Archive | March 2015

Thailand – Venerable Ta Tao Fa Tzu (1908 – 2005) – Pioneers in Dhamma Propagation

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.

Thailand – Venerable Ta Tao Fa Tzu (1908 – 2005) – Pioneers in Dhamma Propagation

VenTaTaoFaTzuVenerable Ta Tao Fa Tzu was the first woman from Thailand to be ordained as a bhikkhuni under the Mahayana tradition in Taiwan in 1971. Also known as Ven Voramai Kabilsingh, she receive the Eight Precepts from Pra Prommuni, a member of the Supreme Council of Elders and Vice Abbot of Wat Bavornnives, the royal residence since Rama IV.

Ven subsequently wore light yellow robes instead of white. An inquisition was held by the Council of Elders on her action. Her master ended the inquisition by asking if that was the colour of the monks’ robes and if it was not, and also she was not impersonating the monks, they should not see any harm in it.

The Early Years

In 1946, she married Korkiat Shatsena, a Member of Parliament and representative of the people in a southern province. She sat in Parliament as a journalist and was the only reporter trusted by the Muslims to do fact finding for the government during the crisis in the south. She submitted a twelve point proposal to the government to resolve the crisis and now, fifty years later, when the problem is still not resolved, her paper was republished.

Ordination – Turning her Home into a Temple

Her daughter, Ven Dhammananda (Chatsumarn) was ten years old when she became a nun. Rather than leaving home, Ven Voramai turned her home into her temple. Many nuns joined her and they became self supporting by starting a stone factory.

Songdhammakalyani Monastery

SongdhammakalyaniShe then built Songdhammakalyani Monastery and it was the first temple built by women for women, complete with Uposatha Hall and Sima boundary and therefore ready for ordination. The land in Nakhon Pathom, just outside Bangkok, was purchased from H.M. Indrasakdisaci, Queen of King Rama IV in 1960.

“When my mother became interested in Buddhism, she realised that in the Buddha’s time, He gave ordination to women. Why were women never ordained in our country?” recalled Ven Dhammananda.

Propagation of the Buddha Sasana

Ven Voramai propagated Buddhism for 32 years through a monthly Buddhist magazine, ‘Vipassana Banthernsarn.’ She was involved in social welfare, providing food and clothing for the poor and needy. She sponsored the ordination of more than a hundred monks throughout the country and also offered more than a hundred Buddha images to various village temples in remote areas.

Power of Healing

Ven Voramai was also well known for her healing abilities which she learnt from her Master. She could also see departed beings, many of whom were suffering, mostly due to the war and she helped them to forgive and to gain better rebirths.

Ven could see that women were the foundation that had contributed and strengthened Buddhism in Thailand. They have kept Buddhism going because it was actually women who fed the monks and in many cases, were their teachers too.

Ven Voramai was a mother, role model and an inspiration to Ven Dhammananda who followed her foot-steps to become the first bhikkhuni under the Theravada tradition. Once when Ven Dhammananda went on an alms round, an elderly man remarked with tears in his eyes, “I never dreamt that the Bhikkhuni Order can one day become a reality in Thailand!”

Ven Voramai passed away at a ripe old age of 95 years in 2003, one year after she saw her daughter ordained as a bhikkhuni.

Written by

Barbara Yen

President, Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia

 

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Thailand – Mae Chee Kaew (1901-1991), a Reputed Female Arahant in Modern Times

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.

Thailand – Mae Chee Kaew (1901-1991), a reputed female arahant in modern times

VenMaecheeKaewThis is an inspiring story of the trials and tribulations of a simple village woman from a pious family in Baan Huay Sai in northeast Thailand. She is the youngest of 5 children, all of whom had no formal education. Her mother passed away when she was five years old.

At the age of 17, she was compelled to marry. She did not have a happy marriage as her husband became unfaithful to her. Unable to have children, they adopted a daughter from a relative.

She was weary of the suffering of life and each year, she pleaded without success for her husband’s permission to allow her to join a three month meditation retreat. It was only after her uncle’s intervention, that her husband relented. After her first taste of temporary renunciation, Maechee Kaew decided to pursue her life-long path for enlightenment.

Bliss of Going Forth

At the age of 37, after 20 years of marriage, her husband consented to a divorce after she agreed to relinquish all her property to him. She also arranged for the care of her daughter before she renounced. The challenges she faced of being a female renunciant are evident here.

Her Meditation Experience

Mae Chee Kaew was very fortunate to have learnt meditation from great meditation masters like Ajahn Sao in 1914 and Ajahn Mun in 1917 when they came to stay near her village. The methods and techniques they taught her was the repetition of the word ‘buddho’ to enter into Samadhi. After that she was advised to turn inwards to investigate her mind, to remove the layers and layers of defilements until what was left was the pure mind.

