The Thai Sangha on Bhikkhunis

Since we are having Bhikkhuni Dhammananda to lead an evening at Baan Aree next month, it’s fitting to make a mention here about the ordination of Women in Thailand. The broader issues are under discussion at various Buddhist websites, such as HERE. The issue is usually seen from the point of view of equality, so I thought I might mention what I perceive to be the Thai Sangha Council’s take on the issue.

The Sangha Council is lead by the Sangharaja, but he is now constantly in hospital and is not taking any kind of active role in the council activities. It falls to the 9 Somdeths to run the Sangha Council. Various other offices within and outside the Ordained Sangha are represented, including the ministry for Culture, and the national Buddhism Office (under the PM). The Somdeths are the top monks, and there are always 9 of them, and they are in line to become Supreme Patriarchs of Thailand. The main 3 Somdeths are the abbots of Wat Saket (golden mountain, Bkk) Wat Rakhang, and Wat Pak Nam. They are all over 80 years of age.

The general policy so far as I can tell is one of evolution, not revolution. There will not be a sudden decree of authentication ordination for women, as that would be a jolt to Thai culture. And as we all know, Thailand has a very strong culture that they are very proud of – and so no one is going to make sudden changes to it. There are also all the logistical problems of legalities, laws, and structure of authority for the new Bhikkhuni temples if they opened up. Right now, the anarchic governance of the Thai Sangha, while without any real structure, does in fact work very well, based as it is around ‘face’ and good intentions, rather than constitution. There are also the views of the many highly regarded Mae Chee’s to take into consideration – as many of them do not want to ordain as Bhikkhunis; for them the Mae Chee system is working fine.

The Somdeths are not against bhikkhuni ordination per se, just against sudden changes in the broad Thai culture. The Thai Sangha in the U.S. has actively helped ordain Bhikkhunis, and the Somdeths temples have hosted Bhikkhunis from time to time without issue. Other nuns, from the Mahayana Bhikkhuni lineages, and from Ajahn Sumedho’s temples in the UK have been welcomed in the monks universities Mahacula and Mahamakut, and in various temples around Thailand. At Wat Maap Jan, an Ajahn Chah branch, the nuns go on almsround with the monks. So even though the law of Thailand prohibits women from wearing monks robes, it is clear that space and respect is being given to women in the Sangha.

Naturally things have a long way to go, but they are in fact going. The quiet evolution of the issue is ticking along at snails pace, and there is not a policy of suppression on the part of the Sangha Council, but one of letting things develop slowly and peacefully.

Little Bangkok Sangha is happy to do its part too. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni will be giving a dhamma talk on October 16th 2007 at Baan Aree, and other Bhikkhunis have been invited to speak for us when in Thailand.

You can find our page on Bhikkhuni Dhammananda’s temple on our Retreats page. (see tab at the top)

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