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Buddhist ‘nuns’ (mae chi) and the teaching of Pali in contemporary Thailand*


This paper presents an ethnographic account of Buddhist ‘nuns’ involved in the teaching of Pali language and Abhidhamma in contemporary Thailand. It also reflects on both the emic-Buddhist (Pali and modern vernacular) and etic-interpretative (English-language) vocabularies which have been used to describe these women and their social role(s) and status(es). The aims of the paper are to go beyond the Weberian vocabulary usually used to describe what we will call ‘professionally celibate Buddhist women’, to escape from the ubiquitous emphasis on the issue of re-establising the Nuns’ Order (bhikkhunī-s) in the modern world in scholarship dealing with such women, and to encourage further ethnography and further civilizational interpretation of gender and asceticism.

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1 Htun, Rawe, The Modern Buddhist Nun (Yangon: Parami Bookshop, 2001). Bartholomeusz, Tessa, Women under the Bo Tree: Buddhist Nuns in Sri Lanka (Cambridge University Press, 1994). Skilling, Peter, Renunciants, Female(nang chi) in Siam According to Early Travellers’ Accounts,’ Journal of the Siam Society, Vol. 83, Nos. 1–2 (1995), pp. 5561.

2 On Nepal, see Levine, Sarah and Gellner, David, Rebuilding Buddhism: the Theravada Movement in Twentieth-Century Nepal. (Harvard University Press, 2005).

3 Gombrich, Richard F. and Obeyesekere, Gananath, Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka (Princeton University Press, 1988). In earlier work both these scholars explicitly used their interpretation of Weber in referring to this as ‘Protestant Buddhism’ (see the critique of this term in Holt, John, ‘Protestant Buddhism?’, Religious Studies Review Vol. 17, No. 4 (1991), pp. 307312.), but this has not been generalized beyond Sri Lanka and has now, rightly in our view, more or less disappeared from scholarly analysis.

4 Houtman, Gustaaf, ‘How a Foreigner invented ‘Buddhendom’ in Burmese: from Tha-Tha-Na to Bok-da’ Ba-Tha’, Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford, 21, No. 2 (1990), pp. 113128; Holt, ‘Protestant Buddhism?’; Cook, Joanne, Meditation and Monasticism: Making the Ascetic Self in Thailand (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

5 Historical research in this area could look to various kinds of ‘restraint’ (saṃvara) which can be practised by laity and monastics alike, and which would not map directly on to that dichotomy.

6 On Weber, Buddhism and anthropology see Gellner, David, The Anthropology of Buddhism and Hinduism: Weberian Themes (Oxford University Press, 2001); Keyes, Charles, ‘Weber and Anthropology’, Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 31 (2002), pp. 233255.

7 Weber, Max, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by Gerth, H.H. and Mills, C. Wright (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1948).

8 Collins, Steven, ‘Monasticism, Utopias and Comparative Social Theory’, Religion, Vol. 18, No. 5 (1988), pp. 103106. McDaniel, Justin, The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Text, Ritual, Film, and Art in Thai Buddhism (Columbia University Press, 2010).

9 We give the Pali forms; see the opening remarks in Appendix 1.

10 Collins, Steven, Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravāda Buddhism (Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 167176.

11 von Hinüber, O. and Norman, K.R. (eds.) Dhammapada. Oxford: Pali text Society, 1995. Translation our own.

12 On these and other Buddhist terms, many in gendered pairs, see Skilling, Peter, ‘Nuns, Laywomen, Donors, Goddesses: Female Roles in Early Indian Buddhism’, Journal of the International Association of Buddhhist Studies vol. 24 no. 2 (2001), pp. 241274.

13 Eberhardt, Nancy, Imagining the Course of Life: Self-transformation in a Shan Buddhist Community (University of Hawaii Press, 2006).

14 These terms are from samaṇa: see Appendix 1.

15 The Monastic Rule (Vinaya) specifies that male Novices should be 15 years old, and females 12; but there is an exception for boys younger than 15 who are ‘able to scare crows’ (Vinaya I 79). This may be a reference to the importunate behaviour of crows in South Asia; or it might refer to a boy who is old enough to be employed as a field-watcher (khettagopaka). In any case, boys younger than 15 are standardly initiated as Novices in contemporary South and Southeast Asia.

16 It is possible that this stage was meant to ensure that no pregnant women could become Nuns by subterfuge, but texts seem not to give explicit reasons why the status was necessary.

17 See (accessed 4 March 2010). On Thailand most recently see Seeger, Martin, ‘The Bhikkhunī-ordination controversy in Thailand’, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1 (2006), pp. 155183.

