Abstract: Rurality, Ordination Debates and Thai Mae Chi

by Dr Barbara Kameniar

Flinders University / The University of Melbourne
South Australia

In 1990/1991 I undertook a study which involved a small group of mae chi living in rural Thailand. Amongst other things we discussed the mae chi’s responses to the bhikkhuni ordination debates that were occurring at the time. The majority of women expressed little concern for pursuing full ordination. Some of the mae chi saw the pursuit of bhikkhuni ordination to be the desires of an educated urban elite with little connection to their lives and some raised concerns about what might happen to their status (which was already low) if full bhikkhuni ordination was permitted.

This paper revisits some of these earlier findings and compares the findings to that of other groups of mae chi living in rural areas in April 2007. The paper will address the following questions: How do mae chi living in rural Thailand in 2007 engage with contemporary debates around bhikkhuni ordination? To what extent have the views of mae chi living in rural Thailand changed in the past 15 years and to what extent have they remained the same? What impact might bhikkhuni ordination in other Buddhist traditions have on the lives of mae chi living in rural Thailand? How might rural women within any tradition be engaged in bhikkhuni ordination debates?