Thai Women & Buddhism

Unlike in Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka, the female Theravada bhikkhuni
lineage was never established in Thailand. As a result, there is a wide-spread
perception among Thais that women are not meant to play an active role in
monastic life; instead, they are expected to live as lay followers, making merit
in the hopes of being born in a different role in their next life. As a result,
lay women primarily participate in religious life either as lay participants in
collective merit-making rituals, or by doing domestic work around temples. A
small number of women choose to become
Mae Ji, non-ordained religious specialists who permanently observe either the eight or
ten precepts. Mae Ji do not generally receive the level of support given to
ordained monks, and their position in Thai society is the subject of some
Recently, there have been efforts to attempt to introduce a
bhikkhuni lineage in Sri Lanka as a step towards improving the position of women in Thai
Buddhism. Unlike similar efforts in Sri Lanka, these efforts have been extremely
controversial in Thailand. Women attempting to ordain have been accused of
attempting to impersonate monks (a civil offense in Thailand), and their actions
have been denounced by many members of the ecclesiastic hierarchy. Most
objections to the reintroduction of a female monastic role hinge on the fact
that the monastic rules require that both five ordained monks and five ordained
bhikkhunis be present for any new bhikkhuni ordination. Without such a quorum,
critics say that it is not possible to ordain any new Theravada bhikkhuni. The
Thai hierarchy refuses to recognize ordinations in the Taiwanese tradition (the
only currently existing bhikkhuni ordination lineage) as valid Theravada
ordinations, citing differences in philosophical teachings, and (more
critically) monastic discipline.