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I, who revere the Dhamma

Smiling, full of warmth and joyful, the 76-year-old Chatsumarn Kabilsingh doesn’t look like much of a rebel. But according to Thai authorities, she is a dangerous dissident. In Thailand, women are banned from becoming monks, and Venerable Dhammananda – that is her Buddhist name – has disregarded this law. She became the first Thai fully ordained female monk – bhikkhuni and she has been also an abbess of the Songdhammakalyani monastery, Thailand’s first temple for female monks.

Dhammananda is trying to bring back a tradition that disappeared centuries ago. In the time of Buddha, female monks did exist. But the female lineage of monks died out in the 14th century due to wars and invasions. Because Buddhism is the country’s official religion, the state and clergy are inseparably linked and in 1928, a secular law was passed by the state of Thailand, banning monks from ordaining women.

The Thai government have repeatedly denied visas to Sri Lankan monks who want to ordain women in the country, and have even threatened to arrest bhikkhunis on the charge of impersonating a monk, a civil offence in Thailand. Therefore, the only way for them, is to travel abroad to get the full ordination. On returning to Thailand, bhikkhunis are not recognized as monks, but are treated as regular laypeople, and are denied the benefits and national founding that male monks are entitled to. They exist in the community, work for the local people, but stay invisible for the country.