At a prestigious ceremony to award Thai women on International Women’s Day, something went dreadfully amiss. Suthasinee Noi, female Buddhist monk was not seated at a special place of honour that would have been given to a male monk. Instead, she was seated with the other female nominations; Suthasinee Noi did not object. This is a woman of spirituality and hence, humility. Next, came the humiliation by security officials who asked her to identify herself, her work and what she was doing at the ceremony. This was indeed bad protocol, but it could also have been political since this female monk is ordained in opposition to Thailand’s male Buddhist hierarchy- known as the Supreme Sangha Council (Thailand)
Suthasinee Noi provided the information, but later security officials called her aside. They told that for “security reasons” she was not allowed to be in the picture with the President of Thailand.(As if a female Buddhist monk was a threat!) There was a meeting and the situation was debated. Here was a known public figure who was being given an award on International Women’s Day. How would the public react to her not being in the major photo with the Prime Minister and other female recipients of a government award? What would be the religious backlash from the male Buddhist headquarters and the public? The final decision was to shove her into the group photograph and the smiling President of Thailand.
Who is Suthasinee Noi?
For 170 or more orphan children, Suthasinee Noi is a mother figure. They call her Mother Tiew. Single-handedly this graduate from Bangkok founded a home for HIV children whose parents died of AIDS. She has served tirelessly and has been diagnosed with intestinal cancer. Her spirituality and humour cannot be denied. In the media, she has stated that the cancer cells meditate along with her. Her needs are simple – just one meal a day. The fact that officials did not know who she was is difficult to believe. In a television ad, Suthasinee brought tears of love and admiration for her work. She deserved the award, but not the humiliation.
Female Ordination in Thailand
Buddhist female ordination varies from country to country. Here is a picture of a female monk and a lesbian wedding that I was very happy to include in an article on this site.
However, the Supreme Sangha Council (Thailand) issued a ban on female ordination last in December, 2014. The ban seems to have been issued after a Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was ordained in Sri Lanka. She set out to elevate women’s religious status in her Thai homeland.
At the Songdhammakalyani Monastery in Nakhon Pathom, an hour outside Bangkok, six bhikkhunis, or nuns, dressed in saffron colored robes, begin the day with a morning prayer.
Adhering to the practices of the Theravada school of Buddhism, the bhikkhunis keep a strict timetable, getting up at 5 a.m. to chant, meditate, study religious scriptures and collect alms from the surrounding villages.
This temple is like thousands of others across the country, except it is the only monastery in Thailand with ordained nuns.
Dhammananda is now in her late 60s. Her interest in Buddhism stemmed from her mother, who helped establish the monastery in 1960. It was the first of its kind to be built by women, for women.
paula: I take this opportunity to ask you to join me in celebrating both women (a little after March 8, 2015) for International Women’s Day.