Mongolia – Ven Amaa (1905-2010): Courage and Resilience in Spiritual Practice in Challenging Conditions

by Barbara Yen

This article is written by Barbara Yen in conjunction with 2014 International Bhikkhuni Day Celebration at Gotami Vihara Society Malaysia Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era.

Mongolia – Ven Amaa (1905-2010): Courage and Resilience in Spiritual Practice in Challenging Conditions


VenAmaaAfter nearly seventy years of Communist rule and destruction, monasteries and nunneries face not only the difficulties of recovering Buddhism but also to establish space to practice.

Traditionally in Mongolia, there was no indication of educating women in the Dharma or offered the possibility of ordination to them, as opposition arose when such ordination was introduced. Hence, before 1990, women were rarely ordained in Mongolia.

There are two types of Buddhist vows available for women in Mongolia.

  1. The full Getsulma vow of ordination, involving 36 monastic rules.
  2. The Genenma lay vows (Five Precepts), promising not to kill, steal, lie, not to commit any sexual misconduct and not to take intoxicants. These vows are taken by many Buddhists, both male and female in Mongolia.

Women who have taken the Genenma vows visit the nunnery during the day but return to their homes at night. They are allowed to marry and when they have children they leave the nunnery for one year to look after the child. They generally wear red or occasionally yellow deels (the traditional dress of Mongolia) rather than the Buddhist robes. They do not shave their heads.

Novice ordination for nuns (Getsulma) was offered for the first time in Mongolia’s history in 1993 by Bakula Rinpoche. Today, these nuns are the first generation of ordained female Buddhist practitioners.

Support from the Bhikkhus
Fortunately there were visiting teachers like Bakula Rinpoche and Lama Zopa Rinpoche who offered desperately needed teachings to the monks and nuns and lay people.

Presently, nunneries in Mongolia, for instance Dechen Ling Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, which was initiated by Ven Bakula Rinpoche, consists of two small gers. The twenty-one handmas (nuns) there had to take turns to live in the nunnery or conduct pujas and other practices like meditation, as all could not fit into one yurt. The rest must return to their family homes each night. In Mongolia, handmas are mostly lay women.

Lama Zopa has agreed to guide the handmas of Dechen Ling and has encouraged them to take novice ordination. Rinpoche also has plans for a new nunnery in Mongolia. In the meantime, Ven. Gyatso from the new FPMT center in Mongolia will teach courses to the handmas there.

There were also opportunities for education for the nuns including studying abroad in Dharamasala, India and in Korea.

During the 10th Sakyadhita Conference in 2010, we visited one of the nunneries. A Rinpoche there declared to us, “We need both the monks and nuns to make Buddhism grow in Mongolia. Otherwise, it is like trying to fly an airplane with only one wing.”

VenAmaa6Family History

At the beginning of the twentieth century, when Ven Amaa was born, there were more than 1,000 monastic complexes sprawled across Mongolia’s deserts, steppes and forests. In Khenti Province alone, where Ven Amaa was born and which was also the birthplace of Chenghis Khan, it was a great stronghold of the Buddha dharma for centuries.

The Mongolian Monastery Documentation Project counted no fewer than 101 Buddhist institutions that flourished there prior to the Stalinist purges. It also seemed a particularly strong place of women’s spirituality, with many deeply respected female meditation masters.

Spiritual Development
Her father and grandfather were accomplished lamas. As a child, she began learning prayers and chanting especially on Arya Tara and Shakyamuni Buddha.

Ven Amaa was later introduced to the ancient tantric traditions of Ven Padmasambhava and was also inspired by one of the greatest practitioners in Padmasambhava’s lineage, Ven Danzan Ravjaa (1803–1856), the famed mahasiddha from the eastern Gobi Desert. She was drawn to his way of practicing chöd, the rituals and visualizations for directly cutting through ego attachment called lujing, Tibetan for “offering the body,” The chöd later became her central practice.

During Stalin’s communist regime, particularly during the years 1937–1939, Buddhists were persecuted and many Lamas were killed, sent to Siberia or disrobed. Nearly all the monasteries were looted and demolished. Religious practice of any kind was illegal and lay meditators had scattered.

During this period, Ven Amaa, with a small group of yogis, lead by a Tibetan master, Lama Zundui, was still able to learn and practice meditation and chöd intensively and secretly for two years with great courage, perseverance and resilience. At age sixteen, she was the youngest member there.

They practiced in caves and cemeteries, hiding in the cover of darkness and dressed in lay clothing. They had escaped detection due to the vastness and mountainous regions of the country and sparse population.
Unfortunately, they were later discovered by the Communist and were forced to flee. Some were caught, while Lama Zundui, Ven Amaa and others escaped. Lama Zundui and another of her teachers, Ven Artiin Mergen Pandita, who could make themselves invisible, escaped arrests on several occasions.


Inspiring the next generation of nuns. With Ven Ani Kunze, a leader of the Mongolian Buddhist women paying her respects and receiving her blessing

Inspiring the next generation of nuns. With Ven Ani Kunze, a leader of the Mongolian Buddhist women paying her respects and receiving her blessing

She was renowned as the only person in Mongolia’s three eastern provinces who could do the complete and proper chanting and ceremonies for those who passed away, based on the text by Ven Padmasambhava, now popularly known as ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’.

Her Home was her Temple

Although devotees visited Ven Amaa daily, at all hours of the day or night to ask for advice, prayers and blessings, she did not have a sacred space of her own. She received them on the carpeted floor in her family ger, greeting everyone with the same loving, toothless smile. On auspicious days, she and her disciples would chant in a nearby temple.


Ven Amaa’s own ger. Posing with her is Batbaatar, who sponsored it’s cost.


