Bhikkhuni says she is glum on future of ordination

by Sopaporn Kurz, The Nation, July 22, 2007

Dhammananda doubts whether Thailand is ready to go back to its roots

HAMBURG, GERMANY -- The Dalai Lama on Friday expressed support for the introduction of Bhikkhunis (female monks) in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but this is unlikely to change the stance of the Thai clergy, according to Thailand's first fully ordained female monk.

<< Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

"I do not think there will be any change in the Thai Sangha's position regarding the Bhikkhuni's ordination in Thailand," Bhikkhuni Dhammananda said on Friday.

The Bhikkhuni lineage has been broken for more than 1,000 years in countries following Theravada Buddhism, such as Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations, and those following Mulasarvas-tivada Buddhism, like Tibet.

Since the presence of both Bhikkhus (Buddhist monks) and Bhikkhunis is required at the ceremony to fully ordain a Bhikkhuni, conservative Sangha in these countries say that women's ordination is impossible.

The Thai Sangha does not recognise Dhammananda and seven other Bhikkhunis who were fully ordained in Sri Lanka as valid Theravada Bhikkhunis.

However, the Dalai Lama said the ordination of female Buddhist monks was possible and vowed to fully support the introduction of full ordination for female Buddhists.

"I express my full support for the establishment of the Bhikshuni Sangha in the Tibetan tradition," the Dalai Lama said on the final day of the "International Congress on Buddhist Womens' Role in the Sangha: Bhikshuni Vinaya and Ordination Lineages" at the University of Hamburg.

While monks and female monks are known as Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis in Theravada Buddhism, they are called Bhikshu and Bhikshuni in other lineages.

The three-day conference, which received financial support of 50,000 Swiss francs (Bt1.4 million) from the Dalai Lama himself, was the first in decades to directly address the reestablishment of fully ordained female Buddhist monks in Tibet, said organiser Bhikshuni Jampa Tsedroen.

The conference brought together nearly 300 Buddhist scholars and senior monks from Buddhist centres around the world to establish an international consensus on whether the ordination of women was valid and, if so, how and when full ordination for women should take place, she said.

Despite unanimous support from all international monasteries, the details of the rituals still need to be worked out in such a way that they will be accepted by the Tibetan Sangha, said the Dalai Lama.

The re-establishment of full Bhikkhuni ordination is not unprecedented. In 1998 Sri Lanka reintroduced full ordination for female Buddhist monks, with the endorsement of all senior Sri Lankan Bhikkhus.

The Dalai Lama also said he recognised Bhikshunis who practise in the Tibetan tradition but receive full ordination from another lineage, and urged them to practise three primary monastic activities - Posadha, Vassa and Pavarana - as preparation for the establishment of a Bhikkhuni Sangha in the near future.

The situation of Bhikkhunis in Thailand also prompted attention from several international monasteries at the congress.

"I travelled to Thailand last year and was disheartened to see that there are no Bhikkhunis in Thailand," said Bhikshuni Dr Mzongsong Sunim, president of the National Bhikshuni Assembly for the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order. "It is very important for Thailand to introduce the ordination. Every morning I pray for this to happen."

Bhikkhu Sujato, founder of Australian Santi Forest Monastry near Sydney, said he supported full ordination for Thai female monks. "If it is their wish, whether the monks agree or not, they should have that right," he said.

"Also, the Thai Sangha should realise that Thai Theravada Buddhism does not exist by itself, but is a part of a greater Buddhism community."

Bhikkhuni Dhammananda, who runs a monastery in Nakhon Pathom, said she would use this international support to continue her work to introduce Bhikkhunis in Thailand.

"I have been witnessing more positive trends in Thai society, as there are a increasing numbers of Bhikkhunis as well as more women who want to be ordained," she said.

"Whether the Thai Sangha accepts it or not, things are opening up."

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