Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh (Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, b. October 6, 1944), ordained Bhikkhuni Dhammananda, is a Thai Buddhist nun. On February 28, 2003,[1] Kabilsingh received full bhikkhuni (nun) ordination in Sri Lanka making her the first Thai woman to receive full ordination as a Theravada nun[2] in Dharmaguptaka ordination lineage.[3] She was ordained in Sri Lanka[4] She is abbess of the only temple in Thailand where there are fully ordained nuns.[5]

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni 2009


Early life, education, and ordination

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh was born in 1944[6] to Voramai Kabilsingh and Kokiat Shatsena. Her mother, Voramai, was the first Thai woman to be fully ordained as a bhikkhuni. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh relates how her mother became a nun when she (Chatsumarn) was ten years old, but rather than leaving the home as most women do, Voramai turned her home into her temple. Chatsumarn received Buddhist instruction and training along with the nuns.[7] She says that her father, Kokiat, was "the first Thai man I knew who strongly supported the revival of the Bhikkhuni Sangha in Thailand."[8] Unusual for Thai women, Chatsumarn received a higher education. After high school, she received her B.A. in Philosophy from Visva Bharati University, her M.A. in Religion from McMaster University in Canada, and her Ph.D. in Buddhism from Magadh University in India.[9] She married, has three sons and three grandchildren. She taught for over thirty years at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand, in the Department of Philosophy and Religion.[10] Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh is a well known author of many books on contemporary issues in Asian Buddhism, including Buddhism and Ecology and Women in Buddhism.

She has often said that she knew she would become a monastic in the Buddhist tradition at some point in her life; she was just waiting for the right time. That time came in 2000 when she took early retirement from Thammasat University and received the bodhisattva's precept from Fo Guang Shan in Taiwan. In 2001, she took her lower ordination in Sri Lanka from Ven. Bhikkhuni R.Saddha Sumana and Ven. T. Dhammaloka (bhikkhu). In 2003, she was ordained a full bhikkhuni, also in Sri Lanka, the first Thai woman to be ordained in a Theravada monastic lineage. Her bhikkhuni name is Dhammananda.[10] Her ordination lineage is Syamopali from Dambulla chapter. She current resides at the Songdhammakalyani Monastery in the Muang District, Nakhonpathom province, Thailand.[11] Since her ordination, the Ven. Bhikkhuni Dhammananda has written several books, designed to educate the public about various issues related to Thai Buddhism, including the place of women.[10]


Prior to her ordination, Dr. Kabilsingh wrote several books, including Thai Women in Buddhism (1991) which discusses the place of Thai Buddhist women in the context of Thai society, including those who choose to become maechi (alternate spellings: mae ji, maechee). Both as a lay person and as a monastic, she has worked tirelessly to reestablish the Theravāda lineage in Thailand for women, so that women may become fully ordained bhikkhuni (Buddhist nuns, sanskrit: bhikśunī). She has encountered resistance from both lay men and monks in Thailand who believe female monastics are illegal and a corruption. Her work has caused some controversy in Thailand,[12] although she receives much support from a growing number of Western Buddhist women.

In 1984, Dr. Kabilsingh started publishing Yasodhara: The Newsletter on International Buddhist Women's Activities, available in almost forty countries.[13] Some articles from the Newsletterare available online.[14] A few years later in 1991, Dr. Kabilsingh organized the first international conference of Buddhist women held in Bangkok, Thailand.[15]

Dhammananda Bhikkhuni may be considered a Buddhist modernist writer, along with social activists and reformers such as Sulak Sivaraksa, A.T. Ariyaratne, Thich Nhat Hahn, H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, and Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. There are several reasons for this designation. Most obvious is her work on the place of women in modern Asian Buddhism, especially the Theravāda tradition in Thailand. She writes/speaks about issues generally thought to constitute "socially engaged Buddhism" such as Buddhism and nature/ecology/environmental issues, Buddhism and poverty, Feminism and Buddhism, prostitution (in Thailand), and Buddhism and education (lay and monastic).

