Old Pillar, New Possibilities:

Old Pillar, New Possibilities:

What the Revival of the Bhikkhuni Sangha Contributes  to Thai Women and Society

By Nissara Horayangura

Unpublished paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the M.A. degree in Southeast Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand



Historical Context

According to the mainstream historical accounts most widely given and received in Thailand, there has never been a lineage of bhikkhunis, or female monks, established in Thailand before. The standard argument given is that proper bhikkhuni ordination requires dual ordinations, one in the presence of a minimum of five bhikkhunis and the other in the presence of a minimum of five bhikkhus. Because Thailand has never had a bhikkhuni Sangha, the ordination of women is considered impossible.

However, some Buddhist scholars have questioned this view based on evidence that a bhikkhuni sangha was established in what is now Thailand and nearby areas as far back as the third century BC, when the Ashokan mission led by the Arahant Theras Sona Bhikkhu and Uttara Bhikkhu was sent to the Southeast Asian region known as Suvarnabhumi. The bhikkhus in the mission ordained 1,500 women as bhikkhunis and 3,500 men as bhikkhus, according to ancient documents including Pali and Sinhalese Vinaya commentarial texts, ancient Sri Lankan chronicles, Thai Buddhist historical texts, and old Thai records from Nakorn Sri Thammarat, an ancient gateway of Buddhism into Thailand. In later eras, historical records also indicate the existence of bhikkhunis in the Pattani Kingdom (which existed in the 3rd – 17th century CE) and Sukhothai Kingdom (13th-15th century CE). In addition, there are texts from the Lanna kingdom (13th-16th CE) that relate the biographies of bhikkhunis, who may possibly have lived in that area. According to some accounts, the bhikkhuni sangha died out when the Ayudhaya kingdom (14th-18th century CE) rose to supremacy, at least in the area directly under its rule. Possibly for political reasons, the pre-existing bhikkhu and bhikkhuni sanghas were dismantled and subsequently only a new bhikkhu, but not bhikkhuni, sangha was established with royal sanction and support. Yet there is still some evidence that bhikkhunis existed in the Ayudhaya period, including the drawings and writings of a Jesuit missionary to the kingdom that depict saffron-robed female monastics.

In the modern era, there have been a number of women who have tried to ordain as bhikkhunis. The first attempt was made in 1928 by two sisters, Sara and Chongdi Bhasit, who received samaneri ordination along with six other women. Their father, prominent social critic Narin Bhasit, built a monastery for them on land in his compound called Wat Nariwong, literally meaning “female lineage.” In 1932, the women underwent bhikkhuni ordination, but it was considered invalid as they only received their vows from bhikkhus and not bhikkhunis.

They met with strong opposition from the sangha and state. In 1928, the Sangha Council of Elders responded by passing an order forbidding Thai monks from ordaining women, either as bhikkhuni, samaneri, or sikkhamana (a female novice in training to become a bhikkhuni), a rule which still is in force today. Pressure against the sisters mounted and they were finally arrested, and jailed, with the elder sister disrobed by force. After their release they resumed the bhikkhuni life for two more years, although they changed the color of their robes. However, the unyielding resistance from society forced them to finally disrobe. The fiercely negative reaction to this first attempt put a stop to any further efforts to establish bhikkhunis in Thailand for many years.

The next attempt came in 1956 when Voramai Kabilsingh received eight precepts from Pra Pronmuni of Wat Bovornnives and began wearing a light yellow robe different from the regular white robes of mae chee. In 1957, she bought land in Nakhonpathom and built a monastery called Watra Songdhammakalyani, which means “ a place where women perform Dharma practice.” The monastery could not technically be called a “Wat” so instead the word “Watra” meaning “practice” – but pronounced the same way – was used. In 1971, she went to Taiwan and received full ordination as a bhikkhuni at the Sung Sun Monastery, becoming the first Thai woman to be properly ordained by a bhikkhuni sangha. However, the Thai Sangha considers her ordination to be part of the Mahayana and not Theravada tradition.

The possibility of ordaining in the Theravada tradition only emerged after the revival of the Sri Lankan bhikkhuni sangha in 1996. Once a bhikkhuni sangha was re-established in Sri Lanka, Theravada bhikkhunis would become available to provide dual-sangha ordinations for aspiring bhikkhuni candidates, including those from other Theravada countries. It was to Sri Lanka that Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh went to become the first Thai woman in the modern era to be ordained as a bhikkhuni in the Theravada tradition, instigating the so-called “Third Wave” of modern Thai bhikkhuni movements. Prior to ordination, Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh had been a professor of religion and philosophy at Thammasat University, and was a noted scholar of Buddhism. She also had the special credential of being the daughter of Voramai Kabilsingh. On February 6, 2001, Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh was ordained as a samaneri, or female novice, in Sri Lanka, assuming the new name Dhammananda. On February 28, 2003, she was given full ordination as a bhikkhuni. Upon her return to Thailand she assumed residence at Watra Songdhammakalyani.

In terms of her legal status, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni is still not officially recognized by either Sangha or Thai law as a bhikkhuni. The 1928 order passed by the Sangha Council of Elders is still in effect prohibiting Thai monks from ordaining women. However, there is no actual law prohibiting women from becoming monks, and as such she is able to continue her activities.

Movements for samaneri and bhikkhuni ordination by Thai women have since been gaining ground, slowly but steadily. In February 2002, the first samaneri ordination ceremony to be held in Thailand was held at Watra Songdhammakalyani, with a Sri Lankan bhikkhuni as preceptor and presided over by a total of eight Bhikkhuni from Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Indonesia. Six monks from Thailand and two from Tibet also attended. The new samaneri, given the name Dhammarakhita, had previously been a mae chee for nine years, known as Mae Chee Varangghana Vanavichayen. . In total, it is estimated that there are at least seven known samaneris in Thailand as of February 2005. Some were ordained in Sri Lanka, while others have been quietly ordained by monks in Thailand. They are scattered in various monasteries throughout the country, such as Wat Pah Sukhato in Chaiyaphum.

At Watra Songdhammakalayani, there are currently five monastic residents. It is headed by Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, and also includes two samaneri, Dhammadhari Samaneri and Dhammadhira Samaneri, who were ordained in Sri Lanka in 2003. There are also two maechee, one of whom, named Mae Chee Asoka, is considering ordaining as a samaneri in the future.

