In recognition of the United Nation’s International Women’s Day March 8, 2002, an international committee of Buddhist clergy, scholars and laity convened to select and honour Outstanding Women in World Buddhism. Seven female spiritual leaders and a temple in Taiwan received awards for their outstanding contributions to Buddhism.
Below are the names of the awardees and brief background information on each.
For over two decades, Mae chee Khunying Kanitha Wichiencharoen, a Thai Buddhist nun (mae chee), provided shelter for forty-four thousand abused women and children at the Emergency Home for Women and Children in Distress in Bangkok, Thailand, which she founded. A lawyer by training, she played a pivotal role in pushing for legislation to ensure equality for women in Thailand and is a co-founder of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women. She launched the Thailand’s first college for Buddhist nuns — Mahapajapati Theri College in Korat. — She passed away on May 13, 2002.
Khun Mae Dr. Siri Krinchai is a prominent meditation master; she has conducted meditation classes and talks on Dhamma for both the Thais and the International community for several decades. The Young Buddhist Association of Thailand, where she is a senior teacher, has become a leading centre for Insight Meditation (Vipassana). She has trained many prominent meditation masters who actively follow in her footsteps.
Dr. Gotami is an outstanding American woman. She has proven how Buddhist teachings can be integrated with Western psychotherapy to treat social ills. She ordained as a bhikkhuni (female Theravada Buddhist monk) in India. She studied psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, she works with immigrants from Southeast Asian countries, offering counselling on a wide range of issues: drug rehabilitation, family problems, compulsive gambling, rape, child negligence and abuse. She established a Buddhist temple in the same US state. Her family heritage came from Thailand.
Bhiksuni Guong Saeng, an outstanding philanthropist, has built three Mahayana Buddhist temples in Thailand, and is currently building a healthcare centre. She has donated generously to schools, hospitals and other temples. She took her vows as a Bhiksuni (female Mahayana Buddhist monk) in China and has subsequently accompanied her students to China and Hong Kong for Higher Ordination.
Born in the United Kingdom, Helen Jandamit was ordained in Korea in the Mook Rim Mahayana Buddhist lineage as a Field Reverend. Since 1974 she has been leading Insigh Meditation (Vipassana) classes and has written several books on meditation techniques. She set up and currently runs the House of Dhamma in Bangkok and is also a co-founder of the International Buddhist Meditation Centre in Thailand.
A Master of the Amitabha Buddhist Centre in Singapore and founder of the Dhamma Friendship Foundation in Seattle, USA, Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron, an American Buddhist nun ordained in the Tibetan Vajrayana lineage, has travelled the world teaching Dhamma. Her teacher is His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet. She is renowned as an initiator of inter-religious dialogue between Buddhists and Jews. Books she has written, such as: Open Heart/Clear Mind; Working with Anger; and Buddhism for Beginners have been well received. With Santikaro Bhikkhu, she now establishes an Integrative Buddhist temple in the US state of Missouri where Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhists may live and practice together.
Bhiksuni Dhamma Master Cheng Yen is the founder of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, with four million members internationally. It is the world’s largest and most successful Buddhist social work organization. Master Cheng Yen received the Magsaysay Award in 1991. Her foundation has established hospitals, universities, schools, and cultural centres and provides humanitarian aid to the Taiwanese and the international community since 1966. Her disaster relief programs have reached people in all corners of the world. She asks her followers to have the heart of a Bodhisattva and actualise their Buddha nature in altruistic service to humanity.
Fo Guang Shan Temple
This temple in Taiwan is a leading centre or women on their ordained Buddhist spiritual path as Bhiksunis. Of its 1,5000 monastics, 1,200 are nuns and 300 are monks. They have temples around the world; 95% of which are run and operated by women. They have 3 million members internationally. Their department of International Relations accepts devotees, regardless of differences in Buddhist lineage, and welcomes women from all around the world to travel there, practice, study, be ordained and participate in the life of a Sangha community in Bodhgaya, India, they have coordinated international Higher Ordination ceremonies honouring and restoring the BhikkInini lineage for Tibetan and Theravada Buddhist Bhikkhunis.
As a young woman, Voramai Kabilsingh, rode her bicycle from Bangkok, Thailand all the way to Singapore. This was a small indicator of this amazing woman’s endurance and power. For many years she was the only Bhikkhuni in Thailand. She ordained in 1959 in Taiwan, and returned to Thailand in saffron robes to establish a centre for children and women. Her orphanage, educational and social welfare projects have particularly benefited the poor and pregnant women in need. Her daughter is Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, the Buddhist scholar, now a Buddhist Samaneri, ordained in Sri Lanka.