Thailand – Venerable Dhammananda, (1943 – ) The Pioneering Bhikkhuni and Her Faith in the Buddha

by Dr Lai Suat Yan

This article is written by Dr Lai Suat Yan in conjunction with 2014 International Bhikkhuni Day Celebration at Gotami Vihara Society Malaysia Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era.

Thailand – Venerable Dhammananda, (1943 – )
The Pioneering Bhikkhuni and Her Faith in the Buddha

VenDhammanandaPindapatMany understood Ven. Dhammananda’s aspiration and action to be ordained as a bhikkhuni (female monk) in the Theravada tradition as brave or courageous since the religious authority and government do not officially sanction it. In fact, there is a law that penalizes monks who give ordination to women as samaneri (novice) to full ordination as bhikkhuni in Thailand. Furthermore, in Thai history, women have also been jailed for refusing to disrobe after being ordained. As Ven. Dhammananda’s mother, Voramai Kabilsingh, ordained in the Mahayana tradition, she observed first hand that while her mother had supporters, none followed her footsteps to be a female monastic.[1] This is because mainstream Thailand identifies with Theravada Buddhism. Therefore, when the time came for her to renounce her lay life, she decided to seek ordination in the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka first as a samaneri in 2001 and later as a bhikkhuni in 2003. Specifically, Ven. Dhammananda chose to be ordained under the Syamvamsa lineage that was established by Thai bhikkhus there.  While her supporters greeted her with joy upon her ordination, she also received a fair share of criticism from her detractors. Yet, she remained undeterred and emphasized that her faith in the Buddha has enabled her to follow the path of renunciation as a female monastic. She would have completed 12 vassa (rain retreat) by end of 2014 at 71 years old.

Prior to her ordination, she was married with three grown-up sons and was a former Associate Professor, with the lay name, Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, at Thammasat University. She received her B.A. with Honours in Philosophy from India and her M.A. in Religion from McMaster University, Canada. Her doctoral thesis was on “A Comparative Study of the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha” and she has published numerous works in Thai and English, including Thai Woman in Buddhism.

As the daughter of a former journalist and later a female Mahayana monastic and a politician father, Kokiat Shatsena, who was a Member of Parliament and later a Theravada monk, her education, upbringing and exposure has enabled her to skillfully manage the press and the authority, religious or otherwise.

From only one female Theravada Buddhist monastic in the early 2000s, there are now altogether around 100 female monastics in Thailand. From her base at the Songdhammakalyani Kalyani monastery in the province of Nakhonpathum, where Ven. Dhammananda is abbess, female monastics can now be found in many provinces in Thailand, for example, in Chiang Mai, Yasodhorn, Rayong, Uthai Thani and Songkhla.[2] The Monastery also acts as the coordinating center of the Network of Thai Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha formed in 2013. Ven. Dhammananda’s greatest gift to the Thai people, particularly women, is her unwavering faith in the Buddha’s founding of the female monastic order that she found a way for the female monastic order to take root and blossom in Thailand.

Educating the Public on the Bhikkhuni Lineage and Heritage in Buddhism

Significantly, Ven. Dhammananda incorporates knowledge of the Bhikkhuni lineage in the program at the Songdhammakalyani Monastery. She addresses the arguments that detractors in Thailand deploy to delegitimize bhikkhuni ordination. In response to doubts cast on the bhikkhuni lineage in Sri Lanka that bhikkhuni Sanghamitta Theri established, she refers to sources, that documents their existences, namely, Dipavamsa, a fourth century Sri Lankan chronicle, and  archaeological findings.[3] In addition, she also referred to materials that went as far as to show that the Chinese invited Sri Lankan bhikkhunis to establish the female monastic order in China around the 4th-5th centuries. Furthermore, she pointed out that the recorders of the Buddhist texts are monks who, coloured by their own worldviews, could have rendered invisible bhikkhunis and highlight accounts that are more favorable to monks.

Ven. Dhammananda educates the public on the bhikkhuni lineage in Buddhism in many forms, for example, giving talks, having discussions or publishing accessible booklets. Distinctively, the practices at Songdhammakalyani itself illustrate the rich heritage of the bhikkhuni lineage that women are bestowed with. Only at this monastery in Thailand that most, if not all, would have experienced the chant of the “Thirteen Arahat Theris” that signifies respect and a celebration of the spiritual attainment of the thirteen foremost bhikkhunis and the “Gotami Sutta” that portrays the determination of Mahapajati Gotami’s, the first bhikkhuni’s, quest for ordination. In addition, she organized educational tour to Wat Thepthidaram to pay respect to the 52 statues of bhikkhunis with Mahapajapati in the lead.

Since 2009, Thai women themselves have the opportunity to personally experience what it is like to live the ordained life through the temporary samaneri ordination organized. It is held twice annually at the Songdhammakalayani Monastery on April 6 to honour Ven. Dhammananda’s mother who founded the monastery and on December 5th to commemorate the reigning King’s birthday with the merits dedicated to him.

