Interview with Ven. Dr. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

Ven. Dr. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni
(ธัมมนันทา ภิกษุณี)

“Remember three things in life think of yourself as in a cocoon as we are 1.To always be humble,2. Be eager 3. Always seek to improve yourself. No one can stop us now,, not the Sangha or others,we are growing and will continues to grow….No one can stop us now”

1.How can Buddhism be used as an effective tool to empower women in Thailand
1.Yes most definitely, through communication and development, Buddhism is part of our Thai cultural identity and therefore can be used to empower women

2.The Tripitaka because it was written by men with Indian social values of that time could be said to oppress women?
2.Yes, for sure, it was written in a time when social values were different, and gender norms were also different.It was a different time then, and things were not as they are now

3.What are your thought on the 8 gurudhamas?
3. Even if a monk or junior comes to our temple, I will Wai and welcome them.These are to be followed but read carefully.Look at an example of when a group of bhikkhunis were having their robes lifted by a group of young monks.The Buddha intervened and told the bhikkhunis that they do not have to show respect to the monks, this is one of the several examples, always read the footnotes in life and most importantly always be humble

4.Do you feel you need to follow the precepts more strictly because you are bhikkhunis and may be judged unfairly?
4. Yes, indeed, eyes are on us, and we are women after all.

5.Some women in Thailand feel they need to make more merit than men in Thailand, why is this?
Yes, this is also cultural, women make merit at the temple and give offerings in the mornings, yet it is the men who lead the ceremonies.At the temple it is the women who sit on the outside furthest from the monks, even their sons are closer to the centre.

6.What are your thoughts on Mae Ji’s?
6. I depend on you and you depend on me, my grandmother was illiterate and she is a Mae ji, yet when it came to praying she knew everything.she prayed beautifully.Mae Ji’s are not ordained, nor do they receive the benefits of being so.In fact, they are more often treated like servants, having to wash the monk’s clothes and cleaning.Look at the four pillars of the Buddhist community, like legs on a chair, The Bhikkus(monks) Bhikkhunis(nuns), Laymen and Laywomen.Mae Ji’s are a new concept

7.In Thai folklore some people believe that women are born from bad karma, What are your thoughts?
We are all born of good and bad karma, and all have the same potential to reach enlightenment, it is cultural, the culture protects you.Look at the way a young man may drink and be drunk, and it is acceptable but what would people opinions be if it was a woman?

8.Do you ever see a bhikkhunis Sangha being possible in Thailand?
Yes, we have over 100 bhikkhunis in Thailand currently as well as this we have a network throughout ASEAN and Asia. This is for Theravada Buddhism, in Mahayana they don’t need to worry they have over 22,000 in some countries alone.

9.Some have dubbed the bhikkhunis as rebels, what are your thoughts?
Not many in Thailand understand Buddhism truly like when the Buddha first said no to his aunt and her followers when they asked to be ordained, this was not because of their gender, but because they were women of the court, they could not handle the conditions.Many forget that the Buddha was from a time when social values were different.

10.What do you see as the future of the Bhikkhunis in Thailand?
10.Remember three things in life, think of yourself as in a cocoon as we are 1.To always be humble,2. Be eager 3. Always seek to improve yourself. No one can stop us now, not the Sangha or others, we are growing and will continue to grow.

 

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I mentioned I was gong to visit Ven. Dr Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, well I have now been and visited for a few days. She was inspiring, she knew all the Buddhist teachings and takes to apply them in modern times. There has been very mixed opinions about her throughout Thailand.She has often been condemned by the  Thai Sangha which is the governing body of monks in Thailand, the Sangha holds huge political power also.These are just a few of the questions that I asked her. She emphasised the fact that is women who make most of the merit(giver food to the monks in the morning, prepare food at the temple, cleaning etc).When it comes to religious ceremony and offerings the women have to sit at the back, furthest from the monks, even the mothers and grandmothers, their sons going before them. With Buddhism being a major part of Thai cultural identity(Over 95% Buddhists) what would happen if women were also allowed to be ordained once more, it would revesre these roles and in fact empower women who then have role models in their religion which takes part in almost all aspects of Thai daily life.

