people to the monastic life and the sense of the integrity that they held and their ability, they were showing in a way, for the first time that Monday, who are holding vinaya Can? 1s Live with the precepts and with integrity here in this American Californian Western context that is just such a powerful example. And I have to say that I was also such an idealist at that time. Many of of the other monks who were here were thinking about adaptation to the Western context. Adaptation to the Western context. 1s Nearby to where I was, I was in a hermitage in an old rancher up in the Hayward Hills in the San Francisco East Bay and then nearby Thai Temple. Then there is an American monk there, and he was advocating, like, that the Buddhist monk should be, like, Catholic priests and, like, not even wear robes most of the time, but just wear clothing and just wear robes for special events and things like that. And I'm glad that he didn't gain too much traction with that. But there are a lot of different views, and so there were so many monks who are coming and who are like, we have to be respectful of the local culture, and when in Rome, do as the Romans. And literally, I heard this again and again, that exact saying, and I being born in the United States, was like, no, let's do Pinupod here. Yeah, right. We can have Tudong here. We can do Chadika here. Let's try Pinpoint. And I'm like, no, we can't. It's just like we're just this little enclave in the bigger Western culinary that would be, like, offending Western culture. And so it was really, I'd say, like, a very fertile time. 1s As a kid, I worked with my mom in the garden, and she gave me a pitchfork. 1s And so I know how to turn soil with a pitchfork, right? So you put in the pitch fork and then you pull back and then the soil opens up and clumps and it gets air and pieces break apart. And then this is an important part of making that ground fertile for the seeds that are then put inside and grown up in it. And so my experience at that time was so much we were talking about these things so much, and I was really on the side of no, you know, I was born in this country. I think we can do this here. And also. For the monks that are Bayagiri. Who are Westerners who are. Like. Having success in teaching to Westerners and living with every night. Look. If these monks who are also foreigners can do this 1s just from Canada. So it's not so far away. Not so much a foreigner. But Ajan Amaro from UK to US in the United States. Is like absolutely very different accent. Very cool. But definitely a foreigner. So I felt like, if these monks who are foreigners but Westerners can do this here, than me as an American, why not? Why can't I, too? And 4s I felt like the level to which some of the monks here were compromising was more than what the circumstance called for, like, making too many compromises. So it's just my own opinion. Right. Also, now I'm talking to you about the past, but right now, I actually feel a lot more respect. That time, I was like hair on fire idealist. Now I feel so much more respect. 1s Really for the variety of ways that monastics and practicing Buddhists with all and seekers, with all integrity, with all sincerity, may come up with different answers to the same questions. So I just feel enormously, much more respect for this now. And I've actually tried to advocate, although I do my best with our own monastic community here, to live according to my ideals and 1s to be working with the ideals of those who I've drawn together with here, but my respect for others having a different take within bounds. And so this is the question. What are the bounds? Right? 1s Others within bounds. I feel like wearing lake clothing is too much. I feel like they go and get married. That's too much. I mean, if they want to get married, no problem. They can be married. We have tons of fantastic married Buddhist teachers here. Okay, can do. But not to be a monk, right? I mean, this is my idealism speaking, but 1s I really very much appreciate the different ways that people with real sincerity and real integrity are developing their way. And as more and more women have fully ordained, 3s Then I've really tried to advocate that not only is like dummy rainy, like, only this is right, everything else is wrong. I absolutely don't think so. I feel like what we're doing has its integrity together with all its challenges and foibles and all these kind of things. And other places that are not the same also have their integrity. And I really want to be able to see as for those who are male, aspirants they have a variety of places that they can go and train and ordain that have different strengths and they can really grow and develop in the variety of circumstances. This is something that I know alone. Pochaho for his students, he was deliberately also sending them to other places to learn from other teachers. And the Buddha himself is said to have done that, is to send his students to study with different teachers, different beku who had different strengths, for them to be able to grow and develop and then commended not just one style, not just the Mahakasapa style, not just the Ananda style, not just the 2s like this, the Mahamuka Lana psychic powers style, but really valuing each of them. So with that example, I see the brilliance of having a variety of opportunities. So I've tried to really support there being this growing with the pitchfork work, turning it over and turning it over, this 1s growing variety of opportunities for the women who wish to enter this path. We were talking about early in my monastic life, and I didn't start actively serving as a preceptor until more than ten years, and not as a B quinn preceptor until twelve years later. Well, let's follow up on that as well, because I'm interested to find out about your role as a bikini preceptor. 1s You were, I believe, the first 1s Westerner to become a bikini preceptor in this tradition, and as there were very few bikini preceptors in the world in this is tradition, certainly. Could you tell us about some of the places that you've been to help establish the baconi sangar? Because I think that gives us an overview of what's been happening. 3s Yeah. So we're skipping ahead in time. This is something that when 1s early on in monastic life. In the first. You know. Nine years. Nearly ten years before I fully ordained. 