Samaneri Ordination 2009, courtesy of Songdhammakalyani Temple

Samaneri Ordination 2009, courtesy of Songdhammakalyani Temple

Ven. Dhammananda skillfully organized the temporary ordination to reflect the monastery respect for the three main pillars of Thailand, namely, the nation, Buddhism and the monarchy with the procession of the Thai and Buddhist flags as well as a photo of His Majesty, the King during the dedication of merit session. This subverts the perception that any may have that samaneri ordination is an act of disrespect towards any of the three main pillars.  In total, Ven. Dhammananda has ordained around 280 females as temporary samaneri not only at her monastery but also in other provinces, that is, Payao and Songhla.[4]

Significantly, the temporary ordination provides many women with the chance to show their gratitude to their parents by dedicating the merits to them.  Prior to this, only sons are able to do that. The temporary ordination further popularized the idea and acceptance of ordination for women as besides the presence of family members, relatives, and friends of the novitiate, the media will also be there. Her temple also produces Yasodhara, a newsletter that provides information on global Buddhist women’s activities with a specific focus on Thailand.

Recognition

Ven. Dhammanda’s contribution to the dharma has won her accolades and recognition nationally and internationally. In 2012, the Ashwagosh Foundation in Nagpur, India awarded her the Sakyamuni International Award for her work globally to spread Buddhism. The United Nations selected her as one of the fifteen Buddhist women recipients from world-wide to receive the “Outstanding Buddhist Women Award” in 2004. She has been on the list of individuals honoured by two Thai English newspapers, namely, Bangkok Post, on its fiftieth anniversary and the Nation in conjunction with its thirtieth anniversary. The Prestige magazine conferred upon her the Woman of the Year Award in 2007 for her contribution to the understanding of Buddhist principles and Eastern Philosophy. She also received the Surindraraja Outstanding Translator’s Award in 2012 for her translation of over 30 books from English to Thai with the most well-known being the Saddharmapundarika Sutra (Lotus Sutra) and Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of The Dalai Lama.

She was on the screening committee of Japan’s Niwano Peace Award from 2003-2006 and was a past President of Sakyaditha, International Association of Buddhist Women. She is also one of the Spiritual Advisors of Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia.

Socially Engaged Buddhism

As a socially engaged Buddhist and a member of the Asian Theravada Bhikkhuni Association, Ven. Dhammananda has provided training on the Dhamma Vinaya to strengthen the Indian bhikkhuni in 2013.[5] She also worked closely with the International Network of Engaged Buddhist (INEB) to support the growth of Buddhism in India and has provided bursaries to the Youth Buddhist Society, in Sankissa, India to come to the Sondghammakalyani Bhikkhuni Arama to further enhance their spiritual capabilities.[6] In addition, she facilitated and assisted in the full ordination of ten monks from Sankissa in Thailand.[7] Reflecting her commitment to socially engaged Buddhism, she is a member of the Advisory Board of INEB.

Most notably, the bhikkhunis at Songdhammakalyani has started to spread the dhamma to female inmates in prison since 2011.[8] Initially, it started with donation of the surplus of sanitary napkins and expanded to other basic toiletries such as shampoo, soap and toothbrush. After working with the inmates for a while the bhikkhunis found that the most effective way was to focus on a message each visit, with time for meditation, questions and answers followed with the sharing of skills of head, hand and foot massage.

Two of the inmates, upon being released, attended a seven-day retreat at the Sondghammakalyani temple, while another joined the temporary ordination. Her work on socially engaged Buddhism is not limited to these two areas as she had also been invited for inter-faith dialogue with the Muslims in Thailand and incorporates environmental concerns in the program of the temple, for example, a recycling project and spreading the dhamma to preserve the environment.

 

Written by

Dr Lai Suat Yan

Vice-President Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia, and

Asian Public Intellectual (API) Fellow Year 13 (2013/14).

Some of the materials of the write-up are collected during the API Fellow Grant

 

Notes: 

[1] For details see Members of the Seeds of Peace staff, “Feel the Beauty of the Lotus: An Interview with Dhammananda,” Yasodhara, Vol 17/3, 2001.

[2] For more details on this and the activities of the Songdhammakalyani Temple, see Yasodhara Vol. 29/1, No. 113, October –December 2012.

[3] For details of the discussions and arguments see Lai Suat Yan, Engendering Buddhism: Female Ordination and Women’s ‘Voices’ in Thailand.” PhD dissertation, Claremont Graduate University, USA, 2011.

[4] For further details of temporary ordination see Thakur, “Winter Temporary Ordination,”  Yasodhara, Vol 30/2, No. 114, October-December 2013.

[5] For details see, “Training Program for All Indian Bhikkhuni Sangha,” Yasodhara, Vol 31/1, No. 117, October-December 2013.

[6] For details see, “Developing Spiritual Leadership of Buddhist Youth in India,” Yasodhara, Vol 30/2, No. 114, January-March  2013.

[7] For details see, “Ordination of the Sakyas in Thailand,” Yasodhara, Vol 31/1, No. 117, October-December 2013.

[8] For more details on this aspect, see Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, “Engaged Buddhism: Bhikkhunis’ Work with Inmates in Prison,” Yasodhara, Vol 31/1, No. 117, October-December 2013.

Gotami Vihara Society Malaysia – Appreciation & Report on Gotami Vihara Society’s 3rd Annual International Bhikkhuni Day Celebration on 16 September 2014

by Barbara Yen, President

Dear Dhamma Sisters & Brothers,

Sukhi hotu!  Gotami Vihara wishes to thank everyone who turned up on an early morning of a public holiday, to rejoice with us and to walk with the Sangha members on their pindacara. My sincere apologies for this delayed message.

