Venerable Bhikkhunī Santini Mahātherī – better known as Ayya Santini – who lives at Vihara Kusalayani – Maribaya – Lembang – Bandung, is the chief of the Indonesian Theravāda Bhikkhunī Sangha.
Since childhood, around the age of 7, she had felt the call of her heart to live a life as a samana. The determination was getting stronger with nothing to stop it. On September 29, 1990 she was ordained as Anagarika Santini at Brahmavihara Arama, Singaraja, Bali by the late Venerable Bhikkhu Girirakkhito Mahathera.
In 1993, together with the late Anagarika Susilavati (later became Bhikkhuni Susilavati Theri) they started a place for women to train and develop themselves, namely Vihara Kusalayani. They both lived a very simple ascetic life in a very simple small building. There was no electricity and no clean water at that time. Nor did anyone live in that vicinity as there was just a stretch of vegetable garden, without even a fence around.
On May 23, 1994 the Indonesian Anagarika Congregation was established. A few months later, on September 10, 1994, the laying of the first stone for Vihara Kusalayani was realized. Then gradually Vihara Kusalayani was built. With the establishment of the Indonesian Anagarika Congregation, training programs began at Vihara Kusalayani. And since then women have started to come as they want to develop themselves with various intention. Some want to practice temporarily, some with the aim to become lifelong samanas.
Life took Anagarika Santini further. Despite a lot of hardship and challenges, she kept cultivating herself and cultivating people. Nearly ten years since she was ordained in 1990 –with the spirit that continued burning– she finally realized that according to Cullavagga 10, women’s opportunities to become bhikkhunis in the Theravada Order are actually wide open. There it is written “The Tathagata allows the monks to ordain women to become nuns and to ordain men to become monks”.
Then she succeeded in finding the way to be ordained as a Theravāda Bhikkhuni by Venerable Dr. Henepola Gunaratana Mahathero on 15th of April, 2000. Along with that upasampada, the Sangha Bhikkhuni Theravada Indonesia was established, which then was inaugurated by the Director General of Hindu and Buddhist Community Development, Ministry of Religion of theRepublic of Indonesia, on January 1, 2006.
After the inauguration, Bhikkhuni Santini became more active with various activities and trainings at Vihara Kusalayani and other monasteries. Her activities include:
- Sima’s Stone-Laying at Vihara Kusalayani by several bhikkhunis invited from abroad
- Hosting Dhamma Retreats for children and adults.
- Hosting Meditation Retreats at Vihara Kusalayani.
- Hosting Meditation Retreats at Brahmavihara Arama – Bali.
- Printing Buddhist magazines for adults and children.
- In the midst of her busy schedule, she still finds time to organize people to do some social activities. These activities are routinely carried out at Vihara Kusalayani and the Viharas under her guidance. And social services are also given in places of need, such as in places where natural disasters occur.
She has also traveled to various cities in Indonesia and to several other countries to support the development of the Dhamma preaching.
The countries visited include:
- India and Nepal
Bhikkhuni Santini received relics from the Thailand Sangharaja through his secretary.
Attended the funeral ceremony of the Thailand Sangharaja.
Received the “Outstanding Women in Buddhism Awards 2007” from the United Nations.
- Cambodia includes visiting two Sangharaja in Cambodia
As a preparation for Upasampada on December 20, 2014, she was functioning the new Sima. And then, on June 21, 2015, The Indonesian Theravāda Bhikkhuni Upasampada was held spectacularly for the first time after more than a thousand years of absence. On that occasion, 9 candidates came from various countries.
During the 2016 Rains Retreat, she invited two senior bhikkhunis from Sri Lanka and some bhikkhunis who were ordained at the Vihara Kusalayani, to spend the Rains Retreat together. She also involved them in various special events.
In the revival and development of the International Theravāda Bhikkhunī Sangha, she was participating as a witness (once in Australia, once in Sri Lanka, and once in India), as a kammavācācarini (once in Thailand), and as a pavattinī (5 times in Australia, and once in Indonesia).
In 2020 she was also selected as a recipient of an award from the Pancasila Ideology Development Agency (Indonesian Government). This appreciation was for those who had had clear achievements and innovations beneficial to society, nation and state, as well as to the international community. In this case Bhikkhuni Santini received an award for the category of Interfaith Mover.
Up to now Bhikkhuni Santini is fostering 3 monasteries, namely:
1. Cetiya Sanghamitta Kebon Jeruk, Jakarta
2. Vihara Sanghamitta Karawang
3. Vihara Arya Dwipa Arama – Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, Jakarta.
Her other recent activities are:
1. Recording Dhammatalks to send through Social Media
2. Giving online Dhammatalks during Covid pandemic
Venerable Bhikkhuni Santini Mahatheri continues to strive both in self-cultivation and to support the spread of Dhamma. In order to balance out activities and self-improvement, she maintains a strict schedule.