18 This was reported very clearly in one of the earliest treatments of modern ‘nuns’, on Sri Lanka: Bloss, Lowell, ‘The Female Renunciants of Sri Lanka: the Dasasilmattawa’, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1987), pp. 131; see recently on Thailand Barbara Kameniar ‘Rurality, Ordination Debates and Thai Mae Chi’. Paper presented at the Hamburg International Congress on Buddhist Women's Role in the Sangha (2007); on Burma Kawanami, Hiroko, ‘The Bhikkhunī Ordination Debate: Global Aspirations, Local Concerns, with special emphasis on the views of the monastic community in Burma,’ Buddhist Studies Review, Vol. 24, No. 2 (2007), pp. 226244.

19 Thus a phrase cited in one French dictionary (, accessed 4 March 2010) calls a previously married man, with children, un vieux célibataire coureur, ‘an old celibate womanizer’, which is self-contradictory in modern English; conversely in English one can speak of a married couple practicing celibacy, which makes no sense in French.

20 Wong, Deborah, Sounding the center: history and aesthetics in Thai Buddhist performance. (University of Chicago Press, 2001); Yamada, Teri Schaeffer, ‘The Spirit Cult of Khlaeng Moeung in Long Beach, California’ in Marston, John and Guthrie, Elizabeth (eds), History, Buddhism and New Religious Movements in Cambodia (University of Hawaii Press, 2004).

21 Standard reference works are: Encylopedia Britannica s.v. monasticism; Catholic Encyclopedia (e.g., accessed 4 March 2010) s.v. Third Orders and Tertiaries; Johnston, W. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Monasticism (London: Routledge, 2000), s.v. Lay Brothers and Lay Sisters.

22 Herdt, Gilbert, Third sex, third gender: beyond sexual dimorphism in culture and history (New York: Zone Books, 1994).

23 For Thailand, see Jackson, Peter and Cook, Nerida (eds), Genders and Sexualities in Modern Thailand (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1999); Jackson, Peter, ‘Performative Genders, Perverse Desires: A Bio-History of Thailand's Same-Sex and Transgender CulturesIntersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, Vol. 9, August, 2003 (, accessed 4 March 2010); Sinnott, Megan J., Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and Female Same-sex relationships in Thailand (University of Hawaii Press, 2004).

24 McBroom, Patricia A., The third sex: the new professional woman (New York: W. Morrow, 1986).

25 For India, see Schopen, Gregory ‘On Monks, Nuns and “Vulgar” Practices: the Introduction of the Image Cult into Indian Buddhism’, in Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks: Collected Papers on the Archaeology, Epigraphy, and Texts of Monastic Buddhism in India (University of Hawaii Press, 1997 [1989]); ‘The Suppression of Nuns and the Ritual Murder of their Special Dead’, in Buddhist Monks and Business Matters: Still More Papers on Monastic Buddhism in India (University of Hawaii Press, 2004 [1996]); Skilling, Peter, ‘Nuns, Laywomen, Donors, Goddesses’; ‘A Note on the History of the Bhikkhunī-saṅgha (I): Nuns at the Time of the Buddha’, World Fellowship of Buddhists Review Vol. XXX no. 4 and XXXI, no. 1 (1993–4 double issue), pp. 4755; ‘A Note on the History of the Bhikkhunī-saṅgha (II): The Order of Nuns after the Parinirvana’, World Fellowship of Buddhists Review Vol. XXXI, No. 1 (1994), pp. 29–49. For Sri Lanka, see Gunawardana, R.A.L.H., Robe and Plough: monasticism and economic interest in early medieval Sri Lanka (University of Arizona Press, 1979); ‘Subtile Silk of Ferreous Firmness: Buddhist Nuns in Ancient and Early Medieval Sri Lanka and their Role in the Propagation of Buddhism’, Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities Vol. 14, Nos. 1–2 (1990), pp. 1–59.