Pindacara and Dhamma Talks at Gotami Vihara
Gotami Vihara was honoured with the presence of Venerable Bhikkhu Dr Dhammapala and four nuns, Ven Badranirmala, Ven Samaneri Dhammadinna, Ven Samaneri Sumangala and Ven Samaneri Dhammavati to grace the occasion by participating in the pindacara and partaking the lunch dana.

Initially, Ven Sing Kan had agreed to join us in the pindacara but was out of town and she could only join us later in the morning for the Dhamma sharing and lunch dana. The auspicious day was blessed with a light sprinkling of early morning shower. At 8 am, they set off with their umbrella bearing kapiyas. When they arrived at the market, which was about ten minutes away, the shower stopped.

20140916_084137Most of the stall owners were informed of the event two days earlier by some of the committee members who distributed flyers to them. We requested our supporters to spread ourselves around when we offered food to enable the people at the market and eating shops to observe what we did and how we did it. At some spots where the Sangha members felt they were not obstructing human traffic, they stood silently for a while, to give opportunity to the devotees to offer food.

As the public had never experienced an alms round before, some were curious and asked questions. We then shared with them about having the opportunity to offer dana to the monastics. I happened to stand in front of a stall selling prayer items and the man said he couldn’t possibly offer his wares to them. His wife quickly went off to buy a bag of uncooked rice. A lady came running with an ‘ang pau’ (a small, red envelope with money inside). When she was informed that the monastics did not accept money, she quickly bought some cooked food instead.

In Appreciation
20140916_105830We really appreciate everyone’s generosity in offering food to the Sangha. We received cooked vegetarian foods, fried noodles, ‘nasi lemak,’ dumplings, maize, tau fu fah, biscuits, cakes and two cartons of oranges and apples.

We are very glad and thankful that many of the Buddhist community came to help, especially to sort out the donated food. At least sixty friends and family members were at the lunch dana.

Special thanks go to Bro KC Tan, sister Jenny and sister Paru of Kinrara Metta Buddhist Society, bro Jerry Khoo of Setenang Buddhist Society, bro Jeen Lim of Buddhist Business Network and some friends from the Buddhist Gem Fellowship Counselling Unit who joined us at the pindapata, helped prepare the lunch dana and provided transport to the Sangha.

20140916_110532Peaceful Fellowship
We felt rejoiced, peaceful and valued the fellowship that abounded. More friends would have attended if not for the school holidays and public holiday. This is the first time that GV organised a pindacara and we have a lot to learn from it. We apologise for any short-coming and we welcome feed-back and suggestions on the areas that we can improve for future events.

More photographs at our facebook: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.770152099708782.1073741830.176556942401637&type=3

Providing Facilities and Support to Female Renunciants at GV, 2014
27 Feb – 30 May    Maechee Punnisa, Malaysia
27 Feb – 7 March  Maechee Dr Chemnian and 4 Maechees, Thailand
28 Feb – 3 March  Ven Samaneri Dhammadina, Italy
11 Mar – 8 April    Ven Samaneri Clara (Vajrayana tradition), Portugal
19 May – 30 May  Ven Suddhartta (Mahayana tradition), Malaysia
9 Oct                     Maechee Punnisa, Malaysia
28Oct, 30 Nov-4 Dec   Ven Samaneri Sitananda, Japan. She is here to attend Ven Punnaji’s retreat in BMV, Brickfields, KL

Dhamma Talks at GV, 2014
2 Mar       Ven Samaneri Dhammadina: ‘My Experience in Going Forth’
14 June   Ven Samaneri Paramacari: ‘Empowering Oneself and Others – the Path to Enlightenment’
16 Sept    Ven Bhikkhu Dr Dhammapala: ‘Chanting and Blessings during Puja’
16 Sept    Ven Sing Kan: ‘The Importance of Dana’
16 Sept    Ven Samaneri Sumangala: ‘The Significance and Update on the Bhikkhuni’s Future Development in Malaysia’

Events for 2014
25 May – Arrangement was made for Ven Suddhartta and Maechee Punnisa to receive medical screening at Tzu Chi Free Clinic in KL.  They were able to apply for their visas to Myanmar to spend their vassa under Ven U Tejaniya

15 July – Ven Samaneri Sumangala, who is one of GVS spiritual advisors, received her Samaneri Ordination under Ayya Santini in Indonesia.  We rejoice with her and as a gesture of gratitude and good wishes, GVS contributed RM400 for her travel expenses.

16 Sept – Commemorate International Bhikkhuni Day
1. a pindacara by Ven Bhikkhu Dr Dhammapala, Ven Badranirmala, Ven Samaneri Dhammadinna, Ven Samaneri Sumangala, Ven Samaneri Dhammavati was held to educate the public to receive the blessings of seeing samana (renunciants) and the opportunity to make offerings and receive the field of merits.
2. To honour the lives and contributions of Eminent Asian Bhikkhunis and Buddhist Women in the Modern Era, a selections of write-ups are uploaded in the blog:

http://snfwrenms.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/honouring-eminent-asian-buddhist-women-in-the-modern-era-great-meditation-masters/

http://snfwrenms.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/honouring-eminent-asian-buddhist-women-in-the-modern-era-pioneers-in-dhamma-propagation-scholars-and-teachers/

http://snfwrenms.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/honouring-eminent-asian-buddhist-women-in-the-modern-era-compassion-in-actionengaged-buddhism-buddhism-beyond-borders/

http://snfwrenms.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/honouring-eminent-asian-buddhist-women-in-the-modern-era-skills-and-resilience-in-spiritual-practice-in-challenging-conditions/

http://snfwrenms.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/honouring-eminent-asian-buddhist-women-in-the-modern-era-finale/

Membership Drive

We have only one category, that is, Life Membership. The fee is RM300, payable by three installments. It is free for Sangha members.

