Urban Dharma Newsletter... September 24, 2002
Thai Nuns Fight for Rights ...By
Nuns in the Buddhist Tradition ...A brief history
3. Monastic Ordination for Women in Modern Buddhism
4. Dhammasara - The Nuns' Monastery
5. Book Review: Blossoms of the Dharma:
Living as a Buddhist Nun
6. Temple/Center of the Week: The Buddhist
Society ...of London
Thai Nuns Fight for Rights ...By
Chayanit Poonyarat ...Sept. 19, 2002
- Buddhist nuns have been part of Thailand's religious community
for more than 300 years, but they say that the ambiguity around
their status means they have yet to get the respect they deserve.
Buddhist nuns or mae chi live in a state of limbo - afforded
a measure of social recognition, but denied formal religious
state considers them part of the religious clergy and, like
Thailand's 300,000 monks, they do not have the right to vote.
But the official council of ordained Buddhist clergy or Sangha
does not recognize mae chi - official statistics put
their number at 14,700 in 1997 - as full members. They are not
permitted to interpret the Dhamma (the teachings of the
Buddha), officially teach Buddhism or perform religious rituals.
Sangha is prepared to recognize them only as disciples
of the faith, which means mae chi have a lowly status
in the temple hierarchy in Thailand, 95 percent of whose people
consider ourselves among the clergy who learn and practice Dhamma,
meditate and provide spiritual support for society," said
Mae Chi Pratin Kuan-Orn, chairwoman of the Institute for Thai
Nuns, which has operated as a community service since 1969.
of our unclear status and the fact that we are not officially
recognized, nuns can neither legally receive means to live from
Buddhist followers, nor any support from the government for
studies and community-related projects," Mae Chi Pratin
said in an interview, referring to practices regularly done
means that nuns are dependent on monks for daily support, as
well as for help in hosting community programs, adds Mae Chi
Pratin, who like all Thai Buddhist nuns wears white robes and
has a shaven head and eyebrows.
chi cannot be ordained as monks in Thailand. Mae Chi Pratin
explains that for the last 300 years, Thai Buddhism has not
allowed women to be ordained as novice monks, which has meant
that women interested in following the Buddha's teachings only
have the option of becoming nuns.
gradually, some nuns have been taking a different path, looking
to other Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, which follows the
Theravada tradition of Buddhism but allows ordination of women
Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, a Buddhist scholar, was ordained as a
novice in Sri Lanka in February 2001 and then became Thailand's
first female monk in the Theravada tradition, assuming the name
Dhammananda and wearing saffron robes.
Dhammarakhita sparked outrage among the all-male religious establishment,
who accused her of violating Thai Buddhist traditions when on
February 10, 2001, she became the first female monk, or bhikkuni,
to be ordained on Thai soil.
Buddhism is regarded as conservative in outlook. It recognizes
nuns, but only men are allowed to become monks," she was
quoted as telling the British Broadcasting Corp at the time.
ordained monks, who are expected to follow five religious precepts
and 227 other Buddhist rules, nuns are expected to follow only
10 precepts and 80 Buddhist rules.
fact that monks are expected to hold higher ethical standards
- by virtue of the number of rules they must adhere to - is
a good indication that "being a nun is less valued than
being a monk", said Thai World View, a local website on
Thai society and culture.
also help maintain temples, cleaning and cooking for the monks,
eating separately from them.
nuns' lack of religious recognition means it is difficult to
have a system to deal with problems such as women who don the
nun's robes and ask for alms or food from passers-by.
makes nuns look even worse in people's opinions," said
Mae Chi Pratin.
1991, the Institute for Thai Nuns and female activists tried
to push parliament to consider a "Nun Act", a set
of basic regulations for nuns. However, the response from the
Department of Religious Affairs was clear: "It is impossible.
A nun has never existed in a Thai Buddhist decree."
