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.

 

fb

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

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.”

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.

 

Marriage in Thailand

 Thai-wedding.jpg

Hello, hope everyone is well.As I am currently living and working in Thailand, I thought that I would write a little bit about marriage here and how it has changed. I will give you an example through a friend or two of mine.

The institution of marriage has changed a lot in Thailand, mostly to the relaxation of traditions regarding the Buddhist components of the weddings.To begin with, the husband must approach the family of the person that he wishes to marry. They then decide on a price for the dowry or the สินสอด (sin sodt). This changes entirely depending on the looks, education and personal background of their child. Personally, I have known friends pay around 150,00 baht to the family for permission to ask to be engaged to marry, then over a million baht as part of a dowry to actually marry them.

The actual ceremony has changed a lot as well. Before it was seen as a bad omen to see a monk at a wedding as they were related to death and funerals. They would, however, consult a monk before the wedding for astrological advice on a matter such as when to set the wedding ceremony, etc.The actual ceremony itself was not at the temple at all as that was strictly forbidden. Now couples often go to the temple on the wedding day and sometimes are even married on temple grounds.Quite often monks are invited to make a blessing and share a meal at a marriage ceremony.

This is how the Buddhist component of a modern wedding ceremony typically  takes place:

“During the Buddhist component of the wedding service, the couple first bow before the image of the Buddha. They then recite certain basic Buddhist prayers or chants (typically including taking the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts), and light incense and candles before the image. The parents of the couple may then be called upon to “connect” them, by placing upon the heads of the bride and groom twin loops of string or thread that link the couple together. The couple may then make offerings of food, flowers, and medicine to the monks present. Cash gifts (usually placed in an envelope) may also be given to the temple at this time.

The monks may then unwind a small length of thread that is held between the hands of the assembled monks. They begin a series of recitations of Pali scriptures intended to bring merit and blessings to the new couple. The string terminates with the lead monk, who may connect it to a container of water that will be “sanctified” for the ceremony. Merit is said to travel through the string and be conveyed to the water. A similar arrangement is used to transfer merit to the dead at a funeral, further evidence of the weakening of the taboo on mixing funerary imagery and trappings with marriage ceremonies. Blessed water may be mixed with wax drippings from a candle lit before the Buddha image and other unguents and herbs to create a paste that is then applied to the foreheads of the bride and groom to create a small dot, similar to the marking made with red ochre on Hindu devotees. The bride’s mark is formed with the butt end of the candle rather than the monk’s thumb, in keeping with the Vinaya prohibition against touching women.

The highest-ranking monk present may elect to say a few words to the couple, offering advice or encouragement. The couple may then make offerings of food to the monks, at which point the Buddhist portion of the ceremony is concluded.”

Gay marriage is not currently licensed or recognised.