Wish List
1. One unit of LCD projector. (It will be very helpful for speakers who use slides for their talks)
2. To repair some parts of the roof which is leaking. (The kind owner has given the place for Dhammaduta work without charging any rental)

We appreciate your contributions in kind or cash. Please contact our treasurer, Sister Hooi Yoon Chun at yoonnn@gmail.com. Our Public Bank account number is 3187086916 – Gotami Vihara Society. No amount is ever too small for our mission. The Society’s registration number is PPM-046-10-09072013.

Thank you and maha sadhu to all our Dhamma friends who continue to provide and support us – support the Fourfold Sangha.  May you and your family be blessed with a peaceful, healthy and happy life and continue to grow in the Dhamma.

Anumodana.
Barbara Yen,
President,
Gotami Vihara Society, Malaysia
20.10.2014

SJBA’s 1st Buddhist Nun’s Novitiate Programme in Theravada Tradition from 7-16 November, 2014

Subang Jaya Buddhist Association’s 1st Buddhist Nun’s Novitiate Programme in Theravada Tradition from 7-16 November, 2014.

Further details of programme and registration forms are available at SJBA Office. Please contact Sis Lily at 03-56315299

Click here for on-line registration: BNNP 2014 Information r3

Closing Date : 17 Oct 2014 (Early submission of application form is encouraged)

SJBA.2014Nov-PosterNunNovitiate

Gotami Vihara Society Malaysia – International Bhikkhuni Day Celebration Programme (Update)

Updated programme for Gotami Vihara International Bhukkhini Day Celebration on 16 September 2014

7.30 am               Arrival of the Sangha members.

8.00 am               Pindapatta starts.

9.30 am               Puja

10.00 am             Dhamma Talk, topic “The importance of Dana” by Ven. Sing Kan

11.00 am             Lunch Dana

12.00 noon          Blessings and short talk on “Blessing” by Ven. Dharmapala

12.30 pm            Sharing of Ven. Samaneri Sumangala’s experience as a renunciant

1.00 pm              Group photo session

Address of Gotami Vihara
K37-C, Jalan TK 1/11A, Taman Kinrara, 47180 Puchong, Selangor (shop-lot on main Puchong road, opposite former Army Camp. A former premise of Kinrara Metta Buddhist Society).

We need many volunteers! 

Bring your family and friends. Give them the opportunity to assist in the pindapatta and to offer vegetarian food dana to the Sangha.

Please contact Sis Lee Lee (email: landleelee@yahoo.com / hp: 0122240810)  if you are able to assist. Volunteers to report at 7.00 am for briefing.

Related articles:

http://snfwrenms.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/gotami-vihara-society-malaysia-pindapatta-16-september-2014-update/

http://snfwrenms.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/gotami-vihara-society-malaysia-international-bhikkhuni-day-celebration-on-16-september-2014/

http://snfwrenms.wordpress.com/category/inspiration/

 

Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era – Finale

by Barbara Yen

PART FIVE 

Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era

In conjunction with International Bhikkhuni Day, 2014, Gotama Vihara Society Malaysia has decided to honour outstanding Asian Buddhist women, both monastic and lay, who had made an impact to Buddhism in the modern times. Many of them have not received the due recognition nor had their stories written by scholars. For a start, we are focusing on Asian women as they have a long way to go to achieve recognition and support.

Objectives of this Exercise 

  • honour and acknowledge the achievement of Eminent Asian Buddhist Nuns and Lay Buddhist Women
  • show-case their expertise, experience, skills and talents
  • give them a voice and a face because very often, they are faceless, voiceless and invisible
  • be a role model to inspire other Buddhist Women in their work
  • recognise Malaysian renunciants for taking the lead to inspire others who wish to go on this Path

Summaries of the Biographies

Below are summaries of these extraordinary women. Most of the information are obtained from a combination of either one of these sources – personal interviews, the 11th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women publication: Eminent Buddhist Women, Vietnam, 2010, personal blogs and world-wide web pages.

Full write-ups of some of their stories will subsequently be posted on our Blog in different stages.

 

V  Leadership and Activism in Nationalism and Sangha Building

1.      Vietnam Bhikkhuni Su Ba Thich Nu Dieu Khong (1905-1997)

Venerable Dieu Khong was born Ho Thi Hanh and from a noble family, her father being a well-known high ranking official of the Nguyen Dynasty. She led a very simple, humble and respectful life and had the heart of immense compassion, generosity and tolerance to all sentient beings.

She was educated under the influence of both Eastern and Western cultures and read widely. Her father wanted her to study abroad, but she declined. Her aspiration was to strengthen the eastern tradition and to empower women in her homeland. She found family life not appropriate for her, and had asked her parents many times without success for permission to become a nun.

