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  1. #1
    Mid
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    Gender and religion: Where nuns fear to tread

    Gender and religion: Where nuns fear to tread
    6/03/2011

    A mae chi's takeover of a Thai Buddhist temple in India has brought the management of the facilities overseas and the role of female clergy to the fore

    The controversy over a Thai Buddhist nun successfully petitioning an Indian court to gain control of a temple has raised broader questions surrounding the administration of temples overseas. It has also highlighted the ambiguous role nuns, or mae chi, face within the structure of Buddhism in Thailand.



    A court in India's Bihar state recently ruled in favour of Mae Chi Ahree Pongsai, a nun in her seventies, who lodged a complaint requesting that she be allowed to replace Phra Khru Pariyat Thammawithet as head of the Thai Nalanda temple, 90km from the state capital of Patna.

    Mai Chi Ahree reportedly claimed that the former abbot, Phra Maha Tharntong, who died in 2007, had written in his will that if she came into conflict with his successor, she should seek assistance from India's courts to take over.

    The news of Mae Chi Ahree's court success, made public following a visit to India by Culture Minister Nipit Intrasombat late last month, caused an uproar in Thai Buddhist circles.

    Phra Khru Suwatthanachariyakhun, vice-rector for public relations at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU), said that as the temple was in India, the court's ruling would have to stand, but the decision flew in the face of Thai-Buddhist tradition.

    Essential Buddhism scripts and principles clearly outline the power structure within a temple and the separation of roles between mai chi and monks, he said.

    ''Mae chi are barred from managing temples. Only monks, rising to the position of abbot, can manage them,'' he said. ''During the Buddha's era, there weren't any nuns. Now things have changed, and now they can stay on temple compounds.

    ''But we have never had a nun run a temple before. What will society think about this?''

    Phra Khru Suwatthanachariyakhun said that when monks go to foreign countries, they might request that nuns from their temple in Thailand accompany them, but their role is facilitative _ assisting in religious studies and helping to manage food and accommodation for visitors.

    The administration of the temple is the sole domain of monks, he said.


    THOUGHTFUL: Thai monks lead Buddhists on a meditative walk in Kap Lung forest in Hong Kong.


    NUNS IN THAILAND: BETWEEN TWO REALMS

    Mae chi occupy an ambiguous place in Thai society. The official council of ordained clergy in Thailand, the Sangha Supreme Council, does not recognise mae chi as full members. They are not officially allowed to interpret or teach the dhamma (the teachings of the Buddha), or perform religious rituals.

    The Interior Ministry, however, does regard them as clergy, meaning they are unable to vote, while the Transport Ministry treats them as lay people, denying them rights accorded to monks, such as free transport services.
    In the past, efforts have been made to clarify the status of mae chi, such as in 1991, when the Institute for Thai Nuns pushed parliament to consider a ''Nun Act'', which would outline basic regulations for nuns.

    According to a September, 2002, article from Inter Press Service, the Religious Affairs Department's response was unambiguous: ''It is impossible. A nun has never existed in a Thai Buddhist decree.''

    Sri Lanka, like Thailand, follows Theravada Buddhism, however it permits women to be ordained as monks. A controversy also challenging traditional power structures within Thai Buddhism erupted in 2001 when a Thai female Buddhist scholar, Dr Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, was ordained in Sri Lanka, and shortly thereafter, another Thai woman, Samaneri Dhammarakhita was ordained by a Sri Lankan preceptor on Thai soil, marking the first time a woman had been ordained in the country.

    But Mae Chi Ananta Nakboon of the Mae Chi foundation [Institute of Thai Mae Chi???Thai Nun's Institute???Buddhasavika Foundation???]strongly disagreed with Mae Chi Ahree's actions.

    ''What was she thinking when she went to court to get the rights to manage the temple?'' she said. ''Mae chi are under the support and teaching of the monks. We have no right to challenge their authority in any case,'' said Mae Chi Ananta. ''In the temple, the teaching of the monks receives the highest respect from the people. The mae chi do not earn the same respect. How can they then manage temples successfully?''

    She said mae chi can establish meditation centres and foundations and administrate them, ''but definitely not temples''.

