Thailand's Rich and Ancient History of Women in Buddhism

Thailand has a rich and ancient history of women in Buddhism, from the 3rd century BCE, when Asokan-era arahant missionaries Sona and Uttara Thera came from India to the ancient land of Suvarnabhumi first sharing the Buddha's teaching, ordaining more than 3,000 noble men and 1,500 noble women as bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. This was the foundation of Buddhism in Thailand, where Buddhism is still very much alive and flourishing to this day, with more than 90% of the population being Buddhists of the Theravada School. Thailand also has many Chinese-Thai Mahayana Buddhists, and an old and recently reviving history of Vajrayana Buddhism. The ancient land of Survarnamubhumi or Suvannabhumi in the Pali-Buddhist language -- the Land of Gold -- used to include all of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and the South of Vietnam and China.

This blog showcases a little of the immense wealth of the rich heritage and history of Thailand's Buddhist women - and of all of the Thai people and culture - from ancient to modern times. We hope you enjoy your Women in Buddhism Tour here and during your stay in Thailand!

(If you enjoy this blog, please be sure to read the "Older Posts" - click link at the bottom of this page. Most more recent posts are focused around Bangkok and Ayutthaya. Older posts are mostly from further afield upcountry in Thailand's Northeast and Northwest.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Songdhammakalyani - Ven Dhammananda Bhikkhuni


Songdhammakalyani Temple

This land was purchased from H.M.Indrasakdisaci, Queen of King Rama IV in 1960. Ven.Bhikkhuni Ta Tao Fa Tzu (Varamai Kabilsingh) was the founder and built the Uposathagara (Main chapel) as well as Dhammapisamai school respectively.
Watra Songdhammakalyani is a temple that is completed with Uposatha Hall and Sima boundary as prescribed by the vinaya, therefore it is ready for ordination. The first lower ordination (samaneri) was given by Bhikkhuni Upajjhaya R.Saddha Sumana from Sri Lanka in 2002, and again in 2005 both ordination ceremony were witnessed by Thai bhikkhu sangha. But because the Thai Government has not yet recognized the bhikkhuni status, the temple has not been registered as a temple yet.
However, there is Buddhasavika Foundation that the temple is associated with for its activities.

Usually the temples in Thailand are called “Wat”, but here we have “Watra” which is a Sanskrit word meaning “practice” it is the same as Pali “Wat” (w for v)but in Thailand we prefer to use the Thai spelling “Wat”, all the three words mean the same only they are in different languages.

In 2001 after the ordination of Ven.Dhammananda, she added yet 3 more rai to the existing 6 rai of land which was previously given by Ven.Voramai Kabilsingh.

The Founder

Voramai Kabilsingh was born in 1908 started her education in Catholic school and was the first woman to graduate with physical education. In 1932 she went to Singapore on a bicycle with a group of boy scouts. She spent many years as a journalist and editor of a local weekly magazine. She got married in 1946 to Korkiat Shatsena, a member of parliament and representative of people in a southern province.

She had only one child who later on became Dr.Chatsumarn Kabilsingh and presently Ven.Bhikkhuni Dhammananda.

Ven.Voramai Kabilsingh started her monastic life by receiving the 8 precepts from Pra Prommuni, vice abbot of Wat Bavornnives, the royal residence since Rama IV. Later she went to Taiwan and received full ordination to become a bhikkhuni in 1971, She continued propagating Buddhism through Vipassana Banthernsarn, a monthly Buddhist magazine for 32 years. Also she was regularly involved in social welfare providing food and clothing for the poor and needy. She sponsored ordination of more than a hundred monks through out the country. More than a hundred Buddha images were casted and offered to various far away village temples.

Ven.Voramai Kabilsingh often was known as Ven.Grandma passed away peacefully at a full ripe age of 96 years on June 24,2003.

Second Generation

Ven. Bhikkhuni Dhammananda, the present abbot was born as Chatsumarn Shatsena. She received her education from India and Canada. She spent 32 years teaching as an associate professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religions at the well known Thammasat University in Thailand. She was divorced with three grown sons and three grandchildren.

She took the turn of life in 2000 when she went to receive Bodhisattva’s precept from Fo Guang Shan in Taiwan. The following year, 2001 she went to receive her lower ordination from Sri Lanka. Her female preceptor was Ven.Bhikkhuni R.Saddha Sumana from Tusitarama, Eheliyagoda. Her male preceptor was Ven.T.Dhammaloka of Tapodantamaya, Mt.Lavinia, Colombo.

In 2003 she was ordained as bhikkhuni at the same place, and to further strengthen her lineage she took yet another upasampada in 2005 with her former bhikkhuni Upajjhaya and The Most Venerable Maha Nayaka Sri I.Sumangalo was her bhikkhu Upajjhaya at Dambulla. Her ordination lineage is Syamopali from Dambulla chapter.

Since her ordination she has engaged herself in depth to build a strong foundation for a better understanding of bhikkhuni ordination and for a better understanding of leading a life as a Buddhist. Within the past 5 years she has brought out more than ten books for education of the public.

