Women in Buddhism: Questions & Answers


Is it possible to introduce bhikkhuni Sangha in Thailand?


The story of a struggle for the revival of bhikkhuni ordination dates as far back as 1927 when Narin Klueng had his two daughters, Sara and Chongdi, ordained as bhikkhunis. They were denied from both levels — the
Sangha and the royal family. However, there is a complicated issue which needs a critical look. Mr Narin Bhasit or commonly called by local people as Narin Khlueng, was a politician who was outspokenly critical of the laxity of the Sangha. He tried to create a group of liberal minded people around him. Apparently he was quite an advanced social critic of his time. He challenged both the Sangha and absolute Monarchy. As a result he was an object of suspicion both from the Sangha and Royal members.

He promoted the bhikkhuni Sangha so much so that he offered two of his daughters to begin by ordaining as samaneris (female novices) then later on as bhikkhunis. The idea may be right but it was shrouded by his other political motives resulting in both the Sangha and the royal family’s denial of his attempt to revive the bhikkhuni Sangha in Thailand.

His two daughters, along with some other 7 to 8 bhikkhunis who stayed at Wat Nariwong, on a piece of land donated for religious activities by Narin Klueng himself, were ordered to disrobe. His two daughters resisted and were arrested, then put in jail and the robes were literally removed from them. From this incident, the committee of the elders passed an order forbidding any bhikkhus to give bhikkhuni, samaneri, or sikkhamana ordination to women (1928) This order has not been lifted.

Technically both Sara and Chongdi received ordination only from bhikkhus, hence not acceptable according to the Thai Sangha. But under the said circumstance, had their ordination been valid from dual ordination, they would still have been rejected under other pretexts because they were Narin Klueng’s daughters.

Some 30 years later Mrs Voramai Kabilsingh, a lady of more or less the same age as Sara and Chongdi tried to look for a means to be ordained so as to lead a proper religious lifestyle. But all the Thai monks she approached confirmed that it is not possible. She found a Chinese monk (Ven YenKiat) who translated for her the bhikkhuni Patimokkha of the Dharmagupta school and suggested that she can still receive bhikkhuni ordination from the Chinese Sangha in Taiwan. In 1971 she went to receive bhikkhuni ordination from Tao An Fa Tzu at Sung San Temple in Taiwan. Hence, she is the first Thai bhikkhuni with full ordination. Upon her return to Thailand she continued her involvement both in propagating Buddhism and social commitment e.g. printing press, orphanage, publication of dharma magazines, etc.

Looking at this particular issue globally, Thai Buddhist women cannot remain isolated any longer but have to open themselves up to the development of Buddhist women around the world. In the past two to three decades Buddhist women internationally have been moving in unison towards seeking bhikkhuni ordination, seeking a lifestyle that would make themselves more beneficial to society. Thailand also is affected by this positive move of Buddhist women internationally.

In Thailand, the revival of the bhikkhuni Sangha is an ideal laying ahead of us, but the more immediate concern is to build a foundation of Buddhist education and training both at an individual level as well as at the government level, so that we could genuinely look forward to a time when Buddhists, both men and women, can work side by side to support Buddhism in their full potential.

The bhikkhuni lifestyle needs very committed people which will be small in number, but the opportunity should still be open for those few who would like to devote themselves to study and practice and to be spiritual role models for women folk.