    THAI TEMPLES IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES


    Amnaj Buasiri.

    Further complicating matters in Mae Chi Ahree's case is the way in which Thai temples abroad are administered. Temples here are established as juristic entities under the Ecclesiastical Law (1962, and 1992). The temple is considered religious property that cannot be transferred to any person and comes under the authority of the Sangha Supreme Council. Overseas temples, such as the Thai Nalanda temple, are not beholden to the Ecclesiastical Law or the Sangha Supreme Council.

    There are currently over 300 Thai Buddhist temples around the world, with some 1,200 monks. Thai communities abroad establish the temple, putting administrative power in the hands of laypeople.

    ''Most overseas temples are established as non-profit organisations or under a foundation with or without Thai Buddhist monks at the beginning,'' said Amnaj Buasiri, director of the secretariat of the Sangha Supreme Council.
    That difference has led to conflicts arising between monks and foundations' administrative teams, he said.

    In some instances, committees overseeing temple affairs have fired monks, who have then complained to Thailand's Office of National Buddhism.
    ''The office has suggested that Thai monks should be named to chair foundations overseeing temple affairs, so that they can better deal with conflicts when they occur,'' said Mr Amnaj.


    CONTEMPLATIVE: Thai monks lead chanting at the Thai Buddha Gaya temple in Kushinara, Uttar Pradesh state, India.

    Phra Khru Suwatthanachariyakhun said that Thai monks going abroad must be familiar with the laws and regulations in their destination countries to avoid conflict. He said a better balance needs to be struck in the way overseas temples are administered _ a shift from the current situation that sees the foundation in charge, and the monks mere residents on temple grounds.

    ''It is very important for the abbot, the monks and the foundation committee to have set rules and an agreement on how to manage the temple and the duties of different parties.''

    Phra Khru Suwatthanachariyakhun proposed that religious attaches be dispatched abroad to deal with conflicts such as those in Mai Chi Ahree's case, which he said will only increase as overseas Thai communities expand.

    These attaches would cooperate with temples in providing Buddhist teachings and also help resolve disputes between monks and temple committees or wider disagreements between the temples and surrounding communities.

    Mr Amnaj argued that the Thai government should take over Thai Buddhist temples abroad.

    Mr Amnaj strongly believed that a concrete way to solve the management problem of Thai Buddhist temples in foreign countries is to transfer the temples to the Thai government. He cited Wat Buddhapadipa in London and Wat Sanghapadipa in Wales as examples of where this model has been effective.

    ''The temples transferred the land and property rights of the temple compound to the Thai government, and the Thai embassy in the UK works with them to help look after the property as a national asset interest in a foreign country,'' he said.

    This would prevent disputes over the transfer of management rights, such as what happened at the Nalanda Temple and give Thai embassies the authority to step in should problems arise.

    He said the proposal has been discussed among relevant authorities but without any resolution. ''Many factors, including different countries' laws and regulations, must be studied in detail,'' he said.

    Mr Amnaj said the main point is that Buddhist temples are religious property and are meant to be a source of Buddhist teachings. They do not belong to any individual or group, even those who have established and supported them.

    In the case of Mae Chi Ahree, Mr Amnaj, who returned from India said this week, said there had been no progress made in talks with her.

    She refused to meet with government representatives, he said, choosing instead to speak through a loudspeaker and insisting she still had the right to manage the temple.

    Mr Amnaj said that Phra Khru Pariyat and eight other monks continued their duties at the temple, and that the facility had thrived since Phra Khru Pariyat took over in 2007.

    bangkokpost.com
    Last edited by Mid; 06-03-2011 at 10:01 AM. Reason: formatting

  2. #2
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    Women as buddhist monks

