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
Venerable 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.
She 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.
President, Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia