Articles Publications


Feedback on 4-week International Monastic Training from Monica (Italy).

Some years ago I got across this strangely familiar book. I had always been fascinated by previous lives stories but never really had the chance to read anything of that kind…. READ MORE

Feedback on IMT from Soojung (S.Korea).

It was last February. One day, a friend of mine told me about a documentary film that he was pretty sure that I might be interested in. He didn’t tell me what the documentary was about. He just send me a web address without any information…. READ MORE

Feedback on The 4th International Monastic Training (IMT)

By Beobgwa Sunim, Master’s student, International Theravāda Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon, Myanmar

                Last semester I learned the Theravāda Bhikkhunī Pātimokka in Palī, which made me curious as to whether Theravādin society has kept these rules strictly or not. I also wanted to experience daily life in a Theravādin monastery as a bhikkhunī. By chance, a Yogī gave me information on International Monastic Training (IMT) at Wat Songdhammakalyanī. This was my opportunity to fulfill my curiosity, so I registered despite my tight schedule.

                For the first three days we focused on mindful death. I followed this death-meditation course without any mental formations holding me back. This allowed me to reflect on my physical and spiritual surroundings and made me vulnerable around the strangers in this temple. I was not the only one who felt vulnerable; this was beneficial because it allowed us to understand each other. The remaining days were reflective of true Theravāda monastic life. We followed a routine consisting of Theravādin chanting, going on alms round, lectures on the Theravāda bhikkhunī sangha, cleaning the monastery, etc. While learning about the Thai bhikkhunīs, I was quite surprised to find out that there were 170 Thai Theravādin bhikkhunīs! Abroad, I heard Thai bhikkhunīs who took the saffron robes were jailed and could not go on alms round. Instead, what I witnessed here is that the bhikkhunī sangha goes on alms rounds and conducts various sangha kamma despite the lack of recognition from the Thai sangha.

                I have attended various events during my time here. We had a sikkhamānā declaration ceremony during the course. I was so touched by this! No matter the sikkhamānā candidate’s age or background, they declared their intention to live as a sikkhamānā for two vassās while keeping the essential six rules. Eight women declared their intention to go forth as a sikkhamānā that day, showing the power of the bhikkhunī sangha. On Uposatha day the bhikkhunīs recited the Pātimokkha led by Venerable Dhammanandā. This purified the Thai bhikkhunī sangha. On Pinnapāta, devotees gave warm offerings with just as much respect to the bhikkhunīs as the bhikkhus. We recited a special prayer for each devotee to share our merit and wish them happiness. The Thai bhikkhunī sangha maintains a strong relationship with their devotees.

                There are many special aspects of this course, but reciting the bodhisattva’s vow, reciting the medicine Buddha’s mantra, and doing Ch’i Kong are among my favorites. Some may think this sangha is mixing Theravāda tradition with traditions of Mahāyāna, Vajrayāna, and even Taoism, but this is not for the individual bhikkhunī’s wants and need. Instead, it is for the people who need our help. This is wholly representative of Socially Engaged Buddhism.

                Upon reflection on the last day of the course, I have realized I have experienced all kinds of Buddhism, but the Thai bhikkhunīs are keeping the Theravāda vinaya well in their daily life. This course offered me a glimpse of how to live in Thailand as a Theravāda bhikkhunī. This was made possible by Venerable Dhammanandā’s efforts over the past decade to establish a Thai bhikkhunī sangha. I would like to offer special thanks to her for being the pioneer of this movement. I would also like to thank Sikkhamānā Dhammaparipunnā for her translations that helped me understand each teaching.

Feedback on The 4th International Monastic Training (IMT)

Why we need IMT

By Daphne Weber, Master’s Student in Anthropology, Washington State University, USA

                With the lack of recognition of bhikkhunī in Thailand, this training program offers knowledge, clarification, and support for those wishing to go forth. The misinterpretation of gender in the Vinaya has led to the delusion that women cannot be ordained. Worse? Many women believe this. Fortunately, Venerable Dhammanandā Bhikkhunī has offered a course in International Monastic Training open to all to combat this delusion. During the course, female monastics and laywomen learn the true history and the history of the bhikkhunī as well as the merit of female roles within Buddhism.

                Before I continue, I must admit that I was one of the women with a twisted delusion of the bhikkhunī movement some years ago. My first understanding of bhikkhunī was that they had no support, were deemed illegal, and were rebelling against societal norms. This lit a fire inside of me to engage with and advocate for these women. After I spent further years researching and studying, I knew I was wrong. My time at Wat Songdhammakalyānī made me realize the idea of bhikkhunī as illegal or rebels was an oversimplification of these women’s agendas and further, not at all representative of the bhikkhunī movement. Over the last two weeks, I have turned my shame into knowledge. I have spent time taking notes over the Buddha’s original intention for Buddhism as a whole, how history has misinterpreted this, and how we can move forward. As a metaphor, I sowed the seeds of my ignorance and nourished them with learning, listening, and practice to reap the knowledge of what it truly means to be a bhikkhunī. I believe this knowledge empowering and powerful. I can use it in an attempt to destroy the false narrative surrounding bhikkhunī and help them attain their goal of enlightenment. Though I encourage everyone to research and study for themselves, I have also provided a brief summary and interpretation of the materials from the IMT course.

                IMT can broadly be divided into three sections: past intention, historical misinterpretation, and present cessation to promote clarity. Each of these sections shows how the understanding of the bhikkhunī movement came to be skewed and how we can move forward to correct that thinking.

                Past Intention

At the time of the Buddha’s enlightenment, Mara came to remind him it was time to pass away. However, the Buddha refused to do so until the fourfold Buddhist community had been established: Bhikkhu, Bhikkhunī, Laymen, and Laywomen. This was the original intention of Buddhism; to give men and women the opportunity to fully go forth in their practice and end suffering. Being a monastic provides a more suitable environment for putting into practice the four noble truths.

This fact is often overlooked when the story of Mahā Pajāpatī, the Buddha’s stepmother and aunt, is told. Mahā Pajāpatī went to the Buddha three times asking for ordination. Though he rejected her without reason each of these times, she did not give up. Instead, she and about 500 other women walked barefoot through the wilderness in their robes to meet the Buddha. They dared not ask for ordination once more, but Venerable Ananda took pity on them with the bloodied feet and torn robes. Venerable Ᾱnanda approached the Buddha and together they affirmed the fact that women can be enlightened and therefore ordained. The dedication of these women expressed not only their determination but the high quality of their renunciation. Maha Pajāpatī was also willing to take additional rules in order to receive her ordination. Beyond that, the women were qualified under the Vatthu Sampatti, Parisad Sampatti, Sīmā Sampatti, and Kammavācā Sampatti.

After the Buddha’s passing, many bhikkhus were unsupportive of Venerable Ananda’s decision to let the bhikkhunī see the body first. The resistance towards bhikkhunī can be seen from this moment forward as some bhikkhu did not find the bhikkhunī worthy enough. This gave way to the misinterpretation of historical events.

                Historical Misinterpretation

Since the Budddha refused to ordain Mahā Pajāpatī three times, many chose to believe that he did not want women in Buddhism. This is not true; the social context of the time would have made renunciation very hard for a queen with such a luxurious life. Her torn robes and bloodied feet, however, proved she was willing to endure the renunciant lifestyle. Further, the additional rules prescribed by the Buddha were not an attempt to dissuade women from the practice but to protect them from things such as rape and theft.

Resistance to each of these events because of dual ordination requires both a bhikkhu sangha and a bhikkhunī sangha. However, the necessity of a bhikkhunī sangha during ordination of bhikkhunī can be interpreted as a rehearsal so the purification ritual was not shameful for the women. Further, the first women to be ordained did not require a bhikkhunī sangha. Since the Buddha originally called for both bhikkhu and bhikkhunī before the existence of either, we should interpret this in the spirit of his desire for a fourfold Buddhist community.

CESSEATION: Though women have not been recognized by the Thai sangha as bhikkhunī, they have not stopped their pursuance of ordination. Because of the misinterpretation of the vinaya, bhikkhu and government officials have stood by the requirement of a dual sangha. One of the most important teachings from IMT was that we MUST know our lineage. With this information, we can defend the teaching of the Buddha and the bhikkhunī ordination. Some might regard the class on public speaking for bhikkhunī as menial but I see it as one of the most important aspects of this training. Training women to speak in front of others and articulate their defense of bhikkhunī ordination is crucial.

Social Inequalities and the Promotion of Women in Buddhism in Thailand

By Manuel Litalien

Nipissing University

Studies have shown that religion can support or hinder social development (Haynes 2007; Tomalin 2013). This article makes a case in favor of how, in Thailand, the demands for greater justice and gender equality have engaged groups of women to seek higher Buddhist ordination as a means to better promote human and social development. Equal religious philanthropic contribution between men and women is presented as a component to democratic participation in the struggling political Kingdom of Thailand.

Full Articles on Journal of Buddhist Ethics

Visiting Thai Bikkhunis at Songdhammakalyani All Female Thai Buddhist Monastery

Recent articles written by Laura M. Kuah, a photographer and videographer who visited Songdhammakalyani Bhikkhuni Arama.

On a recent trip to Thailand, I had the opportunity to visit Songdhammakalyani Monastery, the first all-female monastery in Nakhon Pathom, just 53 km west of Bangkok. It is the first temple in Thailand built by women, for women.

The Abbess of this unique spiritual space is Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni , the first Thai woman to be ordained as a female monk in the conservative Theravada Buddhist tradition. Because no male monk in Thailand would ordain her, Ven. Dhammananda went abroad to Sri Lanka to be ordained in the Theravada tradition, which is practiced throughout Southeast Asia.

Wat Songdhammakalyani is translated as “the temple of women who uphold the Dharma”. Ven. Dhammananda’s mother, Venerable Voramai Kabilsingh, the first Thai Bhikkhuni (female monk) who was ordained in the Mahayana tradition in Taiwan, founded the monastery in 1960 when she purchased the land from the Queen of King Rama VI. Today, the monastery serves as a temple, education center and is also transforming into an “eco-temple” with a recycling center and organic vegetable garden on the premises.

Full Article on Templeseeker

An Interfaith Conversation with Thailand’s First Theravada Female Monk: Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

A few weeks before my trip to Thailand, I discovered Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni on YouTube, and learned about her radical story on the fight to reestablish the ordination of women (as it was done in Buddha’s time) in Thailand. Through her compelling TED Talk and the Huffington Post documentary created by the Zainab Salbi Project, I felt an intense connection to Ven. Dhammananda’s feminist approach on modern Buddhist philosophy and knew that I couldn’t leave Thailand without visiting this unique space and also meeting her in person.

Full Article on Medium

New Temporary Buddhist Ordination for Women and Social Change in Thai Society

By Kakanang Yavaprabhas

“On the day I became ordained and saw their tears of joy I felt that it was the peak of my life. I have succeeded in many things – careers, money, and so on. But it was only on that day that they happily cried.” – June, who was temporarily ordained as a samaneri at Songdhammakalyani Monastery.

In Thailand, where around 95 percent of the population self-identify as Buddhist, temporary Buddhist ordination is a long-standing tradition for men, but not for women as they cannot be conventionally ordained. Only in 2009 did temporary ordination for women become available to the public and they can now assume the scriptural form of samaneri (female novices). Songdhammakalyani Monastery, where the abbess is Bhikkhuni Dhammananda – the first contemporary Thai “Theravada” bhikkhuni (female monks, fully ordained nuns) – is the first monastery to offer this new temporary ordination in Thai society. The monastery, located in Nakhon Pathom, had continued to provide ordination twice a year since 2009, and this April (2018) will be the twentieth time that ordination has been offered. It is also not the only monastery in Thailand that offers this ordination to the public. At least two other bhikkhuni monasteries, Nirodharam in Chiang Mai and Thippayasathandhamma Bhikkhuni Arama in Songkhla, also do so on a recurring basis.

Full Article on Kyotoreview

An Interview with Chatsumarn Kabilsingh

By Rebecca Warner & Holly Gayley

                Dr.Chatsumarn Kabilsingh is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand. She is the editor of Yasodhara: Newsletter on International Buddhist Women’s Activities.

                A Buddhist scholar and an activist in social justice and women’s issues in Asia, she is the author of Thai Women in Buddhism. This careful study uncovered the historical roots of women’s participation in Buddhism and Buddhist monasticism—and their subsequent exclusion and oppression in the Theravada lineage. She has been in the forefront of a growing movement to re-establish the ordination of women in the Theravada countries of Southeast Asia.

            Among her many activities, she is the founder and director of the Home of Peace and Love near Bangkok, a shelter for victims of prostitution and rape that is supported by the Peace Council. The photograph shows her holding the first baby to be born there.

            Prof.Kabilsingh is a trustee for the Internaitonal Committee of the Peace Council. This telephone interview was recorded in 1998 by two American students of Buddhism, Holly Gayley and Rebecca Warner. It was previously published in Yasodhara vol.15, no.1.

                Holly Gayley” Hello, Dr Kabilsingh, we’re so pleased that you could speak with us. We would like to tape record this interview with your permission.

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh: Please do.

