Born in 1929, the most venerable Bhikkhuni Kusuma was a fully ordained Buddhist nun who pioneered the re-establishment of the Theravada Female Buddhist Order in Sri Lanka. She received her higher ordination in Sarnath, India in 1996 from Korean Saņgha under the auspices of the Indian Mahabodhi Society of which the President then, was late Venerable Mapalagama Vipulasara Thero. She received instruction and training in Sarnath for two years under the able guidance of Venerable Pandit Āndawela Devasiri, a Sri Lankan monk in the Pāli tradition of the Bhikkhuni Vinaya.
The origins of the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka is linked to Venerable Sangamittā, the daughter of Emperor Ashoka of India, who brought the Bhikkhuni Ordination to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC. Nearly 900 years later, in the 6th century AD, the Bhikkhuni Ordination was taken to China by Sri Lankan Bhikkhunis. From China the Order spread to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam etc. Thus, it is said that all Buddhist nuns in the world today are decedents of Sri Lankan Bhikkhunis who claimed lineage from Venerable Bhikkhuni Maha Prajāpati at the time of the Buddha.
Sadly, the lineage died out in Sri Lanka 1,000 years ago. After much effort and debate, in 1996 Venerable Bhikkhuni Kusuma became the very first woman in present Sri Lanka to don the robes of a Bhikkhuni after a lapse of nearly 1,000 years.
With a deep interest in the field of Science, Venerable Bhikkhuni Kusuma started life as a science teacher. In 1969, she was awarded a scholarship to study for her M.Sc. in Molecular Biology in USA. During her stay there as a science student, she realised that there are no real answers in science to the beginning and end of life. She returned to Sri Lanka and decided to study Pāli and Buddhist Philosophy to find answers to her questions. She soon joined the academic staff of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura. During that period, she spent her time reading the ‘Tripitaka’ and started her journey in search of the truth. She went on to write her M.A. thesis on `Sati in Buddhist meditation, A Mental Therapy,’ and started her Ph.D. studies in 1982 on the Buddhist nuns of Sri Lanka. She collected data with an American Professor of Sociology and read for her second Ph.D. thesis on the `311 rules of Vinaya for Bhikkhunis.’
She was well known as a proponent of Mettā who trained, advocated for, and generated loving kindness herself. She was a true Kalyāna mitta (Noble friend) to anyone who came to know her. She ensured that her disciples gained conceptual clarity on the deeper meaning of the Dhamma leading to the development of confidence, wisdom, and to be able to comprehend the Dhamma through personal experience
Venerable Bhikkhuni Kusuma spent her life in devotion to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and was a guiding light and an inspiration to many from the world over looking for an insight into the pristine doctrine of the Dhamma. She was well known as a proponent of Mettā who trained, advocated for, and generated loving kindness herself. She was a true Kalyāna mitta (Noble friend) to anyone who came to know her. She ensured that her disciples gained conceptual clarity on the deeper meaning of the Dhamma leading to the development of confidence, wisdom, and to be able to comprehend the Dhamma through personal experience. Thus, moving them towards the realisation of the Noble Truth. She prompted many in the practical application of the Noble Eight-Fold Path as a way of life, even within the constrains and confines of lay life. The Venerable Bhikkhuni was also a prolific writer and penned many books over the years and translated the Dhamma into Sinhala and English with the intention of making the essence of Buddha’s teachings easily understandable to all.
Venerable Bhikkhuni Kusuma was an excellent mentor and an inspiration especially to women who took to robes as Bikkhunis and Sāmanerìs. She looked after their welfare, both spiritually and physically, assisting several Ārānyas dedicated to them and setting up of the Ayya Khema International Meditation Centre in Horana.
During her final years of life, the Venerable Bhikkhuni continued to conduct Dhamma discourses in Colombo and subsequently, at the age of 92, adapted to conducting weekly Dhamma discussions on Skype. Venerable Bhikkhuni Kusuma’s generosity knew no bounds and her kind and compassionate voice will forever reverberate in our hearts.
May she attain the sublime heights of Nibbāna.
Devotees of Venerable Bhikkhuni Kusuma