26 For archaeology see, for example, J. Stargardt, ‘The Oldest Known Pali Texts, 5th–6th century; Results of the Cambridge Symposium on the Pyu Golden Pali Text from Śri Kṣetra’, Journal of the Pali Text Society Vol. XXI, pp. 199–214; Skilling, Peter, ‘The Advent of Theravāda Buddhism to Mainland Southeast Asia’, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 20, No. 1 (1997), pp. 93108; Harris, Ian, Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice (University of Hawaii Press, 2005) reconsiders the evidence from Cambodia. Strong, John, The Legend and Cult of Upagupta: Sanskrit Buddhism in North India and Southeast Asia (Princeton University Press, 1992), François Lagirarde, ‘Gavampati-Kaccāyana: le culte et la légende du disciple ventripotent dans le Bouddhisme des Thaïs.’ Thèse doctorat (2 vols.); Paris, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, La Sorbonne (2001); and Elizabeth Guthrie's, ‘A Study of the History and the Cult of the Buddhist Earth Deity in Mainland Southeast Asia’ (2 Vols. PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, 2003), together prove incontrovertibly that there was a cultural conduit from the Sanskritic traditions of northern India to Southeast Asia, quite separate from the textual and monastic lineage traditions which brought ‘Theravāda’ from Sri Lanka in the second millennium AD.

27 Nuns are said to have existed in Burma, but this is probably a mistake; there is evidence for female asceticism from Cambodia (an inscription and some Chinese travel accounts), but it is not clear what the institutional arrangements might have been: see Skilling, ‘A Note on the History of the Bhikkhunī-saṅgha (II)’.

28 For example, the Therīgāthā and Therī-apadāna contain verses attributed to nuns at the time of the Buddha; the Pali historical work Dīpavaṃsa, written in Sri Lanka, refers a great deal to nuns, and has been thought to have been written by one or more of them. But these attributions are based solely on internal evidence from the texts themselves. For surveys of what is known about these and other Pali texts see K.R. Norman Pali Literature, in Gonda, J. (ed.) A History of Indian Literature, vol. VII, fasc.2 (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 1983); and von Hinüber, Oskar, A Handbook of Pali Literature (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1996).

29 de Bernon, Olivier, ‘Chi (jī), un mot d'origine khmère en usage dans la langue thaïe, consideré à tort comme d'origine sanskrite,’ Journal of the Siam Society Vol. 84, No. 1 (1996), pp. 8790.

30 One very important desideratum in the study of language used in this context is the kinds of pronoun used, and related forms of self- and other-denotation, which vary according to the statuses of speaker and/or hearer; as also do the lexicons drawn on: in Thai there is an extensive range of words used specifically of monks. Are they (ever) used of mae chi? We cannot enter into this issue here; and it is almost wholly lacking in the existing ethnographies: but see Kawanami, Hiroko, ‘The Religious Standing of Burmese Nuns (thilá-shin): The Ten Precepts and Religious Respect Words’, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 13, no. 1 (1990), pp. 1740

31 For example, reporting from the early 1990s, Sparkes, Stephen, Spirits and Souls: Gender and Cosmology in an Isan Village in Northeast Thailand (Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2005), esp. pp. 144150; cf. van Esterik, Penny, ‘Laywomen in Theravāda Buddhism,’ pp. 4445 in van Esterik, P. (ed.), Women of Southeast Asia; Northern Illinois University, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Monograph Series on Southeast Asia, Occasional Paper no. 17, 2nd edn, 1996.

32 Nerida Cook, ‘The Position of Nuns in Thai Buddhism: The Parameters of Religious Recognition.’ MA Thesis, Australian National University, 1981) is often cited, and is very useful, but unfortunately it is not widely available; likewise difficult of access are Anne Radcliffe, ‘Les femmes dans le Bouddhisme Thailandais: une étude sur la communauté des nonnes de Wat Chaina à Nakhon Si Thammarat’, Paris: Ecole pratique des hautes études, IVe section, Science Historiques et Philologiques, 1985, and Barbara Kameniar ‘Shifting the Focus: a small group of Thai mae chii in a semi-rural wat’ (Master of Education thesis, University of South Australia, 1993), both of which are unusual in describing the South, Nakhon Si Thammarat and a village near Hua Hin respectively; Adiele, Faith, Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of A Black Buddhist Nun (New York: Norton, 2004, reprinted as a paperback in 2005 with the new sub-title An Inward Odyssey, with an Author's Statement); Brown, Sid, The Journey of One Buddhist Nun: Even Against the Wind (State University of New York Press, 2001); J. Cook, Meditation and Monasticism; John van Esterik, ‘Women Meditation Teachers in Thailand’, in van Esterik (ed.) Women in Southeast Asia; Falk, Monika Lindberg, Making Fields of Merit: Buddhist Nuns and Gendered Orders in Thailand (Critical Dialogues in Southeast Asian Studies, University of Washington Press, 2007); Muecke, Marjorie, ‘Female Sexuality in Thai Discourses about Maechii (‘lay nuns’)’, Culture, Health & Sexuality, Vol. 6 No. 3 (2004), pp. 221238; Ito, Tomomi, ‘Dhammamātā: Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu's notion of motherhood in Buddhist women practitioners’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies Vol. 38, No. 3. (2007), pp. 409432. On the lay teacher Khun Mae Siri Krinchai see Swearer, Donald K., The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia (State University Press of New York, 1995), pp. 143144; and on Upasika Lee Nanayon, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, ‘Upasika Lee Nanayon and the Social Dynamic of Theravadin Buddhist Practice’ (1995), (accessed 4 March 2010); and Nanayon, Upasika Lee, Pure and Simple: The Buddhist Teachings of a Thai Laywoman (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2005).