Ajahn Mun could see that she possessed uncommon psychic abilities and had great spiritual potential. Even as a beginner, her mind easily went into deep absorption for many hours. Ajahn Mun, himself an arahant and with psychic powers, could see that she sometimes experienced frightening episodes in her meditation. He would request to see her the next morning to report to him so that he could guide her.

When she knew that Ajahn Mun decided to stay on for his three months rains retreat, Mae Chee Kaew donated twenty acres of her land to build a monastery, Wat Nong Nong for him and his disciples to stay. After the retreat, before Ajahn Mun left, he requested her to be his disciple as he saw her potential for arahanthood. She was 16 years old then and her father did not give consent. Ajahn Mun then advised her to stop meditating, as without a teacher the amazing capacities of her mind might cause her more trouble than realisation. He asked her to wait for another master to arrive.

After her renunciation, Mae Chee Kaew learnt meditation under various bhikkhus and she was given a 20 acre land to build her monastery.

Disciple of Ajahn Maha Boowa

MaecheeKaew2In 1951, Ajahn Maha Boowa arrived into her village and became her master. Ajahn Maha Boowa who was an arahant, also saw her potential for enlightenment, but also saw the danger of her being distracted by the external phenomena and remained attached to them, therefore unable to progress. He advised her to turn her energy inwards to investigate the nature of her mind and body.

When she experienced bright explosive lights and a feeling of total emptiness, she mistook it as Nirvana. She did not believe her master’s advise that there was still an element of self and subtle defilement. When all explanations and advice failed, Ajahn Boowa demanded her to leave.

Attainment of Arahantship

Realising her folly and her stubbornness, she apologized to her master and then went into long, silent retreat. She practiced with diligence, taking very little sleep and on some days, went without food. She first identified the falsity of forms, then thought, and the steps of breaking down the self. She finally experienced a supreme radiance and investigated it until she reached the final goal.

Like the experience of the Buddha and Ajahn Maha Boowa after their attainment, Mae Chee Kaew recalled her past lives and reflected on the impossibility of teaching others on how to attain the same achievement. Yet quickly, she realised that if she could attain liberation, others could too.

She went on to motivate the nuns in her monastery. She was requested by Ajahn Maha Boowa to teach his mother in his hometown which she did for 14 years, in gratitude to her Master, before she returned to her Monastery.

Unusual Psychic Powers

When Mae Chee Kaew was 7 years of age, she already experienced unusual psychic abilities of communication with unseen beings – celestial deities, nagas, animals and hungry ghost of Buddhist cosmology. She was often invited to visit them in the different heavenly and hell realms. She could even see the past lives of these beings. Her father discouraged her from talking about these phenomenon.

As an adult, while meditating, she had a few episodes of animals which complained to her as they were brutally killed by farmers. Once a wild boar told her to be compassionate and eat its meat so that it could be reborn as a human being. The night before, a farmer name Dun, who had killed it, would offer them her meat the next morning, which he did.

Mae Chee Kaew had skills in predicting events, mind read and some healing abilities. During a drought season, she was able to lead her monastic community to hidden water sources which had come into her vision one day while meditating.

She surprised her master Ajahn Boowa who was living a few kilometers away from the nuns, by knowing through a chilling sensation, when he was leaving the vicinity. His entourage would wander into another jungle for the next few months. She knew exactly when they return, by feeling a warm sensation and would ask the nuns to prepare alms food to offer him and his disciples the next morning. It was a few kilometers walk to their camp.

Once when she and her nuns were meditating in a cave, a naga (mythical dragon) threatened to harm them if they did not leave. She reasoned with it after which it left them alone.

(I have seen photographs of two nagas captured by an Australian bhikkhu one early morning, on the banks of the River Ganges)

 Mandapa or the Trirattanusorn Stupa, which also functions as a museum and contains Mae Chee Kaew’s relics

Mandapa or the Trirattanusorn Stupa, which also functions as a museum and contains Mae Chee Kaew’s relics

Death of an Arahant

In 1977, she was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, diabetes and cancer but she survived till 1991. At her death, upon cremation, her bones turn into relics of different colours and in the shape of pearls and crystals. It was the final proof of her highest spiritual attainments, arahantship.

Ajahn Maha Boowa, at her eulogy, declared that there was no need for any funeral chanting because as an Arahant, there was nothing more they could add for her. He also said that whether we were man or woman, we were equally capable of attaining enlightenment, no matter what lineage or tradition we were practising, so do it well. He had a stupa erected in her memory.