Research Objective and Findings

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s ordination was a historic development, the first – and at the present time, only – instance of a properly ordained Theravadan bhikkhuni to emerge in Thailand. Yet it was naturally also highly controversial, and upon her return to Thailand after her ordination as a samaneri she was met by an onslaught of criticism. Much has already been written about whether or not Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s ordination in Sri Lanka is valid, and whether or not a bhikkhuni sangha can be established in Thailand. This paper will not retrace the terrain of this debate. Rather, it accepts as a starting point that a bhikkhuni does now exist in Thailand. Moreover, the way the movement is slowly growing and taking root with a nascent female sangha community being established at Watra Songdhammakalyani, and samaneris being ordained in other parts of the country, suggests this third attempt at establishing a bhikkhuni sangha has greater momentum than the previous two historic cases.

Given this premise, the objective of my research is to investigate the specific ways in which the establishment of a bhikkhuni sangha can, and indeed has already begun to, open new possibilities for Thai women in practicing Buddhism. Outside of the attempts to ordain as bhikkhuni, Thai women interested in committed spiritual practice previously had only the options of ordaining as mae chees (white-robed nuns) or practicing as laywomen. In this paper, I also consider how the bhikkhuni sangha can benefit Thai society, particularly in addressing the problems women face.

I have taken the community Dhammananda Bhikkhuni leads at Watra Songdhammakalyani as the case study and will focus on the experiences of its members in-depth.

From my research, I have found that the bhikkhuni sangha has made significant and multifarious new contributions. Out of these, this paper will focus on only four main areas, which will be discussed in separate sections:

1. Deepening of personal spiritual practice

2. Creation of a female sangha

3. Enrichment of Buddhist education for women

4. Provision of social services for women.

Research Methods

Examining the writings of Dhammananda Bhikkhuni or Professor Chatsumarn Kabilsingh provided a starting point for understanding her vision and philosophy as the key instigator in reviving the Bhikkhuni movement in Thailand. As other secondary sources written on this particular question were limited, a major source of information for this paper was primary field research. Firstly, I spent one weekend at Watra Songdhammakalyani in Nakhon Pathom on February 12-13, 2005. During this time, I conducted in-depth interviews with the key informants Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Dhammadhari Samaneri, Dhammadhira Samaneri and Mae Chee Asoka, supplemented by follow-up phone interviews. I was able to speak informally with lay supporters of the monastery, which I followed up with a more in-depth phone interview with one of the regular supporters, Professor Wilasinee Pipitkul. I also conducted participant-observation of monastery activities, including morning/evening chanting and the regular Sunday program of chanting, dhamma talk, and ritual dana offering open to the public. There was also a special opportunity to follow Dhammananda Bhikkhuni and the two samaneris on their morning almsround in the nearby community. In addition, I attended a dhamma talk given by Dhammananda Bhikkhuni at the Patravadi Theatre, a major center for dramatic arts in Bangkok, in order to observe her in a different context, interacting with a different demographic group. For a comparative perspective, I also visited well-known nun Mae Chee Sansanee’s dhamma practice center in Bangkok called Sathien Dhammasathan and attended its regular all-day program on Sunday, which included dhamma discourses and meditation teaching.

Mae Chee: The Existing “Monastic” Option for Thai Women

To provide a point of comparison, I will first briefly survey the situation of mae chees, the main existing option for women to lead a monastic life in Thailand. However, the situation of mae chees in Thailand is varied and complex and it is beyond the scope of this paper to examine it in detail.

Mae chees hold eight or ten precepts , shave their heads, wear white robes, and ordain either at monks’ monasteries or independent nunneries. This monastic form was not established by the Buddha and did not emerge until long after his death. It was a new invention developed after the bhikkhuni sangha died out in order to provide Thai women some way of leading a monastic life. Yet, the maechee are not recognized by law as ordained persons, so they receive no benefits or protection from the Department of Religious Affairs. Nor do they have an official position in the Sangha. As there is no precedent for mae chees in the Pali Canon, they are considered by Buddhist legalists to technically have the status of female lay practitioner or upasika. Mae chees thus fall in an ambiguous position between an ordained person and a lay person. Spread throughout the country with little central organization, the lives of mae chees vary greatly from place to place. While in some places, particularly dedicated nunneries, mae chees have a chance to engage in more serious dhamma practice, in many monasteries their role is restricted to cooking and cleaning for the monks.

There are a now a few prominent mae chees who have gained popular acceptance such as Mae Chee Sansanee Sthirasuta. “There is a great deal women can do in our existing roles,” she maintains. However, she is an extraordinary case, an exception rather than the rule. In reality the large majority of mae chees suffer from a negative public image. Journalist Sanitsuda Ekachai, who regularly covers religious issues, has written, “It is widely believed that young nuns have entered the sisterhood because they are broken-hearted while old nuns living at temples are perceived as mere temple hands. And beggars posing as nuns only worsen their already lowly image.”

Lack of education is also another problem. Most mae chee come from rural, low socio-economic backgrounds. It has been estimated that 80% have completed only grade 4-6 of formal education. Their access to education, especially Buddhist education, after ordination is also limited. Although the availability of teaching for mae chee does vary, with some nunneries and monasteries offering dhamma classes, it can safely be said that their opportunities are far behind those given male monks, who have a formal system of Pali examinations and education towards it set up, including two full-scale Buddhist universities in Bangkok. Some progress has been made in recent years, with the establishment of the Mahapajapati Theri College for women in 2000, but the number of mae chees it can serve is still small.

The Bhikkhuni Sangha: Opening New Possibilities

Personal Spiritual Practice

In making the comparison between the situation of bhikkhunis and that of maechees and laywomen, one crucial aspect to examine is how bhikkhuni ordination contributes to personal spiritual practice. It is widely known and accepted among Buddhists that the Buddha had established the “Four Pillars of Buddhism” to support and uphold the religion: bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen. As bhikkhunis were included as one of these fundamental groups, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni sees leading the life of the bhikkhuni as a spiritual responsibility, in order to help uphold Buddhism. Without the fourth group, the supports for Buddhism are incomplete.

In his teachings, the Buddha clearly stated that the ordained life is the most conducive vehicle for attaining spiritual progress towards enlightenment. As Dhammananda Bhikkhuni explains, “The Buddha said the ordained life is a shortcut. If it’s a shortcut, therefore it must be better. And as the Buddha himself led the life of a monk and ordained his followers for 45 years, there must be something meaningful to the ordained life.”

