Bhikkhuni Aya Tathaloka Maha Theri in Sri Lanka


Those present received benefit from a peaceful two hours in the Mihilaka Medura of the BMICH on Saturday 5 January when Bhikkhuni Tathaloka conducted meditation; spoke on her perceptions; invited questions and comments in an interactive half hour; and ended the session with chanting.

In her address she dwelt on a wide spectrum of issues.

She stared by saying that humans are a medium for three positive antidotes to negatives that beset us in churning Samsara. The positives are awareness, generosity and kindness which overcome ignorance, greed and hate. A revolution of attitudes is necessary when we contemplate living better and of course getting on the Path and moving along it. "Revolution is to get away from delusions and to realize reality."

To elucidate more her advice and what she was attempting to convey, she cleverly wove in two sightings and one hearing she had had on the way from Boralesgamuwa where she was temporarily resident, to Colombo 7. She heard a plaintive song by a female singer coming across the Bolgoda lake; saw a billboard advertising CEAT with the slogan – ‘The excitement never ends’; and noticed the title of a book where they had rested -’What are you hungry for?’ She explained that the song could be of love, loss, longing, regret; any emotion; and CEAT was read by her as CHEAT. We got the point she introduced: ephemeral pleasures and longings which equate to unsatisfactoriness in life; delusion; greed and grasping. That is our life but of course, as she explained, there is a way to realize and a path to follow to be out of these conditions; for full comprehension and deliverance: the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. She stressed on the four Brahma Viharas that had to be cultivated.

She went on to explain Aditthana – resolution. A generous dayaka had photocopied a note she gave us "for recollection after the talk." Adhitthana is not to neglect Wisdom; to persevere in Truth; to foster munificence; to train in peace.

She said that whatever comes to us: good, bad, evil, inauspicious, praise, blame, we can understand and overcome them or be neutral to the good ones through the Dhamma. She added that the suttas say there are 84,000 defilements (I mention avarice, sexual misconduct, drunkenness as three major ones), and there is a stated antidote for each – Dhamma doors or Dhamma messages. "The Buddha’s Dhamma is the perfect match to all the difficulties we experience in life."

She was questioned as to why she used the word ‘wise’ instead of ‘right’ in naming the attributes of the Eightfold Path. (We say ‘Right Understanding’ etc.). Ven Tathaloka explained that the Pali word samma could very well be translated to ‘right’ or to ‘wise’. She had studied Pali and Sanskit to better understand the suttas in the Tripitaka. Samma can connote "a right upsurge of knowledge of the Dhamma. Samma also means the middle way. What you have then is wisdom: wise view and thus the development of panna."

Her life

Ven Tathaloka is the founder of two hermitages or araniyas on the Sonoma Coast in California. She is the recipient of the 2006 United Nations International Women’s Day ‘Outstanding Woman in Buddhism’ Award, and was invited as a presenting scholar to the First International Congress on Buddhist Women. She serves as senior monastic advisor to the Dhammadharini Support Foundation, the Alliance for Bhikkhunis, Sakyadhita USA and NZ Bhikkhuni Sangha Trust. The story of Bhikkhuni Tathaloka epitomises the extent to which a courageous and intelligent woman could and would go in pursuit of her true liberation.

Lay life   

Born Heather Buske in Washington DC in 1968 to scientist parents, she grew up in the US’s Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. She was inclined to spirituality even as a teenager. First learning meditation in summer camp at age 10, her perspective and values began to change deeply, after a near death experience from sickness at 15. Her interest in the Dhamma and meditation deepened and intensified while studying and working afterwards in the medical field and she began to undertake meditation retreats. At age 19 while on her university medical studies, she had a close associate die suddenly. That jolted her. She realized through personal experience the impermanence of life; which brought on an urgency to her religious questioning and questing. She realized material things brought no true happiness in life. She went deeper into her questioning of the meaning of life. She left college; became an anagarika and went in search of the ‘truth’ of life, travelling through Europe to India where she became a ten precept nun in West Bengal, the home area of the famed meditation teacher – Dipa Ma. However she could not find any Buddhist bhikkhunis there. Travelling to South Korea she met the brilliant leading bhikkhuni teacher – The Ven Myeon Seong – ‘Bright Star’- under whom she trained for ten years. In 1993 she formally received the ‘going forth’ (pabbajja), and two years later was inducted a Samaneri. She returned to the United States and the following year – 1997 – was accepted to receive Bhikkhuni ordination (upasampada) in Southern California in the presence of an international assembly of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis officiated by the Sri Lankan Bhikkhu Sanga with the late Most Ven Dr Havenpola Ratanasara as preceptor. The newly ordained Bhikkhuni Tathaloka studied the Tripitaka and undertook intensive meditation retreats in Thailand too. These are by all reports extremely arduous but the Bhikkhuni became a much happier person.

Help to others

Compassionately concerned about the welfare of women aspirants and those leading monastic lives in Theravada Buddhism and recognizing the large numbers living in communities in the US after the first international ordination of Theravada bhikkhunis from America in Mt Lavinia and Dambulla in 2003, she proposed and participated in the forming of an umbrella organization – the North American Bhikkhuni Association (NABA) in 2004. In 2009, after attaining the required number of years seniority as a bhikkhuni, she served as the bhikkhuni preceptor for the groundbreaking first Theravada tradition dual ordination of bhikkhunis in both Australia and the US. This was in collaboration with Ajahn Brahmavamso and Bhante Sujato.

Bhikkhuni Tathaloka, whom we joyfully welcome, has been here before; a staunch believer in our ayurveda healing system. On 6 January she left Moratuwa for the Sacred Cities. On an earlier visit she paid homage at the Dalada Maligawa and temples dedicated to the ancient bhikkhunis, especially Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta. Dambakola Pathuna, close to Kankasanturai, is the temple that marks the spot where the ship which brought Theri Sangahmitta to our land, bearing a bo sapling from Buddha Gaya, touched our shores

We wish Ven Aya Tathaloka Bhikkhumi a safe journey back to her aranya in the US and many more visits to this island which she says she loves and has many friends in.

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