Attached is my photo when talkin with her, also the books which she has written.Although she has ordained now, she has written many books, talked at UN conferences, TED talks, and even been nominated for the nobel peace prize.She came across as a very genuine woman with a wealth of knowledge and a great sense of humor.

books

Nationalism

To follow on from what others have said these two ideologies can both be very powerful tools and yet they are both very different but often confused. I think the way that American Journalist wrote:

” The Difference Between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility while the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to a war.  ”

There is nothing wrong with being a Patriot in my opinion. Patriotism is based on the love and affection of a country and it’s peoples. Nationalism, however, is based on thinking that your country and possibly people are better than another country and it’s peoples.Geroge Orwell once wrote,” Nationalism is the worst enemy of Peace.”People have always felt a sense of Nationalism all over the world but now more than ever in some places. Nationalism is counter progressive and like Orwell said: “is the worst enemy of peace”. In Thailand, there certainly is a sense of Nationalism like every country in the world. As I have lived in a few countries however I believe I can compare and contrast how Thailand contrasts with the UK for example. Every morning people must gather and sing the National Anthem and if you are in a place where people gather you must turn and face the flag. This happens again in the evening and before other situations such as before a movie at the cinema.This most certainly creates Patriots which is great considering Thailansd political past, however, is creating an ever growing number of Nationalists also.

Culture and Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism has been growing not only in the West but also much throughout Asia and the Middle East. It is something that is happening and will continue to happen more so on a global scale,it is not always a harmonious process however; there has and will continue to be a number of issues as cultures and peoples meld together.

In my school for example there is over 40 teachers in our Foreign Languages Department. This is a Thai public school and only fifteen of those teachers are Thai. There are teachers Cameroonian,Zimbabwe,England,Scotland,Poland,America,Tunisia,Philippines,China,Vietnam, among others.There is over twenty languages spoken in our office on a daily basis such as: Shona,French,English,Japanese,Korean,Tagalog,German, among a variety of other languages. Even here in Thailand a country that relies on its Foreign influence to survive to some degree there has been great friction. Many officials in Thailand including the Prime Minister  Prayut Chan-o-Cha have voiced their views against the foreign influence(reliance) in Thailand. It goes to show that in rural Thailand even a government high school has felt the effects of multiculturalism.

The argument of  universalism and cultural relativism is one that scholars  have always have and will continue to debate. Is it morally just to impose our views of right and wrong on other cultures ?

Many argue that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948) was influenced mostly by the west,therefore aligning with Western ideals of what an infringement of  human rights is and what is not. My friends for example who come from an Arabic background would show me the newspapers and articles in Arabic and translate them. We could then compare them to the American news version of the same incident.The version of news written in Arabic would read something akin to “American bomb massacres funeral party” it would be a main feature.If you did read about it at all in the American news it may be a side note and may read something different such as “successful air strike ” etc.  These instances may not be a breach of human rights as America had a huge hand in writing the Deceleration of Human Rights. However Middle-Eastern Countries did not nearly have as much of an input into the creating of the Deceleration.

This is why many academics link ethnocentrism to universalism as they believe that many Intergovernmental organisation such as the  International Criminal Court(ICC) are incapable of managing nor have to the right to manage international human rights abuse cases. Cultural relativists believe that cases should be managed on a case by case basis in locally governed offices by locally appointed officials. This way not only are you empowering locals and giving them a sense of agency in their own communities but being culturally sensitive to local issues.

I think that many people can be hypercritical of IGO’s, it is very easy to be critical of them as they are so authoritative now: people do not however offer alternatives.I do think that as IGO’s , globalisation and multiculturalism grows it becomes harder to  not see things as being universally right or wrong. What is right in one culture , may be deemed wrong by another. Look at that  the 2004 ‘Muslim Headscarf Ban’ that we studied before. I think from knowledge comes understanding and people need to understand other cultures and how they operate and from that understanding hopefully tolerance is born. IGO’s need to hire more in country experts and locals who know their own system better than international ‘experts’ . Many are of course trying , it is simply harder now as globalisation progresses.