In 2008, at the age of 104, Ven Amaa finally had her own ger, which became a meditation and chanting shrine. It was sponsored by an American male devotee, Batbaatar who had never met her before.

Ven Amaa, a revered 104-year-old Buddhist master at the 10th Sakyadhita Conference, Mongolia, 2008

Ven Amaa, a revered 104-year-old Buddhist master at the 10th Sakyadhita Conference, Mongolia, 2008

In 2008, Ven Amaa travelled 200 miles to Ulaanbaatar to attend the 10th Sakyadhita Conference. At the Opening ceremony, we stood up in an ovation when she walked up the stage, aided with a walking stick, to welcome us. She was overwhelmed to see several hundred Buddhist women and men of different nationalities and traditions, speaking different languages coming together to speak with one heart. She reflected, ”I met people from all over the world. I saw that Buddhism was being practiced in so many languages. The language isn’t so important, it’s the meaning…. that is important.” She declared to the crowd, “I have been waiting for this moment my whole life.”

Fortunately, on the recommendation of Venerable Konchog Norbu, Ven Amaa was interviewed for the Mongolian Buddhist Monasteries Documentation Project.

Ven Amaa passed away in 2010, nearly 106 of age, one of the last of a generation and culture never to be seen again.

Konchog Norbu is an American Buddhist monk who served as director for the Mongolian Buddhist Revival Project from 2005–2009. From Shambhala SunSpace. Posted by Sakyadhita Blog on Nov 11, 2013

Konchog Norbu is an American Buddhist monk who served as director for the Mongolian Buddhist Revival Project from 2005–2009. From Shambhala SunSpace. Posted by Sakyadhita Blog on Nov 11, 2013


For the first time in centuries, Sakyadhita International Conferences are uniting and empowering women like Ven Amaa across traditions and cultures. Women are coming together to enrich each other’s lives and spiritual practices, and returning home to build local networks that will continue to strengthen the traditions and practices of women at the grassroots level all over the world.

Written by

Barbara Yen

President, Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia



  1. Ven Konchog Norbu, 104 Years of Practice, 2013
  2. Ven Konchog Norbu, Amaa, June, 2008
  3. Ven Konchog Norbu, Amaa II, June, 2008
  4. Ven Konchog Norbu, Not the Comfy Chair!, October, 2008
  5. Ven Konchog Norbu, Chanting Down Babylon, October, 2008
  6. Mongolian Buddhists Protecting Nature Handbook
  7. Emily D. Porter, Mandala: Buddhism in Our Time, March 2001, page 16.
  9. Ven Konchog Norbu’s blog Dreaming of Danzan Ravjaa



Taiwan – Dharma Master Cheng Yen, (1937- ): Buddhism Beyond Borders: Engaged Buddhism – Compassion in Action

by Hooi Yoon Chun

This article is written by Hooi Yoon Chun in conjunction with 2014 International Bhikkhuni Day Celebration at Gotami Vihara Society Malaysia Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era.

TaiwanDharma Master Cheng Yen, (1937- ): Buddhism Beyond Borders: Engaged Buddhism –  Compassion in Action

VenChengYanContact with Buddhism
Master Cheng Yen, who leads the world renowned Disaster Relief organistion Tzu Chi, was born in 1937 in Taiwan. She was raised by her aunt and uncle. She had first hand experience of suffering, witnessing the devastating effects of war, which taught her the truth behind the concept of impermanence and suffering. She also looked after her sick brother in a hospital for eight months.

At the age of 23, her father died suddenly from brain hemorrhage. It was in searching for a burial place for him that Master Cheng Yen first came into contact with Buddhist philosophy and made her to aspire to be a nun.

She traveled around eastern Taiwan with a nun but without being ordained. After 2 years, she registered for ordination in Lin Chi Temple but was turned down as a nun must be the disciple of a master for two years before ordination.

Fortunately, she encountered Venerable Master Yin-shun, who accepted her request, just an hour before registration closed! She then went to Hualien County to continue her spiritual practice, which was mainly reciting and copying Sutra. It was during her six months there that she vowed to commit herself to the Lotus Sutra and the “Path of the Bodhisattvas.” It was also the Sutra of Immeasurable Righteousness, dealing with human problems, weather, psychiatric, psychological and spiritual issues, that influenced her outlook.

Founding of Tzu Chi
There were two watershed events that inspired Master Cheng Yen to take the power of Buddhism to help people in the world. The first was at a discussion in 1966 with three Catholic nuns who pointed out that Buddhists had not helped society, unlike the Church, in building schools and hospitals. Those words made Master realise that Buddhism had to do more than simply encouraging private cultivation.

Tzu-Chi-logoThe other event occurred in the same year while visiting a hospital in Fenglin. She saw blood on the hospital floor and learned that an aboriginal woman suffered a miscarriage but was not attended to without paying a deposit. These events led Master to establish the Tzu Chi Foundation in April 1966 and its first Hospital in Hualien in 1986.

Initially, she encouraged her 5 disciples to make baby shoes and thirty followers to save fifty cents from their grocery money every day into little savings banks made from bamboo. Master encouraged the daily “giving” practice which would help develop the virtue of generosity. Just as the Buddha was guided by a noble desire to help others, she inspired her followers to listen to those who were sad or help those in pain.

Tzu Chi’s beginnings were humble. In the first year, 15 families were helped by 30 followers. Unlike most Buddhist orders, Tzu Chi nuns do not take donations for themselves. They worked for their food by farming, weaving gloves, making diapers, shoes and electrical circuit breakers.

Medical Mission
By 1970, Master realized the link between poverty and illness after spending six years among the poor of eastern Taiwan and resolved to tackle the problem. Tzu Chi’s first medical outreach free clinic in 1972 opened in Hualien, with more than 140,000 consultations done so far.