A layperson is constrained by many worldly responsibilities and concerns that are part of the householder life. The root of the Thai word buad (to ordain) is the Pali word pabbajja, which means to give up the worldly life completely, and thereby give up the worldly attachments which are enjoyed in lay life – from belongings and family relationships to even the way of eating, dressing, speaking, thinking, and feeling that is normal in lay life. Laying down these worldly attachments makes it easier for the monastic to engage in Buddhist practice. Indeed, ordination is the beginning of a total process of physical and spiritual development in an environment suitable for concentrated practice.

It can be argued that mae chees and other Thai variants like silacarinis and sikkhamats are also forms of monasticism in that they require the renunciation of lay life. However, they are not the same as the original path of the fully-ordained bhikkhuni as set out by the Buddha. The most easily observable difference is in the number of precepts held. Whereas these other variants hold between eight to ten precepts, full bhikkhunis hold 311 precepts. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni explains her position this way: “Because I am an academic, I want to do it right, by the book, according to what the Buddha laid down. Why would you be happy with something not legitimate, not given to you by the Buddha? Wouldn’t you feel proud to do something that the Buddha allowed you to do?” She sees being ordained “according to what the Buddha intended us to be” as the rightful heritage of women, from which they can draw inspiration, confidence, and strength.

The importance of leading the bhikkhuni life is thus more than just a theoretical point, and provides real practical benefits. In addition to providing inspiration, fully-ordained status intensifies a person’s resolve to practice. Both samaneris I spoke with shared that they felt a greater personal sense of commitment to the path after ordaining. Dhammadhira Samaneri had been a mae chee for two years at Wat Pah Sukhato prior to ordaining as a samaneri. Although she had been particularly devoted and had made her own vow to uphold the bhikkhuni’s full 311 precepts even as a maechee, she still found it hard to practice. “I still felt lax as a mae chee. I felt in order to really get serious, I had to commit to the complete form. The only way to be a full nak buad (ordained person) was to do the highest form possible,” she said. Meanwhile, the other novice, Dhammadhari Samaneri, did not even consider ordaining as a mae chee because she felt it put a woman in a sort of limbo position – not quite a nak buad, not quite a regular layperson. “Becoming a samaneri [on the road to becoming a bhikkhuni] makes you feel like you are the real thing – which is important for giving you the motivation to do your utmost.”

Indeed, another significant advantage of becoming a bhikkhuni was that it gave the women a clearer, more active role to play than a mae chee. While the lives of mae chees differ among various monasteries, one can gain useful insights from the experiences of the women who came to ordain at Watra Songdhammakalayani. Mae Chee Asoka, who is still young but aspires to ordain as a bhikkhuni in the future, recounted her experience as a mae chee in a small monastery on Koh Samui, where she had ordained for a year and a half. She shared, “The mae chees there simply saw their role as cooking for the monks. I also felt like a second class citizen at the monastery – mae chees couldn’t go out and get alms, and had to eat the leftovers of monks’ food, which makes you feel like a parasite. Whereas as a female monk, you do not have to be dependent.” Even in a monastery like Wat Pah Sukato, which is known for being progressive and supportive of mae chees’ practice, Dhammadhira Samaneri reports that as a mae chee there she felt she did not have a defined role or much work to do, and thus lacked a sense of purpose. Not only does this undermine morale, it also limits opportunities for spiritual practice. As Dhammadhira Samaneri explained, “When you have a more active role, you have more tests of character as you must interact with people. But if you are just shut in alone, as mae chee are a lot of the time, your kilesa (defilements) lie low and you do not see them clearly and thus cannot work on eliminating them.”

In contrast to the situation of the mae chees, the bhikkhuni and samaneris have a larger, more active role to play. With their fully-ordained status, they are able to perform rituals and give blessings. Importantly, it is also only when women are fully ordained that they can be recognized as valid fields of merit. Although a minority of maechee do receive alms and donations from laypeople, it is a deeply ingrained belief among Thai people that one earns more merit from giving to a fully-ordained monk than a maechee, by virtue of their holding higher precepts. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni is also able to give dhamma teachings with the authority on par with a monk. While still a mae chee, even Asoka feels she is more vitally involved and active at Watra Songdhammakalayani, as she is given the opportunity to help organize the monastery’s activities such as training courses for women and to contribute articles to the monastery’s publicly circulated newsletter.

This greater role not only empowers the women, but it also affects their relations with society and the way society views them. The ability to perform rituals, give blessings, and serve as fields of merit allows them to have a more significant and relevant role to play among laypeople, who then accord them greater respect. Dhammadhira Samaneri reports that even when she held the 311 precepts as a mae chee, people still treated her as a regular eight-precept mae chee, which did not inspire her to practice seriously. By contrast, she says when she was ordained as a samaneri, laypeople assumed that she was a bhikkhuni holding all 311 precepts and treated her with greater respect. In fact, she reported, simply wearing orange robes evokes greater faith among the people. That faith in turn reinforces their motivation to put their full effort into practice. “If the people treat you with respect, you feel you must conduct yourself in a way to deserve that respect. That recognition really helps to build your resolve,” says Dhammananda Bhikkhuni.

Female Sangha 

Beyond the impact of being a bhikkhuni on an individual woman’s personal spiritual practice, the ordination of bhikkhunis also has the wider implication of creating a female sangha, or community. The significance of Dhammananda Bhikkhuni being ordained would have been limited to merely a symbolic gesture if she remained the only one female monk in Thailand. As she wrote of her mother’s experience, “The fact that she [Voramai Kabilsingh] was only one bhikkhuni and not a sangha, [meant] it did not have sufficient impact and did not bring any structural changes to improve the women’s lot.” In Dhammananda’s case, she is trying to go one step further than her mother and bring about that larger structural change, paving the way for other women to ordain.

She explains her larger vision this way: “It [creating a bhikkhuni sangha] allows not just myself now. I will only live for so many years. This should be a path for other women also. The work is now to lay the ground for others to step in so they don’t have to fight as much.” Part of laying the groundwork is providing role models for other women, showing by example that the ordained life is a possibility for women. The next step is to build a community of female monastics. With the two samaneri and two mae chee in addition to Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, there is a nascent female sangha at Watra Songdhammakalyani. The aspect of paving the way for other women adds a new dimension to the bhikkhuni’s role that can distinguish it from the other women’s roles such as mae chees and active lay women. As Dhammananda Bhikkhuni sees it, unlike these other women in Buddhism, she is starting a new institution. Her ordination then becomes more than just a means of personal spiritual practice, but a contribution to other women, and indeed to Buddhism. As she said in a talk given at her monastery, “We must always be true to the practice, because we are not doing it for ourselves, but we are doing it for the revival and the strengthening of Buddhism itself.”