Cultural Expectations In Thailand

Thailand can be broken into four main regions. The North with its mountainous and fertile lands viable for growing rice and teak. Central Thailand home to Bangkok ”City of Angels” and the fertile Chao Phraya basin. The North East (Essan) the driest, least productive and least modern place in Thailand. The South with its moist atmosphere where many produce rubber, tropical crops and tin. Thailand “Land of the free” In the past was a country living in the ideal of attaining a virtuous life by shaping their character to Buddhist principles where goodness was prized over personal wealth. Thailand has now changed from an absolute monarchy rule to one of self-sustained Democracy. The first school was opened by King Rama V, and since then Thailand has flourished. Before this act by King Rama V, it was only those of royalty or in monkhood that could study.

 

Cultural expectations vary widely in Thailand and are different based on social class, ethnicity and most importantly, gender. There is an old Thai s; men are the front legs and women are the back. As was mentioned before in the discussion forum, weddings vary vastly between all of our cultures, and in Thailand, the husband still has to pay the “Bride price” which varies for every woman. A tradition that is still practised n Thailand today is that of Thai men having multiple wives his chief wife(Mia Luang) and him having other wives(Mia not). This was more common in the past but is still practised; it was a good indicator of a man’s socioeconomic status for a woman. However, this would be totally unacceptable as even remarrying after divorce is very unusual. This is just one of the ways of gender inequality that still exists in Thailand today.

 

Men-

Men in Thailand are expected to provide and take care of their family; this includes their mother and father to some degree. Many Thai men I know here work in low paid jobs yet still have to give a significant portion of their salary to their parents, this is expected. This is true even if they no longer live with their family, as many do they may move to a big city such as Bangkok and would still have to send money back to their family. This is faithful to the fact that Thai men make up over 60% of the labour force, as well as taking the majority of senior positions throughout the country.I personally travel around many areas to other schools as part of my job, the directors are always men, as are the vice-directors and heads of departments.

 

Women-

Thai women generally are well-mannered, love to take care of their families and are followers of their husbands. In modern Thailand, women are more self-confident individuals who hold positions of power. Women are still however typically expected to take on the majority of household duties, Thailand has come far but perhaps not far enough. There is a Thai saying ” the charm at the tip of a ladle makes a husband love his wife”, this Is still said today. Thailand had moved on from the days when men studied, and women served, attitudes one approach people of former times held towards a man and a woman is that when a baby was born, if it were a male, a slate and a pencil would be placed beside the baby, but if a female, a needle and thread would be put there instead. This reflects the different expected roles of a man and a woman. The former was expected to become a man of knowledge and the latter a good housewife. Women are like men also expected to take care of their parents and grandparents by giving a portion of their salary to them, how much difference completely by location, wage, age and many other factors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Khatoeys-

Khatoeys is the ambiguous name given to transgendered individuals in Thailand. I chose to write another small section on Khatoeys as they play such a large part in Thai society.Generally accepted khatoeys can live their lives mostly in peace. This was not always so and was not until the 1950’s that Khatoeys had any real acceptance as that was when they were starting to be shown in mainstream media. Being a Khatoey can start from a very young age as I personally have taught khatoeys as young as six years old.Their family accept them for who they are and allow them to start hormone treatments often before or around the time of puberty. Khatoeys however are not often seen in positions of power , perhaps  they accept a lower level of work so that they can live their lives in the open ?

 

“You might be surprised to learn that all babies start life in the womb as girls. Then, if there is a Y chromosome present in the embryo, it activates the male hormone,testerone, and the baby starts to become a boy. However, in some cases, the male hormone fails to activate the standard development of the external genitalia.The baby appears to be a girl and is raised as such, but it will become clear at puberty that it is a boy.”