Plans to build a 600-bed general hospital were developed in 1979 to provide service to the undeserved eastern Taiwan. Despite initial setbacks both in funding for the hospital and finding an acceptable site, construction was completed and the hospital opened on 17 August 1986. Tzu Chi has since built 6 hospitals in different parts of the island.

In order to address the shortage of nurses, and expand the medical mission, the Tzu Chi College of Nursing was built in September 1989 in Hualien. It was the first private nursing college in Taiwan to waive tuition for selected courses. Students not only learn the technical skills of nursing, they were also imbued with the spirit of compassion and humanitarian outlook.

In 1992, a bone marrow registry was started and Is now a division of the new Tzu Chi Stem Cells Center. By August 2005, Tzu Chi had registered more than 274,000 marrow donors and matched almost 1000 recipients with compatible donors around the world.

Master established the Tzu Chi College of Medicine in 1994, which became a University in 2000. She also appealed to Taiwanese people to donate their bodies for medical training which resulted in one body for every four students to study. The Athletic Drug Testing Center was established in 1996 when gold medal winners were tested for banned drugs.

International Relief Work
Relief work in China, the first major work, began in 1991 when devastating floods hit central and eastern China. Despite the political situation, Tzu Chi was able to open up avenues to assist Chinese people in desperate need. It was difficult to convince Taiwanese to help the Chinese in China, whose government officials were wary of accepting Tzu Chi.

Tzu Chi volunteers are not to discuss business, politics, or religion while giving aid. Master’s philosophy is that both parties, those receiving assistance and those delivering the aid, are rewarded, one materially and the other spiritually.

Master Cheng Yen has directed Tzu Chi to conduct relief work in various disasters like typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis in countries like Indonesia and Sri Lanka in the 2004 tsunami, Pakistan earthquake in 2005, in Mongolia, Ethiopia, Nepal, Thailand, Rwanda, Cambodia, North Korea, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Vietnam, the United States, Brazil, Argentina and numerous other countries including Taiwan.

Help was rendered in the form of immediate relief assistance like prepared meals, drinking water, financial assistance, and rebuilding homes and schools. This relief work has earned the reputation of being the first to arrive and the last to leave.

Da Ai Television
Da Ai TVMaster Cheng Yen launched ‘Da Ai Satellite Television’ which is a 24-hour, commercial-free status television station on 1 January 1998. It is partially funded by a nationwide recycling effort She encourages vegetarianism to improve the carbon footprint further.

Da Ai features non-political news, generally free of negativity and violence, teaching lectures and serial programs designed to extol the virtues of living a good life, often profiling people who made major changes in their life for the better. She broadcasts inspirational teachings every week-day in the programme “Morning at Dawn”, a 25-minute address and a twelve-minute address in the evening.

Master rises early in the morning and often receives visitors and actively oversees the many projects throughout Taiwan by making monthly trips around the country. She also monitors the action of the various centres in 47 countries throughout the world. Master is really a person who practices what she preaches.

Cheng Yen Award


Master was recognised internationally with some of these awards:

1986: Received the ‘Huashia Medal of the First Order,’ Taiwan
1991: ‘Ramon Magsaysay Award,’ Philippines for Community Leadership
1994: ‘Eisenhower Medallion’ by the People to People International.(PTPI Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower)
1995: ‘Executive Yuan (Cabinet) Cultural Award,’ Taiwan
1996: ‘Interior Ministry’s First Class Honorary Award,’ Taiwan
1996: ‘Foreign Affairs Medal of the First Order,’ Taiwan
1996: ‘Huaguang Award of the First Order,’ Taiwan
1998: ‘International Human Rights Award,’ the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO)
2000: ‘Noel Foundation Life Award’
2001: ‘Presidential Culture Award,’ Taiwan
2001: ‘National Medal of the Second Order’ from the President of El Salvador
2001: Conferred ‘Honorary Doctorate in Social Science,’ Hong Kong University
2001: One of 26 ‘Heroes from Around the World’ and featured on the ‘Wall of Honor’ in Philadelphia’s National Liberty Museum
2002: ‘Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award,’ World Buddhist University, Thailand
2002: ‘Honorary Doctorate Degree in Socio-Cultural Studies,’ National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan
2003: ‘Presidential Second Order of the Brilliant Star Award,’ Taiwan
2004: ‘2004 Asian American Heritage Award for Humanitarian Service,’ Asian American Federation of California (AAFC)
2007: ‘24th Niwano Peace Prize for Humanitarian Service,’ Niwano Peace Foundation, Japan
2008: ‘WFB Merit Medal,’ from World Fellowship of Buddhists
2011: ‘Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities,’ University of the East, Manila, Philippines
2011: named by the Times, New York as ‘One of World’s 100 Most Influential People’
2014: nominated for Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Harald zur Hausen, director of the German Cancer Research Center who was one of the former prize winners

Written by
Hooi Yoon Chun
Honorary Treasurer
Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia



Rev. Ikuko Hibino, Japan (1949 – ) : Yes, A Woman Can Be A Priest in Japanese Buddhism!

by Dr Lai Suat Yan

This article is written by  Dr Lai Suat Yan in conjunction with 2014 International Bhikkhuni Day Celebration at Gotami Vihara Society Malaysia Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era.

Rev. Ikuko Hibino, Japan (1949 – ): Yes, A Woman Can Be A Priest in Japanese Buddhism! RevIkukoHibino

“Can a woman can be a priest in Buddhism?” and “What is Buddhism?” were some of the questions directed at Rev. Ikuko Hibino when she was studying language in France.[1] These queries and the suggestion that she became a priest irrespective of her marital status piqued her curiosity and planted the seeds for her eventual path to be one. While her father is the head priest of the Kayadera Temple in Kuramae, Tokyo, as a woman she is expected to marry a priest who will eventually succeed her father. This is due to the cultural succession of temples that passes along the male lines. Although there is no prohibition for women to be priests in the Jodo school, this cultural practice is the mechanism in operation. Furthermore, a wife of a priest is generally expected to play a supportive role and produce male heirs to succeed the temple. In this context, Rev. Ikuko Hibino’s aspiration to be a priest was and still is an uncommon one.