Service to the Community

In 1926 she founded the Women Workers Union and started a shop which became famous to promote domestic products. She also started the Lac Thien Association to help the women and the poor and later it was involved in the anti-colonial movement.

She had resisted marriage but in 1928, agreed to marry an ailing, elderly widow with six children. After their son was born, her husband passed away. She raised the children and was still able to devote herself to Buddhist services.

In 1932 she became a novice nun under Venerable Thich Giac Tien, Abbot of Truc Lam Temple and in 1944 she became a bhikkhuni.

Dhammaduta Work

Venerable Dieu Khong helped found the Association of An Nam Buddhist Association and the United Buddhist Church. In 1960, she assisted in founding the Van Hanh University, the first Buddhist university in South Vietnam.

She also established many temples, convents for nuns in Central and South Vietnam and built Buddhist schools and orphanages. She was an ordination master and contributed greatly in the Buddhist Revival and Reformation Movement.

Venerable contributed articles and poems to Buddhist magazines and journals, some of which was to educate women. She was one of the key founders of Lien Hoa Publishing House in 1952 and Lien Hoa Buddhist Monthly Magazine which lasted the longest in Vietnam. Being fluent in French and Mandarin, she translated treatises by Nagarjuna and others into Vietnamese.

Buddhist and Nationalistic Movement

During the French rule, Venerable campaigned for the freedom and equality of religion and protected Buddhism with wisdom and courage. Many monastics were imprisoned. She faced the dictatorial Ngo Dinh Diem regime by participating in petitions, demonstrations and hunger strikes and secretly distributed leaflets to the people not to give up hope.

She was the first to volunteer for self-immolation but was objected by the senior monastics as she was young and had great potential in spreading the Buddha Dhamma. They decided on Venerable Thich Quang Duc instead. She played an important role in the unification of North and South Vietnam and received many awards.

In 1978 after a serious illness, her heart stopped, and nuns and monks were chanting for her. One nun started to cry and suddenly, Venerable woke up. She recovered and continued her “Bodhisattva heart’s” work for another 19 years.

At age 80, Venerable Dieu Khong translated the hundred volumes of Dahzi Du Lun. Upon completion in 1997, she passed away at the age of 93, after 53 years as a devoted bhikkhuni. Her stupa at Hong An Pagoda is a reminder of the powerful inspiration she gave to everyone including her disciples and students, many of whom became abbesses in Vietnam and other parts of the world.

 

VI  Dhamma Propagation and Activism through Talent and Creativity

 1.      Nepal  – Venerable Ani Choying Drolma

VenAniThe singing nun who fights for rights of women and children. She has produced a few albums and is nicknamed the “rock star nun.” Singing and performing with top musicians is a way to take the essence of Buddha’s teachings to the world and help people in need. She was featured in the Eastern Horizon and Star Publication, Malaysia on 12 May, 2014.

http://worldamity.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/nuns-devotional-songs-take-the-buddhas-message-beyond-nepal/

Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era – Skills and Resilience in Spiritual Practice in Challenging Conditions

by Barbara Yen

PART FOUR

Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era

In conjunction with International Bhikkhuni Day, 2014, Gotama Vihara Society Malaysia has decided to honour outstanding Asian Buddhist women, both monastic and lay, who had made an impact to Buddhism in the modern times. Many of them have not received the due recognition nor had their stories written by scholars. For a start, we are focusing on Asian women as they have a long way to go to achieve recognition and support.

Objectives of this Exercise 

  • honour and acknowledge the achievement of Eminent Asian Buddhist Nuns and Lay Buddhist Women
  • show-case their expertise, experience, skills and talents
  • give them a voice and a face because very often, they are faceless, voiceless and invisible
  • be a role model to inspire other Buddhist Women in their work
  • recognise Malaysian renunciants for taking the lead to inspire others who wish to go on this Path

Summaries of the Biographies

Below are summaries of these extraordinary women. Most of the information are obtained from a combination of either one of these sources – personal interviews, the 11th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women publication: Eminent Buddhist Women, Vietnam, 2010, personal blogs and world-wide web pages.

Full write-ups of some of their stories will subsequently be posted on our Blog in different stages.

 

IV   Skills and Resilience in Spiritual Practice in Challenging Conditions

1.      IndiaVenerable Visakha

Venerable Visakha from Patlipur, Maharashtra State, is among the renunciants who received full bhikkhuni ordination at the first Theravada bhikkhuni ordination held at Bodhgaya in 1998.  She was then aged 80. She was greatly moved and expressed her deep gratitude to Bhiksu Hsing Yun of Foh Guang Shan, Taiwan for reviving the Bhikkhuni Order in India. She is committed to support equal rights and improving the status of women in Theravada societies.

In her youth, she did Dhamma volunteer work and was greatly inspired by Dr Ambedker. She became an anagarika in 1964 and a samaneri in 1967 under the guidance of Venerable Saddhananda Bhikkhu Samadhi who taught tranquility meditation. She then started to share with the villagers about the Dhamma and also volunteered for six years in the publishing of Dhamma materials.