H.: In our class with (Prof.Judith Simmer Brown, Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado) we have been exploring the personal journey of spiritually-based social activists. From our research in the Newsletter on International Buddhist Women’s activities and Thai women in Buddhism, we were able to get a picture of your work in the Bhikkhuni Revival Movement and your social service projects, but we would like to explore with you this morning how you personally integrate Buddhism and feminism. Rebecca and I were drawn to your work because we are also committed to both Buddhism and feminism.

In Thai women in Buddhism you mention that you grew up as a “temple girl”, receiving the Buddhist nun’s training. What was the nature of this training and how did that influence your outlook on Buddhism and the Bhikkhuni issue?

C.K.: I did not directly receive the nuns’ training. But because I grew up in a temple atmosphere, whatever the nuns did, I did the same: getting up in the morning, chanting, meditation, and all sorts of thing. Becoming a feminist came much later, when I was exposed to the outside world. I grew up as a Buddhist in a Theravada context, but my journey to the West prepared me to open up more to other traditions of Buddhism. Here in the Buddhist/Christian conference that I am attending, I introduce myself only as a Buddhist, not a Theravada Buddhist. That means that I have also drawn from Mahayana Buddhism. And I draw spiritual strength from  other tradition also. In my spiritual growth, I have developed much more than if I had committed myself only to Theravada Buddhism.

I did not realize that I was a feminist until 1983 when I was invited to Harvard University. There was a conference on Women, Religion and Social changes, organized by Prof.Diana Eck . In that conference , they asked me to discuss the question; what is the future of the Bhikkhuni Sangha in Thailand? It was a small, close conference, with very active feminists. Some of them had been imprisoned for many years….sharing experiences, we cried so much. It was so overwhelming emotionally. The effect from that that conference actually touched the core of our existence. And I came out from that with a clear understanding. If I know so much about the issue of Bhikkhuni ordination, and I hide under an academic cover without doing anything to bring about social change, there’s no point at all for me to be an academic….to have access to all the knowledge, yet not investing myself to help with the issue. So that was my turning point  to be more responsible for social change. From 1983 onward, I was contacting and corresponding with many Buddhist women and Buddhist nuns in other countries. By the end of 1984, I started to bring out the newsletter. So you see the process.

H: Did your mother’s assuming the robes of a nun and seeking ordination change your relationship with Buddhism and Feminism? How did that impact you?

C.K.:I do not see any clear turning point in my own life process. Slowly, I grew up in that atmosphere. Slowly I molded me. But there is no clear cut point that I can see exactly. I saw my mother suffered a lot because she was the first ordained nun in Thailand. It was how society did not accept her and what kind of struggle she had to go through. Still I did not understand. I did not have the whole picture, because I was too young. When she became a nun, I was only ten. For her to become a nun was very strange and awkward for me at that age. I felt that strongly when we went out together and everyone would be staring at her. Over the years, growing up, I started to understand and appreciate what she was doing.

Rebecca Warner: Dr Kabilsingh, does being a practicing Buddhist affect how you approach your work?

C.K.:Yes, let me tell you. That conference  In 1983.was very effective. I saw around me all these women activists, some of them were very angry and militant. I looked at them and took one step back. I removed myself a bit from that context and told myself, “No, I do not want to become an angry feminist.” It would eat out my inside. So that was the beginning of going back to my root; that is Buddhist practice; So, when I say that I am a feminist, I am a Buddhist before I am a feminist. Because of my training and my understanding of Buddhism, which frees me from other obstacles, I emerged a better feminist. I used to get very upset. I could feel the heat on my face, being very angry when people confronted me. I examined myself very closely. After going back to my practice, I realized that I have more compassion for people who confront me.

I understand their ignorance. So, now as a feminist, I am not fighting against individuals, but I am fighting ignorance. Do I make sense to you?

R: How did you decide to become a scholar of Buddhism? And what influenced you to research the history of the bhikkhuni Sangha in your thesis?

C.K.: When I came to McMaster University (in Canada), where I wrote my M.A.thesis, I actually wanted to do something on bodhisattvas. This was because my mother was the one who started preaching about Bodhisattvas. Thai Buddhists are not familiar with the concept of Bodhisattva. When you talk about bodhisattva, Thai people think  that it is the past life of the Buddha only, and that they have nothing to do with it. Whereas my mother’s teaching had focused on how we become bodhisattva in helping others.