As a university student, she majored in English literature in Atomi Gakuen Women’s College. Following her father’s footstep and recommendation she studied the English poet, William Wordsworth. She is considered an obedient daughter and while happy with her literary study, part of her wanted to do something different. She became involved with a theater group that she joined every afternoon after her classes. Her father sometimes attended her theater performances. It was her dream to become a theater producer then. Unfortunately, her father had a heart attack and passed away the year she graduated. She suffered as things were good for her until then. As she described it, “It was like a clear sky was suddenly covered with a black cloud.” This prompted her to think and find a meaningful life for herself. Her uncle then succeeded her father until she married a priest. She took the time to travel and examined herself and her culture from outside of Japan in different contexts, first to England and then later to France, also to attend a language school.

The questions and suggestions posed to her in France related to Buddhism and the possibility for a woman to be a priest led to her joining a training course organized by the headquarters of Jodo school after her return. She completed the three yearly sessions of training which included reading sutras, chanting meditation, Buddhist philosophy and history as well as performing Buddhist ceremonies and hymns. At the end of each of the yearly training course there were exams which she passed. After that she attended a final retreat course and the qualification as a Jodo school priest was conferred upon its completion. So, at age 26, in 1975 Rev, Ikuko Hibino officially became a priest. It took nearly 30 years later before she moved up the ranks and be certified as the chief priest of the Kayadera temple in 2002.

While there were those, usually male priests or lay people, who were not supportive of her decision to be a priest, they were in the minority and she did not heed them. Instead she focused her attention on 90 per cent of those who supported and protected her. Those supportive told her that if she needed help and if there was anything or custom she did not understand or not used to in the priest group, she could always asked them. In this context, she is thankful to these priests who were kind and protected her. Indeed, Rev. Ikuko Hibino was fortunate as she did not face any legal challenge to her succession of the temple as could be faced by a female priest. Or this could be analyzed as the testament of her ability to win over those around her.

The institutional practice of Buddhism is gendered male in another aspect–besides the succession of temple along male lines–as generally men are the ones allowed to lead in a religious ceremony as the pitch favored is that of the male voice. In this context, women faced an additional challenge but Rev. Ikuko Hibino surmounted this as well. According to her, “My voice is not different from that of a male priest, when we read the sutra, it is the same as male priests’ voice. Very often, women cannot…I was trained by an opera singer for that pitch when I was younger.” While changes may be forthcoming with the discussion of having two keys at the Jodo school headquarter, it is clear that the path to be a priest is much more difficult for women. Given these circumstances, there is a scarcity of female priests in comparison to male priests. In the area surrounding Rev. Ikuko Hibino’s temple in Kuramae, there are 36 Jodo sect temples but only two of the chief priests are female.

Rev. Ikuko Hibino’s presence signifies the possibility for women to be a female priest, rare as it maybe. She serves as a role model for other women in the Jodo sect in particular and younger female priests in this tradition consult her when needed. In addition, female Buddhists followers of her tradition or other tradition also consult her on various issues.

Service to All Beings Nationally and Internationally

Rev. Ikuko Hibino, like her male priest counterpart, conducts funeral rites and memorial ceremony for families of the departed. As the chief priest she oversees the development of the temple and presides over various Buddhist rituals and ceremonies such as the Ojuya ceremony that pays homage to the Buddha or the Segakie (hungry ghosts) ceremony. In addition, she is also a dharma speaker and a counselor. Trained as a counselor in the neuro-linguistic tradition she attends to those with problems by active listening and using language to encourage those suffering to open up, talk more, explore and find the answer that is within them.

From 1981-1989, she was the international committee member of the All Japan Young Buddhist Association and embodying the spirit of compassion was involved in refugee relief work at the Cambodian border. During this period, she was active in various international exchange activities with, for example, the Malaysian Youth Buddhist Association, Thai Youth Buddhist Association and the Taiwanese Youth Buddhist Association to foster international understanding. Besides her leadership ability, she is in a unique position to contribute at the international arena due to her command of English. From 1988-1990, she was the Deputy Secretary General of the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth with objectives that includes promoting unity and solidarity among Buddhists globally, promoting peace and harmony among Buddhists youth as well as carrying out activities in various spheres from a humanitarian angle. As the Chairperson of the Standing Committee for Humanitarian Services of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, she chaired the adoption of the resolution to extend humanitarian services to all living beings to promote and strengthen animal welfare in 2012.[2] The resolution was sponsored by Mr. Senaka Weeraratna of the German Dhammaduta Society.

Reflecting her leadership qualities, openness to the diversity of culture and Buddhist traditions, since the late 2000s she has been one of the Board of Directors of the International Ladies of Buddhist Association, Japan.[3] The association organizes cultural, academic and educational activities to learn and educate others of the Buddhist culture and practices of various denominations to promote understanding and transcend differences. One of the tasks of the organization is to nurture female Buddhists to be future leaders of society. As a female Buddhist priest in a leadership position, Rev. Ikuko Hibino’s contribution is invaluable particularly, in a world marked by differences of various kind, be it gender, nationality, sectarianism, race, economic or culture.