Sangha "must have solid reasons why it does not
recognize nuns and female monks in Thai Buddhism", said
39-year-old employee Saranya Suthiwan, who considers herself
a devout follower of the faith and visits the temples regularly.
says that even with 227 rules and precepts to abide by, some
monks still misbehave. Saranya was referring to the rash of
cases of monks' impropriety, ranging from living ostentatious
lifestyles to having relationships with women, to hit the press
in recent years.
can be even harder for nuns to guide their lives spiritually
with less precepts to follow," added Saranya. "If
nuns really want to explore Buddha's teachings and lead peaceful
lives, talk of legal recognition and status should not get in
while the pursuit of women's religious rights has its detractors,
many say it is now time to address religious inequality in Thai
and supporting the religious rights of women is very important
for Thai Buddhism," said Tavivat Puntarigvivat, director
of research and development at the Bangkok-based World Buddhist
referred to the Buddha's life, which he said clearly acknowledged
the sexes as being spiritually equal.
says there is room - and need - for women in the Buddhist hierarchy.
In an interview, Tavivat said that nuns and female monks can,
for instance, address social issues that male monks often have
difficulty with, such as sexual abuse, prostitution and abortion.
says that ordained bhikkuni are well recognized and play
a significant role in Mahayana Buddhism, the other major strand
of the religion common in other Buddhist strongholds such as
is nonsense to say that having women is a violation of the religion.
We all know that if the claim that there has been a decline
in Buddhism is true, it is because of other factors," he
explains that nuns and female monks would be more effective
in promoting Buddhism among female lay people, and that this
could discourage inappropriate relations that have been known
to happen due to the close contact between female devotees and
the male clergy.
women - who make up half of the population - as part of the
religion will allow Buddhism to work as a way to a peaceful
life, two times over," said Tavivat.
Nuns in the Buddhist Tradition ...A
and adapted with permission from Modern Blossoms of the Dharma:
Living as a Buddhist Nun, edited by Ven. Thubten Chödron,
and published earlier this year (2000).
after the Buddha’s enlightenment, many people, attracted
to this serene, wise, and compassionate man and his teachings,
sought to become his disciples. Some became lay followers, maintaining
their lives as householders with a family, while others became
Order of Nuns began with Mahaprajapati, the Buddha’s aunt
and stepmother who cared for him as a child. She, together with
500 women from the Shakya clan, shaved their heads and walked
barefoot the long distance from Kapilavastu to Vaisali to request
ordination. At first the Buddha declined, but after the intercession
of his close disciple Ananda, the Buddha confirmed women’s
ability to attain liberation, and began the Order of Nuns. This
existed and flourished for many centuries in India, and later
spread throughout southern, southeast, central and east Asia.
Buddhism entered the snowy lands of Tibet in the 7th century,
and before long Tibetan women were becoming nuns.
is the essence of the Buddhist path, which gives meaning and
inspiration to the nuns’ lives as well as to our own?
The Buddha’s teaching can be subsumed in the Four Noble
Our life is filled with unsatisfactory experiences;
These have causes: the ignorance, anger, and clinging attachment
within our minds;
There exists a state free from these: nirvana or liberation;
We can follow a path to eliminate these unsatisfactory circumstances
and their causes and to attain the lasting peace of liberation.
this way the Buddha explained our present situation as well
as our potential, and clearly described a step-by-step path
for transforming our minds and hearts. This is a practical approach
that can be applied in daily life, not just in a temple or church.
We first learn the teachings, then reflect on them to ascertain
their meaning correctly, and integrate them into our mindstreams
through meditation. In this way, we free ourselves from negative
emotions and develop our good qualities, thus bringing about
our own as well as others’ happiness.
would someone ordain as a Buddhist nun? Reasons vary from individual
to individual, but in general, these women are committed to
follow the Buddha’s path for developing the mind and transforming
the heart. They voluntarily take ethical precepts to facilitate
this process. These precepts include the avoidance of: taking
life, stealing, sexual activity, lying, intoxicants, adorning
the body, and seeking distraction through entertainment. Other
precepts guide the nuns’ relationship with others in the
monastic community and with lay people. The nuns’ primary
interest is in transforming their own minds, and through this
to contribute to society and to the welfare of others.
have traditionally played a special role in Buddhist societies.