33 For example, Gosling, David, ‘Thai monks and lay Nuns (mae chii) in urban health care’, Anthropology & Medicine, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1998), pp. 521; Cf. various essays in Findly, Ellison Banks (ed.), Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women: Tradition, Revision, Renewal (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000); and Tsomo, Karma Lekshe (ed.) Innovative Buddhist women: Swimming against the stream (Richmond: Curzon, 2000); (ed.) Buddhist Women and Social Justice: Ideals, Challenges and Achievements (State University of New York Press, 2004); (ed.) Out of the Shadows: Socially Engaged Buddhist Women (Delhi: Sri Satguru, 2006).

34 Searching the web will find many sites, and there is a 2004 DVD: Victoria Holt, A Walk of Wisdom: True Beauty Comes from the Heart (, accessed 4 March 2010), but there seems to be no article-length academic treatment in English; brief notes are given in Findly (ed.) Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women, pp. 300–301; in Seeger, ‘The Bhikkhunī-ordination controversy in Thailand’; and in Tsomo (ed.) Buddhist Women and Social Justice, pp. 186–188.

35 Brown, The Journey of One Buddhist Nun; Monika Lindberg Falk, ‘Thammacarini Witthaya: The First Buddhist School for Girls in Thailand’, in Tsomo (ed.), Innovative Buddhist women; Falk, Making Fields of Merit.

36 Ito, Tomomi (1999), ‘Buddhist Women in Dhamma Practice in Contemporary Thailand: Movements regarding their Status as World Renouncers’, The Journal of Sophia Asian Studies, Vol. 17 (1999), pp. 147181; Karma Lekshe Tsomo, ‘Khunying Kanittha: Thailand's Advocate for Women’, in Tsomo (ed.), Buddhist Women and Social Justice.

37 van Esterik, Penny, ‘Laywomen in Theravāda Buddhism’; also her Materializing Thailand (Oxford: Berg, 2000); Thitsa, Khin, ‘Nuns, Mediums and prostitutes in Chiengmai’, Women and Development in Southeast Asia, Paper No. 1 (University of Kent, Canterbury, 1983); Mills, Mary Beth, Thai Women in the Global Labor Force: Consuming Desires, Contested Selves (Rutgers University Press, 1999); Sittirak, Sinith, The Daughters of Development (London: Zed Books, 1998); Thorbek, Susanne, Gender and Slum Culture in Urban Asia, (London: Zed Books, 1994); Wilson, Ara, The Intimate Economies of Bangkok: Tomboys, Tycoons, and Avon Ladies in the Global City, (University of California Press, 2004); Virada Somswadi and Alycia Nicholas (n.d. but post-2003), A Collation of Articles on Thai Women and Buddhism, (Chiang Mai University: Women's Studies Center,; Ekachai, Sanitsuda, Keeping the Faith: Thai Buddhism at the Crossroads (Bangkok: Post Publishing, 2001).

38 Ockey, James, Making Democracy: Leadership, Class, Gender, and Political Participation in Thailand (University of Hawaii Press, 2005); Iwanaga, Kazuki (ed.), Women and Politics in Thailand. Continuity and Change (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2008). As both cause and effect of this, marriage patterns are changing, with the mean age at marriage later and more women remaining single: see Ean, Tan Joo, ‘Living Arrangements of Never-Married Thai Women in a Time of Rapid Social Change’, Sojourn, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2002), pp. 2451; Jones, Gavin W., ‘The “Flight From Marriage” in South-East and East Asia’, Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Vol. 36, No. 1 (2005), pp. 93119. A brief comparative note: whereas in Europe and North America the numbers of Catholic nuns have been steadily falling in the modern world, and especially since Vatican II in the 1960s, they have to the contrary been rising in other parts of the world: see Ebaugh, Helen Rose, Laurence, Jon and Chafetz, Janet Saltzman, ‘The Growth and Decline of the Population of Catholic Nuns Cross-Nationally, 1960–1990: A Case of Secularization as Social Structural Change’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 35, No. 2 (1996), pp. 171183, 996); Rebecca Lester, Jesus in our wombs: embodying modernity in a Mexican convent (University of California Press, 2005) on Mexican Catholics; and van Doorn-Harder, Pieternella, Contemporary Coptic Nuns (University of South Carolina Press, 1995) on Coptic Christians in Egypt, provide evidence that the increased number of vocations are in part at least due to an articulated desire to find another vocation apart from the two alternatives of traditional mother and homemaker versus modern business-woman.

