The Theris, or First Nuns, have long been a mystery to Buddhist women. They stand like a lovely mountain range covered in mist, not visible but their presence is felt. As Buddhism has met the modern world, more and more women are practicing. So also are women taking great responsibility as the heads of monasteries, as dharma teachers and scholars. And many of us wish to know and express our gratitude to our women ancestors.
|Photo 1: Artist Mayumi Oda with Upaya's|
I am a Western woman, a Dharma teacher, and the founder and Abbot of a monastery in the United States. I went to Thailand in February, 2002, to attend the Aryavinaya meeting inspired by the Thai social activist Sulak Shivaraksa. Prior to my journey to Thailand, I had learned about a brave woman and scholar who had been recently ordained as a Samaneri (novice nun) by Bhikkshunis in Sri Lanka. Her name was Samaneri Dhammananda. This was the first such ordination of a woman in Thailand in 1000 years as the nun’s line had died out a millenium ago. I asked one of the conference coordinators if I could possibly stay with the Samaneri after the meeting. I wanted to meet this courageous person, to practice with her friends, and learn more about her journey.