    Just to make it clear...it's Thailand and the Thai buddhist sangha that does not allow women to be "fully ordained" monks.
    Other buddhist traditions have agreed that women can become monks...and even rise higher up in the ranks to be heads of temples and such.
    In fact in Japan, China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Korea there are many examples of women who became famous and respected as monks or heads of temples.
    It is only in Thailand...due to a series of historical circumstances that women have been barred from becoming "full" monks.
    Th reasons for this would take to long to explain...but in short, it has to do with the Thai buddhist sangha not recognising the legitimancy of there being any "true legitamate sucessor"....in their view...that can "legally" approve any womana as true full-fledged monk...ordained you might say.
    This is far from a universal (worldwide) view among buddhists. So there are women who are regarded outside of Thailand as monks and hold a high position in the buddhist hierarchy in their own countries.
    I, myself, as a young man met a Vietnamese nun...regarded by the locals as particularly holy...in Vietnam. If there ever was a person that you would call "holy" she was it. She seemed to glow from inside...she really impressed me.
    But unfortunatel I was only 21 years old...and I thought I knew everything about everything then...so I missed the opportunity to learn something from her about buddhisim at the time.
    Now, almost 45 years later, I'm starting to realise what I missed then.
    Last edited by BigBaBoo; 20-03-2011 at 10:21 AM. Reason: correcting spelling/typo errors

  3. #3
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    Thailand's nuns fight for equality
    Simba Russeau
    20.12.2013

    Women are barred from ordination in Thailand's Theravada Buddhist sect. After Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was ordained in Sri Lanka, she set out to elevate women's religious status in her Thai homeland.



    At the Songdhammakalyani Monastery in Nakhon Pathom, an hour outside Bangkok, six bhikkhunis, or nuns, dressed in saffron colored robes, begin the day with a morning prayer.

    Adhering to the practices of the Theravada school of Buddhism, the bhikkhunis keep a strict timetable, getting up at 5 a.m. to chant, meditate, study religious scriptures and collect alms from the surrounding villages.

    This temple is like thousands of others across the country, except it is the only monastery in Thailand with ordained nuns. Here, Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni is the temple's abbess, or superior nun.

    Dhammananda is now in her late 60s. Her interest in Buddhism stemmed from her mother, who helped establish the monastery in 1960. It was the first of its kind to be built by women, for women.


    Dhammananda is the first Thai woman to fully ordain in the Theravada monastic lineage

    "This was my mother's idea," Dhammananda said. "When my mother had had enough of her lay life, she decided to be ordained." Dhammananda was 10 years old at the time her mother sought ordination - abroad.

    No suppor for female ordination

    In the 1950s, Dhammananda's mother, Venerable Voramai, was prohibited by the local conservative clergymen to become a bhikkhuni, as the tradition of ordaining women had been lost in the Thai Teravada tradition. Women were supposed to lead a life as lay people, serving monks, but not become nuns.

    In other Asian countries, like Vietnam, Tibet or Taiwan, where the Mahayana tradition is prevalent, the tradition of ordaining Buddhist nuns had been common practice for centuries.

    Voramai believed nuns should engage in social service, as well as following their spiritual path. It was that pioneering spirit that inspired her daughter, Dhammananda, who initiated her career in academia but later found a different path.


    Residents offer food as alms to the monastery

    For three decades, Dhammananda was a professor of religious studies and philosophy at Thammasat University in Bangkok. She published books on women and Buddhism and even had a television show called "Dharma Talk," which gained national popularity and won several awards.

    But then her focus changed. "I'd had enough of the success," Dhammananda said. "I had enough of this worldly life. Where was it leading?" she asked herself one day with a feeling of discontent. That's when she decided to walk down her mother's path and seek ordination.

    Promoting equality

    Just as her mother became the first modern Thai woman to become a nun in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, Dhammananda became the first to take Theravada nun vows in a ceremony in Sri Lanka. Theravada Buddhists there had since managed to re-establish female ordination.

    After her ordination, Dhammananda began promoting religious equality for bhikkhunis in Thailand.

    When her mother became interested in Buddhism, Dhammananda told DW, "she realized that when Buddha was alive, [he] ordained women, even his own mother." That suggests female ordination goes back some 2,500 years, to the early days of Buddhism. She began asking herself why women in Thailand had been deprived of the right.

    Female ordination is permitted under the current Thai constitution. But the Thai Sangha Council, a conservative religious advisory group, remains hostile toward bhikkhunis, believing only men can enter the monkhood. This underscores an already alarming gender inequality problem in Thailand.