39 Collins, Steven, Nirvana and other Buddhist Felicities: utopias of the Pali imaginaire (Cambridge University Press, 1998) Chapter 1; Gethin, Rupert, The Foundations of Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 1998), Chapter 8.

40 In Thai by McDaniel, with Collins present; they were followed up or conducted by McDaniel later in 2006 and in 2007.

41 Ishii, Yoneo, Sangha, State and Society: Thai Buddhism in History (University of Hawaii Press, 1986); cf. Dhammasami, Ven. Khammai, ‘Idealism and Pragmatism: A dilemma in the current monastic education systems of Burma and Thailand’, in Harris, Ian (ed.), Buddhism, Power and Political Order (London: Routledge, 2007).

42 According to national statistics, less than one per cent of monks achieve even level seven or eight.

43 Her only publication in English is Bangchang, Supaphan Na, ‘A Pāli letter sent by the Aggamahāsenāpati of Siam to the Royal Court at Kandy in 1756’ [with English summary], Journal of the Pali Text Society, vol. XII (1988), pp. 185212; just one example of her extensive work in Thai and/or Thai script is a very fine grammar, using material from pre-modern grammarians in Southeast Asia, Waiyakon Pali: Tam naeo Kaccāyanavyākaraṇa Moggalānavyākaraṇa Saddanītipakaraṇa. (Bangkok: Mahamakut Ratchwithyalai, 2534 = 1991), using material from premodern Pali grammarians.

44 2006 statistics show: Bachelors: 201 students, of whom some of the top mae chi are: M.C. Kannikar Ruamchit (Wat Khao Bo Nam Sap), 99.20 per cent; M.C. Duangchai Kanchanachan (no wat), 98.40 per cent; M.C. Anumak Bunloi (no wat), 97.60 per cent; M.C. Rochanani Bhotranan (Wat Rampoeng, Chiang Mai), 91.20 per cent; M.C. Somchai Pueangkaeo (Wat Khao Bo Nam Sap,) 89 per cent. Masters: (1st in class) M.C. Narumol Wothiphatphisal (no wat), 100 per cent; (2nd in class) M.C. Manimakhonkhon (Wat Nong Lamduan): (100 per cent); (3rd in class) Suphaphan Na Bang Chang (no wat) 99.20 per cent; M.C. Kanchaphon Srinatha (Wat Nong Lamduan), 98.40 per cent. There were not many mae chi in the PhD program, but some of them were among the best, such as (3rd in her class) M.C. Paphanakon Lohanimit (Hong Rian Phra That Sri), 100 per cent. From a total number of 760 students, 405 completed the course and took the examination: 98 monks, 51 mae chi, 32 novices, 224 lay people (of whom 80 per cent were women).

45 This is a term for the scholarly approach to the Dhamma, standardly in the sequence pariyatti (study), paṭipatti (practice) and paṭivedha (understanding).

46 Historically there is in fact no such thing as a Mahāyāna monk or nun: all existing Vinaya lineages in Buddhism are derived from Indian, ‘Hīnayāna’ schools. Monastic initiation in so-called Mahāyāna countries is complexly related to other vows, such as those of a Bodhisattva, which are taken by laity, monks and nuns alike. But the term ‘Mahāyāna’ is standard in contemporary Thai discussions of the issue.

47 Mae Chi Kritsana and McDaniel already had a working relationship because he had lived in her home village and they spoke Thai with similar Isan accents. An abstract of her paper ‘The Thai Buddhist Nuns Institute and its Work in Thailand’ (2006 9th International Conference of Sakyadhita) is at (accessed 4 March 2010).

48 This text is translated in Bodhi, Bhikkhu (gen. ed.), A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma (Seattle: BPS Pariyatti Editions, 2000); and Wijeratne, R.P. & Gethin, Rupert, Summary of the Topics of Abhidhamma and Exposition of the Topics of Abhidhamma (Oxford: Pali Text Society, 2002).

49 In 2006 and 2007, McDaniel visited Samnak Santisuk four times, and interviewed several mae chi who had passed higher level Pali examinations.