1s I heard again and again that the Bequini Sanka can't be revived in the Terravada tradition because there are no bikini preceptors. Because there are no bikini Terry and Mahatiris. There are no bequini teachers to be able to accept and instruct and ordain the women. And that's the main reason why it's not possible. And so, first of all, I just want to really express my deep joy to see then, since that time, the growing number of Terries and now Maha Teres and the growing number of B 20 preceptors. And to not be the only Westerner was a pequony preceptor. Now, also 4s from 1998, as I mentioned earlier in Sri Lanka, then straight away, 2s Three leading bequinies who had just been ordained a short time before in Budgaia, India. Then they came back to Sri Lanka to Damboola. The whole cohort of them. And three of those bikinis who had been in monastic life the longest and who are already leaders and teachers and who are renowned for their different great skills. You'd say. Whether being like HamiltonA Chariot recognized Vipassana meditation teachers or leaders of nuns communities. Or like this. Three of them were straight away appointed as Be QuinnI preceptors for the first 1998 ordinations in Sri Lanka. And then also the Beku Sanka. Then there was a BKU preceptor as well, which is something that we don't find in Vinaya, and they started that in Sri Lanka at that time, because although in Vinaya there's the Bikuni Preceptor, the Bikuni teachers, the Bikuni Sanka, and then on the Biku Sanka side, then there are BKU teachers and Baku Sanka. But there's not a Beku preceptor, there's just the Bekuni Preceptor. Right, but the reason that they started in Sri Lanka and Dambulla with having a Beku preceptor also is not only because it was being done like that in East Asia, which it was, 1s but also because they were appointing Bitcoinys, who had just been ordained that year to become between preceptors, not after twelve years of experience. And so that was like to give the power and strength of their being the longtime preceptor who's also there and noted to be looking out for the ordination, making sure it was done right. But they did, they had intensive training, 2s Four months focused on really training them as Be Queen Preceptors before they were appointed. And so that's the reason for going with that paradigm that I question sometimes, has it outlived its usefulness. 1s Can we just go back to the vinaya thing 1s for that first ordination in Australia? Then, in 2009, many people thought because of that paradigm, preexisting paradigm from more than ten years before that I was just talking about from Sri Lanka, and many people thought Adam Brahm was the Beku preceptor, but he actually wasn't. He served as knowledgeable BKU. So one of the Beku teachers with the BKU sanka, but actually there wasn't a BKU preceptor. There was a Bkoni preceptor. And that time I already had 1s twelve vasa in the Bequini life. 3s So there was that time and experience there. 1s So I wanted to mention 2s about this part. 1s So Sri Lanka bequini preceptors from 1998. Started right away. And I deeply admire especially two who I know of those first 2s Bequinay preceptors who have been so active internationally as well as in Sri Lanka in opening up the full ordination. And then I was the first non Sri Lankan, I think, to be appointed in this way. So it's not only the first Westerner, but I think, the first non Sri Lankan subsequently then vulnerable, bikini dominantA Terry Rate. 2s Now. This year Mahatiri from Thailand also venerable bikini. Aya Santini from Indonesia is a bikini. Preceptor venerable bikini. Yu Vidi de Dama. Mahatiri from Vietnam also Be QuinnI preceptors. So the point that we are now actually we have quite a lot of Bequenie preceptors who have been leading Terravada Bequini communities for already more than ten, more than twelve, even as much as 20 years and 2s from different countries, no. 1s So whether in Indonesia, in Thailand, in Vietnam, 1s here also then in the United States, I did not start leading a Bequenious community immediately. 4s I just went to study sincerely. So I was just like into the books to be drilling into and studying and learning, becoming vinaya. And also I was going for meditation retreats and also listening to and reading and studying a lot of tama. So for the three fold training for Sela, for Samari and Panya, for me, for my first years, I was just really focused on the training myself, which is what I understood a new should be doing for at least their first five or at least their first ten years. So for myself, for my first ten years, then I was really focused in that way, 1s at least for the first seven or eight years. Then they start to ask me to do other things already, to start picking up the duties. When they saw my ten years is coming up, then they already some of the senior monks are already starting to eye like there's the Bequenie who's coming up on ten years, seniority going to be twelve years thrown and making their plans, right? So, yeah, it was like that 2s because that's really the thing that was seen to be missing and that was really felt to be needed is having the senior Be Quinnies and having the senior Bquiny Preceptors also with the bye. How to say it with the undisputable amount of time that Sri Lankan situation, there are a number of people who said, what, you just straight in their first year, you appointed them as a bequeon, a preceptor? No, no, no. It's not according to vinyl. Right. So some people said so then to have the bequeni preceptors, who did have the amount of time when I was coming up on ten years, then I went for some Turdon time in Thailand. Wonderful, wonderful opportunity to go wandering among the forest monasteries in Thailand. And I'll just say I was there. I was very well received as a bikini at that time, although most people there had never met a bequini before. Just extremely well received. And 1s the monks, some of them were just introducing so beautifully, especially to the women, they were saying, because Thai people, there is this whole cultural thing that like. 2s Men have more merit, so they're able to offer something by hand directly to the beacus. And then that's considered the most meritorious way to offer. And then women have to offer indirectly through this offering clothing. The offering cloth is not vinaya, but it's a very strong Thai culture yeah, tradition to keep that sense of separation there, to not have that direct physical contact. And so then people would say that's because men have more merit and then also because they can do that, then they get more merit. And it becomes this kind of self perpetuating cycle where it's like they have more merit, so they get more merit. So they have more merit. And women are out in that regard. It's like secondary or second class or can't connect in that way. So some of the monks who I was with were quick to catch that opportunity, and they're like, Ladies, come forward. Now is your chance to give her directly and by hand. And now you've got obiquity here. Now you have this chance to get this like a maximum merit in this way. And I'm not trying to condone or buy into that whole framework exactly, but just really to not to say yes or no to it, but just to recognize that it exists. 