With the help of her teacher, she built a temple in Thiroda village which took them four years to complete. In 1990, they built the Mahaprajapati Bhikkhuni Vihara, also known as the All Indian Bhikkhuni Centre and completed it in 2006. She was assisted by Ven Katyayani Bhikkhuni and Ven Seelachara Bhikkhuni and other devotees. She became the President of the All Indian Bhikkhuni Sangha.

 

2.      MyanmarDaw Thissawaddy

VenDawDaw Thissawaddy was a Buddhist nun who studied for a Ph.D in religious philosophy in Sri Lanka and received higher ordination there. She was detained on 27 May, 2004 when she returned to Rangoon for an international conference and also to see her father who was ill. He passed away soon after.

Prior to her return, she had sent a letter of appeal to the government to accept women for higher ordination in Myanmar. She was charged under Section 295 and 295(a) of Burma’s criminal code. Section 295 relates to “abusing religion” while 295(a) addresses “desecration of religious buildings and property.”

When news of her arrest broke out to the world, the junta released her and she left the country. She is now living in America and is married to a Zen practitioner. She has an older sister who is a Sayalay and their father had been a monk before.

(Original reporting in Burmese by Tin Aung Khine. Edited and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.  http://www.rfa.org/english/news/social/burma_buddhism-20050707.html)

     

3.      Mongolia – Venerable Amaa (1905-2010),

VenAmaaAmaa’s father and grandfather were accomplished lamas. She was a forest meditator since her twenties. During Stalin’s communist regime, Buddhists were persecuted and many Lamas were killed or disrobed. Amaa and a group of yogis, lead by Tibetan master, Lama Zundui, had to practice secretly for two years in caves and cemeteries, hiding in the cover of darkness and dressed in lay clothing.

Amaa was renowned as the only person in all of Mongolia’s three eastern provinces who could do the complete and proper chanting and ceremonies for those who passed away, based on the text by Padmasambhava, now popularly known as ‘The Tibetan Book of Dead’.

Although devotees daily visited her non-stop to ask for advice, prayers and blessings, she did not have a sacred space of her own. All her activities were conducted in her family ger. On auspicious days, she and her students chant in a nearby temple. In 2008, at the age of 104, Amaa finally had her own tent, which became a meditation and chanting shrine. It was sponsored by an American male devotee, Batbaatar who had never met her before.

Also in 2008, Ven Amaa travelled 200 miles from Khenti Province to Ulaanbaatar to attend the 10th Sakyadhita Conference. We stood up in an ovation when she walked up the stage, aided with a walking stick, to welcome us. She was overwhelmed to see several hundred Buddhist women and men of different nationalities and traditions, speaking different languages coming together to speak with one heart. She declared, “I have been waiting for this moment my whole life,” Amaa passed away in 2010, nearly 106 of age.

 

4      China – Venerable Bhiksuni Jing Jian (292- CE) and Venerable Bhiksuni An Ling Shou (300– CE)

Zhong Ling Yi went forth and became the first woman in China to take the bhiksuni precepts. After her ordination, the newly named Bhiksuni Jing Jian ordained many more women, including her great disciple, Bhiksuni An Ling Shou.  They faced many objections including from a bhikkhu and for An Ling Shou, from her family members as well.

Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era – Compassion in Action/Engaged Buddhism – Buddhism Beyond Borders

by Barbara Yen

PART THREE

Honouring Eminent Asian Buddhist Women in the Modern Era

In conjunction with International Bhikkhuni Day, 2014, Gotama Vihara Society Malaysia has decided to honour outstanding Asian Buddhist women, both monastic and lay, who had made an impact to Buddhism in the modern times. Many of them have not received the due recognition nor had their stories written by scholars. For a start, we are focusing on Asian women as they have a long way to go to achieve recognition and support.

Objectives of this Exercise 

  • honour and acknowledge the achievement of Eminent Asian Buddhist Nuns and Lay Buddhist Women
  • show-case their expertise, experience, skills and talents
  • give them a voice and a face because very often, they are faceless, voiceless and invisible
  • be a role model to inspire other Buddhist Women in their work
  • recognise Malaysian renunciants for taking the lead to inspire others who wish to go on this Path

Summaries of the Biographies

Below are summaries of these extraordinary women. Most of the information are obtained from a combination of either one of these sources – personal interviews, the 11th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women publication: Eminent Buddhist Women, Vietnam, 2010, personal blogs and world-wide web pages.

Full write-ups of some of their stories will subsequently be posted on our Blog in different stages.

 

III   Compassion in Action/Engaged Buddhism – Buddhism Beyond Borders

1.      Taiwan – Venerable Master Cheng Yan                                                

VenChengYanMaster Cheng Yen was born in Taiwan and was raised by her aunt and uncle. She experienced the devastating effects of war, which taught her the truth about impermanence and suffering. At the age of 8, she also looked after her sick brother in a hospital for eight months. When she was 23, Master first came into contact with Buddhism when her father passed away and she was in search for a burial place for him.  It made her aspire to be a nun.

She ran away from home three times, due to objections by her mother to be a nun. She followed a nun and after experiencing difficulty in getting a master to ordain her, she shaved her own head. Subsequently, Venerable Master Yin-shun accepted her request and she vowed to commit herself to the Lotus Sutra and the “Path of the Bodhisattvas.” It was also the Sutra of Immeasurable Righteousness, which dealt with human problems, psychological, spiritual and ecological issues.