They devote their lives predominantly to the study, practice,
and teaching of the Dharma, as well as to maintaining the monasteries,
hermitages, temples, and Dharma centres. Throughout history,
the responsibility for the practice and preservation of the
Buddha’s teachings has lain with the monastics. Thus the
monastics serve vital roles that need to be preserved in our
modern societies, East and West.
the Buddha’s time, nuns have played an important, if largely
unnoticed, part in keeping the Dharma alive. The Therigata,
or Songs of the Elder Nuns, was spoken by nuns who studied
and practised directly under the guidance of Shakyamuni Buddha.
In it, they reveal their spiritual longing and achievements.
Throughout the centuries and in all Buddhist societies, there
have been nuns who studied, practised, and in some cases taught
the Dharma. Due to the structure of society, and to the nuns’
reticence to draw attention to themselves, many of their contributions
have gone unnoticed. But in recent years, we see active and
vibrant Buddhist nuns in the East and West. Some are scholars,
some are meditators. Some work on translations of scriptures,
others do social service work in hospital, prisons, and schools
in war zones or in poor areas. The nuns’ contribution
is a wonderful work in progress.
Monastic Ordination for Women in Modern Buddhism
are currently three forms of monastic ordination available to
The full ordination, known as Bhiksuni (Sanskrit)
or Bhikkhuni (Pali), has survived only in the Mahayana
countries of China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Korea, although it is
now being introduced into the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for
the first time. Sri Lanka has also seen its first few
bhikkhuni-s thanks to the pioneering efforts of the late
Ven. Ayya Khema.
The novice ordination, Sramanerika, was until
recently the highest ordination available to women in Vajrayana
(Tibetan Buddhism), as the bhiksuni ordination appears
never to have been transmitted to Tibet. It also exists
in all the schools where the bhiksuni ordination has
The bhiksuni ordination once existed in the countries
where Theravada (the southern school of Buddhism) is most practised,
but it died out around the 10th century. The novice ordination
has also disappeared in these countries. Women who wish
to live as nuns do so by taking eight or ten precepts.
Neither laywomen nor formally ordained, these women do not receive
the recognition, education, financial support or status enjoyed
by their male brethren. These "precept-holders"
live in: Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand
(Siam), and in Vietnam within the Theravadin tradition.
Japan is a special case as, although it has neither the bhiksuni
nor sramanerika ordinations, the precept-holding
nuns who live there do enjoy a higher status and better education
than their precept-holder sisters elsewhere, and may even become
ordinations for women
Country 2. Tradition 3. Bhiksuni (full)
ordination 4. Sramanerika novice ordination
5. No formal ordination (i.e. precept holders) 6.
Colour of robes
Burma 2. Theravada 3. No 4. No 5. 10 precepts: the nuns
are known as anagarika-s (homeless ones) or thilashin
(possessors of morality). 6. orange and pink
Cambodia 2. Theravada 3. No 4. No 5. 8-10 precepts 6. white
China and Taiwan 2. Mahayana 3. Yes 4. Yes 5. No 6. grey
or black or brown
Japan 2. Mahayana 3. No 4. No 5. Bodhisattva precepts plus celibacy
(similar to 10 precepts of novice) 6. black or white
Korea 2. Mahayana 3. Yes 4. Yes 5. No 6. grey
Laos 2. Theravada 3. No 4. No 5. 8-10 precepts. 6. white
Nepal 2. Theravada 3. No 4. No 5. 10 precepts: the nuns
are known as anagarika-s (homeless ones). 6. orange
Sri Lanka 2. Theravada 3. No 4. No 5. 10 precepts: the
nuns are known as dasasil mata-s (homeless ones). 6.
