BANGKOK — Venerable Sansanee Sthirasuta, the nun who pioneered meditation as a spiritual and mental getaway from the burdens of modern life, as well as encouraging more women’s visibility in the Buddhist faith, passed away on Tuesday evening.
Sansanee Sthirasuta, or Mae Chee Sansanee as she is popularly known by her followers, died of advanced stage cancer, her organization said. She was 68.
For more than three decades, particularly after the establishment of the Sathira-Dhammasathan Center in 1987, Mae Chee Sansanee has become a leading Buddhist guru for thousands of Thai women seeking the path of the Lord Buddha. Thai Buddhism remains closed minded to women being ordained as a monk, with only a handful Thai women being ordained in Sri Lanka where women can don saffron robe.
Thai Buddhist nuns wear white robes instead and mostly played a secondary if not almost invisible role within the male-dominated Buddhist temples.
Sansanee’s achievement was to find her own voice and thus enabled tens of thousands more female Thais to discover Buddhism with her as the religious matriarch. Her Buddhist teaching is also mostly without Buddhist jargons based in the ancient language of Pali and short, thus making it more accessible to the wider public.
Her lush retreat filled with matured plumerias, is located in Bangkok’s Bang Khen district. It offers short as well as long-term retreat for both women and men, but especially for women who are interested in learning more about dhamma, either because their life was met with great loss and sufferings due to the transitory nature of life or merely wanted to find meaning in life in the Buddhist world.
A daughter for a middle-ranking bureaucrat and a former beauty queen. Sansanee left the life of a lay person for the life of a Buddhist nun at the age of 27 after she said she felt something was missing.
Unlike some female Buddhist monks who rattled the Buddhist ecclesiastical order by fighting for the same right to be a monk, Sansanee settled for a status as a nun.
Sansanee is media-savvy and telegenic. The venerable often appears on television. This made her to eventually become a household name beyond the thousands of devout followers in Thailand and beyond. Her life was even made into a foreign film.
Hours after her passing, many tributes poured, including on social media where some cited her memorable teachings.
“When you have a chance to ‘give’, do give. Do not hesitate or have doubt where you will ‘gain’ or ‘lose’ from it,” was another shared wisdom attributed to the nun hours after her passing.
“What is ‘too much’ often leads to ‘sufferings’,” was one of her quotable quotes shared on social media on Tuesday night upon learning about her death.
After learning that she has cancer, Venerable Sansanee told the press she doesn’t think of it as an enemy but an occasion to learn to become a better person.
The gap left behind by Sansanee will be hard to fill. It will take many years or another generation to see a Buddhist nun as influential and impactful as Mae Chee Sunsanee emerging in Thailand.