50 Bibliography on the Dhammakaya (Thammakai) can be found in the remarks on Thailand in Appendix 2.

51 In fact throughout Thailand the practical possibility as well as the legitimacy of mae chi going on the traditional morning alms-round is much disputed, as is the related the issue of whether giving (dāna) to them produces merit. Cook, Meditation and Monasticism, deals with the position of the mae chi she studied in networks and hierarchies of giving and merit-making.

52 Collins, Nirvana and other Buddhist Felicities, pp. 297 ff.

53 Buddhadatta, English-Pali Dictionary (London: Pali Text Society, 1955), gives this term for ‘celibate’, and also coins the neologism avivahakattā, ‘the state of non-marriage’.

54 For criticism of this phrase see McDaniel, The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk, Chapter 3.

55 The main work, with Khmer and Pali materials, is by François Bizot and his associates; a good guide is Crosby, Kate, ‘Tantric Theravāda: A Bibliographic Essay on the Writings of François Bizot and others on the Yogāvacara tradition’, Contemporary Buddhism, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2000), pp. 141198.

56 Sarah Levine, ‘At the Cutting Edge: Theravāda Nuns in the Kathmandu Valley’, in K.L. Tsomo (ed.), Innovative Buddhist Women; and Levine and Gellner, Rebuilding Buddhism.

57 Karma Lekshe Tsomo, ‘Factions and Fortitude: Buddhist Women in Bangla Desh’, in Tsomo (ed.), Innovative Buddhist Women; see also (accessed 4 March 2010).

58 Schmidt, Amy, ‘Transformation of a Housewife: Dipa Ma Barua and her Teachings to Theravāda Women’, in Findly (ed.). Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women; Schmidt, Dipa Ma: The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master (New York: Bluebridge, 2005).

59 Beltz, Johannes, Mahar, Buddhist, and Dalit: religious conversion and socio-political emancipation (New Delhi: Manohar, 2005), pp. 199203; Yuchen Li, ‘Ordination, Legitimacy, and Sisterhood: The International Full Ordination Ceremony in Bodhgaya’, in Tsomo (ed.), Innovative Buddhist Women; Owen M. Lynch, ‘Sujāta's Army: Dalit Buddhist Women and Self-Emancipation’, and Eleanor Zelliott, ‘Religious Leadership Among Maharashtrian Women’, both in Findly (ed.), Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women.

60 Sponberg, Alan, ‘TBMSG: A Dhamma Revolution in Contemporary India,’ in Queen, Christopher S. and King, Sallie B. (eds) Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia (State University of New York Press, 1996); Padmasuri, But Little Dust: Life amongst the ‘Ex-untouchable’ Buddhists of India (Birmingham: Windhorse Publications, 1997) is an autobiography by an FWBO woman. In the TBMSG the Pali form dhammacārinī is preferred. Both words are often used without diacritics.

61 Two recent articles by Nirmala Salgado discuss terms and give references to earlier work: ‘Religious Identities of Buddhist Nuns: Training Precepts, Renunciant Attire and Nomenclature in Theravāda Buddhism, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 72, No. 4 (2004), pp. 935–953, and ‘Eight Revered Conditions: Ideological Complicity, Contemporary Reflections and Practical Realities, in Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Vol. 15 (2008), pp. 177–213. See also Suzanne Mrozik, A Robed Revolution: The Contemporary Buddhist Nun's (Bhikkhunī) Movement, Religion Compass vol. 3 no. 3 (2009) pp. 360–378. Significant earlier treatments are Bloss, ‘The Female Renunciants of Sri Lanka’; and Nissan, Elisabeth, ‘Recovering Practice: Buddhist Nuns in Sri Lanka’, South Asia Research, Vol. 4, No. 1 (1984), pp. 3249; Bond, GeorgeThe Buddhist Revival in Sri Lanka: Religious Tradition, Reinterpretation and Response (University of South Carolina Press, 1988), pp. 6768, 178–187; Salgado, Nirmala, ‘Ways of Knowing and Transmitting Knowledge: Case Studies of Theravāda Buddhist Nuns’, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1 (1996), pp. 6180, and ‘Sickness, healing, and religious vocation: Alternative choices at a Theravada Buddhist nunnery’, Ethnology, Vol. 36, No. 3 (1997), pp. 212–227; Snell, Helle, Buddhist Women Meditators of Sri Lanka, (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 2001). Book-length treatments are found in Bartholomeusz, Women Under the Bo Tree; and in Cheng, Wei-yu, Buddhist Nuns in Taiwan and Sri Lanka, Critical Studies in Buddhism (London: Routledge Curzon, 2007).

