Biography of Ven. Tathaloka Theri (Ayya Tathaloka)

Venerable Bhikkhunī Tathālokā Therī, Dhammadharini Founding Abbess & Preceptor


Ayya Tathaloka was born in Washington, DC in 1968 to environmentally-minded scientist parents. She followed her mother’s example by observing nature for answers and for peace, and her father’s example of inquiry through scientific research and investigation.

At age 19, urgently inspired by the sudden death of someone with whom she’d been close, she left university and made her way to Europe and India, entering monastic life as an anagarika. Later she met her female mentor in Buddhist monastic life in South Korea, bhikkhuni elder Myeong Seong Sunim, under whose guidance she trained for ten years. Venerable Tathaloka Theri received the “going forth” and took dependency (nissaya) with her bhikkhuni mentor in 1993 and undertook the samaneri precepts with the late venerable bhikkhu master Hae Am Sunim in 1995.

Returning to the United States in early 1996, with her bhikkhuni mentor's blessings, in 1997 in Los Angeles,
with an international gathering of bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, Dharma teachers and supporters in attendance, she received bhikkhuni upasampada from the Sri Lankan bhikkhu sangha led by her preceptor (upajjhaya), the late Sangha Nayaka Thera Ven. Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara. Since then Venerable Tathaloka has focused on meditation and on both the study and and practice of Dhamma & Vinaya. She has conducted extensive research in Comparative Bhikkhuni Vinaya and World Bhikkhuni Sangha History, contributing articles on these subjects.

Recognizing the growing number of Theravadin bhikkhunis and samaneris in the United States and the true value of coming together in harmony, Ayya Tathaloka proposed and participated in the founding of the North American Bhikkhuni Association (NABA) in 2005. Several months later, she also participated in founding the Dhammadharini Vihara and the Dhammadharini Support Foundation. In 2006, she was awarded as an "Outstanding Woman in Buddhism" at the United Nations in Bangkok.  In 2008, together with the assembled Bhikkhuni Sangha, she received the gift of use of coastal redwood forested land for an off-the-grid women’s monastic hermitage, Aranya Bodhi. Eight years later in 2016, Dhammadharini's founding vision for a bhikkhuni monastery also begins to come to fruition, with the Dhammadharini support foundation's acquiring of a property for that monastery at the western foot of Sonoma Mountain in Penngrove.

Venerable Tathaloka Theri is the first Western woman to be designated as Theravadan Bhikkhuni Preceptor (Pavattini/Upajjhaya), and she has contributed to the going forth and full ordination of women as bhikkhunis in the USA, Australia, India and Thailand. She also serves as a Senior Monastic Advisor to the Dhammadharini Support Foundation, the Alliance of Bhikkhunis, Sakyadhita USA and the NZ Bhikkhuni Sangha Trust.  

Ven Tathaloka currently serves as the founding abbess of both the Dhammadharini Monastery at the western foot of Sonoma Mountain in Penngrove and the Aranya Bodhi Hermitage on the Sonoma Coast in Northern California, where she provides Dhamma and meditation teaching and guidance and monastic mentorship in conjunction with vice-abbess and co-teacher Ven Sobhana Theri and monastery co-manager and assisting teacher Ven Suvijjana Bhikkhuni. She also teaches where invited around the greater San Francisco Bay Area, in other states, and internationally. 

Ven Tathaloka's current projects include the development of Dhammadharini's new monastery for bhikkhunis (linked to at the top of this page), the Bhikkhuni Vibhanga Project and the Sept 2016-Sept 2017 celebration of the 2600-year Anniversary of the global Bhikkhuni Sangha.

Bhikkhuni Sangha Camp