Significantly, the other monastics and lay supporters of the monastery also share in Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s vision. Dhammadhari Samaneri said one of the major reasons she chose to ordain at Watra Songdhammakalayani was because she wanted to work for the bhikkhuni movement. “I was not ordaining just for myself, but for the cause as well,” she said. Similarly, Mae Chee Asoka decided to join the community because she felt she could do more for society here, compared to her previous experience as a mae chee elsewhere. “Here, you do societal work, not just individual work. I am inspired by the brave women I see working in this community.” While Mae Chee Asoka may still be young and impressionable at age 23, she does offer a case in point of Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s effective influence as a role model. Meanwhile, one of the monastery’s regular lay supporters, Dr. Wilasinee Pipitkul, who teaches communication arts and gender issues at Chulalongkorn University – and is a well-known feminist – also cited one of her leading motivations in coming to the monastery was her desire to support the growth of the bhikkhuni movement. “I see it as our responsibility to revive the complete set of four pillars of Buddhism,” she shared.

The creation of a female sangha is more than just a cause, however. There are also practical advantages to providing a place for women to practice among women. Firstly, a mixed male-female monastic community can pose problems for spiritual practice. Dhammadhari Samaneri pointed out, based on her experience at a monastery with both monks and mae chees, that when you have men and women interacting, there is the potential danger of falling into attraction. Even in a monastic community, it is hard to control. Also, if a woman is taught by a male teacher, it is possible for her to develop a kind of attraction-worship of her teacher. Such developments can become serious obstacles to successful practice.

Another problem is the power differential between monks and mae chees. As Mae Chee Asoka related, in her former monastery the monks were always seen as right. Mae chees were simply supposed to follow whatever the monks said. The difference in status was accompanied by a physical distance as well, with monks and mae chees having to live separately. The gap between monks and mae chees made it difficult for a sense of community to develop. By contrast, at the all-female Watra Songdhammakalayani, there is a more communal, and egalitarian, feeling among its residents. The residents hold communal discussions every night, where everyone is encouraged to share their opinions and talk over problems in the community. “It’s more informal and familiar here,” summed up Mae Chee Asoka.

The monastics also reflect that there is an appreciable difference in being trained by a female teacher as opposed to a male monk. Dhammadhira Samaneri reports that while the monks at Wat Pah Sukhato were supportive and willing to teach the mae chees in residence, they tended to teach a very general form of dhamma . They did not get down to a level of more personalized teaching to help eliminate a particular individual’s flaws – what Dhammadhira Samaneri calls “removing rust.” Partly this was due to the size of the monastery, which was much larger than the small community at Watra Songdhammakalyani. But more crucially, Dhammadhira Samaneri explains, “Men do not understand the psychology of women, so cannot correct their problems in spiritual training as precisely as women can. As a woman teacher, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni can understand my thought processes better, such as the way women can think too much or be more emotionally sensitive. So she can trace better how kilesa (mental defilements) develop and can give insight into the right point for me to correct.” Mae Chee Asoka concurs that in her experience male monks tended to give general dhamma teachings. In addition, she says she feels more comfortable talking about feminine issues and concerns with Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, who is thus able to provide advice on matters females might otherwise not discuss with male teachers.

Not only does the monastery offer its monastic residents teaching tailored to them and a sense of community, it also provides a space for laywomen from the wider community to come and practice. Explained Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, “This is a place where women can feel comfortable. They don’t have to be scared that monks will come around, this whole place is meant for them.” Indeed, when I asked Dr. Wilasanee why she chose to come practice regularly at this particular monastery, the first answer she gave was that it created a haven for women. Developing a female sangha thus also serves a larger constituency of women, as they may feel more at ease practicing in an all-female environment.

Buddhist Education for Women

Educational Opportunities for Women

A distinguishing characteristic of Watra Songdhammakalyani is that it offers plentiful opportunities for women to be educated about Buddhism. The monastery holds regular 12-week Dhamma courses on Sunday afternoons that teach Buddhist philosophy and knowledge in an organized classroom setting. The classes are open to both the monastery’s monastics and members of the lay public, with most attendees being women. The monastery also organizes three-day retreats three times a year for women which train them in both Buddhist knowledge and practice. The program includes chanting, meditation, walking meditation, and also discussions on Buddhist teachings and ways to engage oneself for the benefit of others. Participants in the retreats have included not only Thai women, but also international women from Canada, USA, Germany, and Denmark.

One special factor making this level of education possible is Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s background as a former academic, which gives her a strong scholarly grounding in Buddhism and equips her to provide a solid education in Buddhism to monastics and lay attendees at her monastery. Having attained a PhD in Buddhism from Magadh University in India and having conducted academic research as a professor of religion at Thammasat University for almost thirty years also establishes her credibility in the eyes of the public and particularly in those interested in following her path.

Lay supporters of the monastery like Dr. Wilasinee explained that she “trusted and respected the Venerable Dhammananda because she knows her subject well.” As such, she felt she was able to learn a great deal that was of value during the monasteries’ retreats and classes. As she put it, “I feel it is wise to follow her.”

Among the monastics, Dhammadhari Samaneri similarly reflected that one of the major reasons she chose to ordain at Watra Songdhammakalyani was because she knew that Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was a Buddhist scholar and highly knowledgeable. While Dhammandhari Samaneri had long been interested in Buddhism and had studied it on her own while a laywoman, she said she had learned mainly from dhamma books, tapes, and radio programs, but nothing formal. She continued, “If I went to a monastery, I learned mainly about meditation practice (patibat). But here, we are taught in a more systematic way about the theory (pariyat).”

Mae Chee Asoka was similarly attracted to Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s potential as a teacher. In her case, the educational opportunities at Watra Songdhammakalyani particularly contrasted to her prior experiences as a mae chee. At her previous monastery, she had to strive on her own to learn, finding books to read on her own initiative. There were no formal dhamma classes for mae chee at her monastery, nor were they being trained for examinations on dhamma and vinaya like male monks. Thus, it is not only the special personal attribute of Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s academic qualifications, but the way the monastery organizes solid educational programs that opens opportunities for women to access Buddhist education.