Inequality

  I find the three different categories of inequality to be very interesting,particularly the fact that the word inequality is used and never the word poor. Poor in my mind is just a word we use to describe people who may be have less or in a more degrading situation than their peers. Most people […]

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I find the three different categories of inequality to be very interesting,particularly the fact that the word inequality is used and never the word poor. Poor in my mind is just a word we use to describe people who may be have less or in a more degrading situation than their peers. Most people use the word poor when they mean inequality .Economic deprivation is the most common example of inequality, this includes but not limited to:income poverty,insecure livelihoods and asset deficits.Some well known cases of  economic deprivation are the substance farmers currently in Ghana,unemployed youth in Egypt,numerous indigenous groups in Mexico,Bolivia and the Philippines, homeless families in India,landless people in Uganda,trafficked children in Ghana, as well as all disaster -affected people.

Another form of inequality is discrimination.There are many and varying forms of discrimination . Two major groups of discrimination are people who are marginalised in society because of their identity or are lower down in the social hierarchy. Some peoples who are majorly affected by discrimination are: the indigenous groups in Mexico, Bolivia and the Philippines, the Dalit (untouchables in India),racial minorities Brazil and Nigeria,people with disabilities in Bangladesh,sexual minority groups in the Balkans,sex workers,LGBTQA, HIV-aids as well as people marginalised by conflict like the Palestinians.

Finally there is spatial inequality.This kind of inequality is active in regions of the world where people live in adverse conditions.These regions serve to disadvantage those who live and work in them.These people simply cannot escape poverty.Some examples of people who suffer from spatial inequality are people who live in mountainous terrain,remote areas, underserved urban slums or areas vulnerable to climate change.

People need to feel empowered that they themselves can make a change.

“Peoples relationships within their families and wider communities can enable or undermine their feelings of empowerment,self-recognition, belonging and aspirations for change-critical factors that enable agency.”

What  they have against them however is not one state of inequality but rather a multitude of problems that force people into think they are not capable of making any social change. People feel this way perhaps because of their family and other around them.Inequalities continue through lifetimes and generations and people are left feeling hopeless.

Development programmes and policies often do not help as they are very linear in their approach and look at a very simple understanding of change.Inequality however is sustained through a myriad of complex and interconnected social issues.

“It is impossible for someone to buy soap when he has no food. I cannot pay money for a latrine without food. I cannot buy a jerry can of water when I have no food. So we end up in dirty environment, poor hygiene and sanitation. This is where diseases come from. We drink unboiled water, survive on one cup of porridge, this can also make one sick. We end up suffering from cholera,kwashiorkor,dysentery, malaria and HIV and generally carrying a poor health situation. All the time you’re sick and you spend more, and then you cannot spend anymore. In most cases the poor die because we lack money to treat us and we die.”
(Slum-dweller, HEPS-Uganda 2013)

If people feel like they have power however ,they can and do make lasting change.They need to have a sense of belonging and feel like a citizen in their own country. Support networks of any kind are crucial as a transforming source of personal power.

Why the Chipko Movement is more important than ever.

The Chipko movement is a forest conservation movement that began in India, 1973. It pioneered many environmental changes that we have today. The Chipko movement arose in a time when there were few or no major environmental groups in India. At the start of the Chipko movement, it practised the Gandhian methods of Satyagraha. Since […]

The Chipko movement is a forest conservation movement that began in India, 1973. It pioneered many environmental changes that we have today. The Chipko movement arose in a time when there were few or no major environmental groups in India. At the start of the Chipko movement, it practised the Gandhian methods of Satyagraha. Since then it has become more of an eco-feminist orientated campaign. Eco-feminism tries to heal the divide between culture and denture that has become exceedingly apparent over the last few decades; this will be done through the feminine instinct for nurture and nature.

We need more movements like the Chipko movement now more than ever. A time when it is estimated within the next one hundred years, there will be no rainforests left whatsoever when 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon forest alone. Although forests still cover roughly thirty percent of the earth, we lose an area roughly equivalent to the size of Panama in forested land every year, not only this but over two hundred million people actually live in forest land, and another one and a half billion people depend on forest directly for survival.