1s And with the things that exist, there are the ways that they can be used to put people down or to uplift people. And in this case, what the monks were saying and what I could do, being there was perceived as something that by the very nature of being a bequini and being physically present with them, I have the opportunity to offer this maximum merit that's for their uplifting. And so I saw the ladies again and again then with the tears in their eyes when this was being explained to them and then wanting to come forward and to be able to do that for the first time in their lives. Things were so new at that time 1s because it's just the early 21st century. Yes, please. Yeah. No, it's interesting that you received, notwithstanding the cultural kind of bias, sexism, I suppose 1s it sounds like you were receiving be very positively, which is not necessarily what I would have expected, given some of the controversy in Thailand regarding baconie ordination. 2s Mostly at that time, yes. I always received, I would say, very positively. But part of that has to do with Thai culture. 2s And, you know, thai culture is if people are interested in something or supportive of it, then they'll come forward and let you know they're supportive because that's nice and friendly. If they're not sure, they'll stand back and be quiet. And if they're not favorable to something, they'll go to a different place and then talk behind about it, 1s not confront you about it. Right. And so that makes it so. For me, then, my experience of that was very favorable because I got the contact, my close contacts then were all the people who are, like, interested and favorable and positive. And then you see some people are standing back and watching, and then there are other people who disappeared. Right. Yeah. Right. 1s So it's not to say that everybody was favorable, but just with that traditional Thai cultural context. And my experience was generally, overwhelmingly positive. Occasionally, there were things that were not like that. There's one that stands out really strongly in my mind from the time in Thailand. 2s And that is 1s being at going to visit the MCU, Mahatula Lonko and Rajiv de la Royal Thai Sanga University, and in the front hall, and they've got these great metal shoe bins. And so I'd come down the stairs after a meeting with some monks there, with the rector and some other monks who were at that time wanting to think about accepting international be queens for their international master's degree program. Can I help and support that? So I came down the stairs and came to the shoe bin. I took out my sandals. I set them down. I looked up. There was a Thai lady who was looking at me, and she pointed to me, 1s to the color of the robes on my arm, and she said, women cannot wear that color. 1s Only monks in our Thai culture, only male monks can wear that color. And she just said that so intensely, which is very abnormal for Thai people to approach someone and say something so directly and intensely. And it had this kind of, like, strong, negative emotional charge that you might have even sensed in my voice in this time. And something just rose up inside me. And I just looked at her and just said very clearly and plainly, that's okay. I'm a bikini. I'm a b queen, so it's okay. I can do it. And she just looked at me and just almost like, baffled at first and then understand what I was saying. And then she just put her hands and Angela and she's like, Katoka, excuse me. And she just then turned around and left, right? 3s So 1s at that moment, I was about to go out the door to get into a van with some other monks to go and meet with Lompo Sumerido and a number of other monks for the casting of the Abaya Gear monastery here in Northern California, a casting of the Buddha image 1s for the monastery here. So I've been welcome to join that event. And I just remember riding in that van together with the other monks, going to the place of casting the Buddha image, which is like, you know, people are putting their valuables in molten metal is then being poured into the form of the larger and smaller Buddha images while we're all chanting together, holding the blessing string that was like around everything and all the sunka. I felt like there's something. In a way. Almost like that's formative. In a way. Like that molten metal with the chanting of the paritas and suttas and everything that just rose up in me at that time. From that encounter. From that interaction. And also from the response that arose up in me. Just like just very strong and calm and clear. Like. Yes. I have the right to do this. I can wear this because I have been fully ordained as a bequine and just that. And I feel like it's like galvanizing, really, to use this visceral language, it felt like galvanizing some kind of addiction or determination or resolve in myself, not only then to be practicing for myself. Up till that time, my focus had been developing my own Sila samari and panya, really. Of course, it's in the big context of the revival of bikini ordination, but it's within my first ten years of monastic life and. 2s So that was my focus. But in that moment, it's like I felt like that resolve, that attitude just galvanized in a way. And then like that would image then was cooling and becoming solid in its earth witness posture, 4s majaca posture. 1s I felt something in me like that. I think that's really when the determination came up to 2s think about 2s supporting, opening up this way for others, not only by living it myself, I had thought by living it myself, that that is an offering unto itself. That's what I learned traditionally from my teachers, who I revered is like just doing that. You just do your own work as a monastic. You train yourself in silasamadi and panya. That's addressing your own needs. That's the work I felt the work of my heart. That Katan Karani to do the work that needs to be done. 2s And then also that's an offering of the greatest merit for the world. We chanted this every day. This is like the supreme field of merit. 1s Punya ketone lo casa. 4s At that moment, though, I felt like the determination to begin to bring that to another level. 2s Absolutely. And it sounds like there is that extra level of commitment that you need certainly at that time to be a beacon to like that little bit extra challenge or maybe a lot extra challenge. 