Supporting the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha

by Barbara Yen

The Theravada Buddhist tradition was first introduced to Malaysia when the Singahalese community came from Sri Lanka to live in Malaysia and Singapore. With the great leadership of the late chief Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda, the tradition flourished by leaps and bounds. However, we can expect a gradual decrease in the number of Theravada devotees in future both in Malaysia and Singapore as there appear to be some danger signs as can be seen in the following factors:

Malaysian Theravada Buddhism – Thirty Years From Now

  •  Demographic – most Buddhists in Malaysia and Singapore are Chinese
  • In Malaysia the Chinese population dropped from 45% in 1957, 24.5% in 2000 to 22.6% in 2010 *
  • Presently, Chinese population is below zero population growth
  • Conversion to other faiths, or to other Buddhist traditions
  • Migration to other countries
  • Less men are spiritually inclined as compared to women
  • The number of Theravada monks in Malaysia is still relatively small and is not increasing as fast as we hoped
  • Presently the community is relying on lay speakers, many of whom are already aging.
  • Some are territorial with their Buddhist centres
  • Some Sangha members and lay devotees focus on self liberation rather than propagation of the Dhamma
  • Some centres do not make their services relevant to the times and may be in danger of being fossilised

* Projection by Department of Statistics, Malaysia

Our Rationale for Supporting Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha

During the Sakyadhita Conference in Mongolia in 2007, a Rinpoche remarked, “An airplane needs two wings to fly.” And in order for stable and successful flight, the wings should be of same length, size and weight. Also a firm four-legged stool is steadier than a three-legged one.

Yu Ban, in his article, ‘A Lotus At Dawn: Opening The Doors To The Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha,’ mentioned that in some Buddhist countries, Buddhism is eroded by Communism, materialism and the forays of other religious faiths. If this Sangha is given recognition and respect openly and generously, then the Theravada Buddhist community has a new limb. It would gain an additional body of dedicated people who, with fresh resolve and promise, can be expected to bring to this great tradition a new vigour and assist in spreading the Dhamma to new lands.

He added that “Buddhism is a beautiful and gentle religion that speaks to the heart of all who would listen. It opens our minds to wisdom and compassion and leads us away from the dark dogmas that shackle us to superstitious beliefs and harmful actions. We have an obligation to support our sisters in their choice of leading their lives as bhikkhunis – the right to fulfill their aspirations, maybe even their destinies. In our lifetime, we would wish to present this gift to our sisters. The revived Bhikkhuni Sangha is a lotus at dawn. Whether it is greeted by the warm rays of our welcome, or broken by the storms of rejection are now the choices before the Theravada communities.”

The benefits of supporting the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha are:

  • There is increasing interest by Malaysian Theravada women to go forth. With an additional pool of resources,  there can be more Dhamma teachings for the community
  • Continuing Buddha’s aspiration of seeing the Four-Fold Sangha flourish
  • Gives women renunciants from Malaysia, Singapore and other Buddhist countries an opportunity to develop their full potential and achieve liberation
  • Gives them an opportunity to contribute as a benevolent influence on society by propagating Buddha Sasana through teaching and Dhammaduta work
  • Women renunciants have nurturing skills and can play an important role to engage today’s youths through counseling and pastoral work as there is a growing necessity to balance the mind and material pursuits of today’s younger generation. The older generation also needs Dhamma teachings on how to die well
  • It is often easier for lay women to confide in nuns on their personal issues than to monks. They can do so in privacy, without a chaperone
  • Enables Bhikkhus to share with them their expertise and experience
  • Having women renunciants will also off-load the work for the bhikkhus
  • If some bhikkhus feel threatened, their fears are unfounded because when the cake gets larger, everyone gets a bigger share and no one will be deprived
  • The women renunciants can be a network with other renunciants both locally and globally to share their joy, aspirations, challenges and experience
  • Gives an opportunity for lay devotees to practise generosity and meritorious deeds by offering dana to them and doing Dhammaduta work together
  • With a Centre for women renunciants in the Klang Valley, which is the hub of Buddhist activities and movement of Sangha members both locally and internationally, there is no need to seek accommodation for them from centres of other Buddhist traditions or homes of relatives and lay devotees

As Sumanananda Premseri has so aptly posted in the Theravada MyYahoo Group, “The reinstatement of the Bhikkhuni Sangha needs all the goodwill and support it can get. We have all the good reasons for this to happen and have the wind behind our backs. The best way forward is to educate based on the merits of our case. By not tapping on our women folk who are keen on being renunciants, we are loosing a huge Dhammadutta resource. Give a person to do what he/she loves best for the Dhamma and you will receive a miracle!”


[To be part of the network and get connected, you are invited to visit our Facebook at Support Network for Women Renunciants in Malaysia and Singapore

We also welcome contributions in the form of articles, professional expertise especially IT, locating the renunciants, event organising, fund-raising, etc]


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