Many movements now get much more attention now thanks to the progression of social media. Getting a share or a like on Facebook certainly, brings environmental issues to people’s attention but does not change the issues at its core. As St Augustine said, “there is a difference between knowing the good and loving the good”. The Chipko movement arose at a time when there were no other movements or social media, they instead arose and have inspired so many movements since then. Not only in India but around the world. Their stances of feminism were far ahead of their time, and feminism now, more than ever, truly is for everyone.

Edugeen, available online at-http://edugreen.teri.res.in/explore/forestry/chipko.htm [Accessed7/12/16]

Greenpeace why deforestation still matters, available online at – http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/6-reasons-stopping-deforestation-still-matters/  [Accessed7/12/16]

Women in world history, available online at – http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/contemporary-04.html [Accessed7/12/16]chipko-movement-1-638

Brief Brief on Gender Inequality in Thailand

In 2011, Thailand ranked 69th out of 143 countries in the Gender Inequality Index. The Gender Inequality Index mainly focuses on topics such as sex segregation and employer discrimination. During the last several decades the Thai Government and Non-Government Organisations have put many motions in place trying to change their ranking on the Gender Inequality Index.

 

 

 

In Thailand, the structure of gender relations suitable same for hundreds of years, with women being caretakers of the family and men taking care of the household financially.Thailand, however, had a massive shift in their social and economic structure in the 1960’s which changed gender relations in the country. The change in gender relations was due to a massive influx of American culture due to the war in Vietnam.Even the relatively small city that I live in had an American military base. Until this point, only the elite in society had any exposure to Western culture in any way. Many Thai people being exposed to these new ideals were drawn to the new and modern ways; this ended in the traditional Thai rural family unit, something of the past and people looked for a fortune in many of the major cities such as Bangkok.

 

 

 

There are three ways in which Thailand still has to make progress; this is reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity.Regarding reproductive health,  too many women are dying from maternal causes. Too many adolescent women are still giving birth. With roughly 48 women dying in every hundred thousand dying from pregnancy-related causes and 43 out of every 1,000 births being those by adolescents(15-19).Empowerment for females is also still an issue as only 14% of all parliament seats are held by women, and with regards to education, only 25% of women have attained at least secondary school education. Economically women in Thailand still had a labour force of 65% as of 2011.

 

 

 

Due to Thailand dramatic Western influence in the 1960’s Thailand changes from an agricultural to an industrial economy.Now women in Thailand hold 50% of the employment rate.

 

The breakdown of occupations can be shown:

 

 

 

Men-

 

 

 

Agricultural (55.8%)

Mining and quarrying (83.6%)

Public administration and defence (64.0%)

Water supply (69.7%)

Construction (84.6%)

Transportation storage (86.9%)

Information and communication (64.8%)

Professional, Scientific and Technical (52.4%)

Administrative and support services (57.7%)

Electricity, gas, stream supply industry (81.17%).

 

 

Women-

 

Accommodation and food service (64.2%)

Financial and insurance activities (55.5%)

Real estate activities (55.7%)

Education (61.1%)

Human health and social work (75.9%)

Activities of household employers (82.1%)

Activities in international organisations (100.0%)

Other service activity industry (55.3%).

 

 

From personal experience, there does seem to be very much a “glass ceiling” in Thailand.Part of my job is to travel to various schools, almost every time the Directors, Vice Directors and Heads of Departments are men, even when many women have been working at the school for many years and are much more experienced more than them.

 

 

There have definitely been improvements, however. As was mentioned before due to the Western influence Thailand changed dramatically during the 1960’s. This did break down many of the traditional Thai family social norms. However, some of these changes were progressive. These changes allowed women to start and education and eventually a career. These changes allowed women to not only serve their families but server themselves. It is true that women still face opposition and many a “glass ceiling”, the salaries are still not the same, women still are often sold by their families and women must often do what is best for their family. In 2011, Yingluck Shinawatra was elected as the first ever female Prime Minister of Thailand, something which would not even be a concept in the 1800’s.Thailand has a long way to go regarding gender equality, but for now, at least it is moving in the right direction.