So I intended to do my thesis on Bodhisattvass. But at that time, there was a book which came out from a dissertation by Har Dayal, a very profound book on Bodhisattvas. And if I wanted to work in the same field, I would have to do a better job, which would be very difficult. Then my supervisor, Prof.Jan Yun hua, a Chinese professor who was teaching Mahayana Buddhism and Chinese Philosophy at McMaster University, suggested to me “Your mother is a nun, why don’t you do something on Buddhist nuns. At least it will help your own understanding of the historical development of the Bhikkhuni”.

So that was how I came about to look into the Patimokkha. The Patimokkha is the monastic code of the Buddhist nuns. Because he is a Chinese professor, I did my reading in Chinese with his help. I compared the development of Buddhist nuns in six different schools. That was my M.A. thesis. It is very technical, highly technical, but that was what got me started.

Then I came to read the history of the bhikkhunis. Meanwhile when I was writing my thesis, I realized that my mother wanted to become a fully ordained nun. I started to see the route, the opening for her, because it is not possible in Thailand. Upon my return in 1972-1973… around that time..I told my mother about the possibility. On my way back to Canada to continue my Ph.D. my mother came with me to Taiwan. She took ordination as bhikkhuni and after that she went home. And I continued on to Canada to continue the Ph.D.programme.

H: Dr. Kabilsingh, have there been any obstacles or challenges in your life pertaining to the particular way you have chosen to join Buddhism and feminism?

C.K.: The population in my country (1998) is sixty millions. 94% of the people are Buddhists by birth, so being a Buddhist is not a problem. Not so with being a Buddhist feminist, particularly when I started addressing the issue of Bhikkhuni ordination. Thai culture is such that they do not confront you. In my academic position, people may say things behind my back. I consider that unsaid because it is not heard. If they do not have guts to speak directly to me, so we could iron out the differences, I do not consider that valuable enough to listen to. I have not heard a real  confrontation with anyone. But behind my back, I know, as soon as my name is mentioned, some people will just smile politely and walk away. As long as they do not become obstruction to my work, I think they have already helped me in some sense.

R: Have you worked directly with prostitutes?

C.K.: In one of the chapters in my book (Thai Women and Buddhism) I touch on prostitutes. In the beginning I never wanted to have anything to do with prostitutes. I wanted to commit myself only to deal with women in the temple. But when you start studying the issues you start to realize that it is the same problem. Women in the temple or women in the whorehouse, it’s the same kind of problem. I think I mention briefly in Thai Women in Buddhism some very interesting research. One woman, a maeji (in Thailand, a woman who has dedicated her life to Buddhist practice in the temple) and another woman, a prostitute. What I found was striking to me. One woman became a maeji because she was poor and had nothing to offer to her parents. She became a maeji so she could offer her merit…to become a maeji is a meritorious act… so she wanted to offer this spiritually to her parents.  Whereas another woman became a prostitute, again because she is poor and had nothing to offer to her parents. So she became a prostitute so that she could offer money to her parents. So I see that when women are cornered, in the same situation, one chooses to become a maeji and another chooses to become a prostitute. From that time on I realized that I cannot limit my vision only to looking at women in the temple but that we also have to look at the women in the whorehouse as well. We need a more holistic approach.

I have not worked directly with them. Bit in the last couple of years I have started a home that is called “A Home of Peace and Love” to take care of women who do not want to have an abortion but do not have anywhere to go. This home came out from my understanding that abortion is not right for Buddhists. This is not the way to deal with the problem.

What happens if some of my students really believe in what I teach but have no one to help them? So I opened the Home of Peace and Love to try to put into practice what I had learned and believe.

H.: We have just one more question for you, Dr.Kabilsingh. We really appreciate your spending time with us. What do you see as the tasks ahead for the next generation of women pledged to both feminism and Buddhism?

C.K. Women who are feminists in my country do not want to deal with Buddhism at all. It is like a closed door to them, because Buddhism is very suppressive to women, so most of the feminist activists in my country are not interested in Buddhism to help promote feminism. To me, in my own experience, Buddhism promotes feminism. Because I am a Buddhist, I really understand the teaching of the Buddha. That is why I became a feminist.

But in my country most feminists would be working from other directions.

My exposure to feminism helped me to go back to my spiritual self, to find that Buddhism is such a great strength, a really great strength. To confront any issue that is challenging society, yon need to have your own spiritual root. In my case, I have found that spiritual root. It is like a well, a wishing well. It never dries up. Buddhist training and Buddhist practice provide me with that.

H.&R. It has been so lovely to talk to you. Thank you. We so much appreciate your taking this time and it’s wonderful to hear your voice after reading your words. Thank you very much. Good bye.