Thailand (Siam) 2. Theravada 3. No 4. No 5. 8 precepts: the
nuns are known as maeji-s or maechee-s. 6. white
Tibet and the Himalayas 2. Mahayana (Vajrayana) 3. No (a few
bhikshuni ordinations have been introduced via the Chinese
tradition) 4. Yes (known in Tibetan as getsulma-s; full-ordination
nuns are called gelongma-s) 5. No 6. burgundy with
Vietnam 2. Mahayana 3. Yes 4. Yes 5. No 6. grey or brown
Vietnam 2. Theravada 3. No 4. No 5. 10 precepts. 6. white
from Sakyadhita: Daughters of the Buddha, edited by Karma Lekshe
Tsomo (Snow Lion, Ithaca, 1988). See also Sakyadhita's
page on nuns' robes, with photographs of nuns in every tradition!
DHAMMASARA - The Nuns' Monastery
allowing women to go forth into the homeless life the Buddha
stated quite clearly that they have the capacity to attain full
enlightenment. During the time of the Buddha and since, there
have been many female arahants .
not for a very long time, have such favorable conditions come
together to support women in leading the monastic life as those
that pertain now in Perth.
write to you as the Senior Nun of the yet to be built Nun’s
Monastery, having recently accepted the invitation of the committee
of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia to take up this
position. And though I am still a nun without a nunnery in the
material sense, my heart is full of joy and gratitude for the
work that has already been done on this project by so many faithful
and committed people. Especially I would like to thank Ajahan
Brahmavamso, the spiritual director, for his support, and the
donors who generously offered funds for the society to purchase
the 583 acres of bushland at Gidgegannup.
purchase of the land is the first giant step towards providing
nuns with the opportunity to train in Dhamma-Vinaya, in a setting
ideal for a forest monastery. As such it is fulfilling one of
the original aims of the society as stated in its constitution,
i.e. to provide monastic facilities for both male and female
Sangha. While the Nuns’ Monastery will complement the
existing Monks’ Monastery, its location some distance
from Bodhinyana will encourage it to develop and function independently.
an ongoing reminder of its true purpose, we have named the Nuns’
Monastery Dhammasara, the Heartwood of the Dhamma, a synonym
for Nibbana, after a simile used by the Buddha.
the longer and shorter discourses on the Simile of the Heartwood
in the Maijhima Nikaya, the Buddha compares the holy life to
a man searching for the finest quality wood to use in making
something. Just as this man would not serve his purpose if he
took leaves and twigs, outer bark, inner bark or sapwood instead
of the heartwood of the tree, so monks and nuns should not be
satisfied with anything less than Nibbana.
is unshakable deliverance of mind that is the goal of the holy
life, its heartwood, its end
Dhammasara will be a place to practice for the attainment of
Nibbana. It will primarily be for Theravidin Nuns, and women
who want to train to become nuns. As resources and facilities
develop there will be the opportunity for lay people who are
committed to the Theravadin way of practice, and who are willing
to undertake the eight precepts for the duration of their stay,
to spend time as part of the community and on self-retreat.
for myself, you may remember me from my visit to Nollamara in
1996. I ordained as a ten-precept Nun in Sri Lanka in 1985 with
Venerable Piyaratana, the Chief Monk of Polgasduwa Island Hermitage
as my Preceptor, and Ven. Ayya Khema as my Teacher. I lived
at Parappudviva Nuns’ Island and in several towns in the
south of the country during my ten years in Sri Lanka. My senior
companion nun during that time was Sister Dhammadinna, a Sri
Lankan. In 1994 I was able to fulfill a long-standing wish and
went on pilgrimage to the Holy Places in India for six months.
Later, at the invitation of Venerable Ajahn Sumedho, I spent
a year at Amaravati, his monastery in England. In 1997 I returned
to Australia, hoping to be able to contribute to making the
teachings of the Buddha available in my home country. Since
then I have spent my time in self-retreat at Wat Buddha Dhamma
and Buddha Dhamma Hermitage, both near Sydney, and have been
available to offer teachings when invited. Though I am not a
member of the Amaravati Nuns’ community as such, I enjoy
a close and warm friendship with the nuns there, and I look
forward to a time in the future when we can invite them to visit
and participate with us.
deepest aspiration for this life is to attain Nibbana, and in
the process to assist others towards fulfilling their potential.