2s It's really interesting to hear about that. I'd like to move on and ask you about your involvement in the North American Terravada Bikini Association and also the United Terravada Bikuni Sanga International. What are these organizations? What are they aiming to achieve and what have they been focusing on recently? Thank you for asking about that. Yes, that's a jump ahead 9s after a number of years back in Asia, then I chose to return to the United States and to California because of the great diversity of Buddhism and great Buddhist teachers in the San Francisco Bay area. The culture is diverse. People, especially in the San Francisco East Bay, and just all the great teachers were coming there at that time. So I felt like this is an excellent place. And I had heard about the monks who I knew from this area then they said that there were aspirants here in this area. And they were asking me, can I come back and consider about these aspirants my venerable Be QuinnI mentor in South Korea. Also at that time, hearing about this, she gave me her boon or her it's like her injunction, her blessings and her directive. She said it's the time to go and to do that and to attend to 2s the needs of these aspirants. She said she had been trying to do that from the top down for so many years, and she felt frustrated in being able to make progress with that, even at the highest levels. That time she was the president of the Korean National Bequini Association. So, like, akin to being not Sangaraja, but Sangharani. So leading up 10000 bequanese in the Korean Bikanese sanka. And she said even being in such a position there's, like what she tried to do with her position and what she couldn't, but she said for me, maybe from the ground up, I can do what she couldn't do. So she gave me her blessings to go back to the United States again. So I had been living in Asia then for a number of years, 1s and so when I returned, 2s To the United States, then not expatriated this time by choice, to Northern California, to very diverse San Francisco North Bay, where I had lived previously, knew many teachers and the monastic community also in Thai forest sunka that I had mentioned before the first ajuncta monastic branch in North America. 1s So at the time that I came back not long after that, I heard also about other Terravada Bequence returning to the United States. And there was the moment when we got the news that there were five Terravado beiquinis in North America. And one of my mentors, then senior Thai monk in San Francisco North Bay, just happened to tell me in kind of classical Thai way that 2s for the Council of Taiwk who is in the US. That that had been formed, that had been recommended by senior monk who already passed away exemplar when there were more than five tabukuts leading up places in the US. And that having that harmony, having that connection, having that commitment together is so important. So I really took that direct hint 1s and got in touch with those other bikuni's. And then from the year 2004, we formed what was originally called the North American Bequini Association with the first five of us. 2s It's now called Terravada be Quinnia Association of North America. The name changed back in 2019 because Naba Naba was taken by somebody else and it was confusing people. So we're now Tibana, which means unto ni bana 1s terravada Ecuador Association of North America so our. 3s Our initial say, like compact with one another, was to know and to support one another and then to work towards having the first 2s in North America, which would officially demarcate the presence of bikini sunka in North America. And then also to collaborate in being able to receive and train aspirants and then also our plan was within five years to offer the first dual Terravada bequeni ordination in North America. So we made our first five year plan at that time. And literally, on the day of my ten year anniversary in Bequini life, we had our first Terravada Bikini patimoka recitation in North America that demarcated the existence of TERRADA Be Quinnisanka in North America. And then in the year number five at our Renuboti Awakening forest hermitage in its first year of Sanka Vasa Then we offered the first Terravada dual Sanka bequini ordination in North America. And so this was part of our 1s original plan and commitment and dedication together. 2s And let me jump ahead conscious of time and just say then, last year. 2s Then 2s the UT BSI United Terravada B Queen Isanka International was inaugurated on the 25 year anniversary of that first 1s of ten be queens from Sri Lanka in 1996 in Sarnat in India. And the Utpsi is a consortium or working group of leading terravada be queens from around the world almost entirely those who are terravada bequini Preceptors and Maha Terries almost entirely, 2s not 100%. And our aim together has really. Number one. Been to work together in harmony because this is something that the wood has so highly praised and for us as strong terabata be queen leaders from different countries and also with different cultural backgrounds and all this to just come together in unity and harmony and to have programs where Bkus are also invited to join together just in harmony together. The fourfold sunka together for delmar programs and programs. Speaking about bikinisanca. So now we're thinking about September coming up and it will be the anniversary, according to Sri Lankan traditions, the anniversary of the founding of the Bquinistanca. Such a long time, more than. 1s 2600 years ago, per classical terabyte accounting. So we're just thinking about like, how to have this program together and also to offer an international bequeni ordination in Bodhaya, 2s hopefully this coming November, 1s because there are so many who are waiting during this time of COVID, who are waiting to receive ordination. 3s So we just have this compact, really, to know one another and to support one another and to do things in harmony together and for what we wish to see in the world in terms of harmonious fourfold community of the Buddha, to just live that and enact that and 2s support that, valorize, that moralize that as much as we can. It sounds like these networks are really quite new, but it also sounds like there is quite a bit of momentum behind them at this stage. And I guess my final question is someone like yourself, with so much experience, knowledge of what's going on now in the Wakuni Sanga, not just in the United States, but internationally, what is your assessment of where the global Bukuni Sanga is at right now? What are its strengths and what do you feel like really still needs to be developed to put it on a flight firm footing? 3s Well, my goodness, what a great question. 