62 See Jordt, Ingrid, ‘Bhikkhuni, Thilashin, Mae-chii: Women who Renounce the World in Burma, Thailand and Classical Pali Buddhist Texts, Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies Vol. 4, No. 1 (1988), pp. 3139; Jordt, ‘Women's Practices of Renunciation in the Age of Sāsana Revival’, in Skidmore, Monique (ed.) Burma at the Turn of the 21st Century (University of Hawaii Press, 2005); Kawanami, Hiroko, Worldly Renunciation: the World of Burmese Buddhist Nuns (ms.), ‘The Religious Standing of Burmese Buddhist Nuns’, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1 (1990), pp. 1740; Kawanami,‘Patterns of Renunciation: the Changing World of Burmese Nuns’, in Findly (ed.), Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women, and ‘Can Women be Celibate?: Sexuality and Abstinence in Theravāda Buddhism’ in Sobo, E.J. & Bell, S. (eds) Celibacy, Culture and Society (University of Wisconsin Press, 2001); Htun, The Modern Buddhist Nun, was a limited-edition pamphlet—we are grateful to Alicia Turner for supplying a copy.

63 Mendelson, E. Michael (ed. Ferguson, John P.), Sangha and state in Burma: a study of monastic sectarianism and leadership (Cornell University Press, 1975), p. 120.

64 Jordt, Ingrid, ‘Women's Practices of Renunciation’, and Burma's Mass Lay Meditation Movement: Buddhism and the Cultural Construction of Power (Ohio University Press, 2007).

65 Pranke, Patrick, ‘On Becoming a Buddhist Wizard’, in Lopez, Donald (ed.), Buddhism in Practice (Princeton University Press, 1995), pp. 343358; Rozenberg, Guillaume, Renoncement et puissance: la quête de la sainteté dans la Birmanie contemporaine (Geneva: Editions Olizane, 2005).

66 For example: various essays in Findly (ed.) Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women; and in Tsomo (ed.), Innovative Buddhist Women; Thitsa, ‘Nuns, Mediums and Prostitutes in Chiengmai’; Ekachai Keeping the Faith; Somswadi & Nicholas, A Collation of Articles on Thai Women and Buddhism.

67 See the website (accessed 4 March 2010). Dhammananda, Bhikkhunī, Bhikkhuni: The Reflection of Gender in Thai Society, Chiang Mai: University of Chiang Mai Women's Study Center (2004). Under her former lay name, Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, she published the influential Thai Women in Buddhism (Berkeley: Parallex Press, 1991). Her wat was first owned by Voramai Kabilsingh, Chatsumarn's mother, the first modern Thai woman to claim ordained status: see Martine Batchelor, ‘Voramai Kabilsingh: the First Thai Bhikkhunī, and Chatsumarn Kabilsingh: ‘Advocate for a Bhikkhunī Sangha in Thailand’, in Findly (ed.) Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women.

68 Scott, Rachelle, in Nirvana for Sale?: Buddhism, Wealth and the Dhammakaya Temple in Contemporary Thailand (State University of New York Press, 2009), and pers. comm., recounts an apparently short-lived attempt to use the status of sāmaṇerī, and the word ‘ordain’ (buat) at the Dhammakaya temple in 1999; see also Bangkok Post Homepage: Phra Dhammakaya Temple Controversy, 9 February, 1999. Ayako Itoh (pers. comm.) has told us of an event at a temple near Chiang Mai at which apparently quite a number of women received sāmaṇerī initiation in 2008; this was done, she says, given a promise by the women never to ask for bhikkhunī initiation. We await Ms Itoh's ethnography and further reports.

69 Tiyanavich, Kamala, Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Press, 1997); and The Buddha in the Jungle (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Press, 2003).

70 Cohen, Paul, ‘Buddhism Unshackled: The Yuan “Holy Man” Tradition and the Nation-State in the Tai World’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 227247.

71 Hayashi, Yukio, Practical Buddhism among the Thai-Lao: Religion in the Making of a Region (Kyoto Studies on Asia, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, vol. 5, 2003); Terwiel, Barend J., Monks and Magic: An Analysis of Religious Ceremonies in Central Thailand (3rd edition), (Bangkok: White Lotus, 1994).

72 Heikkilä-Horn, Marja-Leena, ‘Two Paths to Revivalism in Thai Buddhism: The Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke Movements, Temenos Vol. 32, pp. 93111, calls her a mae chi, though here one should perhaps use quotes, as in ‘nun.’