While Dr. Kabilsingh has a somewhat global approach as evidenced by founding an international newsletter or hosting an international conference, she has repeatedly stated that most problems in Thailand must be solved by the Thai people without the "help" of outsiders, including Western Buddhists. The solutions she offers are generally down-to-earth, concrete, and practical with an occasional hint of idealism shared by other Buddhist Modernists. She makes clear acknowledgments about both the weaknesses and strengths of the current Thai Sangha; her writing advocates serious reform for monastic and lay Buddhists, not the least of which is the reestablishment of the Bhikkhuni order. Nantawan Boonprasat-Lewis comments "Kabilsingh thus advocates for the Sangha to be more involved in providing spiritual guidance to the laity and deal with their own fear of having women be equal to men. The social crisis, she says, is greater than this fear and needs the cooperation and involvement of all, regardless of gender, class, and ethnicity."[16]

Comments by others

I laud Chatsumarn Kabilsingh's efforts to educate her countrymen about both the history and the plight of Buddhist women in their own country. Her efforts to demonstrate to them that Buddhist teachings do not support their treatment of the Buddhist women in their midst is even more important. Perhaps they will listen to what a Buddhist woman from their own country, who is well educated in Buddhist thought, has to say about women in Buddhism. She cannot be dismissed as just another Westerner criticizing Asian culture.
—Rita M. Gross, foreword to Thai Women in Buddhism[17]
Dr. Kabilsingh is a very devoted lady who wholeheartedly works for the good cause of women's liberation in a Buddhist manner.
—Sulak Sivaraksa[18]
Like Ayya Khema in Sri Lanka, [Chatsumarn Kabilsingh] believes that Buddhist women should have the opportunity to fulfill their spiritual aspirations completely, and that is only possible if they can be ordained as bhikshuni. For it is the institution of the sangha that would provide women with real security and the opportunity to win the respect of the Thai laity. Dr. Kabilsingh does not foresee a sangha of bhikshuni who would devote their time exclusively to meditation, however, or to religious observances. Bhikshuni would be able to work to solve some of the country’s and the world’s horrendous social problems, with the force of the venerable sangha behind them... Bhikshuni in their own “nunneries”, could educated girls and women (as Venerable Voramai Kabilsingh does at Watra Songdharma Kalyani) and help and counsel women with family or personal problems. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, like her mother the Venerable Voramai and like the Venerable Ayya Khema in Sri Lanka, believes that bhikshuni should engage in social services and that they will want to.
—Christopher S. Queen, Engaged Buddhism in Asia[19]

Quotes of Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

I do not choose to be ordained because I want people to recognise me. [sic] I did it because I want to carry on the heritage of the Lord Buddha. I am trying to revive the four pillars of Buddhism—bhikkus, bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen—that will sustain the religion into the future. I don't mind if some people reserve different opinions about bhikkhunis. The public will be the ones to judge our worth.[20]
I would be satisfied if I could serve as a refuge for women. I am not aiming at a big market. I don't think Thai women will rise up and get ordained en masse. A monastic path is not a comfortable lifestyle. I am thinking of a small religious community which helps women develop their own spirituality and contribute something to society.[20]
I know there is some resistance out there. It is not my intention to stick out and provoke anybody. I will try to honour everyone. I will try to be a supatipanno, to be a female monk with good conduct. Time will tell. If society believes this is a worthy role, then people will support it and consider it another alternative for women.[20]

Works in English

  • A Comparative Study of Bhikkhunã Pàtimokkha. Chaukhambha Orientalia: India, 1981.
  • A Cry From the Forest. 1981. (further information unavailable)
  • Bhikkhunã Pàtimokkha of the Six Existing Schools. tr. Bangkok, 1991. Sri Satguru Publications, 1998.
  • Buddhism and Nature Conservation. Bangkok, Thailand: Thammasat University Press, 1998.
  • "Early Buddhists on Nature" in This Sacred Earth by Roger S. Gottlieb. Routledge, 2004. 130-133.[21]
  • "Reading Buddhist Texts with New Light" in Buddhist Exploration of Peace and Justice by Chanju Mun and Ronald S. Green. Honolulu, HI: Blue Pine Books, 2006. 89-96.[22]
  • Thai Women in Buddhism. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1991.
  • Women and Buddhism. Institute of Women's Studies (St. Scholastica's College), Isis International (Manila, Philippines). Manila: Isis International, 1996.[10]
  • Women in Buddhism: Questions and Answers. First published 1998.