Written by

Dr Lai Suat Yan

Vice-President Gotami Vihara

and Asian Public Intellectual (API) Fellow Year 13 (2013/14)

Materials for write-up was collected during the API Fellow grant


[1] For this sharing and more details please see the article by Rev. Ikuko Hibino on the Jodo school website in an article titled “The Daily Life of a Female Buddhist Priest”.

[2] For details see Janaka Perera, “World Fellowship of Buddhists takes steps towards promotion of animal welfare,” LankaWeb, 22 July, 2012 at,11001,0,0,1,0#.VAi1z_ldVwY accessed 11 August, 2014.

[3] For details of ILAB and its inauguration see Padmasari, Vol. 11, June 2009.

Korea – Venerable Bhikshuni Daehaeng Kun Sunim (1927 – 2012): A Great Meditation Master

by Barbara Yen

This article is written by  Barbara Yen in conjunction with 2014 International Bhikkhuni Day Celebration at Gotami Vihara Society Malaysia Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era.

Korea – Venerable Bhikshuni Daehaeng Kun Sunim (1927 – 2012): A Great Meditation Master

VenDaehaeng5During the time of Venerable Daehaeng, the status of monks and nuns were almost equal and nuns were able to take full ordination and could establish their own monasteries.

Ven Daehaeng was born in 1927 in Seoul’s Itaewon district. Like Master Cheng Yan of Tzu Chi, she was a self made nun without obtaining formal monastic training. As a child her family suffered greatly and lost their home under the Japanese colonial rule as her father was in the Korean army. As she had an inclination to meditate she seized the opportunity of the family being homeless and living in the forest, she took to the mountains, to spend time alone in the wilderness.

Spiritual Search and Cultivation
In 1950, Ven Daehaeng took the samaneri vows with Venerable Hanam Kun Sunim. She entered Sangwon Temple and spent four years in the mountains. As a female ascetic practitioner, she encountered gender-specific challenges.

With only the clothes she was wearing, and sleeping under trees, she ate whatever leaves and grass that was available. To keep herself safe, she smeared her body with mud which caused her skin to crack and bleed during winter. She was mistaken to be mentally ill and was bullied and beaten. During the Korean War, she was arrested on suspicion of being a spy for North Korea.

Ven Daehaeng received full ordination in 1961 and for six years, she stayed in a small hut in Sangwonsa Temple on Mt. Ch’iak. Her focus was on finding her true Buddha-nature and trying to understand the true owner, the true doer. After about thirty years of intense practice and upon her awakening, she was absorbed in the various questions that spontaneously arose from inside. If a question arose in her mind, she stood on a spot for days and nights until she found an answer.

Teaching and Leadership Role
In 1972, Ven Daehaeng founded the Hanmaun Sonwon (One Mind Zen Centre) in Anyang, near Seoul and became its abbess. It was a place where everyone could learn about their true, pure nature and how to live with freedom, dignity, and courage.

Her teaching mainly emphasises on the daily cultivation of mind by observing ‘kuan’ or awareness; that everyday life and every moment was the perfect time to practice.

Ven believed that everyone was endowed with the wisdom and abilities of all Buddhas which was different from the egoistic, individual self. She called this wholesome mind ‘juinkong’ (the master who is void). One was to entrust everything to it and would be peaceful here and now and be free from the bondage of ego, and thus the web of suffering.

The perfect moment and answer to overcome suffering thus lay within us and there was no need to rely on outside powers or to search from elsewhere. Once this cloud of habits and discriminations had lifted, our inherently bright foundation, our true nature, could shine through. She taught us to entrust, to let go of everything that confronted us, to our inherent foundation, and then to go forward while observing.

Ven Daehaeng stressed the need to discover and develop our fundamental, universal mind and Buddha-nature and through which all beings and all universe were inter-connected as one. She was determined to teach spiritual practice in such a way that anyone, regardless of their occupation, gender, or family status could practice and awaken.

Ven was able to realise her teaching of harmonious living with all beings. The most outstanding activity was the formation of choirs for hymn singing daily as part of ‘kuan’ practice – for children, young adults, mothers and men.

Her Teaching on Truth

VenDaehaeng3“Truth is not something that can be found or lost. Truth naturally arises when you believe in your foundation and entrust everything to it.”

“Truth is the flowing that never stops for even a moment. It flows and penetrates and is alive. There is nothing in the world that is unmoving. Without beginning or end, without coming and going, there is only flowing, just as it is. Like flowing water, it flows naturally, without any hindrance. Because it is flowing like water, there is no moment that it ever becomes stagnant. Therefore, stopping something from flowing is the same as killing it.”

Large Following
Ven’s charismatic leadership attracted several hundred disciples and became the first nun in Korea to have male disciples, despite of observing the Eight Chief Rules or Garudamas. She also had about 100,000 lay followers. About 40% were men, many of whom were young, male intellectuals who helped establish a leading weekly Buddhist newspaper, Hyundae Bulkyo (Modern Buddhism) in 1994. They also produced a journal and other publications, conducted research and workshops, and became a pioneer in setting up on-line sites. In 1996 they formed the Hanmaum Science Institute.

Her Dhamma talks which were usually attended by thousands of people, strove to combine the spiritual and material worlds under the teachings of One Mind. She used simple everyday language and was usually followed by questions and answers which was rarely practiced during her time in Korea.

She was seen as a Bodhisattva of medicine with her healing powers and had great compassion for people who were sick. She took on other’s pain, both physical and mental and healed them without even touching them. She also has psychic powers and communicated with deities, the deceased and with plants and animals.

She established fifteen branch temples in Korea and ten worldwide, in the United States, Canada, Germany, Argentina, Thailand and Brazil.