So being part of this project is allowing me to express my life’s
purpose, and I feel immensely blessed.
quickly we can begin building the first amenities on the site
will depend on all of you. In the meantime I invite you to join
me in rejoicing in our very good fortune, to be associated with
such an immeasurable significant project, one that will surely
bring the Dhamma with its great blessing to so many.
Blossoms of the Dharma: Living as a Buddhist Nun ...Thubten
the first book to reflect the voices of Buddhist nuns from every
major tradition, 14 contributors describe their experiences,
explain their order's history, and discuss their lives.
Nona Black from USA
essays shine with intelligence and compassion. They also fill
in so many little details about nuns' lives, dreams, obstacles
and the work ahead. I was stunned by the book's vivid descriptions
and its practical approach to everyday problems. Buddhist nuns
are regular people, of course, but have focused their energy
on the monastic discipline which supports a solid spiritual
way of life. The essays break these things down, giving them
a human face, a view of spiritual matters in perspective. Most
of all, the book imparts a precious gift - an opportunity to
imagine what it would be like. We can all rejoice.
The Buddhist Society ...of London, England
in 1924 by Christmas Humphreys, the Buddhist Society is one
of the oldest Buddhist societies in Europe.
Object of the Society is to publish and make known the principles
of Buddhism and to encourage the study and practice of those
Society presents the major Buddhist Schools and traditions,
and in its extensive library there are books on all Buddhist
Society holds lectures, classes and activities in the Theravada,
Mahayana and Vajrayana schools. Some are open to the public
including Introducing Buddhism which offers the newcomer an
introduction to the whole field of Buddhism. There are also
classes and lectures for members only; these include The Fundamentals
of Buddhism, an intermediate course, and Themes of the Great
Way, a course on Indian Mahayana. All courses and practice classes
are free of charge. The annual resdential Summer School, entitled
'Deeper into Buddhism' is open to members and non-members.
is a public lecture arranged on a Wednesday evening generally
once a month. This is given by a distinguished speaker and covers
some aspect of Buddhist life. The programme is arranged as the
year progresses so you are invited to obtain details from
here or by contacting the Buddhist Society tel: 020 7834
5858 during opening hours.
given 1999 included:
Middle Way: An Experiment in Buddhism by Martin Goodson
there Room for God in Buddhism? by Jim Pym
Investigating the Skandhas - Brian Bromley
Bodhisattas and Bodhisattvas - Anil Goonewardene
The Greatest Warrior - Desmond Biddulph
Finding Home in the Heart by Garry Gelade
The Life of the Buddha: A Symbol of the Spiritual Journey
by Martin Goodson
Japanese Buddhist Art by Marie-Therese Barrett MA
Just as an Elephant lifts itself out of the Mud by Desmond
Membership of the Buddhist Society includes:
a subscription to the Society's quarterly journal, The Middle
lectures and classes for members only
use of the library (postal service available)
occasional functions and receptions
further information and a prospectus please write, phone, fax
or email the Society at:
Eccleston Square, London SW1V 1PH
tel: 020 7834 5858
fax: 020 7976 5238
to members and non-members... 2.00 to 6.00pm Monday to Friday
and 2.00 to 5.00pm Saturday.
still faithful to its Objects, the Buddhist Society provides
classes and courses in the teachings of the major Buddhist traditions,
as well as a general introduction to Buddhism and its historical
special festive days in the Society's calendar are: Founder's
Day (April), Buddha Day (May), and the Society's Anniversary
Day (November). See The Middle Way Journal for details.
Society is in the process of expanding and improving its Library
and hopes that this will become an important national resource.
The Society has established two Raymond M Percheron Research
Scholarships for research in Buddhist Studies to be awarded
from time to time.