    It is widely accepted among Buddhists that the Buddha established the "Four Pillars of Buddhism" - consisting of monks, nuns, lay men and women - to uphold the religion. In Thailand, however, bhikkhunis were removed from the Thai Sangha law since the word "sangha" - which means monastic community - was defined as "bhikkhu sangha." This male-centric wording thus excludes women. Despite these difficulties, Dhammananda is trying to bring about larger structural change by building a community of female monastics, paving the way for other women to ordain and be ordained.


    Dhammananda showers her family, including her two sons, with holy water in a religious ceremony


    Strengthening women's calling

    Throughout Thailand there are currently more than 30 bhikkhunis living in monasteries. In some cases women seeking ordination have been accused of impersonating monks, a civil offense in Thailand. Without legal recognition bhikkhunis are not respected by Thai authorities and are denied various benefits enjoyed by their male counterparts.

    "You have a hospital for bhikkhus but you don't have a hospital for bhikkhunis, and what about if a bhikkhuni gets sick?" said religious scholar, Sutada Mekrungruengkul, a lecturer at Nation University in Lampang. "Bhikkhus have their own university, but there is no university for women. Bhikkhus also receive a monthly government pension."

    A distinguishing characteristic of the Songdhammakalyani Monastery is that it offers women access to Buddhist education.

    "Since I've become a bhikkhuni I've learned to control myself, to know myself. I didn't know myself before, said 53-year-old Dhammasiri, who was ordained four years ago.


    Dhammananda has empowered women from all walks of life to follow in her footsteps

    "As a former religious scholar, Venerable Dhammananda's feminist approach to religious texts is very empowering," Dhammasiri said. "Unlike the monasteries that are male-dominated, she is able to give us the Dhamma of the Buddha from a woman's perspective."

    Dhammananda believes that re-establishing the bhikkhuni sangha in Thailand is a spiritual responsibility in order to maintain the Buddhist tradition. She considers being fully ordained the rightful heritage of women.

    "Women have always been contributing to Buddhism. And it is actually women who feed the monks," Dhammananda explained. "You go to any temple in Thailand, 80 percent of the attendants are always women, so they are actually the foundation to upkeep the goings of Buddhism in this country."

    dw.de

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigBaBoo View Post
    Just to make it clear...it's Thailand and the Thai buddhist sangha that does not allow women to be "fully ordained" monks.
    Other buddhist traditions have agreed that women can become monks...and even rise higher up in the ranks to be heads of temples and such.
    In fact in Japan, China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Korea there are many examples of women who became famous and respected as monks or heads of temples.
    It is only in Thailand...due to a series of historical circumstances that women have been barred from becoming "full" monks.
    Th reasons for this would take to long to explain...but in short, it has to do with the Thai buddhist sangha not recognising the legitimancy of there being any "true legitamate sucessor"....in their view...that can "legally" approve any womana as true full-fledged monk...ordained you might say.
    This is far from a universal (worldwide) view among buddhists. So there are women who are regarded outside of Thailand as monks and hold a high position in the buddhist hierarchy in their own countries.
    I, myself, as a young man met a Vietnamese nun...regarded by the locals as particularly holy...in Vietnam. If there ever was a person that you would call "holy" she was it. She seemed to glow from inside...she really impressed me.
    But unfortunatel I was only 21 years old...and I thought I knew everything about everything then...so I missed the opportunity to learn something from her about buddhisim at the time.
    Now, almost 45 years later, I'm starting to realise what I missed then.
    It goes back to Buddhs's teachings, he only reluctantly allowed women to become dedicated followers and nuns at all.
    Thailand applies the Theravada tradition, which is the most 'conservative', following the original teachings as close as possible.

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    After reading thread # 1 I was not aware that women could be monks. I only though they could be mah chee. A very interesting subject and posting

    As we all know It's never easy to break into the hierarchy of any old boy establishments same as certain golf courses and the Vatican.

    Assuredly, fundamentalist Islamic doctrine have an affirmed place for women.
    It doesn't appear be at the front.

  6. #6
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    What will society think about this?
    Dunno, but I'm glad Thai misogyny didn't win this one.

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