American author, Cindy Rasicot, a friend of Venerable Dhammananda and a frequent visitor to the monastery, came for another visit in October. Her first book about Ven Dhammananda, Finding Venerable Mother, about how she met Luang Mae, was a best seller on Amazon. She has recently finished her second book about Ven Dhammananda and it will be published by Windhorse in the UK. The book release date is April 2024. The book tells the remarkable story of Venerable Dhammananda’s life and teachings. The Title is “This Fresh Existence: Heart Teachings from Bhikkhuni Dhammananda. While Cindy was at the monastery, we asked her a few questions. Here below are her answers. We thank her again for coming to visit us and for writing about Luang Mae.
1. You have visited our monastery many times and also joined some international trips with Ven. Dhammananda. I understand that you received lower ordination as a Samaneri twice at this monastery. It shows that you have spent lots of your time, energy and also money to travel a long way from United States to Nakhonpathom, Thailand. Not once but many times. Kindly share with us what keeps you coming and what is the main purpose of your current visit (Sep-Oct 2023)?
Thank you for the opportunity to speak about Venerable Mother (Luangmae) and her impact on my life. This month September 2023 marks the 18th year that I have been coming to the temple, which I regard as my sanctuary, and my home. I first met Bhikkhuni Dhammananda in 2005 at a conference in Bangkok where I was living at the time with my husband and thirteen-year-old son. There was an afternoon conference called Faith, Feminism, and the Power of Love. Venerable Dhammananda was one of nine panelists who came together from around the world to discuss issues of spirituality, feminism, and love. Near the end of the one hour panel, Venerable Dhammananda spoke up and I will never forget what she said, “We cannot solve anything with anger. Anger doesn’t lead us anywhere. It is much harder to practice loving kindness and compassion , that is the goal of Buddhism.” Her words struck a chord with me. The feeling is hard to describe. It was like a rippling sensation around my head and a soft light entering into my heart. I felt energized by her words and drawn to her like a magnet. After the presentation, I approached her. She was so warm and friendly. She handed me a business card and said, ” Come visit us at the temple.”
In the West, we are increasingly concerned with technology and material goods, but we are not fully educated in the values of the human heart. Venerable Dhammananda describes Buddhism in one word: heart. I have often heard her say change comes from the heart not the intellect. We all need strong female role models- women who stand up in the face of adversity, by following the path of their heart with courage, integrity, and determination. That is why Luangmae is such an important role model for change in today’s troubled society.
That was how our relationship began and during the next three years I lived in Thailand I visited the temple as often as I could. After we moved back to California in 2008 I tried to make annual visits to the temple. I received temporary samaneri ordination in 2014 and again in December of 2022.The funny thing is I was not born a Buddhist, I was raised Jewish. But something about Luangmae’s message transcends religious differences. Her words about loving kindness touched me to the core. Over the years she became my spiritual advisor, my mentor, and Buddhist teacher. To answer your question, what keeps me coming back year after year, the answer is simple. I come back to be in the wise and compassionate presence of Venerable Mother. Over the years, her loving guidance has transformed me, opened my heart, and helped me become a better person. At 72, although I am no longer married, I am the happiest I have ever been, thanks to Luangmae.
Of course Venerable Dhammananda has not just transformed my life, she has enriched the lives of so many women and men both in Thailand, other Asian countries, and students from the West. I consider Venerable Dhammananda to be a moral and spiritual compass for our times. She has much wisdom to share. She took the remarkable leadership step of becoming the first fully ordained Theravada Bhikkhuni in Thailand. And thanks to her, the vision of creating a Bhikkhuni sangha has become a reality. I believe there are now close to 300 bhikkhuni in Thailand. Venerable Dhammananda is one of only a handful of ordained, Buddhist feminist religious leaders in the world and she is one of the most important Buddhist teachers alive today.
2.What is the purpose of your visit this time?
I came to be with and spend time with Luangmae. During the pandemic Luangmae and I created a program called Casual Buddhism which I host. The episodes are posted on my YouTube channel called Casual Buddhism. Each week a guest comes on and asks a question pertaining to spirituality in general, or Buddhism in particular. Around April and May of 2023, I noticed Luangmae didn’t seem quite like herself. She didn’t seem as energetic as usual. We talked and she shared some of her health concerns. But it is hard to understand what is really going on with another person’s life when you live so far away. I live in northern California, So I decided to come in person and find out more about her situation. Of course, I also came because I so enjoy spending time with her,
3. Understand that the flight duration must be more than 15 hours from California to Bangkok. (Imagine myself to have to travel that long, it must be an exhausting trip). What is your age now? Could you pls tell us how long and how difficult was your trip?
The trip from California takes about 24-26 hours. At my age, that’s a long time to be in the airplane. But I always make sure to get aisle seats, walk around during the flight, and take good care of myself. It’s a bit of effort, but worth it. I get to spend time with Luangmae!
4. During your stay, you had opportunities to participate in some events, activities, ceremonies, rituals. Kindly describe your feelings about that?
This has been a wonderful visit so far. We spent a very special afternoon with a primary school in the outskirts of Nakonpathom that we visited on Saturday September 29. The Buddhasavika Foundation supports the school with student scholarships. There were approximately 64 students there with their teachers. As I understand it, the school was in danger of being shut down, and the Temple took on the project to support keep the doors open. I was so impressed with the students and the teachers. A group of young girls did a beautiful traditional Thai dance. The Foundation gave out five scholarships and I was honored when Luangmae asked me to present one. I love young children and in my past career I was a mental health child development specialist for a group of underprivileged children attending pre-school. So this was quite an honor and made a huge impression on me. It also reminds me of how dedicated Luangmae is to socially-engaged Buddhism. She really believes in giving back to the community, and this was one precious example of that.The next day there was an auspicious celebration, which, thanks to the timing of my visit, I was fortunate to attend. This was a very special occasion, celebrating Venerable Dhammananda’s birthday and the unveiling of an exquisite portrait of Venerable and an amazing mural describing the story of her life. The artist was Chattakur, Venerable Dhammananda’s youngest son. I was sitting in the chair watching all this happen, when Luangmae began to light one of four candles set out on a table..She lit the first candle and then asked Venerable Paripunna and Venerable Dhammavanna to light a candle. Much to surprise, she called my name next. I was thrilled that she invited me to light a candle. It was a huge honor and so moving for me, I was holding back tears. It meant so much to me. I am still glowing with excitement from that experience. Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.
5. ‘Faith as a source of energy’. Do you agree with this or not? Kindly describe.
This is a wonderful question. I’m so glad you asked it. Yes I believe faith is a source of energy. I will give you an example. When I come to chant and meditate before the Medicine Buddha I feel a kind of “electric charge” through my body. I have absolute faith in the Buddha and derive particular strength when I spend time at the temple in the Vihara. The Medicine Buddha changed my life. I first saw the original Medicine Buddha statue in 2006 before the Vihara was built. At that time I had a terrible back injury and was suffering from chronic pain. Luangmae explained the Medicine Buddha to me and gave me instructions for the Medicine Buddha chant. For the next three years I said the chant on a daily basis and imagined myself in the presence of the Blue Healer. Eventually, with surgery, my back healed, but I am convinced it was due to the healing powers of the Medicine Buddha. I am a firm believer in faith as a transformative source of energy. I also believe that I needed faith in the Buddha in order to heal.