Laura Secorun Palet

Sitting in the lotus position in a quiet meditation room, surrounded by young women wearing saffron robes, 71-year-old Chatsumarn Kabilsingh doesn’t look like much of a rabble-rouser. But according to Thai authorities, she is a dangerous dissident.
In Thailand, women are banned from becoming Buddhist nuns, and the venerable Dhammananda — that’s Kabilsingh’s Buddhist name — has disregarded that particular law. She is not only the first Thai woman to get ordained in the country’s majority Theravada tradition, but she is also the abbess of Thailand’s first temple for bhikkhunis (female monks).
Dhammananda is trying to bring back a tradition that disappeared centuries ago. According to historians, female devotees did exist in the time of Buddha, who actually included nuns when he talked about the four groups of followers, along with monks, laymen and laywomen. But the tradition died in Southeast Asia in the 14th century. And in 1928, a secular law was passed by the state banning Thai monks from ordaining women. For Phra Tepvisutthikawee, secretary general of the Buddhism Protection Center of Thailand, the whole discussion is pointless. “It is not a question about [it being] fair or unfair,” he says. “It is just not permitted under the Dhamma Vinaya” — the monastic rules determined by the interpretation of the Pāli Canon, the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition— “to ordain women.” The Dalai Lama has said on multiple occasions that he believes women should have access to full ordination but he does not, however, have the authority to institute bhikṣuṇī ordination in the entire Buddhist community.
Interestingly, Thai Buddhists’ habit of excluding women makes them an anomaly in a country where women are more represented than men in science, education and business. But here, where 95 percent of the population is Buddhist, religion bleeds into politics. It’s the state religion, reminds B Scherer, professor of Comparative Religion, Gender and Sexuality at Canterbury Christ Church University, and those who violate religious principles can even be banned from entering the country.
Traditionally, young Thai Buddhist men join a temple as novices, although few choose to stay longer and interest seems to be fading. There are currently about 300,000 monks in Thailand, and about 22,000 temples — but 6,000 of them are uninhabited. Tabloids have reported countless cases of monastic misbehavior, from smoking and drinking to gambling and stealing. Dhammananda argues women are the answer. “Maybe they could give us some of those,” she says.
Dhammananda was 40 when she donned her saffron robes. Before that, she spent decades working as an academic on a liberal arts faculty in which 80 percent of the staff were women. She married, raised three sons and became an eminent student of Theravada Buddhism, even hosting her own TV show about Buddhist practices that aired in the mid ’80s.
Even earlier, there was her mother — another bhikkhuni (though not in the Theravada tradition) and a teacher who once rode a bike all the way from Bangkok to Singapore just to wow her male pupils. And it was her father, a frequently jailed opposition politician, who inspired Dhammananda. “I never realized how brave they were until I grew up,” she says.
Courtesy : THE DAILY DOSE,