Ven. Ta Tao Fa Tzu
Ven.Voramai Kabilsingh as she was known by her layname, was born in 1908 in Rajburi province. She was the first abbot who led a very colorful and interesting life. In 1972 she travelled by bicycle from Bangkok to Singapore. She was the only Girl Scout to travel by bicycle. It took her 29 days, a record that still stands today.
She was a writer, a poet, a novelist apart from being a teacher serving the Thai Government for the first part of her life. During World War II, she was married to Mr.K.Shatsena, a member of Parliament from Trang in the southern part of Thailand. With this connection, it changed her direction, and she had to stay in the south for a short period of time.
When her daughter, Chatsumarn Shatsena was born, she moved back to Bangkok mainly concerned about the quality of education for her child.
By accident, she became interested and curious about meditation and became further committed to study Buddhism directly from the texts, the Tripitaka. She started publishing Buddhist monthly magazine in 1955 and kept on this commitment for 32 years.
She was inspired by the teaching of the Buddha and took her first ordination in 1956 from Chaokhun Prommuni (Vice abbot of Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, a royal temple, http://watbowon.org). That was how she started her monastic life. At this time, the ordination of women as monks (bhikkhuni) was not practiced in Thailand, 15 years later, in 1971 she went to Taiwan and received full ordination. She became the first Thai woman to have taken this full ordination properly as bhikkhuni.
Even before bhikkhuni
ordination, Ven. Ta Tao Fa Tzu was preparing the ground for the temple. The
uposatha (main hall) a three-storey building with sima boundery took her 10
years to bring it to full completion. This is the most important building as
sanghakamma (monastic ceremony) must be performed within sima.
Along with the uposatha, she also built the school for kindergarten up to grade 6. There were some 500 students attending the school. The school was run by Ms. Marndaratna Shatsena for more than 30 years and closed when Ms.Marndaratna Shatsena took her retirement in 2003 during the time of the second abbot, Ven.Dhammananda.
Ven. Ta Tao Fa Tzu tried to train young women to become monastics, but it was only short-lived. Being the only bhikkhuni did not allow her to perform any proper sanghakamma. But she did much work on social welfare, i.e. giving out food, clothing to poor students in rural area. She sponsored more than 100 Buddha statues to send them to far away temples or Buddhist centers in remote area. Also for some years she arranged regular food offering to 108 monks.
She lived through her peaceful ripe old age of 95 before passing away on June 24th, 2003, leaving behind her daughter just received full ordination as bhikkhuni to continue the bhikkhuni heritage. It may be said that this temple has an unbroken lineage of bhikkhuni since 1971.
For the interested reader, Chatsumarn Kabilsingh tells the story of her mother’s path herself in this article “Eminent Buddhist Women – Bhikkhuni Ta Tao, an excerpt of the book “Eminent Buddhist Women” (see publication list). You can also find details on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhammananda_Bhikkhuni .