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Female Buddhist monasticism conference

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An upcoming conference in Thailand will bring together female Buddhist monastics from around the world. 

Sanghamitta

Photo above of a painting at the Kelaniya Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka, depicting Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta, daughter of Emperor Ashoka, arriving on Sri Lankan shores to start the lineage of female clergy.

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COMMENTARY: Sisters in Buddhist spirituality by Sanitsuda Ekachai, Assistant Editor


Has the clergy's stern frown on female ordination stopped women's determination to pursue a monastic life.

If you drop by the Sathira Dhammasathan nunnery-cum-dhamma centre this weekend, you will realise how the clergy's attempts to keep women down are ineffective and irrelevant.

For one whole week starting this Sunday June 12, the lush greenery of the dhamma centre will be enlivened by different shades of the saffron robes of female monks interspersed with the white robes of nuns. The soothing sounds of their chants will also fill the atmosphere with a message of peace and sisterhood.

They will be coming from around the world - female monastics, scholars in Buddhism, social activists - for the Sakyadhita International Conference, where they will discuss practical uses of Buddhism in contemporary society, review the barriers Buddhist women face in developing their full potential, and share recent studies of interest for Buddhist women.

The pursuit of knowledge is definitely not the sole reason why they are travelling across the globe to attend this once-every-two-years meeting.

Female ordination for women in the Theravada Buddhist tradition was unthinkable three decades ago. It is now a reality. The Bhikkhuni or fully-ordained female equivalent of the monk, may still face many obstacles while Buddhist women routinely face institutionalised gender discrimination. But there has also been progress.

Working against the odds in this male-dominant world, you need a lot of inner strength. The Sakyadhita meet is where they come together to celebrate the possible. And to fortify their determination through connecting with the positive energy of others in the same cause.

Interestingly, a meeting that is rooted in the pursuit of gender equality in Buddhism is taking place at a nunnery. The mae chee or white-robed nuns, are not even considered clerics under Thai law. More interesting is that Mae Chee Sansanee Sathirasuta, the nunnery's founder, has never showed interest in female ordination, although many nuns have discarded their white robes to become fully ordained in saffron.

In a society obsessed with hierarchy such as ours, female ordination does pose a potential conflict. Nuns are inferior to monks, and now do the mae chee have to be inferior to bhikkhunis, too

Fear of persecution by the clergy has also prevented many white-robed nuns to venture onto the bhikkhunis' path.

The clergy is often criticised for using the mae chee as temple hands. But there must also be women who are perfectly happy just to serve. Are they not to be counted as equals among monastic women.

Any system which opens only one sole answer to spiritual development is oppressive. The male clergy has been monopolising spirituality within men's domain while nurturing authoritarianism through strict hierarchy. There is no reason why the female clergy should repeat the same mistake.

Sakyadhita means daughters of the Buddha. If they really are so, they must realise the hollowness of form and label, whatever the colour of their garb and whatever name they are called. This is what is refreshing about this Sakyadhita meet. It is not only to celebrate the possible, but also the diversity of women on the spiritual path.

This does not mean that we should dismiss the problems the majority of bhikkhunis and nuns are facing. Nor should we overlook the need to tackle structural gender oppression so as to unleash women's potential on all fronts, not only their spirituality.

Once men are ordained, they get all kinds of support from the Buddhist public. Not women. Unlike Mae Chee Sansanee who has media skills to spread the dhamma and money to support her good work for women, most nuns are struggling on their own to live a monastic life and to be of service to society.

It is all right to discuss what the white-robed nuns have been doing to improve their sisters' condition. But it is also important to uncover and tackle the root cause of gender oppression.

This will not only make life easier for bhikkhunis and mae chee. Monks' spiritual life will also benefit if they can eventually transcend their gender prejudice.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor, Bangkok Post
Email: sanitsudae@bangkokpost.co.th

(Source: Bangkok Post, COMMENTARY, Sisters in Buddhist spirituality, 9/06/2011, Sanitsuda Ekachai, Assistant Editor, link


Buddhism Vocabulary

Theravada -
the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It was founded in India. It is relatively conservative, and generally closest to early Buddhism, and for many centuries has been the predominant religion of Sri Lanka (now about 70% of the population) and most of continental Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand) (See Wikipedia)

monasticism -
the practice of a person living a life of religious devotion (engaged in religious practices, gaining religious merit) leading "a religious way of life characterized by the practice of renouncing worldly pursuits to fully devote one's self to spiritual work" (See Wikipedia)
monastic (adjective)
monastic (noun) - a person practicing monasticism
Buddhist monasticism - (See Wikipedia)

bhikkhuni - a nun, a fully ordained female Buddhist monastic who lives by the vinaya code, "bhikkhuni lineages enjoy a broad basis in Mahayana countries like Korea, Vietnam, China, and Taiwan" (See Wikipedia)