  • No River to Cross: Trusting the enlightenment that’s always right here (2007, Wisdom Publications)
  • Wake Up and Laugh: The Dharma teachings of Zen Master Daehaeng (2014, Wisdom Publications)
  • A Thousand Hands of Compassion: The Chant of Korean spirituality and Enlightenment (2008, Korean/English, Hanmaum Publications)
  • My Heart is a Golden Buddha: Buddhist stories from Korea (2012, Hanmaum Publications)

In the late 1970’s, she began translating the traditional ceremonies which were first used in the temples she founded. She was concerned that laypeople were missing the benefits that understanding the ceremonies could provide. She began translating them from the traditional Sino-Korean characters into modern, phonetic Korean. These included:

  • Thousand Hands Sutra (千手經), which includes the Great Compassion Dharani (大悲咒)
  • Heart Sutra (般若心經)
  • Diamond Sutra (金剛經)
  • Flower Ornament Sutra (華嚴經).

Her Korean version of the Thousand Hands Sutra and the Great Compassion Dharani has been published in English as A Thousand Hands of Compassion.

VenDaehaeng4Ven was awarded the Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award from the United Nations in 2002 and the Sarvodaya Award from the Sri Lankan religious welfare agency in 2001.

Due to her popularity and success, she was accepted by the Chogye Order, the largest Buddhist Order in Korea.

She passed away at the age of 85 after leading a monastic life for 63 years.

Ven Daehaeng is widely regarded as one of Korea’s foremost Seon (Zen) masters and left an indelible mark in Korean Seon mountain meditation with her extraordinary determination in her spiritual practice and commitment to spread the Buddha sasana. She contributed to the modernization and popularization of Korean Buddhism throughout the world. Her work has made her legendary, even during her life-time.

1. Pori Park, ‘The Leadership of Bhikshuni Master Daechaeng and the One Mind Zen Centre (Hanmaum Seonwon) in South Korea,’ Eminent Buddhist Women,’ 11th Sakyadhita International Conference, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2010
2. Hyesoen Sunim, ‘The Ascetic Mountain Practice of Seon Master Daechaeng,’ Eminent Buddhist Women,’ 11th Sakyadhita International Conference, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2010
3. World-wide webs:,,

Written by
Barbara Yen
President, Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia

Buddhist Women As Agents of Change: Case Studies from Thailand and Indonesia

Ven. Dhammananda and the Female Monastic at Songdhammakalyani Monastery

This article was published in Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia Issue 16 September 2014  (

by Lai Suat Yan, Vice President, Gotami Vihara Society Malaysia

While in Thailand the majority of its population are adherents of the Theravada Buddhist ‘tradition’, in Indonesia, Buddhism is a minority religion with the Theravada Buddhist ‘tradition’ embraced by the majority of Buddhists. However, the development of the Theravada tradition in Indonesia is much influenced by its counterparts in Thailand.

Consisting only of men, the Theravada Buddhist ecclesiastical authorities in both Thailand and Indonesia do not recognize bhikkhunis (a fully ordained female monastic). In this context, the aspiration and determination of Buddhist women to be female monastics in the Theravada Buddhist tradition in the 21st century reflect their role as agents of change to bring renewal to their faith. Their convictions and actions affirm women’s spirituality and gender inclusiveness as envisioned by the Buddha in establishing the female monastic order. They are able to survive and even grow due to their ability to attract their own supporters and followers. Furthermore, those who aspired to be female monastic are able to travel outside of their countries to be ordained due to the transnational dimension of Buddhism. These Buddhist women thus reclaim their identities and roles from only being supporters of Buddhism to that of spiritual leaders, religious innovators and ritual specialists. The Theravada Buddhist ‘tradition’ is a changing one as the female adherents stake their claim to their rightful heritage as female monastic. Similarly, the identity and roles of Buddhist women are fluid.


Thailand’s Ven. Dhammananda on an almsround. She is seen here being given lotus flower buds, one of the popular offerings during almsrounds


Changing Identity of Buddhist Women

In Thailand, Ven. Dhammananda, and in Indonesia, Ven. Santini both reference the Buddhist scripture for a usable past[1] to posit that wherebhikkhunis are not in existence, it is possible for them to be ordained by bhikkhus (fully ordained male monastic) only (Lai 2014, 3, 6). They thus became religious innovators by leading the way in becoming ordained and legitimized, deeds based upon the ‘original’, ‘pure’ message of the Buddha. Detractors of bhikkhuni ordination claim that the proper procedure and requirement for bhikkhuni ordination is to require both bhikkhus andbhikkhunis (dual ordination) as the ‘original’, ‘pure’ message of the Buddha (Lai 2011, 147-48). Ven. Dhammananda received her full ordination as abhikkhuni in 2003 in Sri Lanka and Ven. Santini with three other Indonesian Buddhist women did so in 2000 in Taiwan. Their ordination subsequently paved the way for other Thai and Indonesian Buddhist women to be ordained and to defend their ordination as being based on the Buddha’s ‘tradition’. However, none of them are recognized by the religious authorities of the Theravada ‘tradition’ in their home countries. Despite this, Ven. Dhammananda and Ven. Santini introduced samaneri (novice female monastic) temporary ordination which is based upon the samanera (novice male monastic) temporary ordinations in their respective countries.

Nevertheless, both Ven. Dhammananda, and Ven. Santini are able to attract their own followers and are invited for ritual blessings of new homes and donated lands for schools. When they go for pindapata (almsround), a ritual symbolic of being a monastic in the Theravada tradition, laypeople give them dana (offerings of food, drink and flowers) indicating their support. Significantly, monastic — in this case, bhikkhunis — who practice well and purify their minds as they observe 311 precepts are sources of merits. Conventionally, women are perceived as only receivers of merits or as supporters of Buddhism (Terwiel 1994, 243). However, as female monastic they become “conveyor of blessings” (Harvey 1990, 241) in their role as ritual specialists whether it is going for pindapata (almsround) or in ceremonies conveying blessings for healing, protection or to ward off evil spirits. In ordaining and practicing well, women become synonymous with sources of merit and conveyers of blessings and symbolically represent sacred and positive power (Lai 2011, 203-17), a role conventionally identified with male monastic.