Buddhist Society maintains an important London centre in Westminster
where visitors from across the Buddhist world come and are made
welcome. The Society is happy to work in concert with other
Buddhist organizations in order to fulfill its declared Objects
and generally to help and advise wherever possible. The Society
remains small but active, encouraging as a matter of policy
the establishment of independent parallel organizations.
Buddhist Society was founded in 1924, by the late Christmas
Humphreys, building on the pioneer work of the first Society,
The Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1907 to 1925/6).
A lay organization, it is now the oldest Buddhist institution
in the country. From its inception it has not been attached
to any one school of Buddhism, remaining non- sectarian in character
and open in principle to the teachings of all schools. Nor does
the Society lend its official support to any activity of a political
nature, whether national or international, this being proscribed
by the terms of its constitution.
Humphreys, who was to become a High Court Judge, was President
of the society he founded until his death in April 1983. Over
the many years of his presidency the Society flourished and
became widely known and respected, both at home and overseas.
In 1956 the Society moved to its present address at Eccleston
Square and in that same year participated in the Buddha Jayanti,
the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddhas Enlightenment celebrations
in India. In 1961 His Holiness the Dalai Lama became Patron
to the Buddhist Society, the first in the West to be so honoured.
During these especially fruitful years the Society received
many distinguished visitors, including Her Majesty the Queen
of Bhutan (1925), Their Majesties The King and Queen of Thailand
(1966), and his Holiness the Dalai Lama in his capacity of Patron
of the Buddhist Society (1973). Subsequently, His Holiness the
Dalai Lama made a second visit in June 1996 as part of the Society's
extended 70th anniversary celebrations.
the early days, much emphasis was placed on publishing and some
of the books published in that period remain in print today,
notably our founder-presidents Buddhism: An Introduction
and Guide, which, published by Penguin Books has been in continuous
print since 1951. The tradition of publishing continues, with
the Society acting the part of an occasional publisher. Especially
noteworthy in this connection is the Society's internationally
respected quarterly The Middle Way, as the earlier Buddhism
in England, has a publishing history going back to 1926.
Buddhist Society is aware that it operates in a rapidly-changing
British society and world and where useful and appropriate it
endeavours to respond. Following the recent, important change
in the law affecting the content of Religious Education in county
schools involving the teaching of the principle religions of
the UK (Buddhism included), the Society increasingly helps teachers
and pupils alike in gaining an understanding of the Dharma (Buddhist
teachings). As part of this work, the Society took a significant
part in a project initiated by the Secretary of State for Education
to provide model Religious Education syllabuses for the use
of Local Education Authorities in the revision of the locally
agreed syllabuses required under the law. Also in the field
of education, the Society is represented on several Standing
Advisory Councils, Religious Education (SACRE), statutory bodies
which advise Local Authorities on all matters pertaining to
the religious education of children. It is further represented
on the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, an
independent body with a wide advisory role. And in response
to the need for authentic information on Buddhism that the change
in the law has brought about, the Society has begun to publish
educational material for use by schools and colleges.
Buddhist Society is a member of the emerging Buddhist Network
(UK) and publishes from time to time a Buddhist Directory covering
the UK. Because of the Societys standing and special knowlege
in this area it is frequently called upon to give help and advice
to the BBC and other major news organizations. It also gives
advice to publishers, as well as to visitors or callers who
seek help or information.
Buddhist Society is a member of the Inter-Faith Network for
the United Kingdom and is actively involved in the interfaith
movement. It participates in constructive dialogue with members
of other faiths in different contexts. This is both to learn
more about other faiths and especially to learn how to live
together in friendship and harmony, working for the good of
society as a whole.
Buddhist Society is a member of the European Buddhist Union,
the World Congress of Faiths, and the World Fellowship of Buddhists
and sends delegates to international conferences from time to
time. It is also represented on the British section of the United
Nations Association and in touch with other organizations.
members of the Buddhist Society are involved in the work of
Angulimala, a Buddhist prison chaplaincy organization, visiting
and helping prisoners. The Society has also begun to gain valuable
experience in the field of mental health through chaplaincy
work related to two London hospitals.
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