My Journey to Find a Spiritual Teacher
by Cindy Rasicot
March 11, 2024
Cindy and Venerable Dhammananda First Meeting

Cindy and Venerable Dhammananda – First Meeting

I did not move to Thailand in 2005 looking for a spiritual teacher. It simply happened. In the summer of 2005, my husband, 13-year-old son, and I relocated from our suburban home in Northern California to Bangkok for my husband’s job.

Although excited to be living in Thailand, I was not particularly happy. I was in survival mode. A wife and mother first and foremost, I did not question my marriage of 20 years, and was not passionate about my career working for non-profit organizations. To the outside observer, I was a successful ex-pat mom living a life of privilege in Bangkok, and while that was true, I was suffering from a deep sense of insecurity, as if I were missing an essential part of myself. I wanted to feel passionate about life, confident, and connected.

Perhaps that is why, soon after we arrived, I signed up for a conference sponsored by the Association of Women’s Rights in Development and attended an afternoon workshop entitled “Faith, Feminism, and the Power of Love.” That is where I first encountered Venerable Dhammananda, Thailand’s first fully ordained Theravada Buddhist nun. Even though I was 54 when I met Venerable Dhammananda, I was not yet my own person. I did not have agency, direction, or backbone.

Venerable Dhammananda was a tall, slender Thai woman dressed in saffron robes and flip-flops. Her head was a fuzzy crown of black shaven hair, and she wore thin gold wire-rimmed glasses. She possessed a quiet confidence as she spoke, and I still recall her words: “We cannot solve anything with anger. Anger does not lead us anywhere. It is much harder to practice loving-kindness and compassion. That is the goal of Buddhism.”

I felt chills as if she were speaking directly to me. I had struggled with anger all my life and intuitively knew I was blocked somehow, stuck in a negative cycle of resentment, sadness, and fear. I had never encountered anyone, particularly a Buddhist woman and a feminist, who spoke so quietly and radiated such a soft light. Her kindness was contagious, and I believe what drew me to her was my absolute faith in the power of her love. At the end of the workshop, she invited anyone who was interested to visit her at Wat Songdhammakalyani, her temple in Nakhon Pathom.

Cindy Making Alms Round

Cindy Making Alms Round

The following weekend I drove to the temple to what became a life changing experience. I spent a lot more time there during the three years I lived in Thailand, attending Buddhist ceremonies and going on alms rounds to collect donations of food from local residents. I also had many one-on-one conversations with Venerable Dhammananda on topics as varied as anatta—no self—to the practice of compassion and forgiveness.

In the years since I first met Venerable Dhammananda, I have learned that being in her healing presence is a gift. There is something intensely compelling yet comforting about every word she speaks. When we talk, she gives me her full attention. Such is the power of her awareness; she is completely anchored in the here and now. While we are together, the outside world drops away. There is no “Cindy,” there is no “Venerable Dhammananda,” there is only our connection. As she put it, “Not being Cindy, not being will, just be.” When we experience being, we are one. We leave aside individuality and separation. Venerable Dhammananda says, “To be anchored in the present is a mental exercise.” She makes this look deceptively easy, but the truth is, it takes years of mental training and meditation practice to be fully present.

When I sit with her, she transmits to me, as if by osmosis, her personal teachings. It is an energetic exchange, one which I sense with my whole being, like warm sunlight streaming in, and an experience I cherish.

First Lock of Hair - Cindy getting head shaved by Venerable Dhammananda

First Lock of Hair being cut for Ordination

The most profound experiences I have had with Venerable Dhammananda have been the two times I received temporary ordination, once in 2014, and again in 2022. Venerable Dhammananda offers temporary ordination at her temple twice a year. During the novice ordination women come to live at the temple for nine days, take the ten precepts, study the spiritual teachings of Buddhism, shave their heads, wear the robes, and practice meditation in hopes of improving their overall peace and contentment once they return to their normal lives. The opportunity is open to Thai and non-Thai citizens alike. At the 2022 ordination there were 21 candidates seeking ordination. I was the eldest participant at 72 and the only non-Thai speaker.

During my most recent ordination, it was so moving to join the entire group on a dawn alms round, called bindabat in Thai. This practice dates back to the Buddha’s time and benefits both the ordained monks and the laity. Monks depend on the local people for food, and in return, the locals receive spiritual guidance from them.

Local residents wake early to cook rice and other foods for the ordained women. By offering food, they are practicing generosity and with these acts of kindness, they are generating good karma. Many Thais believe in karma and rebirth and that the actions they perform in their current life will have an effect on their next life. By giving alms, the locals are building good karma for their future.



We lined up according to height and exited the temple gates in partial darkness. As we turned off the main highway to a side street, word spread fast among the local community that a procession of twenty-seven women, novices and fully ordained bhikkhunis, carrying alms bowls, was approaching. Excited onlookers ran to catch a glimpse of us and then darted back inside to grab rice, water, packages of food – whatever they could get their hands on – to offer alms. It was kind of like a flash mob, a wave of people that swelled and gained momentum as we made our way down the street. People were overjoyed to see us, and we received almost four times more food than we normally collected. The cart carrying donations was overflowing. The people’s acceptance was heart-warming.

Coming to the temple is like coming home to myself. It is where the missing puzzle pieces of who I am fall into place and the picture that is me makes sense. It may sound strange to travel ten thousand miles to a country where I do not speak the language to find myself, but that is how it has always been. When I sit in the presence of my spiritual teacher, I become whole.

My experience with Venerable Dhammananda can be described in one word: initiation. For me, it means a new beginning and marks my transformation into a new way of life. Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned mindfulness and loving kindness teacher has a saying, “We can always begin again.” At my age this is my mantra and a key ingredient to dynamic aging.

Cindy Ordained

Cindy Ordained

Cindy Rasicot is a retired psychotherapist and author. Her latest book, This Fresh Existence: Heart Teachings from Bhikkhuni Dhammananda, is being released on April 9, 2024. The book tells the remarkable life story of her teacher, Venerable Dhammananda, and shares her gentle wisdom on how to lead a more compassionate life. The book is available to pre-order on Amazon at this link:


  1. Willis Allen

    Cindy’s explanation of her studies has provided me with an understanding of Buddhist principles.

    • Cindy Rasicot

      Willis, thank you for your feedback. Best wishes!

  2. nancy king

    An interesting piece. Made me curious as to how she lost, or didn’t have, a piece of herself.


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