mae chee -
"Buddhist laywomen in Thailand occupying a position somewhere between that of an ordinary lay follower and an ordained nun. It is frowned upon for women to take full ordination in Thailand. Mae chee have traditionally been and still are marginalized figures in Thai society. They occupy a status lower than that of full bhikkhuni and are considered by some to be 'not eligible' for full ordination since the nuns' Order died out in the year 1017. The Bhikkhuni lineage is being introduced by Venerable Dhammananda, but oppositions from the high-ranking Thai monks have discouraged mae chee from joining her. However, full ordinations do occur, primarily in other countries (not Thailand), including Australia, the U.S., and Sri Lanka" แม่ชี (See definition)

female monastics -
includes both "bhikkuni" and "mae chee"

bhikku -
a male monk (See Wikipedia) ภิกษุ

Sanghamitta - "the daughter of Emperor Ashoka and his Buddhist queen Devi. Together with Venerable Mahinda, her brother, she entered an order of Buddhist monks. The two siblings later went to Sri Lanka to spread the teachings of Buddha at the request of King Devanampiya Tissa (250 BC – 210 BC) who was a contemporary of Emperor Ashoka (304 BC – 232 BC) of India" (See Wikipedia)

Emperor Ashoka -
"an Indian emperor who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from ca. 269 BC to 232 BC after a number of military conquests, he converted to Buddhism after witnessing the mass deaths during battle, he later dedicated himself to the spread of Buddhism across Asia and established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of the Buddha, Ashoka was a devotee of ahimsa (nonviolence), love, truth, tolerance and vegetarianism" (See Wikipedia)

ordination (noun) - the act or ceremony of a person becoming a monk or monastic การบวช
ordain (verb) - made into a monk in a religious ceremony
fully-ordained female equivalent of the monk

clergy - the official leaders of religious activities of a certain group of religious believers

nunnery - a place where a group or community of female monastics (nuns) live
dhamma  
- the teachings of Buddhism (See Wikipedia)
nunnery-cum-dhamma centre - a nunnery with a dhamma centre

chants - Buddhist chants in the Pali language (See Wikipedia)

saffron robes - the yellow robes worn by monks in Thailand

clergy - priests or monks, religious spiritual advisors to normal people (lay people)  
temple hands -
the low level workers at a temple who help the monks in everyday living tasks

spiritual development -
spiritual path -

label - being described in a certain way ชื่อ, ตรา, เครื่องหมายการค้า
realise the hollowness of form and label

General Vocabulary

stern - serious and severe เข้มงวด
frown - facial expression that shows that the do not like something (opposite of a smile)
female - of a woman สำหรับผู้หญิง

determination - when a person has decided to do something and will not let anyone stop them
pursue - to try to achieve something ดำเนินตาม, พยายามเพื่อให้ได้มาซึ่ง  to work at something or carry it out ทำให้ลุล่วง

realise - to know about ตระหนัก รู้
keep women down - prevent women as a group from advancing and gaining equality with men
ineffective - does not work well, does not produce intended results
irrelevant - not important to what you are discussing or doing ที่ไม่เกี่ยวข้องกัน ไม่สัมพันธ์กัน

lush - green and healthy (of plants) เขียวชอุ่ม
greenery - green plants or branches พืชผักที่มีสีเขียวสด
enlivened - make more lively and full of energy, make more interesting
shades
- small differences in a colour
intersperse X with Y -
put the things X among or between the things Y

soothing
- making you feel calm มีลักษณะ (ปลอบ,ปลอบโยน,ปลอบขวัญ,ประโลมใจ,ทำให้บรรเทา,ลด)
atmosphere - the mood or feeling that exists in a place บรรยากาศ
sisterhood - the feeling of solidarity and shared interests and concerns between women

scholar - a expert on a certain subject who has studied the subject in detail and done a lot of research on a subject
social activists -
people working for social change, running campaigns to educate people about problems and to get government actions on social problems  
practical - useful for real people in real situations, suitable for the situation in which something is used ที่ขึ้นอยู่กับความเป็นจริง

potential - what is possible, what could possibly happen ความเป็นไปได้
full potential - doing all that you are possible of doing
developing their full potential - gradually doing all that you are capable of doing

barriers to developing their full potential -
problems that prevent people from doing all they are capable of
barriers Buddhist women face in developing their full potential  

contemporary society -
society now
share - letting other people the good things that you have

pursuit - when you try to achieve a plan, activity or situation, usually over a long period of time การพยายามให้ถึงความต้องการ
pursuit of knowledge - the process or gaining knowledge (which requires study over a long period of time, as well as research)
pursuit of gender equality in Buddhism - people working to make women and men equal in Buddhism

sole - only เดี่ยวๆ
reason - an explanation of an event, why an event happened เหตุ ; เหตุผล ; สาเหตุ
travelling across the globe - travelling around the world (from where they live)

meeting
- when a group of people come together to discuss issues and make decisions การประชุม
conference - a meeting on a certain theme or subject with many people over several days
attend a conference - when a person goes to a conference (conference attendees)