Perhaps the most unique of the monastery’s programs is its Buddhist Women In Residence (BWR) program, which was started in 2003. Its objective is to provide ordained women with the chance to live together as a full sangha, which requires at least four bhikkhuni, in order to learn and practice the correct monastic lifestyle as a bhikkhuni. The program grew out of one of Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s main concerns about establishing a bhikkhuni sangha in Thailand, namely ensuring the quality of its members. It is not enough for monastics to be ordained, they must be given proper training after ordination in order to thrive and be of value to society.

In the inaugural session of the BWR, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was able to tap into her network of international Buddhist women and arrange for her Sri Lankan preceptor, the Ven. Bhikkhuni Rahatungoda Saddha Sumana, to come serve as chief teacher. The program was open to bhikkhunis from all countries, although the training offered in the course was Theravadan. The women were to spend the three month period of the rains retreat together at Watra Songdhammakalyani. In 2003, six bhikkhuni from four countries – Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand – and one Thai samaneri participated. In 2004, the program was expanded to 28 participants from six countries, including interested lay persons as well.

Principally, however, the course is designed to train monastics. It included rigorous study and training in the Vinaya, with a two-hour class each day led by the chief teacher, who taught from the Sinhalese commentary. In addition to studying the Vinaya in class, the bhikkhunis also learned and were able to practice reciting the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha (monastic code) every fortnight. This was a special opportunity for the pioneer bhikkhuni in Thailand to gain experience in chanting the Patimokkha, as it is only possible when the minimum quorum for a sangha is met. Its significance was explained by Dhammananda Bhikkhuni this way: “This training for the recitation of the Patimokkha was considered the heart of the training and practice. The Patimokkha is a large body of monastic code, it is not something that one can master overnight and definitely cannot do without the proper and meticulous guidance from an able teacher.”

The participants also took classes in general knowledge about Buddhism and its history. Many participants did not even have a very solid grounding in these subjects, underscoring the necessity of the training program for monastics. In addition, classes were given on the specialized topics of the history of women in Buddhism and the history of the Bhikkhuni Sangha in different countries. The purpose is to give the bhikkhunis an understanding of the situation of ordained women within a larger context, in the hope that “they will appreciate and find in their commitment a greater significance and a lifestyle which is noble and worthy.”

Education for Women’s Empowerment

Indeed, it is not only significant that Watra Songdhammakalyani provides many educational programs for women; what is also special is the content of the curriculum. A discernible theme is that the teaching offered is tailored to be women-oriented. “As we have only monks giving teaching in Thailand, we hear only a one-sided teaching for men,” Dhammananda Bhikkhuni wrote. Her teaching on the other hand contributes something new to the discourse: teaching from a woman’s point of view, with the intention to uplift women’s views of themselves and empower them.

First, there is emphasis given to highlighting the history of women in Buddhism and the state of women in Buddhism today. Similar to monastic participants in the Buddhist Women in Residence program, laypersons are also taught about these topics in the Sunday classes and retreats. The monastery also produces written materials and dhamma tapes about the history of the bhikkhuni sangha, the life of a bhikkhuni, women’s roles in the Buddha’s time, and the bhikkhuni movement in Sri Lanka and other countries. These topics are rarely discussed in mainstream Buddhist teachings, so there is a great lack of awareness among the general public about women’s issues. Few scholars also study the field of women in Buddhism in depth, so there is a dearth of academic writing on the topic as well. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, in her former capacity as a professor, was however one of those few to research women in Buddhism, so she is particularly well-equipped to fill in this gap in knowledge. The purpose in providing education about women in Buddhism to laypeople, particularly laywomen, is to raise awareness of the role women have played in Buddhism historically, and in turn educate them about the possibilities that are available for women today. Given the controversy and heated debate around the issue of female ordination in Thailand, there is also a great deal of misunderstanding about the basic facts about bhikkhunis. By publishing materials like the handbook Women in Buddhism: Questions and Answers in both Thai and English, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni works to clarify the issues and educate people on the background of bhikkhuni ordination.

Another strategy Dhammananda Bhikkhuni uses is to highlight and teach about outstanding women in the history of Buddhism. “Material about women has been neglected in the past, so we picked up the stories and tell them – ‘herstories’- in order to let them know there is such a thing, and be inspired.” For instance, she teaches about the thirteen female arahants. In the Thai Theravada tradition, the eight male arahants are commonly respected, with stories popularly told about them and their statues often found in monasteries. By contrast, the female arahants are rarely mentioned, and according to Dhammananda Bhikkhuni women are surprised to hear about them when they are first exposed to it at her monastery.

Indeed, the way the veneration of the thirteen female arahants was integrated at Watra Songdhammakalayani was one of most unique elements of the practice I observed there. In the daily chanting, in addition to reciting the traditional chant extolling the eight male arahants, the monastery has introduced the innovation of reciting a chant invoking the names of the thirteen female arahants. According to Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, the chant was composed by a monk in Chiang Mai 200 years ago but was never chanted until it was adopted at Watra Songdhammakalayani. By including it in the daily chanting routine and at the weekly Sunday chanting session open to the public, recollection of the thirteen female arahants becomes ritualized. To provide a physical reminder, statues of the female arahants, sculpted by Dhammananda Bhikkhuni herself, are placed on the altar below the statue of the Buddha in the dhamma hall. The monastery also published a book telling the stories of the thirteen female arahants and produced tapes of Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s dhamma talks about the thirteen female arahants, which help to spread knowledge about accomplished women in Buddhism.

Reaching beyond the monastery, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni also worked with the Patravadi Theatre to produce a play in 2004 about Yasodhara, the Buddha’s wife and one of the thirteen female arahants. While she is often mentioned in popular stories about the Buddha’s life, she features only as a secondary character, whereas in the play she was made the central focus of the story. Creative collaborations like this are part of Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s efforts to emphasize women’s stories in the wider public consciousness, which in turn will further empower women.

Another way Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s teachings promote women is by offering a feminist approach to interpreting Buddhist texts, with a major theme being the deconstruction of what she calls “negative social values against women” or “mayakati”. In her view, Thai society is dominated by a patriarchal system that suppresses women. Local beliefs handed down through tradition form over time into deeply-held negative ideas about women, which the women themselves are socialized to believe. “Our women are so framed by society’s constructs, even the women who come to this monastery. During our discussions, I am really amazed to hear how many women express these negative ideas about themselves,” Dhammananda Bhikkhuni said. Her teachings aim to correct these prejudicial views towards women by re-examining Buddhist texts. She asserted, “We need to be firm in our study of Buddhist texts to provide us a strong basis to bring about a new insight with spiritual strength…to lead us towards a more positive attitude towards women and in the long run for an improvement of Buddhist society.”

