It all started from just a CURIOSITY.
It was last February. One day, a friend of mine told me about a documentary film that he was pretty sure that I might be interested in. He didn’t tell me what the documentary was about. He just send me a web address without any information.
I was busy, then. So I forgot about if for a while. But when I started watching the documentary, I couldn’t stop. I was so fascinating and I’m not just interested but astonished.
The film was called “Buddha’s Forgotten Nuns”. The main focus was on the Thai Forest Monastic Tradition and getting an ordination in the Forest Sangha as a woman. But the one that caught my mind was this Theravada bhikkhuni in Thailand.
Actually, I hadn’t heard about bhikkhunis in Theravada Buddhism. When I asked about Theravada bhikkhunis, they just told me, “There are nuns in white, but they’re not ordained. No bhikkhunis in Theravada Buddhism.” That was all I got.
However, Ven. Dhammananda, a Theravada bhikkhuni, was there in the film, smiling.
She looked so peaceful and happy even though the situations she had to deal with didn’t seem easy. I was so impressed and curious about her and the monastery. I wanted to know how they live, how they practice, and how they manage to keep on their way of life.
Right after watching the documentary, I tried to search for everything about her on the web and read almost everything that I could find about her. And fortunately, I could find that International Monastic Training (IMT) would be held at the monastery in June. I decided to go to Thailand right away, where I had never been to and I hardly knew about. That couldn’t be a problem at all. This Thai bhikkhuni blew my mind.
She impressed me very deeply at first – she was energetic, impassioned and peaceful – and the monastery did, too – Songdhammakalyani Monastery is right on the busy highway; it’s noisy outside but when you take a few steps inside, it turns to a calm and peaceful place. I know it sounds strange but it really does so.
International Monastic Training was like a samaneri/bhikkhuni 101 class and was “training”, literally.
Ven. Dhammananda, who was a professor of Thammasat University, was well aware of the importance of education and wanted to train samaneris properly.
She was more than a good teacher. She taught every one of us from the basic manners herself. And the classes covered from the family history of the Buddha to the history of bhikkhunis, as well as the Dhamma and the Vinaya, which are almost everything you should know if you want to be ordained or to understand Buddhism more deeply.
With 11 samaneris form Vietnam, the classes were given in three languages – English, Thai and Vietnamese. And it went in harmony.
One of my favorite classes was Vinaya. And Ven. Dhammananda herself, put a lot of weight in not only the Dhamma but also the Vinaya, which includes rules of discipline to observe and the stories behind the origin of each rule.
In this modern society, it’s nearly impossible to follow the Vinaya as it’s written. So if one puts it into practice in a practical way, it’s really crucial to understand the Vinaya and the reasons of rules thoroughly. It’s now just because the Vinaya is the rules to observe. As the Buddha told to Ananda in KimatthaSutta(AN 11.1), skillful virtues are the starting point to the knowledge and vision of release.
Ven. Dhammananda’s way of teaching gave me a clear explanation of the Vinaya and it was easy to understand. And she stressed the importance of observing the Vinaya throughout the whole training. I think it was possible only due to her full understanding on the Vinaya.
And there were the history classes on Thailand and bhikkhunis. They gave me a lot of things to think about.
I have to tell first, as a Buddhist, I had always been confused about all this discrimination based on gender, given that Buddhism is all about compassion and equality. It was really hard for me to understand and I couldn’t. I wondered why they put so much energy on talking about gender, not equality, while they were talking about Metta – loving kindness. And I also wondered that the Buddha really said something like that, who fully knew that the mind has no gender.
The history classes made it clear and gave me a wide and clear picture about it. The discrimination in Buddhism wasn’t there. On the contrary, the Buddha praised enlightened bhikkhunis and their virtues a lot and never looked down on them. It was the social and historical issues that led us to this present situation we are facing. That was it. No more, no less.
My long-time curiosity was solved at last.
It was so valuable. I learned what I can’t learn anywhere else. Because nobody but only bhikkhunis want to talk about bhikkhunis and not many of them know about it clearly.
I’ve been writing about only classes but IMT is not only classes. We learned together, travel together and worked together.
I would never forget I worked an hour a day in the afternoon. That time, all the people in the monastery had to work together whether you’re a bhikkhunni, samaneri, or lay-person. No one told you that you should do this or that but it went on in harmony as promised. It was something I hadn’t experienced before.
We had three day-trips to Nakhon Pathom, Bangkok and Kanchanaburi where I could see what I learned in classes. The mural paintings in Wat Pho are the most interesting, which are about Theris.
I appreciate that she shared her knowledge and spent so much time and energy to teach us. Words are not enough to tell how thankful I am to Ven. Dhammananda and all the bhikkhunis at Songdhammakalyani Monastery for giving me such a chance to practice and learn together with them.
May you be happy and peaceful.
Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.
SOOJUNG SHIM (S.Korea)