1s I'll just say that I'm so happy to see pockets of places where the four fold community is coming into existence in a way that I feel like is natural and beautiful and harmonious. And I think it's really in accordance with the Buddha's vision. And although it's been more than 25 years since the revival, absolutely is not all there yet. There are so many places where that's not so. When I talked to you earlier about recently, just this year in Bhutan, then the Royals, the King and Queen and Queen Mother and national preceptor, then that level of then choosing to give bikini ordination and to refund, in this case the Himalayan Tibetan Willis arrest vinaya tradition that's so powerful that there's that level of support and there's that decision to go ahead in that way. And I feel that's just so beautiful and so excellent. And we see that the pockets of this happening in terravada Buddhism around the world, and yet it hasn't happened yet at that level of any country, the leaders of that country or the chief, 3s Chiefs of the Sunka taking that kind of decision. In Cambodia, there have been actually three songara who have been supportive, 2s but 1s two of them, one already passed away and one just of the 1098 ordination, but not really actualizing anything in Cambodia. The other founding of Bequinis community in Cambodia. But I feel like 1s I want to celebrate and rejoice in the great growth that there has been these pockets where there really is beautiful. Fourfold Sunka again, where we have the Terry and Maha Teres and the bikini teachers who are really growing in all of their sela, their samari, their panya, their ability to teach and to share and to lead, and where we're uniting harmoniously with one another, to rejoice and all that. And I really still see, like in the United States, I see this culture stills so deeply embedded, especially amongst Asian Buddhists, and then also. 3s Among those who have learned from the Asian Buddhist traditions, then, like, they're learning that those who are women in robes are just like, less meritorious or not really worthy of supporting or like something like this. 1s So that culture is still there strongly. And I feel like as much as we can transform that culture, the Buddha's teaching is 1s meant to rehabilitate all of us and to enable us and uplift us and support us and to provide a great superstructure to do that as much as is possible with humanity. That's my understanding of the purpose of the Sankhan being the Buddha's heirs and the bearers of the dummy and being members of the Sanchez. Like, just to do that as much as we can possibly for humanity. And already there are so many other challenges and difficulties in Samsara and in life. As Buddhist, we shouldn't be the ones who are putting the people down and hindering them more. It's like how to unhinder and unblock and enable and support really seems to me to be the prime directive. And yet people get these ideas and then get stuck in these things. And so there are these places where we are still very much culturally stuck and I think even with Sri Lanka and with Thailand being ostensibly Buddhist countries, then there are the places where the culture is still quite stuck 1s in these regards. So I just want to work and encourage others to work as much as possible to really get vision of the Buddhist Prime Directive and stop hindering ourselves and obstructing ourselves as much as we can and just be working to enable and support and help and uplift one another to the maximum possible. Because the difficulties that we've got now and coming up for us as humanity in this time on this planet are just so enormous. I feel like the directive has to be practice as best we can to not only just for ourselves, but also to be able to then share the dumma and share the path and be able to work with the grave difficulties that are present as best we can and then also help out others to do so, train others to do so as much as possible. That's not a new thing in Buddhism. That's the thing all the time. But we're just talking about our current situation. I feel like this is. 1s Really important to see this clearly. There are many things in Buddhist culture, but this is something that I see as like, being the essential elements of Buddhist culture, far more so than any particular form of Buddhist images or language or printing texts or which vina tradition or even right. 1s All of these things. But just to enable what the wood had taught and to live it, practice it and share it for the welfare and the benefit of the people in grave dire suffering and need that we see now. And we know there's going to be a lot of I don't know, we used to say, like, it's old expressions like when the dung hits the fan, right? Yeah. So I think we've got some of that happening and there's going to be even more of that coming up. And there's just so much of benefit and good and of help here for us, individually and collectively. Let us just live this and do this and offer this and support this as much and as best we can. I think that's so well said and I think you've really cut to the heart of the matter. And I think one of the things I just wanted to follow up with this is the final point for this interview. Is that whilst there is certainly a lot of cultural views which can hold us back. And particularly. I guess. Certain. Like. Cultural prejudices which hinder the development of the Bukuni sanga in some places. But one thing I've noticed. It's almost like a positive progress problem 2s from where I'm here in Australia. Is that there is such great interest from women who want to take on the monastic path. And in fact, it's as if that demand to do that outstrips the ability to some extent of our current terries to 1s be able to support them. 2s Just connecting with what you said about the significant problems in the world today. 2s Undoubtedly that's true. These are existential problems for humanity, like climate change and potential international conflict and so forth. But I'm one of the things that I've noticed is. 2s That when people are suffering, that's often when 2s spirituality becomes much more relevant to them. And indeed, the Buddhist said that suffering conditions faith can't help but feel that maybe what's happening is it's at the right time. And I'm hopeful. 2s How can we support the Baconi Sunga and all the women who really earnestly want to go forth and practice? 