One commonly-held view, for example, is that “women are the enemy to the life of purity.” Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s response to this claim is illustrative of her feminist approach. She argues that while the Buddha had indeed given this instruction to monks, as recorded in the Tripitaka, “we have to take this teaching in a new light [because it is] androcentric by nature, giving the teaching from the standpoint of and interest of monks.” Interpreting it this way is problematic because it makes women see themselves as lowly and unworthy, being obstacles to monks’ practice. Looking at it another way, she reasons that it is not the fault of women, but rather the weakness of the monks which is the real obstacle. Monks need to be mindful when they come in contact with women, and she states quite boldly, “women cannot be held responsible for any failure on the monks’ side.” Moreover, she points out that the while the Buddha had warned his male disciples that they had to be careful of women, he had also warned women that men are also “the enemy to the purity of women.” Yet male monks never mention this teaching, resulting in an imbalanced negative focus on women. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, on the other hand, highlights it.

Other biases against women she debunks in her teachings include notions that women are unclean, which are manifested in common practices such as the prohibition of women entering Buddhist monasteries in Northern Thailand to circumambulate the stupas. Such views are commonly believed to be traditional Buddhist belief, but she argues that there is no evidence of it in the Buddhist texts and they in fact originate in Hindu ideas which over the years had become conflated with Buddhist practice. She deems this a “denial of the true spirit of Buddhism” and argues for the need to “be aware of this blend…and be able to distinguish what is Buddhism and follow its teaching with a critical mind.”

By offering a different perspective on the Buddhist texts, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s teachings serve to countervail negative views about women and provide arguments in their defense. While critics may say she has a feminist bias herself, her arguments do not appear to be merely rhetorical, but rather are reasoned explanations based on references to the texts. Her interpretations are of course still open to debate, but they do provide women – and men – a different frame of analysis for viewing traditional customs or accepted sayings. The Buddhist education she offers is particularly of service to women, given her concern with promoting their sense of worth and breaking down societal constructs that limit their opportunities.

Social Services for Women

Related to their role in providing Buddhist education for women, bhikkhunis can play a vital societal role in providing social services for women. First, they can serve as a spiritual resource providing counseling on problems faced specifically by women, such as unwed or unwanted pregnancy, abortion, sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence. Such concerns are inadequately dealt with by male monks for various reasons. Women tend not to feel comfortable discussing these problems with male monks as they are more ‘feminine’ and potentially awkward or embarrassing to talk about. There is also the practical difficulty that monks cannot come in close contact with women. A woman and a male monk cannot speak one-on-one but need the presence of a third party in accordance with the Vinaya, which limits privacy and further discourages women from speaking to monks about such issues. Male monks also may not have the deeper understanding of women’s experiences and psychology needed to effectively and sensitively deal with these problems. One factor to consider is that male monks have never had any first-hand experience of these problems (or even in the case of harassment, rape or domestic violence have not experienced it in the way women do), whereas it is at least possible and even probable that there would be some female monks who have. Female social workers or mae chee may also provide counseling, but when in despair people may desire to seek refuge in higher spiritual authority. Female monks, then, could contribute a real social service in providing spiritual guidance to women to help restore their emotional health, especially when faced with crises.

It is not only with crisis cases, but also the more everyday concerns of women that female monks can provide useful advice on. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni said that women have come to talk to her about romantic or marital issues, menopause or even menstrual cramps, which they certainly would not mention to monks. In my own observation of a public dhamma talk given by Dhammananda Bhikkhuni at the Patravadi Theatre, I noted how during the question and answer session the women in the audience asked her a lot of questions related to mothering, family issues, and romantic relationships. They seemed quite comfortable, and even eager, to talk to her about these ‘softer’ topics. She was able to answer relating dhamma to her own prior experiences as a mother and wife, which provided an interesting angle to her dhamma teaching.

Beyond offering counseling and advice, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni believes female monks can play a more active role as socially engaged Buddhists, particularly in providing social services for women. She has said, “There are certain kinds of works, like running an orphanage, taking care of young children, that monks cannot do – at least they haven’t been doing them in my country. If we have [bhikkhunis], we could open up the horizon of different activities for women.” At Watra Songdhammakalyani, she had opened a shelter called Baan San Rak for unwed mothers where they can stay and practice dhamma while pregnant and nursing, as well as an orphanage for children. While these projects have had to be downsized in recent years, except for two orphans still living at the monastery, they provide examples of the type of social action a larger community of female monks would be able to contribute.


The emergence of a bhikkhuni in Thailand has brought not only heated debate, but valuable new contributions to the lives of Thai women, especially in their spiritual practice. First, it gives women the opportunity to practice a more complete and formal monastic life. Even just in theory, there is a clear distinction between the life of a fully-ordained bhikkhuni and mae chee, with the former following all 311 precepts as laid down by the Buddha in the original monastic code for ordained women. In practice, being ordained as bhikkhunis does give women real advantages as it provides more conducive conditions for higher spiritual practice. In addition, being a bhikkhuni earns them greater respect from others, which is important in motivating them and giving them moral support in their practice.

Beyond the individual bhikkhuni, the development of a female sangha creates a new institution that can cater especially to women and provide them with a clear pathway for deeper spiritual practice. While there are cases of extraordinary individual mae chees who have achieved great things, I would argue that they have done so despite the odds rather than out of a system that supports them. The bhikkhuni sangha, on the other hand, can help nurture women’s practice. Not only does it build a community for monastics, but also for laywomen, providing support for their practice.

This support includes providing Buddhist education for women. The bhikkhuni sangha can focus on providing more materials, classes, and training programs for both monastic and lay women, as Watra Songdhammakalyani is currently active in doing. Moreover, the kind of dhamma teaching bhikkhunis can provide differs from what male monks offer. They carry a women’s perspective and are more concerned with empowering women. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s teachings do so, for instance by focusing on female role models in Buddhist history and reading Buddhist texts in fresh ways to challenge prejudicial views towards women. Moreover, bhikkhunis can provide teachings that address women’s concerns with greater precision than male monks’ general dhamma teachings, as women have a better understanding of these issues and greater insight into women’s psychology than men.