Conclusion

Mae Chee Kaew left a legacy to inspire the future generations. She had proven that attaining Arahantship was not impossible, for both women and men, even in modern times. So we should not underestimate the power of our spiritual potential and need to aspire and strive hard.

“If you neglect to cultivate your inherent mindfulness and wisdom, striving only half-heartedly, the obstacles in your path will multiply until they block all sight of the way, leaving the end of the road forever in darkness.”

~~ Mae Chee Kaew ~~

MaecheeKaewRelics

Mae Chee Kaew’s relics

 

Written by

Barbara Yen

President, Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia

References

Bhikkhu Sīlaratano, Mae Chee Kaew: Her Journey to Spiritual Awakening and Enlightenment, A forest Dhamma Publication, 2009. (The author, an American, is one of Ajahn Maha Boowa’s disciples).

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15830835-mae-chee-kaew 

http://wanderingdhamma.wordpress.com/2009/12/18/book-review-mae-chee-kaew-her-journey-to-spiritual-awakening-enlightenment/

http://buddha-and-me.blogspot.com/2011/01/mae-chee-kaew-female-arahant-in-modern.html

Written by

Barbara Yen

President, Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia

 

Vietnam – Ven Su Ba Thich Nu Dieu Khong (1905-1997): Leadership and Activism in Nationalism and Sangha Building

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.

Vietnam – Ven Su Ba Thich Nu Dieu Khong (1905-1997): Leadership and Activism in Nationalism and Sangha Building

Ven Dieu Khong was born Ho Thi Hanh and from a noble family, her father being a well-known high ranking official of the Nguyen Dynasty. She led a very simple, humble and respectful life and had the heart of immense compassion, generosity and tolerance to all sentient beings.

She was educated under the influence of both Eastern and Western cultures and read widely. Her father wanted her to study abroad, but she declined. Her aspiration was to strengthen the eastern tradition and to empower women in her homeland. She found family life not appropriate for herself, and had asked her parents many times without success for permission to become a nun.

Service to the Community
In 1926 Ven Dieu Khong founded the Women Workers Union and started a shop which became famous for promoting domestic products. She also started the Lac Thien Association to help the women and the poor and later it was involved in the anti-colonial movement.

She had resisted marriage but in 1928, agreed to marry an ailing, elderly widow with six children. After their son was born, her husband passed away. She raised the children and was still able to devote herself to Buddhist services. In 1932 she became a novice nun under Ven Thich Giac Tien, Abbot of Truc Lam Temple and in 1944 she became a bhikkhuni.

Dhammaduta Work
Ven Dieu Khong helped found the Association of An Nam Buddhist Association and the United Buddhist Church. In 1960, she assisted in founding the Van Hanh University, the first Buddhist university in South Vietnam.

She also established many temples, convents for nuns in Central and South Vietnam and built Buddhist schools and orphanages. She was an ordination master and contributed greatly in the Buddhist Revival and Reformation Movement.

Ven contributed articles and poems to Buddhist magazines and journals, some of which was to educate women. She was one of the key founders of Lien Hoa Publishing House in 1952 and Lien Hoa Buddhist Monthly Magazine. The magazine was the longest running in Vietnam. Being fluent in French and Mandarin, she translated treatises by Nagarjuna and others into Vietnamese.

Buddhist and Nationalistic Movement
During the French rule, Ven Dieu Khong campaigned for the freedom and equality of religion and protected Buddhism with wisdom and courage. Many monastics were imprisoned. She faced the dictatorial Ngo Dinh Diem regime by participating in petitions, demonstrations and hunger strikes and secretly distributed leaflets to the people not to give up hope.

Ven was the first to volunteer for self-immolation but was objected by the senior monastics as she was young and had great potential in spreading the Buddha Dhamma. They decided on Ven Thich Quang Duc instead. She played an important role in the unification of North and South Vietnam and received many awards.

In 1978 after a serious illness, her heart stopped, and nuns and monks were chanting for her. One nun started to cry and Ven suddenly woke up! She recovered and continued her “Bodhisattva heart’s” work for another 19 years.

Translation Work
At age 80, Ven Dieu Khong translated the hundred volumes of Dahzi Du Lun. Upon completion in 1997, she passed away at the age of 93, after 53 years as a devoted bhikkhuni. Her stupa at Hong An Pagoda is a reminder of the powerful inspiration she gave to everyone including her disciples and students, many of whom became abbesses in Vietnam and other parts of the world.

Written by

Barbara Yen

President, Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia

References