After a discussion in 1966 with three Catholic nuns who pointed out that Buddhists had not helped society unlike the Church in building schools and hospitals, Master Cheng Yen realised that Buddhism had to do more than just encouraging private cultivation. After all, the Buddha did send out His disciples to spread the Dhamma, which is the greatest gift to humanity.

Founding of Tzu Chi

That same year, while visiting a hospital in Fenglin, she saw blood on the hospital floor and learned that an aboriginal woman suffered a miscarriage but was not attended to as she could not pay a deposit. These events led Master to establish the Tzu Chi (Compassionate Relief) Foundation in April 1966.

She and her five disciples supported themselves and operated their services by farming, weaving gloves, making diapers, baby shoes and electrical circuit breakers. Her thirty followers saved fifty cents from their grocery money every day.

Medical Mission

The Master started the following:

  • 1972 – first medical outreach free clinic in Hualien which has done more than 140,000 consultations.
  • 1986 – 600-bed general hospital at the underserved eastern Taiwan. Tzu Chi has since built six hospitals in different parts of the country.
  • 1989 – College of Nursing in Hualien. It is the first private nursing college in Taiwan to waive tuition for selected courses.
  • 1992 – bone marrow registry now under the Stem Cell Research Centre. By 2005, it had registered more than 274,000 marrow donors and matched almost 1000 recipients with compatible donors around the world.
  • 1994 – College of Medicine which became a University in 2000. She also appealed for the donation of bodies for medical training which resulted in one body for every four students. She stressed to them that the bodies were their teachers, and thus should be handled with great respect. In all the courses offered, students are imbued with the spirit of loving kindness, compassion and humanitarian outlook.
  • 1996 – Athletic Drug Testing Center

International Relief Work

In 1991, Tzu Chi began its first flood relief work in central and eastern China. This was followed by other disasters like typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis and refugee assistance in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Mongolia, Ethiopia, Nepal, Thailand, Rwanda, Cambodia, Myanmar, North Korea, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Vietnam, USA, Brazil, Argentina, and Taiwan.

Help was in form of meals, drinking water, financial assistance, and rebuilding of homes and schools. Volunteers were not to discuss business, politics or religion. Master’s philosophy was that those who received assistance and those who delivered the aid were rewarded, one materially and the other spiritually.

This relief work has earned them the reputation of being the ‘first to arrive and the last to leave.’  Tzu Chi International Medical Association has now more than 5,000 medical professionals worldwide. Tzu Chi also set up homes in North America, Europe and Australia for alcohol dependents, homeless and people living with AIDS. The organisation now has about 5 million members in 45 countries.

Da Ai Television

Master Cheng Yen launched ‘Da Ai Satellite Television’ which is a 24-hour, commercial-free station in 1998. It broadcasts non-political news generally free of negativity and violence; serial programmes designed to extol good values and virtues; and inspirational teachings every week-day in “Morning at Dawn.” It is partially funded by a nationwide recycling effort. She also encourages vegetarianism.

Recognition

Master was honoured internationally with numerous awards, some of which are as follows:

  • 1991:  Ramon Magsaysay Award, Philippines for Community Leadership
  • 1993: Honorary Doctorate Degree by Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • 1998: International Human Rights Award by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO)
  • 2001: One of 26 “Heroes from Around the World” and featured on the “Wall of Honor” in Philadelphia’s National Liberty Museum.
  • 2002: “Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award” by World Buddhist University in Thailand
  • 2008: WFB Merit Medal from World Fellowship of Buddhists
  • 2011: named by the Times, New York as one of the world’s 100 most influential people
  • 2014: nominated for Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Harald zur Hausen, director of the German Cancer Research Center who was one of the former prize winners

“Doing all for Buddhism and for all beings” is the highest ideal for Master Cheng Yen in her belief, teaching, and practice.

 

2.      Malaysia – Venerable Bhikkhuni Chang Heng

VenChangHengOrphaned at a young age, Bhiksuni Chang Heng [1] came in contact with Buddhism at Sau Seng Lum (SSL) Petaling Jaya. Ordained at the age of 18 she went to Taiwan to further her studies in Buddhism. In 1978 she became the 3rd abbess of SSL [2]. Under her able leadership motto “May human beings be free from suffering and may the world be peaceful.”

SSL diversified from a Buddhist temple to a compassionate community and extended its services to helping the less unfortunate in the areas of healthcare, culture and education. She set up the Petaling Jaya SSL Haemodialysis Center (1994) to provide affordable and quality dialysis services to poor kidney patients of all creeds. Starting with 6 units of dialysis machines and 4 patients, the centre now has 100 units and over 200 patients.

In 2003, SSL Haemodialysis Center was one of the first NGOs, to be awarded the ISO 900:2000 Quality Management System and Healthmark Certification. The SSL Haemodialysis Center later became the Dialysis and Stroke Rehabilitation Centre. In 2004 its health services expanded to a new center at SSL Puchong.

The innovative design of the 500 Arahat images in this new center is recorded in the Malaysia Book of Records and has become a tourist destination. Bhiksuni Chang Heng teaches Buddhism as “life education for the family and community.”