decades - periods of ten years เป็นสิบๆปี
reality - actually happening ความเป็นจริง
equivalent - the same as เท่าเทียมกันกับ

obstacles - things that makes it difficult to go somewhere or do something, problems that prevent goals from being achieved อุปสรรค
face many obstacles - must solve many problems (in their project while they are trying to achieve their goals)
routinely
- a normal and regular part of some activity

gender - the fact of being either male or female เพศ the differences between men and women (including biological and social) (See Wikipedia)
discrimination - the practice of treating someone or a particular group in society less fairly than others
institutionalised gender discrimination - when women are treated unequal by social institutions (such as government, legal system, educational institutions, etc)

progress - completing tasks that move you towards achieving a goal; advance, go forward, gradually improve something ก้าวหน้า how a series of events is developing พัฒนาการ
odds -
the likelihood of something happening
against the odds -
not likely to happen

male-dominant world -
the world we live in, in which men have the power and control events and lives
inner strength - (not the physical body used to lift weights, for example)
Sakyadhita meet - the conference or large meeting or gathering named with the Pali phrase "Sakyadhita"

celebrate - show your appreciation of something
celebrate the possible - show your appreciation of all the things in the world that are possible
positive energy - being hopeful and confident, or giving cause for hope and confidence ซึ่งมองในแง่ดี

X rooted in Y - X is caused in Y, X has its origins in Y
equality - the state of being equal, especially in having the same rights, status and opportunities ความเสมอภาค
founder - a person who establishes an institution, business, or organization ผู้ก่อตั้ง
discarded - thrown away, do not use anymore

obsessed - considering something as so important that you are always thinking about it, in a way that seems extreme to other people หมกมุ่น
obsessed with hierarchy - think too much about hierarchy

pose
- cause something, especially a problem or difficulty เป็นเหตุให้

conflict
- an angry disagreement between people or groups ความขัดแย้ง, ความไม่ลงรอยกัน
potential conflict - an angry disagreement ความขัดแย้ง

inferior
- someone or something who is lower in rank or social position than others ผู้น้อย

persecution
- unfair or cruel treatment because of race, religion, or political beliefs (attacked verbally or physically, for example) การกลั่นแกล้ง, การข่มเหง, การข่มเหงรังแก
fear of persecution - fear of being treated cruelly and unfairly (of being attacked, for example)

venture
- to go somewhere, especially someone that is unpleasant, dangerous or exciting เสี่ยงภัย ผจญภัย

criticise - saying what you believe is wrong with a person or thing
counted as equals - when people are accepted or treated as equal people
oppressive -
treating people cruelly and unfairly
monopolising - using or controlling all of something (and not allowing other people to use it)

nuture -
help grow
authoritarianism -
a system of government that makes all the choices for people (not allowing them to make the decisions themselves)
development - the gradual growth and formation of something

strict - very careful and exact เข้มงวด
strict hierarchy - a social system with every at a certain level (that is not flexible at all)

garb -
the clothes that a person wears
refreshing -
makes you feel less tired, gives you new energy

diversity - variety, including many different types of things or people ความหลากหลาย

dismiss - to refuse to accept that someone or something is important มองข้าม, ปฏิเสธ, ไม่สนใจ,แย้งกลับ
dismiss the problems - not consider the problems as important (or even as existing)

majority
- more than 50 percent of a group  ส่วนมาก  เสียงส่วนมาก
overlook - to fail to notice or consider something มองพลาด, มองไม่เห็น, เพิกเฉย do not see or understand something important
tackle - to make an organised and determined attempt to deal with a problem แก้ปัญหา, จัดการกับปัญหา

structural gender oppression - when the "social structure" of a society creates situations in which people are treated unfairly
unleash - to release suddenly a strong, uncontrollable and usually destructive force ปล่อย

support - help, by giving money, for example สนับสนุน
media - radio, television, newspaper, the Internet, considered as a group สื่อ
skills - a type of work or task requiring special training and knowledge ทักษะ ความสามารถเฉพาะทาง

spread - to (cause to) cover, reach or have an effect on a wider or increasing area or number of people กระจายไปทั่ว
spread the Dhamma - telling other people about Buddhist beliefs

struggling - trying hard to overcome and solve serious difficulties that you have มีความยุ่งยาก
struggling on their own - trying hard to overcome difficulties alone (by yourself, not with other people)

be of service to society - do things that help society (help poor people, help society move forward)
improve - to make better ทำให้ดีขึ้น

uncover - to discover something secret or hidden ค้นพบข้อเท็จจริง
root cause - the first and most important cause

benefit
- to get help or an advantage from something ผลประโยชน์
eventually - at the end of a period of time or at the end of a process ในที่สุด

transcend
- go beyond, rise above or be more important or better than something, especially a limit อยู่เหนือ
prejudice - an unreasonable opinion or feeling ความมีอคติ, ความลำเอียง especially the feeling of not liking a particular groups of people (for example: black people, people from Laos, hilltribe people)

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