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Novice is divorcee with two children

First Thai woman ordained
BANGKOK
— Thailand yesterday hosted its first ever ordination ceremony for women, marking a new chapter in Thai Buddhism.

Mae Chee Varangghana Vanavichayen, 56, became Dhammarakhita Samaneri when she was ordained by her Sri Lankan preceptor Ven. Bhikkhuni Saddha Sumana at Wat Songdhamkalayanee, in Nakhon Pathom. The ceremony, which was conducted in the Sri Lankan tradition, was presided over by eight Bhikkhuni from Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Indonesia. Two monks from Tibet and six from Thailand also attended the historic event.

"I used to think that female clergy was a thing of the past," said Dhammarakhita, who spent her last nine years as a white-robed nun. "But when I learned of the revival of the Bhikkhuni order, I decided to get ordained because I believe it is the right thing to serve Buddhism.

She likened Buddhism to a house. "It must have four supporting pillars to become stable and strong. But now we only have three, namely monks, male and female supporters. Having female monastic will give us the missing pillar," said Dhammarakhita, whose name means "one who is protected by dhamma".

Sri Lanka revived female ordination in the Theravada Buddhism tradition in 1998. Two Thai women have previously sought novice ordination from the Sri Lankan female clergy but both were ordained in Sri Lanka.

Dhammarakhita’s was the first ever held in Thailand.

Preceptor Bhikkhuni Saddha Sumana said the ceremony marked the long religious exchange between Thailand and Sri Lanka.

When Sri Lanka’s clergy disappeared in the 11th century, the Thai clergy sent a delegation of monks to re-establish Theravada Buddhism there. Now that Thailand wants to set up the female clergy, it is Sri Lanka’s turn to help.

She said the Sri Lankan Bhikkhuni also faced resistance when the order was revived a few years ago, but very little now. "I certainly hope Thailand will support more female ordinations".

At present, white-robed nuns in Thailand are not considered monastics. They also suffer discrimination and lack of support.

The Thai clergy always insists that it is impossible to set up the female clergy in Thailand because the Bhikkhuni lineage in the Theravada tradition was long extinct.

They also prohibited Thai monks from ordaining samaneri and bhikkhuni.

Samaneri Dhammananda, however, said the present female order in the Mahayana tradition is historically dated back to the Theravada Bhikkhuni order in Sri Lanka.

It was then legitimate for the Mahayana bhikkhuni to help the Sri Lankan sisters revive its female order.

"In terms of vinaya or discipline, it is the same lineage," she said.

Like her predecessors, Dhammarakhita Samaneri must complete her two-year novicehood before seeking Bhikkhuni ordination in Sri Lanka.

"I know that there might be resistance," she said. "But I am prepared, knowing that I am doing the right thing".

Before her nine years in nunhood, Dhammarakhita worked as a secretary and translator.

She graduated with a diploma in business from Australia.

"I quit the wordly life because I want to break the chain of lifetimes by practicing dhamma," she said.

Her two children, she said, were supportive of her decision to live a religious life.

She also sought a divorce from her husband in order to be eligible for the novice ordination and to join the female clergy.


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