Recognition

In recognition of her selfless and devoted service to the community and contribution to Buddhism, Bhiksuni Chang Heng was honored with the following awards:

2001 - The 2001 Outstanding Young Malaysian Award for Humanitarian and Volunteer Service by the International Junior Chamber Association Malaysia [3]

2007 - Outstanding Women in Buddhism Awards, United Nations in Bangkok

2008 - Malaysian Medical Association’s 2008 Healthcare Service Award for 15 years of selfless and devoted service to the local and international communities.

Notes:

[1]     www. Sau Seng Lum Buddhist Temple & 500 Arahats. Google: Sau Seng Lum Haemodylasis Center.  Also see Seet Lee Terk. p125.

[2]    She received the abbesseship from Rev. Ji Xian, the 2nd abbess. The temple is 107 years old.

[3]    www. Sau Seng Lum. And Seet Lee Terk. p125.

 

3.      Malaysia – Venerable Bhikkhuni Sing Kan

VenSingKanVenerable Sing Kan was born in 1957 and hails from Kuala Kubu Bharu, Selangor.  She became a novice nun in 1983 and received her higher ordination under the tutelage of the late Venerable Pai Sheng at Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang in 1985.

Inspired by the Dhamma and education, she became a teacher at Buddhist Institute Sunday Dhamma School and further pursued her Buddhist education.  In 1996, Venerable obtained her Diploma in Buddhist Studies from the Buddhist and Pali University, Sri Lanka. The following year she enrolled herself at Kelaniya University and graduated with a Diploma in Pali and Buddhist Studies. In 2002, Venerable obtained her B.A in Buddhist Studies from International Buddhist College based in Hatyai Thailand. Venerable also taught at Siang Lin, a Buddhist Kindergarten in Melaka.

She is the abbess of Sam Poh Thong Temple Ampang Selangor and currently heads the Dharma Propagation and Government Affairs Department of Malaysian Buddhist Association KL Selangor Branch. Venerable is also the Vice President (Buddhist) of Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).

 

4.      MalaysiaVenerable Hasapanna

VenHasapannaVenerable Hasapanna is the first Theravada Malaysian woman to receive full ordination in Perth in 2011. Bhikkhuni Hasapanna was born in 1960, and is from Ipoh. She was ordained as a trainee nun (Anagarika) for 2 years and a ten precept nun for 4 years following the Theravada tradition. In 2009, she was one of the earliest Malaysians to take the full-pledge ordination as a Theravada Bhikkhuni (with Ayya Tathaaloka as Pavattini) for 2 years at Dhammasara Buddhist Nuns Monastery, Western Australia.

She is currently the Co-Abbess of Dhammasara Nuns Monastery and also the Assistant Spiritual Director of Buddhist Society of WA. Since then the numbers of bhikkhuni in Dhammasara is growing gradually, from 3 to 7 and with 4 samaneris. Dhammasara is planning an expansion of their residential capacity and welcoming requests from women all over the world who would like to walk the path as nuns.

Bhikkhuni Hasapanna travels locally and oversea e.g. Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong to give Dhamma talks and inspire people to walk the path. This year, with the support of some Buddhist societies she will be conducting one of the earliest Theravada temporary samaneri novitiate program in Malaysia to inspire potential candidates.

 

5.      Malaysia – Sayalay Susīlā

VenSayalaySusilaSayalay Susīlā is born in Pahang, Malaysia. Sayalay studied at the University of Science Malaysia, where she obtained a degree in mass communications in 1988. As a student there, she developed a keen interest in insight meditation.

Upon graduation, Sayalay worked as a high school teacher for a year and a half. But disenchanted with worldly matters and desiring to be dedicated to the practice, she resigned from her job to take up meditation full time.

Meditation Practice

In 1991, she was ordained in Malaysia as a Theravada Buddhist nun in the Burmese tradition at the age of 28. Six months after her ordination, she went to Panditarama Monastery in Myanmar, where she practiced intensively for nearly three years under the guidance of the famous meditation master Venerable U Pandita Sayadaw.

In 1994, wishing to cultivate concentration meditation, Sayalay moved to Pa Auk Forest Monastery in Myanmar. She placed herself under the guidance of renowned monk, Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw, and remained in the forest for 14 years. In addition to an assiduous program of meditation, she also learned the Abhidhamma, ancient discourses, and the Pāli language from Pak Auk Sayadaw. Meanwhile, she became his English-to-Chinese interpreter in Myanmar and abroad.

During her travels in Myanmar, she also practiced different meditation methods, such as those taught by Shwe Oo Min Sayadaw, Mogok Sayadaw, and Sayagyi U Ba Khin. As a result Sayalay has become an unusually accomplished teacher, able to present the subtleties of the Buddha’s teachings in a simple and direct way. In particular, she presents the most profound division of the teaching, the Abhidhamma, in a lucid manner grounded not in pedantic philosophy, but in actual meditation experience.

Dhamma Teaching

Sayalay has traveled extensively as a meditation and Dhamma teacher, presenting the Abhidhamma and Sutta expositions in formal lectures and talks, and has conducted meditation retreats throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Latvia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Her publications include Unravelling the Mystery of Mind and Body through Abhidhamma (second edition), published in both English and Chinese, Mindfulness of Breathing (English), The Practical Manual of Abhidhamma  (Chinese), and The Nine Virtues of the Buddha (Chinese). She speaks fluent Mandarin, English, Burmese, Hokkien and Bahasa Malaysia.