2s How can we really support that going forward in the next couple of decades, do you think? Thank you for asking that. Here in the United States, we tend to look at what's going on in Australia, especially connected to the Buddhist society of Western Australia and also Suntie Forest and then also Newberry. And we tend to think the situation, especially with the BSWA, is, like, so great to be, like, showing a fourfold community and for women to be able to come and have great, well supported opportunities for training. And then we look at ourselves in the United States and we think, wow, our situation is like, we don't have something like that set up. 1s So I'm interested to hear your perspective saying what you're saying there. I don't know how many Aspirants show up to, say, Damasara or the Bequinian Monastery in Western Australia on a yearly basis. I know here with Domadrine, since 2005, the year that we started, consistently, every year, 50 to 100 people contact us who are interested in exploring ordination or they're already in a form of monastic life. We're at a level and 1s further ordinating and that has not slowed down this year so far, actually. I think in terms of Aspirin, it might even be a record breaking year for the first month of this year. That is incredible. That's a lot. 2s Jump Round likes to say he's got a monk factory, but it's not like that at all. It's more like a nursery and it takes a lot of care and nurturing to develop 4s it's a lot. And so 2s what we have been able to support in the time that damage has existed is normally like one or two every year, every other year out of all that. And I want to look at that as a success. 3s Because then that means additionally one or two every year or every other year. So that's like growing, growing, growing numbers. So then I participated, I think in now like 67 ordinations or if we count unique nations, recognizing that for some they've had various stages, we're counting that. 3s What about all those other people every year? And we do recommend that they check out other places. And we've tried to encourage the founding and the development of more and more other places that there be greater opportunity and those who are aspirants will be able to find a place where there is the support for them to be able to enter. And so I still very much feel like there's just so much more than we are able to really well handle and well care for here. And we're developing at the speed of the internal and external support that we have. And the external support is a place where we often feel the limitation we can develop as much as what people offer in their free will offerings. And when we come up to the end of that, that's where we stop because that's what we with this life have to work with. So we work on our internal support structures, our own practice and our ability to share with and receive and serve others, recommend them to other places also. 1s We're working with that. But I'm very much aware of how many aspirants how many more aspirants there are than what we're able to care for. And I'm aware on the other side also for the invitations since the beginning of Dom Madrid, it's been also consistent every single year, the people who want to invite bikini teachers, the people who want to invite the senior B queens, who are able to lead retreats, who are able to give teaching, they want to invite the Bekuni leaders and to have teachings from them. And all of this and those invitations just keep coming and coming and coming. And so there are the two sides of it. When Ajan Bram, Lompor Bram talks about the monk factory, there's the part about the Aspirants and being able to serve the Aspirants and their wish, their intention. We don't have to drum up Aspirants. There's more of them handle well. But it's like supporting the Aspirants. And then that then serves the other end for all those people who want the product, they want the senior beecounties, they want the Bequini teachers, the Bequini preceptors, the Bequini leaders. That doesn't come out of nothing and it takes a little while. So it's like how much support people are putting into it then that really connects to then our ability to offer the teachings, to offer the refuge, to offer the opportunities that the people very much want. So there's no shortage of Aspirants. And there's no shortage of the people who want the teachings. There's more than we can handle in those regards. 1s It's just like, how much support is there that we can then well process that to be able to then serve the aspirants needs and serve the needs of those who want the teachings, who want to have the contact with those senior knowledgeable, senior blessed seniors. Yeah, look, I think that's an excellent place to wrap it up. And I'm going to say to the listeners, it's really important to support pecunias if you've got pecunias nearby or if they're far away, if you want to have the teachers of the future, we've got to support the pecunias, the juniors, the middle peconies here and now. In order for that to come to fruition, I'm going to put a link to the donation page for Damondaroni Monastery in the description below. And if you've got even a few dollars that you can spare, that can be one modest way in which you can support them going forward. But if you see them going on arms round, go dive into that supermarket, get them something good to eat or whatever you can do, in whatever way you can, I think it's very worthwhile worth doing. I want to thank Ayatta for giving her time to share with us her really incredible experience, which is at the confluence of all the different things that are happening internationally as well as in the United States. I really want to thank you, Aya, for taking the time to talk to us today. Satu, satu. Satu. Thank you very much for inviting and I just want to absolutely agree about supporting the Bequinies and the fourfold community, especially the B Queens, all around the world, everywhere, as much as you can, whether those sincerely practicing, it's just such a big offering. And I think supporting ourselves in the path and supporting one another and each other in the path is what the Sanka is for. And then to share the fruits of that together. So that's a great offering for the world together with the budha, the Buddha's heart and the Buddha's intention. So just absolutely anamo ten assad everyone who's doing that together. And thanks so much for inviting me, Saul. 1s Thank you to all our listeners for joining us for this inspiring episode of Treasure Mountain. With Ayattaloka and none at the forefront of developing the big Kuni Sangha in the west and the Buddhist community of practice more broadly in the United States. You can find out more about Is Tarloc's biography and about Damatarani Monastery in California by following the links in the description below. Also, you can find out more about Treasure Mountain podcast by going to www dot treasuremountain. Dot info website, where you can find all the previous episodes and information about all our guests. If you enjoyed this podcast, you can subscribe to Treasure Mountain Podcast using your favorite podcast app in order to get notified about future episodes. Don't forget to tell your friends about Treasure Mountain too. I've got more inspiring episodes, more guests coming up in the future weeks. And until then, I wish you all the best on your spiritual voyage. 1s Bye. 

