Anouncing: Lovichakorntikul, Petcharat, Min Putthithanasombat and John Walsh, “The Virtuous Life of a Thai Buddhist Nun,” in Zayn R. Kassam, ed., Women and Asian Religions (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO LLC), pp.261-82.
Thai society continues to view women as the ‘rear legs of the elephant,’ who should follow and support their husbands who are the front legs. Yet this traditional lifestyle has been challenged by the spread of capitalism through globalization and has been transformed, particularly in urban areas. The expectations and aspirations of women have been significantly altered and their ability and willingness to work outside the house, which have had clear impacts upon their duties within families and households. This changing role for women is matched by the increased importance, particularly in Bangkok. In the meantime, Thai Buddhist society does not recognize Bhikkuni or female monk status, but does accept women becoming nuns and following the eight precepts. One woman who followed this route and founded the Phra Dhammakaya Temple, lived a long and virtuous life which in many ways parallels the changes in women’s status during this period. The life of Khun Yai Chand (or Grandmother Chand) Khonnokyoong (1909-2000) mirrors changes in the lives of Buddhist women in Thailand as the country entered the modern age. Born into a medium-class agricultural family and received no formal education according to Thai customs and tradition which did not support young girls’ schooling, she left and rejected familial claims to become a maid in a rich household in Bangkok in order to learn the supernormal meditative powers so as to ask for forgiveness from her passed-away father. Intentionally, she dedicated herself to meditation as a means of making merit for her father and family and ultimately she devoted her life to being a nun at the age of 29. So that, in 1970, with just $ 100 (at this present’s value which was equivalent to $ 160 at that time), she was able to establish her own temple that has become an extremely successful organization which is aimed at uniting the sentiments and ideas of the past with the present. Her career combines traditional values with the modern means of bringing them about, thereby indicating the role that technology has had in freeing women from domestic labor and enabling them to follow other pursuits. Within twenty years, her followers were spreading her teaching around the world and now there are some 200 temples or branches of the original Phra Dhammakaya Temple nationwide, and 60 temples or meditation centers around the world. She has instructed hundreds of thousands of people both Thai and foreign in her methods. Further, she focuses on spiritual development and the purification of the mind and body. More than 50,000 teenagers have joined programs to avoid drugs, alcohol, and gambling as well as volunteer for public service on regular basis because of her influence. Some 2,000 monks and 1,000 Ubasokas and Ubasikas (male and female laypeople) devote their lives to Buddhism working as a full time staff at her temple. On Buddhist holidays, as many as 50-100,000 people come together to meditate in silence and to attend the religious ceremonies. In common with the inspiration of Bodhisattvas, she provides a community of peace and obedience (without questioning), with new generations ready to build lives in the new world with the methods and traditions of the old.
Keywords: Buddhist Nun, Dhammakaya, Leadership, Self-development, Thailand