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Female ordination in the eyes of Thais

by Chate Sivasomboon, Chiang Mai, Thailand, The Buddhist Channel, Dec 28, 2005

I felt compelled to clarify some facts regarding the article "Female monk cuases a stir" by Sheila B Lalwani, particulary the paragraph that said "Female ordained monks in Thailand risk social alienation. Some have been imprisoned."  Well for imprisonment, that happened in 1928, not now.

In 1928, the story went like this. A very progressive intellectual (whose ideas were similar to the current understanding of human equality) brought his three daughters for ordination, of which some monks agreed to and performed the ordination ceremonial for them.

The event caused a real big stir then, out of which came a dictum barring monks from ordaining females (which I believed was what is mentioned in Sheila Lalwani's article). The three young women were defroked and spent a brief perioid in jail and then were later released. They became lay people and got married later on.

Back to Bhikkuni Dhammananda, although the Sangha Council do not accept her as their equal, and while a revered scholar monk had in fact written a book explaining how her ordination greatly breached the monastic rules, to their credit the council has kept quiet thus far.

As far as I know, there has been no issuace of public condemnation or a dictum to expel her from monkhood. No public protest has been staged either. For lay Thai people, I think we are quietly accepting our first female monk. Female lay followers express comfort to be with female monks, and male lay followers are not against paying respects to her either.

I think she has got strong supports from eduacated people, partly due to her well-known scholaristic background. She has written articles for a well-known and widely-subscribed weekly magazine (Matichon weekly) for more than two years now, which I always read. She went to the south to visit those Tsunami victims and recently the northeastern region without being met with protestors. People pay respects.

Yes, female monks here have not yet been openly accepted, unlike for instance in Taiwan, since there was none in the 700 years history of Theravada Buddism in Thailand. Nevertheless, it is just a beginning step and I think, they are quietly well received. The monastic rules may be percieved as black and white, but the real picture is gray, not totally black and white, even though we have the most conservative branch of Buddhism.


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