Ayya Tathālokā Profile Photo

Ayya Tathālokā

Abbess of Dhammadharini Monastery and Aranya Bodhi Hermitage

Venerable Bhikkhuni (Ayya) Tathālokā Mahātherī was born in Washington, DC in 1968 to environmentally-minded scientist parents. She followed her mother’s example by observing nature for answers and for peace, and her father’s example of inquiry through scientific research and investigation.

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 anagarika and two years later undertaking ten-precept nuns' ordination as a novice. 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 "Tathā-ālokā" (釋如光), under whose guidance she trained for ten years. Venerable Tathālokā Theri received the “going forth” (pabbajja, 出家) and took dependency (nissaya) with her bhikkhuni mentor (nissaya acariya 恩師) in 1993, and undertook the samaneri precepts (沙彌尼戒) with the late most venerable Mountain Forest Meditation Tradition bhikkhu masters Hye Am Sunim (慧菴堂 性觀大宗師) as Preceptor and Il Tah Sunim (日陀大師) as Acariya in 1995. Her grandmaster (bhikkhuni mentor's preceptor) was the late most venerable "Compassionate Cloud" Ja Un Sunim (慈雲堂盛祐大律師), the preeminent Vinaya master who reordained in Sri Lanka, before widely serving as preceptor for the revival of the Korean monastic Sangha in the 20th century.

Returning to the United States in early 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 upasampada from the Sri Lankan bhikkhu sangha led by her preceptor (upajjhaya), the late Chief Prelate of the Western Hemisphere, Most 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 Ven Ajahn Mun Buridatta: Luang Ta 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. Her Path practice has also been deeply inspired and greatly supported by the late most venerable Webu Sayadawgyi and the teachings of the most venerable Kathukurunde Nyanananda. The late Phra Mahaghosananda of Cambodia and the venerable Rashtrapal Thero of India have also been significant exemplars. Overall, her practice and teachings are profoundly influenced by the Buddha's own advice and injunctions as contained in the canonical Early Buddhist suttas.

Ven Tathālokā has conducted extensive research in Comparative Bhikkhuni Vinaya and World Bhikkhuni Sangha History, which were her dual focus in graduate school, contributing numerous articles on these subjects since, many of which are freely available on this dhammadharini.net site.