Some may argue that dhamma is universal and that ultimately all human minds are the same regardless of gender, thus male monks would be able to provide teachings on women’s issues too. But I would argue, and I have heard respected bhikkhus themselves say, that teaching based on personal experience of a problem is deeper and more helpful, and there are just some things women go through that a male monk could never experience. Similarly, the capacity of male monks to truly empathize with women’s unique experiences is also limited. And while the pure mind is genderless, the minds of the vast majority of people, who have not reached that level of purification, are conditioned by gender differences in psychology, thinking habits, hormones, and even neurological wiring. A woman teacher naturally has more insight into the feminine psyche.

Another way bhikkhunis can contribute something special to society is by engaging in social action on problems affecting women in particular. They may be better suited to address these than male monks and thus fill a gap that still exists in societal needs.

Critics may say that any female teacher, such as a mae chee or laywoman, would be able to answer women’s dhamma or social service needs, and thus bhikkhunis are not necessary on this count. However, what distinguishes bhikkhunis is that they would be able to provide more specific teachings on issues faced by monastic women following the full 311 precepts and living in a bhikkhuni community. More broadly, the greater level of spiritual authority ascribed to bhikkhunis by their higher precepts and the culturally ingrained respect for the saffron robe also means their dhamma teachings and spiritual counseling would in most cases likely have greater weight.

With an eye to the future, however, the degree to which bhikkhunis can make such potential contributions depends on the level of acceptance Thai society accords them. No major public poll has been conducted on attitudes towards bhikkhunis in recent years , but some anecdotal evidence may provide some insight. I was able to witness myself the interaction between the laypeople living near Wat Songdhammakalayani and the bhikkhuni and samaneris when I followed them on their almsround. They made over fifteen stops at houses of villagers, and whole families came out to give alms – not just women, but husbands, children, and elderly. Many were regulars, whose individual personal problems, such as serious illness, the bhikkhuni and samaneri knew about, which demonstrated good rapport between the monastics and the community. The laypeople also showed the female monastics great respect, no different from other male monks who were also on their almsround at the same time. While bearing in mind that the laypeople choosing to make offerings are a biased sample and self-selected group, their existence in considerable numbers does suggest that the bhikkhuni and samaneris have earned significant support among the local community.

In addition, a regular group of supporters from Bangkok, mostly middle-class and well-educated, drive to Nakorn Pathom on weekends and during other special events to hear teachings, practice meditation, and get together as a community. Some take part in the “confession” sessions the monastics hold regularly, using it for a similar purpose of reviewing their moral transgressions and renewing their commitment to dhamma practice. During the weekend I was there, there were around a dozen of these lay supporters, some whom came on Friday or Saturday and stayed the weekend while others came for just the Sunday service.

Meanwhile, at the event at Patravadi Theatre, I was able to gauge Dhammananda Bhikkhuni’s reception by a wider Bangkok demographic. The theatre was filled to capacity, and composed of both men and women ranging from young adults to the elderly. No one challenged her credentials and seemed interested to hear her dhamma teachings, which suggests a certain level of acceptance among urban, educated society.

Finally, I gained some useful insights at a retreat held recently (in April 2005) in Thailand led by Niramisa Bhikkhuni, a Thai woman who had been ordained in the Mahayana lineage of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh and lives in Plum Village, France. I was struck by how both laymen and laywomen across the board appeared to have no problem showing her and the other two non-Thai bhikkhunis who came with her the level of veneration normally given to Thai male monks. They addressed her in Thai as “Luang Phi” or “Venerable Elder Sister,” the commonly used way of referring to monks. Many also said they were very touched and impressed by her teachings and behavior.

Very interestingly, at the retreat several laywomen shared publicly that they had aspirations to ordain as bhikkhunis but were waiting until it became more accepted by wider Thai society. In a later conversation with Niramisa Bhikkhuni, she told me that in fact she is regularly approached by many more Thai women in private to tell her about their hopes of ordaining as a bhikkhuni and feelings of frustration and despair at being unable to.

The retreat also provided a chance to get a sense of male monks’ attitudes as there were five male monks in attendance. Granted, a Theravada monk who would even attend a Mahayana retreat is probably the type that is open-minded and progressive, but it was still quite remarkable to observe how all of them showed the bhikkhuni the respect of a peer, some even praising her publicly. One of the monks, Phra Maha Wachiramethi (more popularly known to Thais as Wor Wachiramethi) of Wat Benjamabophit, spoke for the need for opportunities for women to be ordained. He said that the limited access women have to lead a spiritual life reflects the inequality of women that remains in society as a whole. His comments are significant as he is a well-known and highly respected Buddhist scholar-monk who can be considered an “opinion-maker” regarding Buddhist affairs. He has authored numerous widely-read dhamma books and newspaper articles, appears on dhamma programs on television and radio, and regularly participates in public forums on contemporary Buddhist issues. Taken together with the monks who are quietly ordaining samaneris, there appears to be growing, albeit unofficial, support for bhikkhunis among male monks.

While these impressionistic accounts by no means amount to a scientific measure of public attitudes, they do point to a trend towards increasing acceptance of bhikkhunis in Thai society. If in the longer term of ten or twenty years the bhikkhuni sangha takes firmer root in Thailand, there will certainly be much more they can contribute to women, society, and Buddhism.


Chatsumarn Kabilsingh. Thai Women In Buddhism. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1991.

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh. “Contemporary Buddhist Women in Thailand.” Paper

presented at the International Conference on Thai Studies. School of Oriental

Studies, London, 1993.

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh. Women in Buddhism: Questions and Answers. Bangkok:

Thammasat University Press, 1998. (English Version)

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh. “The Meaning of Ordination.” Yasodhara No. 62 (January –

March 2000).

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni. A Feminist Buddhist: A Collection of Interviews and

Articles. Nakhon Pathom: Watra Songdhammakalyani, 2000.

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, The Thirteen Arahat Theris. Nakhonpathom: Watra

Songdhammakalyani 2002.

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Towards Ordination. Nakhonpathom: Watra

Songdhammakalyani, 2003.

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, public talk, Watra Songdhammakalyani, Nakhonpathom,

Thailand, 13 March 2003.

Karnjariya Sukrung, “Women Sow Seeds for the Future,” Bangkok Post, 22 April 2003.

Leach, Monte. “Helping the Daughters of the Buddha.” Retrieved from

http://www.shareintl.org/archives/social-justice/sj_mlhelping.htm on 22 February 2005.

Pravit Rojanaphruk. “Thai Female Ordained as Novice Monk.” The Nation. 11 March


Sanitsuda Ekachai. “Crusading for Nun’s Rights.” Bangkok Post. 4 September 1996.