73 Scott, Nirvana for Sale?; Rachelle Scott, ‘“First Among Disciples—Second to None”: Khun Yay and the Re-envisioning of Buddhist Nuns in Thailand’, University of Tennessee Inaugural Lecture, February 2004; Catherine Newell, ‘Monks, Meditation and Missing links: continuity and authority in the Thai Sangha’ (D. Phil thesis, SOAS, University of London, 2008).

74 Jackson, Peter, Buddhism, Legitimation and Conflict: The Political Functions of Urban Thai Buddhism (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1989); Taylor, James, ‘New Buddhist Movements in Thailand: An “individualistic revolution”, reform and political dissonance’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1 (1990), pp. 135154; Swearer, Donald K., ‘Fundamentalistic Movements in Theravāda Buddhism’, in Marty, M. and Appleby, R.S. (eds.), Fundamentalisms Observed (University of Chicago Press, 1991); Fuengfusakul, Apinya, ‘Empire of Crystal and Utopian Commune: Two Types of contemporary Theravāda reform in Thailand, Sojourn Vol. 8 (1993), pp. 153183; Mackenzie, Rory, New Buddhist Movements in Thailand: Towards an understanding of Wat Phra Dhammakāya and Santi Asoke (London: Routledge, 2007).

75 Marja-Leena Heikkilä-Horn, Santi Asok Buddhism and Thai State Response. Åbo: Åbo Akademis Forlag, 1996) pp. 154–158 gives a biography of one sikkhamat. See also Essen, Juliana, Right Development: The Santi Asoke Buddhist Reform Movement of Thailand (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005).

76 Krulfeld, Ruth M., ‘Buddhism, Maintenance and Change: Reinterpreting Gender in a Lao refugee Community’, in Camino, Linda A. & Krulfeld, Ruth M. (eds), Reconstructing lives, Recapturing Meaning: Refugee Identity, Gender, and Culture Change (Basel: Gordon and Breach, 1994) depicts an unconventional nun (whom she calls a mei khaw) in the US Lao community, referred to by some as a ‘lady-monk’. Male novices in Thailand are sometimes called ‘boy-monks’.

77 John Marston, 2004. ‘Clay into Stone: A Modern-Day Tāpas’; and Didier Bertrand, ‘A Medium Possession Practice and Its Relationship with Cambodian Buddhism: The Grū Paramī’, both in Marston and Guthrie (eds) History, Buddhism and New Religious Movements.

78 Hema Goonatilleke, ‘Rediscovering Cambodian Buddhist Women of the Past’; and Heike Löschmann, ‘The Revival of the Don Chee Movement in Cambodia’, both in Tsomo (ed.), Innovative Buddhist Women; Elizabeth Guthrie, ‘Khmer Buddhism, Female Asceticism, and Salvation’, in Marston and Guthrie (eds), History, Buddhism and New Religious Movements.

79 André Bareau, ‘Quelques ermitages et centres de méditation Bouddhiques au Cambodge. Bulletin de l’école française d'extrème-orient, tome 56 (1969), pp. 11–28.

80 Songkreun, Aing, ‘Defining Difference: Don Chee and Mae Chee in Cambodia and Thailand, Siksācakr Vol. 8 (2006), pp. 114. There are various websites: for example, (accessed 4 March 2010). The Khmer-Buddhist Educational Assistance project includes nuns: see (accessed 4 March 2010).

81 (accessed 4 March 2010) describes both Theravāda and ‘Mendicant’ nuns (tu nu); cf. (accessed 4 March 2010).

82 Bell, Sandra, ‘Being Creative With Tradition: Rooting Theravāda Buddhism in Britain,’ Global Buddhism Vol. 1 (2000) pp. 130 [ (accessed 4 March 2010)]. Jane Anne Sarah Angell, ‘Women in Brown: A history of the order of sīladhārā, nuns of the English Forest Sangha’ (MA, Buddhist Studies, University of Sunderland, 2005).

* We are very grateful to Peter Skilling for comments on and criticism of an earlier draft. The paper is based on fieldwork done by McDaniel between 1993 and 2007 (especially in 2006–2007); he was accompanied in the summer of 2006 by Collins. The writing of this paper is a joint effort. Some themes were developed in Steven Collins, ‘Civilisation et la femme célibataire.’ Series of (four) lectures at L'Ecole pratique des hautes études, Paris (2006). The paper, the Appendices, and what we hope is a fairly comprehensive Bibliography within the footnotes, are intended to be an opening exploration into what is a complex and always-changing field.

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Modern Asian Studies
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