Ven. Santini during a blessings ceremony for land donated to expand a school

Ven. Santini during a blessings ceremony for land donated to expand a school


Both bhikkhunis are regarded as a spiritual leaders in their respective countries with their own followers and are well known for being socially engaged Buddhists. The female monastic at Songdhammakalyani Temple where Ven Dhammananda is abbess have worked with female prison inmates since 2011 (Dhammananda 2013, 16-20) and run an environmentally friendly project. Ven. Dhammananda has contributed to training and strengthening the Indian Bhikkhuni Sangha (Yasodhara 2013, 8-11) as well as facilitating the ordination of male monastic from Sankissa, India in Thailand (Thakur 2013, 5-7) and became involved in interfaith dialogue with Muslims in southern Thailand.

Furthermore, Ven. Santini and her followers are known for their work with the disadvantaged that transcends religious lines whether it is donating basic necessities such as rice, oil and sugar or monetary contribution in the aftermath of a fire to rebuild homes of the villagers nearby Wisma Kusalayani, Lembang where she is abbess or coming to the aid of the victims of the recent Mt Kelud eruption who are predominantly Muslims (Lai 2014, 5-6). The Wisma Kusalayani is run in an environmentally sustainable manner with a policy of reduce, reuse and recycle whether it is with regards to water or other household products and a separation of organic and non-organic waste.


Ven. Santini On An Aid Mission to Survivors of the Predominantly Muslim Population Affected by the Mt Kelud Eruption, Indonesia


Buddhist Women As Agents of Change

The research conducted indicates that these Buddhist women are agents of change as they bring renewal to their faith by ordaining as female monastic in spite of the obstacles encountered. They refer to the Buddhist scripture to reclaim their heritage as female monastic. As educated persons knowledgeable about Buddhist history and teachings of their tradition, they are able to withstand the opposition encountered and defend their ordination. As female monastic, they become more visible publicly, be it as a spiritual leader, a ritual specialist or a religious innovator. Both Ven. Santini and Ven. Dhammananda are religious innovators as they tap local culture and sentiments by introducing the samaneri temporary ordination in their respective countries, an innovation based on the existing samanera temporary ordination.

… And Growing Support

Support for the female monastic is growing as they find a niche in attending to the needs of female Buddhists due to the prohibition of close contact between a monastic and the opposite sex and in meeting the needs of the more disadvantaged sections of society. The socially engaged Buddhist practice that transcends religious lines bodes well for the future and can serve as a stepping stone towards religious harmony. In both the Thai and Indonesian case, networking at the international dimension enables them to be ordained. Furthermore, international networking offers a pathway for female monastic to share their experiences and ideas on a broader stage as well as learning from each other.

Dr Lai Suat Yan [2]
API Fellow 2013/14
Gender Studies Program, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
University Malaya, Malaysia.

Find out more about the Songdhammakalyani Monastery and Thai Bhikkunis:

Ven. Dhammmananda and two female monastic on almsround

Ven. Dhammmananda and two female monastic on almsround


Dhammananda. 2013. Engaged Buddhism: Bhikkhunis’ Work in Prison. Yasodhara 31/1: 16-20.
Gross, Rita. 2009. A Garland of Feminist Reflections. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Harvey, Peter. 1990. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lai Suat Yan. 2014. Buddhist Women As Spiritual Leaders, Ritual Specialists and Religious Innovators: Case Studies from Thailand, Indonesia and Japan. Paper presented at the 13th API Regional Conference, Hiroshima, Japan, 9-13th November.
Lai, Suat Yan. 2011. Engendering Buddhism, Female Ordination and Women’s Voices in Thailand. PhD diss., Claremont Graduate University.
Muecke, Marjorie. 2004. Female Sexuality in Thai Discourses About Maechi (lay nuns), Culture, Health and Sexuality 6/3: 221-38.
Tambiah, Stanley J. 1976. World Conqueror, World Renouncer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Terwiel, Barend J. 1994. Monks and Magic. 3rd ed. rev. Bangkok: White Lotus Press.
Thakur. 2013. Ordination of the Sakyas in Thailand. Yasodhara 31/1: 5-7.
Yasodhara. 2013. Training Program for All Indian Bhikkhuni Sangha. Yasodhara 31/1: 8-11.


  1. See Gross (2009, 20) for the importance of an accurate and usable past to empower women in the present and see Tambiah (1976, 528) and Muecke (2004, 232-34) for the deployment of an usable past in the context of religion in Thailand.
  2. I would like to acknowledge the support of the API Fellow grant for the data collected in Indonesia and for some of the materials and information gathered in Thailand.

Dhamma talk by Ayya Santini at Gotami Vihara on 4 January 2015

by Barbara Yen

Dear Dhamma Sisters & Brothers,

We are pleased to inform you that Ayya Santini from Indonesia will be giving a Dhamma talk at Gotami Vihara and we welcome you to learn and experience from a very inspiring and dedicated Dhamma teacher and meditation master.

Details of the talk are as follows:

Date :       Sunday, 4 January, 2015

Time :       4.00 pm

Topic :      Role and Practice of the Bhikkhuni Sangha in the Development of Community.’  (Ven. will be speaking in Bahasa Indonesia)

Profile of Venerable Ayya Santini

VenAyyaSantiniVen. Ayya Santini was born in 1965 and became an an Anagarini, (novice nun) with Ven Bhikkhu Girirakhito in Bali in 1990. In 2000, Ven. received her Bhikkhuni Ordination in Taiwan from the nuns of Fo Guang San sect despite the many struggles and challenges she had to encounter to become a bhikkhuni. Three other nuns from Indonesia – Ayya Silavati, Ayya Dhammakumari and Ayya Dhirasirini also received this Ordination together with her.  