At the same time her temple is an open space for both men and women, Buddhists and non-Buddhists to come and nourish each other spiritually and physically.

Her temple offers 3-day training courses for public. Students from the US often book to come and enjoy the live-in experience within a monastic setting at the same time receive education of they interest.

The temple also house a Home of Peace and Love providing space and opportunity for underprivileged women and girls to live in a peaceful atmostphere. Girls are sponsored for higher education and training from monastic setting.


Songdhammakalyani Monastry, means the temple of women who uphold dhamma, is situated on Petkasem Hwy, km.52-53 west of Bangkok, just before the proper Nakhonpathom province. Petkasem is a major highway leading west before turning down south, and could continue on to Kuala Lumpur.


In front of the temple there is a golden laughing Buddha, built some 20 years ago, according to the Ven.Grandmother (Voramai Kabilsingh) “the smiling face of the future Buddha should lessen the unwholesome thought in the mind of the people who see him.”

Songdhammakalyani Monastry 195 Petkasem Highway Muang District, Nakhonpathom Thailand 73000
Tel.& Fax. 66 3428 4315 E- mail :

Friday, January 7, 2011

Memorial Hall of Khun Yai Ajahn - founder of Dhammakaya International

Khun Yai Ajahn Maha Ratana Upasika Chandra Khonnokyoong was a Thai Buddhist upasika and nun (maechee) who founded one of Thailand's and the world's largest contemporary Buddhist organizations - Dhammakaya International.

Loung Por Sod

She was a meditation and Dhamma student in the tradition of Dhammakaya meditation master Loung Por Sod (Phra Mongkolthepmuni) who named her as the foremost of his students; she then becoming one of the world's most widely followed contemporary Buddhist teachers. The Dhammakaya Chedi or chetiya was built in her teacher's honor and named after him.

The Dhammakaya Chetiya
is clad with one million personal images of the Buddha

Khun Yai was born in 1909 and passed away in the year 2000 at the age of 91 after engaging in extensive meditation practice, Dhamma teaching and great acts of merit, including the construction of Wat Phra Dhammakaya (Wat Voranee Dhammakayaram), the largest temple/monastery in Thailand with more than 3,000 monks, nuns and laymen and laywomen in residence. The temple's foundation stone was layed in 1977 by HRH Princess Mahacakri Siridhorn on behalf of His Majesty the King of Thailand.

Khun Yai Ajahn's memorial monument, a great pyramid hall, is located at the main Dhammakaya center in Pathumthani just north of Bangkok. One hundred thousand monks from 30,000 temples around Thailand together with very many lay students participated in her memorial service.

Temple and pyramid-shaped Memorial Hall to Khun Yai

You can find photos of her memorial and the construction of her memorial hall here. There is also a welcome page for international visitors here. A biographical video of her life can be seen here.

The Dhammakaya Movement founded by Khun Yai Ajahn and her student Loung Por Dhammajayo has founded meditation centers in eighteen countries with millions of people in Thailand and internationally practicing Dhammakaya meditation, which is promoted by a Buddhist satellite network called Dhamma Media Channel with 24-hour a day meditation teachings broadcast to its audience worldwide.

lunch in the world's largest Dhamma Hall

The Dhammakaya Movement has also produced a CDROM of the Tipitaka in conjunction with the Pali Text Society in the year 1995, and by the year 2000 (the year that Khun Yai Ajahn passed away), Wat Phra Dhammakaya's students were the most successful Pali students in Thailand.

Candlelight Mahapuja

Memorial Monument to Khun Yay Ajahn

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Noppapolbhumi Siri Chedi (the Queen's Chedi) at Doi Inthanon

Noppapolbhumisiri Chedi
National Monument to the Foremost Women Disciples of the Buddha

The Noppapolbhumisiri Chedi was built by the Royal Thai Airforce near the summit of Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s tallest peak (2,565 meters) to commemorate Queen Sirikit of Thailand’s 50th birthday.

It took 900 days to build and a budget of 135 million baht, and was dedicated on August 12, 1992. The chedi is 55 meters tall, 5 meters shorter than the adjacent Nopparmaythanedon Chedi to King Bhumibol, indicating that she is 5 years younger. It has a 12-sided form, and the base of the chedi is built in the shape of an open lotus flower with 4 levels. Above this, the main body of the chedi has 25 small levels, topped by a golden spire of 8 levels. The entire chedi therefore has 37 levels, signifying the “37 Factors of Enlightenment.” On the top of the golden spire is a 9-level silver ‘umbrella.’

The “37 Factors of Enlightenment” or “Wings of Awakening” (Pali: bodhipakkhiya-dhammá) include:

· Four Foundations of Mindfulness (satipatthana)

· Four Right Efforts (sammappadhana)

· Four Bases of Power (iddhipada)

· Five Faculties (indriya)

· Five Strengths (bala)

· Seven Factors of Enlightenment (bojjhanga)

· Eight Fold Path (ariya-magga)

Queen Sirikit is popularly viewed as the ‘mother of Thailand’ and this chedi dedicated to her was built to honor all women, by highlighting the significant contribution that women have made in the development of Buddhism. The artwork decorating the chedi depicts the history of these women, briefly described in this document.