Other materials of interest

  • Boonprasat-Lewis, Nantawan and Marie M. Fortune. Remembering conquest: feminist/womanist perspectives on religion, colonization, and sexual violence. New York, London: Haworth Press, 1999.[2] accessed on 4/20/2009.
  • Interview with Dhammananda (among others) for ABC radio; Interviewed by Kerry Stewart: "The Kindness of Tigers – Buddhist Women" [3]
  • On the Restoration of the Bhikkhuni Order - Selected Articles: [4]
  • Website of Dhammananda and her order: [5]
  • Website of Parallax Press: [6]
  • Kristin Barendsen. "Ordained at Last" [7]
  • Yasodhara, Newsletter on International Buddhist Women's Activities, Nakhonpathom, Thailand. Published since 1984


  1. ^ Kristin Barendsen. "Ordained at Last". http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2003/summer/dhammananda.html. Retrieved May 17, 2008. 
  2. ^ http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2003/summer/dhammananda.html
  3. ^ สุวิดา แสงสีหนาท, นักบวชสตรีไทยในพระพุทธศาสนา พลังขับเคลื่อนคุณธรรมสู่สังคม, ศูนย์ส่งเสริมและพัฒนาพลังแผ่นดินเชิงคุณธรรม, 1999, page 45-6 (Thai)
  4. ^ http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/globalpers/gp051403.htm
  5. ^ David N. Snyder, Ph.D. "Who's Who in Buddhism". http://www.thedhamma.com/whos_who.htm. Retrieved May 17, 2008. 
  6. ^ Yasodhara vol.26-1. ISSN 0875-1996, p.5
  7. ^ Chatsumarn Kabilsingh. Thai Women in Buddhism. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1991. Preface.
  8. ^ Ibid. Dedication.
  9. ^ http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/bhikkhuni_patimokkha.pdf
  10. ^ a b c d http://www.thaibhikkhunis.org/eng/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogsection&id=1&Itemid=3
  11. ^ http://www.buddhistelibrary.org/library/profile.php?aapath=92
  12. ^ Sanitsuda Ekakchai. “The Dhammananda controversy” in the Bangkok Post on 9/22/2001. http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebdha220.htm. accessed on 4/20/2009.
  13. ^ Christopher S. Queen and Sallie B. King. Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia. New York: SUNY Press, 1996. 269.
  14. ^ http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/browse_JJ_Y011
  15. ^ Chatsumarn Kabilsingh. Thai Women in Buddhism. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1991. Foreword, xiii.
  16. ^ Nantawan Boonprasat-Lewis and Marie M. Fortune. Remembering conquest: feminist/womanist perspectives on religion, colonization, and sexual violence. New York, London: Haworth Press, 1999.
  17. ^ Chatsumarn Kabilsingh. Thai Women in Buddhism. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1991. Foreword, xii.
  18. ^ Chatsumarn Kabilsingh. Bhikkhunã Pàtimokkha of the Six Existing Schools. tr. Bangkok, 1991. Sri Satguru Publications, 1998.. Introduction. http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/bhikkhuni_patimokkha.pdf. accessed on 4/20/2009.
  19. ^ Christopher S. Queen and Sallie B. King. Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia. New York: SUNY Press, 1996. 269-70.
  20. ^ a b c "A Path Less Travelled" by Atiya Achakulwisut, originally in the Bangkok Press, found here: http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebdha220.htm, which is part of the page "On the Restoration of the Bhikkhuni Order".
  21. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=qtJp7aAZV_oC accessed on 4/20/2009.
  22. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=au1oD1kKv94C accessed on 4/20/2009.

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