In the same ceremony, they also received the Ordination by monks from the Theravada tradition and later by monks from both Theravada and Mahayana traditions.

Ven. is presently the Abbess of ‘Wisma Kusalayani’ Monastery in Lembang near Bandung, Indonesia. Ven. is a very dedicated and energetic Buddhist teacher and has inspired many people with her Dhamma talks and in talk shows held in major cities throughout Indonesia. She is known for her great skills in teaching meditation and is a hit with children and youths until they could not get enough of it and continued to come back for more! She organises retreats and camps for them several times a year.

Ven. also participates in bhikkhuni and samaneri ordinations, both in Indonesia and abroad.

In recognition of her contribution to humanitarian work, Ven. Ayya Santini was awarded the ‘Outstanding Woman in Buddhism Award’ by the United Nations on 8 March, 2007 in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

Don’t miss this opportunity to meet Ayya in Gotami Vihara this Sunday!


Barbara Yen

President of Gotami Vihara

14th Sakyadhita Conference / Bhikkhuni Ordination in 2015

by Barbara Yen

Dear Dhamma Sisters & Brothers,

Sukhi hotu!

14th Sakyadhita Conference, Yogyakarta, 23-30 June, 2015

The next Sakyadhita Conference will be held in Yogyakarta from 23-30 June, 2015. After the Conference, 1-2 July there will be optional tours to temples and Borobudur. The Organisers cordially invites everyone to participate in it. This is a very good opportunity to meet with many Buddhists round the world, both monastics and lay and of both genders. Some attendees are of other faiths, coming together with one common aspiration – to share our spiritual goals and challenges.

A few of us from IBC group will be going – Ven Sister Sumangala and some family members, C S Ooi, Loo Mew Leng, Pua Kow, Wuan TL, Dolly Teoh, 3 devotees from Kuantan and myself. Will anyone of you be interested in going?

Conference Fees: Registration and Accommodation (as per Sakyadhita leaflet) All costs in USD.

Registration by March – USD60, by Apr 15: USD80, by May 15: USD100

Vegetarian meals June 23-30: USD80

1-2 July (2 days) temple tour: USD30

Airport transfer provided: June 21st ,22nd , July 1st ,2nd

Conference Venue: Sambi Resort, Yogyakarta

Accommodation: Range of USD20 per day at Sambi Resort

Nearby local villages: USD10 per day.

We hope to take advantage of early bird registration and get cheaper accommodation that is near the Conference venue to save cost.

Submission of Sakyadhita registration form

Instead of us sending our registration separately, we can send together to save banking charges. We will also stay in the same hotel/resort for convenience.  Those interested, can send the application form to me or if someone wants to co-ordinate this, is ok with me. Any suggestions from anyone?

Bhikkhuni Ordination


Bhikkhuni Ordination in Thailand on 29 November 2014 at Thippayasathandhamma Bhikkhuni Arama, Songkhla

There will be a Bhikkhuni Ordination in Bandung, Indonesia in June 2015 where Ven Sister Sumangala and a few other bhikkhuni candidates will receive their Higher Ordination. The travel dates are from 18th to 22nd June 2015. In this trip members will be able to rejoice and witness the coming together of the Fourfold Sangha – where the monastic Sangha consecrate the Sima Hall and conduct the Bhikkhuni Ordination.

To date – senior bhikkhus and bhikkhunis who will be attending this ordination: Three from Malaysia, one from Australia, one from Thailand, two from Vietnam and two from Indonesia.

Bhikkhuni candidates are from Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Japan.

Let us rejoice with them and make it a very memorable and meaningful one for them. So far, Bro. Ooi, Sis. Yoon Chun, Sis Suat Yan and I have planned to witness the ordination. There will be places to stay for both women and men devotees. The travel plan is as follows:

18th June 2015 :  KL – Bandung

Air Asia: ETD 1.35pm / ETA 2.40pm. Normal fare – RM338 one way without meal and baggage

22nd June 2015 :

(1) Fly back to KL (either 8am or 10.05am flight)

(2) Those going for Sakyadhita: Bandung – Yogyakarta

Wings Air: ETD 9.10am / ETA 10.20 / cost RM162.

1st  July 2015 : Some of us will return from Yogyakarta (JOG) to KL (AK347, etd 1145am, eta KL 3.10pm)

Air Asia fare:

June 30 – return to KL at 5.15pm @ RM110.

Jul 1 – return to KL at either 11.30am or 5.15pm @ RM162.

KL-Bandung-KL = $338 + $338 = RM676 (without meal and baggage).

KL-Bandung-Yogjakarta-KL = $338 + $162 + $162= RM 762 (without meal and baggage).

Note: The above rate is based on flight rate offered on 18th December 2014.

It is better that everyone book their own flight based on these dates and times. Please inform each other if you spot any flight promotion so  that we can save some cost.

Sponsorship for Ordination

We welcome sponsorship for monks and nuns for their flight expenses for those to ordain and those to be ordained. No amount is too small for this meritorious act.

It took bhikkhuni candidates years of training before taking this big step for higher ordination. All of us have faithfully played a part to support them so they will be confident to walk the path and be of service to the Buddha-Dhamma and Buddhasasana. So far, we have sponsorships for 2 sangha. Let’s donate generously for the development of the female monastic Sangha for the wellbeing and benefit of the many.

Thank you.

Sadhu and blessings of the Triple Gem to everyone and happy holidays.

With metta,

Barbara Yen / 012-2072735 /