Napapon Phoom-siri Chedi -- a shrine to the Foremost Women Disciples of the Buddha -- was dedicated to the Queen of Thailand commemorating her 60th birthday in 1992) near the summit of Doi Inthanon. It is a twin of the shrine on the neighboring peak -- a shrine to the Foremost Male Disciples of the Buddha -- which was dedicated to the King of Thailand.

Chedi Base

The 9 purple tiled mosaics around the base of the chedi tell the stories about the lives of famous historical Bhikkunis—ordained women followers of the Buddha who practiced with right effort until they reached Arahantship. The Tripitaka mentions more than 500 enlightened Bhikkunis, thirteen of which were singled out and received specific praise from the Buddha for their particular abilities and distinctions. Nine of these thirteen Bhikkhunis are depicted on the outside walls of the chedi.

Bhikkhuni Uppalavanna Theri was praised for her achievement in performing miracles.

Upper Balcony (OUTSIDE)

The 6 brown clay tile mosaics on the outside of the upper balcony depict well-known ‘upasika’ (a faithful female lay supporter/practitioner), who had practiced Dharma in past lives and aspired to be reborn in the Buddha’s pure land in order to be able to continue practicing the Buddha’s teachings.

Lower Balcony (INSIDE)

The 6 brown clay tile mosaics on the inside of the lower balcony illustrate excellent Bhikshunis and ‘upasika’, who towards the end of their lives ordained in the Buddhist Order and attained Arahantship.

Inside the Chedi Hall

The centerpiece of the hall is a standing Buddha statue in the Pang-Ram-Phung position, which is the position for those people who were born on a Friday, the birth day of Her Majesty the Queen. The Buddha statue is 3.20 meters high, weighs around 5 tons, and is made from white jade (Hun-Pai-Yu) from China. This Buddha figure has received the name from Her Majesty the Queen: “Phra-Bud-Dha-Si-Ri-Ki-Ti-Thee-Ma-Yu-Mong-Khon”.

Inside the head of the statue (‘Phra-Ket-Mo-Le’) is enshrined a relic of the Buddha, which was given by the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand (the head of the Buddhist Sangha in Thailand, appointed by the King).

The lower wall is decorated with carvings of Her Majesty’s activities, such as her visits to villages in the rural countryside, crafted in the Thai granite.

The upper part of the wall has been decorated with Italian glass mosaic depicting 12 stories taken from the Buddha’s life. The stories highlight 4 historical women who had a very strong influence in the development of Buddhism and helping the Dharma to spread. These include: Phra Nang Sri Maha Maya (the Buddha’s mother), Phra Nang Maha Pajapati Gotami, Phra Nang Bimba Yasodhara (the Buddha’s wife), and Visakha Maha Upasika.

  1. Her Holiness (Phra Nang) Sri Maha Maya: her dream foretelling the Buddha’s birth
  2. Giving birth to the bodhisattva, the Buddha-to-be, under a Shala tree
  3. The Buddha: preaching/giving Dharma to Sandusita Devaputta
  4. Her Holiness Mahapajapati: making offering to the Buddha
  5. Her Holiness Mahapajapati: ordained as a Bhikkhuni
  6. Her Holiness Mahapajapati: attained nirvana
  7. Lady Visakha Maha Upasika: listened to the Buddha’s teaching
  8. Lady Visakha: had been chased from the richest house
  9. Lady Visakha: had offered the metal palace to the Buddha
  10. Her Holiness Bimba Yasodhara: asked for the ‘treasure’ of Dharma (for their son, Ven. Rahula)
  11. The Buddha had explained the inside and outside of the ‘treasure’
  12. Her Holiness Yasodhara-Bimba: ordained as a Bhikkhuni

Bimba Yasodhara Rahulamata -- the Buddha's Former Wife -- Ordaining as a Bhikkhuni.
She became one of his Foremost Disciples

Sources, and more information:

Buddhist Women at the Time of the Buddha — Hellmuth Hecker



Most of the information for this post came from two documents in Thai supplied by Walaiporn Pornwiroon of Bangkok, and Captain Aekasingha Klinphodi of the Royal Thai Ariforce and the Assistant Working Group for the Royal Chedis on Doi Inthanon. Captain Aekasingha was also very generous with his time, showing me around the chedis. Lawan Vongchindarak in Bangkok contributed significant time to researching and translation. Brock and Nui Wilson of Chiang Mai also contributed to the translation. Special thanks to Venerable Thubten Chodron and Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni, whose interest in and continual dedication to the contribution of women to Buddhism initiated this effort.
May this work contribute in some small way to the benefit of all mother beings.  
Barry Flaming, Chiang Mai (