Sanitsuda Ekachai. “First Thai Woman Ordained.” Bangkok Post. 11 February 2002.

Sanitsuda Ekachai. “Who says we never had a bhikkhuni clergy?” Bangkok Post Blog.

10 April 2008. Retrieved from http//www.bangkokpost.com/blogs/index.php?blog=64 on 13 April 2009.

Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni. “Glimmers of a Thai Bhikkhuni Sangha History.” Appendix to

“Mining for Gold.” Paper presented at the International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha, Bhikshuni Vinaya, and Ordination Lineages. University of Hamburg, Hamburg 2007. Retrieved from: http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/index.php?act=Attach&type=post&id=13860 on 13 April 2009.

Virada Somswasdi and Alycia Nicholas, ed. A Collation of Articles on Thai Women and

Buddhism. Chiang Mai: Foundation for Women, Law, and Rural Development

and Women’s Studies Center, 2002.

Warner, Rebecca and Holley Gayley. “Feminism and Buddhism in Thailand: The

Spiritually-Based Social Action of Chatsumarn Kabilsingh.” Socially Engaged Buddhism for the New Millennium. Bangkok: The Sathirakoses Nagapradipa Foundation, 1999.


URL: http://www.thaibhikkhunis.org/english/englishindex.html


Dhammananda Bhikkhuni. Interview. 12 February 2005.

—. Phone Interview. 18 February 2005.

Dhammadhari Samaneri. Interview. 12 February 2005.

—. Phone Interview. 18 February 2005.

Dhammadhira Samaneri. Interview. 12 Feburary 2005.

Mae Chee Asoka. Interview. 12 February 2005.

Mae Chee Sansanee Sthirasuta. Interview. 20 February 2005.

Professor Wilasinee Pipitkul, phone interview, 21 February 2005.

Originally written in April 2005. The “Historical Context” section was revised and updated in April 2009 to incorporate new scholarship in this area.

Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni, “Glimmers of a Thai Bhikkhuni Sangha History,” an appendix to “Mining for Gold,” an unpublished paper presented at the International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha, Bhikshuni Vinaya, and Ordination Lineages held in Hamburg, Germany in July 2007. The appendix was later added in December 2007.

For both texts, see http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/index.php?act=Attach&type=post&id=13860

A Bangkok Post blog posting by Assistant Editor Sanitsuda Ekachai offers a useful summary of Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni’s work. The post was widely read and sparked much thoughtful discussion both domestically in Thailand and internationally.

See Sanitsuda Ekachai, “Who says we never had a bhikkhuni clergy?,” Bangkok Post Blog, April 10, 2008. Posting and reader comments retrieved from http://www.bangkokpost.com/blogs/index.php?blog=64

He had served as the preceptor in the ordination ceremony of the Thai King, who had been temporarily ordained as per Thai custom.

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Thai Women In Buddhism (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1991), 45-52.

Pravit Rojanaphruk, “Thai Female Ordained as Novice Monk,” The Nation, March 11, 2001.

Sanitsuda Ekachai, “First Thai Woman Ordained,” Bangkok Post, February 11, 2002.

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, interview, 12 February 2005.

There are some other variants such as the brown-robed silacarinis who observe ten precepts at Wat Chanasongkram in Bangkok or the sikkhamats who observe ten precepts and receive ordination in the Santi Asoke sect, but their numbers are small.

The vast majority hold eight precepts, but some hold ten precepts. The main distinction between the two is that ten-precept nuns do not handle money and thus must live entirely dependent on alms. Due to the lack of wide support for mae chees, most are unable to take on the ten precepts.

Other invented monastic forms for women developed in other Theravada countries as well, such as the pink-robed thilashin of Burma and brown-robed dasasilmata in Sri Lanka, who like mae chees hold eight or ten precepts. More recent inventions include the siladhara, found in monasteries in England that follow the Thai Forest Tradition. In this community, effort has been made to create a training that draws on a large portion of the bhikkhuni precepts. However, the siladhara still do not take on the complete 311 precepts and wear brown rather than the saffron robe of a fully-ordained bhikkhuni.

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Thai Women in Buddhism, 38-41.

Mae Chee Sansanee Sthirasuta, Interview, 20 February 2005.

Sanitsuda Ekachai, “Crusading for Nun’s Rights,” Bangkok Post, 4 September 1996.

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Women in Buddhism: Questions and Answers (Bangkok: Thammasat University Press, 1998), 45.

Karnjariya Sukrung, “Women Sow Seeds for the Future,” Bangkok Post, 22 April 2003.

Chatsumarn Kabilslingh, Women in Buddhism: Questions and Answers, 33.

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, interview, 12 February 2005. Note: Quotes from each interview subject will be footnoted only the first time. All following quotes from the same person can be assumed to be drawn from the interview unless another source is cited.

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, “The Meaning of Ordination,” Yasodhara No. 62 (January – March 2000)

Dhammadhira Samaneri, interview, 12 Feburary 2005.

Dhammadhari Samaneri, interview, 12 February 2005.

Mae Chee Asoka, interview, 12 February 2005.

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Towards Ordination (Nakhonpathom: Watra Songdhammakalyani), 18.

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, public talk, Watra Songdhammakalyani, Nakhonpathom, Thailand, 13 March 2003.

Wilasinee Pipitkul, phone interview, 21 February 2005.

URL: http://www.thaibhikkhunis.org/english/englishindex.html

Dhammadhari Samaneri, phone interview, 18 February 2003.

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Towards Ordination, 23.

URL: http://www.thaibhikkhunis.org/english/bwr.html

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Towards Ordination, 26.

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Women in Buddhism: Questions and Answers, 37.

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, The Thirteen Arahat Theris (Nakhonpathom: Watra Songdhammakalyani 2002).

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, phone interview, 18 February 2003.

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Women in Buddhism: Questions and Answers, 36.

Monte Leach, “Helping the Daughters of the Buddha.” See http://www.shareintl.org/archives/social-justice/sj_mlhelping.htm

Quoted in Rebecca Warner and Holley Gayley, “Feminism and Buddhism in Thailand: The Spiritually-Based Social Action of Chatsumarn Kabilsingh,” in Socially Engaged Buddhism for the New Millennium (Bangkok: The Sathirakoses Nagapradipa Foundation, 1999), 217.

Only one Suan Dusit Poll was conducted in 2001 shortly after Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh received ordination as a samaneri.