“The Rise of Buddhist Feminism?”

Photo by Ye Tike for The Diplomat.

A new piece by Hanna Hindstrom appeared in The Diplomat this week, telling the story of “a few Thai women [who] are defying conservative Buddhist tradition to reinstate an ancient order.” Here are a couple of key snippets:

 The Sangha insists that the Bhikkhuni lineage cannot be revived, because new ordination ceremonies require at least five other Bhikkunis to complete – and this community of women vanished centuries ago. A Sri Lankan campaign to resuscitate the practice using female monks from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition has been treated with hostility by the Thai clergy…

According to [one senior nun], the challenges reflect decades of institutionalised patriarchy, rooted in the belief that being born female is a manifestation of bad karma and that women cannot attain enlightenment. Women are not even allowed to touch monks out of fear that it might pollute their sanctity. Traditionally, female monastics are confined to the life of the white-robed Mae Chees, or lay nuns, deemed so inferior that they are only permitted to serve food and clean for the men…

Technically Bhikkhuni activities are legal in Thailand and the Sangha cannot prevent women from becoming ordained in Sri Lanka and donning the robe. But activists say the government must do more to promote gender equality and the right to freedom of religion – as stipulated by the constitution…

One of the key challenges is amending the 1962 Sangha Act, which excludes women from a number of special privileges afforded to male monks, such as healthcare coverage and public funding for temples. This can have a devastating financial impact on female monastics, forcing them to rely on alternative, sometimes unexpected, sources of funding.

Read the rest here.

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