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 2005. Several months later, she also participated in founding the first residential community for bhikkhunis in the United States named "Dhammadharini," together with the founding of the Dhammadharini Support Foundation. Not long after, she became a senior monastic advisor for the newly formed Alliance for Bhikkhunis, founded by Susan Pembroke. For her groundbreaking work, in 2006, Ven Tathālokā was awarded as an "Outstanding Woman in Buddhism" at the United Nations in Bangkok.

In 2007, she was invited by HH the Dalia Lama as a presenter to the First International Congress on Buddhist Women in Hamburg Germany, and participated in the First Bhikkhuni Patimokkha Recitation in North American, formally establishing the North American Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha. Later in 2007, she co-led the Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training in Bodhgaya, India; also offering the keynote Dhamma Talk for the International Bhikkhuni Parisad in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India for the former untouchable Buddhist community founded by Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedhkarji. In 2008, together with the assembled Bhikkhuni Sangha, Ven Tathālokā received the gift of the use of coastal redwood forested land for an off-the-grid women’s monastic hermitage, Aranya Bodhi, the Awakening Forest. Eight years later in 2016, Dhammadharini's founding vision for a "permanent" bhikkhuni monastery also began to come to fruition, with the Dhammadharini support foundation's acquiring of a property for that monastery at the western foot of Sonoma Mountain in Penngrove, which now has a Theravada bhikkhuni sangha in residence.

Venerable Tathālokā Mahātherī is the first Western woman to be appointed as a Theravada Bhikkhuni Preceptor (Pavattini-Upajjhaya), and she has contributed to the going forth and full ordination of more than 50 women as bhikkhunis in the USA, Australia, India, and Thailand. She began offering anagarika ordinations for women in 2005, Samaneri Pabbajja for women in Australia and the USA in 2008, and Bhikkhuni Upasampada in 2009/10. At the invitation of Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso Maha Thero (Ajahn Brahm), she served as the Bhikkhuni Preceptor for the groundbreaking first Theravada Bhikkhuni Ordination in Australia at Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth in 2009, and the first Dual Theravada Bhikkhuni Ordination in North America in 2010 which was co-led by the most venerable Henepola Gunaratana Nayaka Thero (Bhante G). She has also served as the Bhikkhuni Preceptor for Samaneri Ordinations at Nirotharam Bhikkhuni Arama in Thailand, at the invitation of founder Phra Ajahn Nanthayani.

Ayya Tathālokā's advisory roles include as a Senior Monastic Advisor to the Dhammadharini Support Foundation, the Alliance for Bhikkhunis, Sakyadhita USA, the newly-registered NZ Bhikkhuni Sangha Trust, and the incipient Dhammakhema Trust of Sri Lanka.

Ven. Tathālokā has also been an active participant in Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, serving as a presenter for the Third Gethsemani Conference on "Monasticism and the Environment" and the subsequent Western Buddhist Monastic Conference on this theme, and is co-author of Green Monasticism. She is a founding participant in the San Francisco East Bay Area Tri-Cities Interfaith Council, and a co-founder of Interfaith Women of Peace, also in the San Francisco East Bay.

Ven Tathālokā Mahātherī's primary role is as the founding abbess and preceptor of both the Dhammadharini Monastery (Dhammadharini Sonomagiri Bhikkhuni Arama) 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 in conjunction with vice-abbess and co-teacher Venerable Sobhana Theri and assisting teachers Ven Suvijjana Theri and Ven Ajahn Brahmavara Bhikkhuni. She also teaches regularly around the greater San Francisco Bay Area, in other states in the US, and internationally, most often in Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Canada. During the COVID years, she has begun to offer programs much more frequently online.

In addition to the founding of Dhammadharini Monastery (linked to at the top of this page), Ven Tathālokā's projects in recent years have included works in Buddhist Environmentalism and in "HerStory," bringing great awareness to the ancient great leading women in Buddhism, both bhikkhunīs and upāsikas. She's also furthered research into the ancient bhikkhuni monastery sites of Sri Lanka, and Bhikkhuni Vinaya studies for the Bhikkhuni Vibhanga Project.

In January of 2019 Ven Tathaloka Theri joined for the second great International Bhikkhuni Ordination in Bodhgaya (20 years after the first), in which bhikkhunī preceptors of Theravada traditions from around the world gathered. After the ordinations, during the Global Conference on “Buddhism and Women’s Liberation” hosted by the Mahabodhi Society of India in Bodhgaya, a World Theravada Bhikkhuni Council was proposed. Two years later in 2021, the United Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha International (UTBSI) was inaugurated on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the revival of the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha in Sarnath, India. Currently, Ven Tathaloka Theri serves as the initial regional UTBSI coordinator for North America and Europe, and Bhikkhuni Sangha History/HerStory coordinator.