Cambodian women take novice ordination

The following wonderful news was sent by Bhikkhuni Sudhamma of the Carolina Buddhist Vihara.

Good news! The historic temporary ordination of Khmer (Cambodian) women happened at the Khmer Wat (temple) yesterday morning, along with 2 little kids joining the Sangha permanently. It was very moving.

The ceremony had historic meaning, because we know of no previous temporary ordination ceremony for Khmer women. (Being locked out of this role, especially while honoring their male relatives who do ‘go forth’, hurts women’s esteem.) Khmer men often take temporary ordination on special occasions, as 170 men & boys did at the Wat for a celebration last summer, but never the women… Until yesterday morning. Three women of Cambodia reverently put on the beautiful robes to wear until after Vesak, paying homage to the Buddha by renouncing the duties of family life to embrace solely religious duties for the short time that they can. Clearly their gratitude overflowed for this opportunity.

The ceremony also touched emotions due to the heroic going forth of two children: our friend Sokha’s little 9 year-old daughter Sri Lakh (now Samaneri Ratanayani), & her 10 year-old son Jedtha (now a Samanera). You may recall my description last December of two specially generous children who eagerly used their savings to buy gifts for kids in need; and the boy who gave up his favorite game, handing it to a less fortunate child? These are the same kids.

Their ordination was the children’s idea, not their parents’. (The boy didn’t even tell his parents until after asking the monks!) Thinking of the painful sacrifice by Sokha and her husband, Chom, in giving up both their precious children, made it a solemn occasion. Sokha and Chom are to be admired for their fortitude, refusing to focus on their personal loss, wisely seeing, instead, the world’s great gain. This mother & father earned extraordinary merit! They should be admired for respecting their children’s urgent wish to go forth into the holy life. They should be admired, too, for having raised their children so skillfully that they will embody the Sangha’s future.

Rejoice with them!

All 6 new monastics earned great merit, as did the people who assisted in the day’s program. Ven. Sim Bo, resident monk of the Wat, gave the Going Forth for male novices; Ven. Sudarshana Bhikkhuni of Sri Lanka (who flew in from Florida just one day for the ceremony) gave the Going Forth for female novices. Witnessing monastics were Ven. Singh Hom of Charlotte (Lao); an elder monk (Khmer or Lao) from Lexington; Ven. Bhikkhu Joe of Spartanburg; myself; Ven. Chitta Bhiksuni of LA (Tibetan tradition); Ven. Pannavati Bhikkhuni of Hendersonville; and Ven. Poonsirivara of Thailand.

Several women in monk-robes at the Wat for Vesak this weekend will be an amazing & uplifting sight for the Khmer people. When Khmer women first met me at a big celebration last summer, many of them burst into tears, never having seen a woman in robes before.

7 thoughts on “Cambodian women take novice ordination

  1. Is it just a coincidence that kids are being ordain the same time as women? Didn’t really think they were suppose to ordain until older.

    It is very convenient way of sidelining women into nuturing babysitting roles if you ask me.

    In Tibetan Buddhist I was forced to have as a ‘guru’ a girl half my age and eventually thought yeah right they really want a carer for this this young person. Most of the nuns seemed like nothing more than babysitters and seem to spend most of their time nuturing the kids, why bother ordaining why not just have kids.

    Along with the hieriachial system it means you also have to sit behind the kids – do what they say ie be subserviant to them.. most kids I know these day are so obnoxious and self important you wonder what it does to see them ordering around and treating like dirt people twice there age which is basically what they do.

    Any way best of luck

    • So leaving the family life does mean leaving the family life ie not leaving the family life in the hope of finding something different only to find oneself in another family albeit as slightly more holy one?

      I don’t believe whether in the ‘world’ or not women should be forced into roles of marriage or child bearing/looking after.

      So are you saying that the Theravarden system is the same as the Tibetan Tulku system ie one of forced domination and control by those who are ordained first and gurus, ie the very young and the very old.

      What I mean by that is from what I have seen anyway …. very old people who have all the information and power, often if maybe they are feel threatened or cannot cope or just cannot let go will give all the opportunity and information and responsibility to the very young as soon as the middle generations show any inititive, question ie threaten the position of the older power people, or possibly aren’t perfect and make a mistake, because the kids are easier to control and the old folks can’t cope with change that isn’t controlled by them or they can’t cope with change full stop.

      So to keep things as they are, to stay safe and as boring as bats… they bring in young kids, who due to their karma or position in the hierachy are given training and education that others have no hope of obtaining, therefore subdueing to the level of dogs on a chain everyone else – as such this completely wipes out the middle generations chances of having any freedom or autonomy, because they are always under the control of the really old people who then instead of passing this information etc onto them, because they can’t cope with what they proabably see as anarchy by-pass them, the middle generations and give all the knowledge, power etc to the really young who appearto be well behave and doing the right thing..at least until they get what they want. The English royal family are possibly a good example of this.

      I thought the early teachings of the Buddha said that there was no heirachy, linage and that children could not ordain until they were 18 – 20?

    • Daisy, I have heard that traditionally if a child is old enough to scare away the crows without being scared by them one is old enough to be ordained as a novice. Within the context of western society I personally find it rather concerning that a 9 year old and a 10 year old should be allowed to make an indefinite commitment to joining a religious order.

  2. Hi Peter,

    I am not saying it is wrong maybe it is best for them, just that there is a hierachical system whether through information or through gurus in Buddhism; therefore it basically means adults are then taught by kids, because from a young age they are given the information and/or the power. In most Tibetan places most of the ordained are in their 20’s and are getting younger and younger and younger, and then there is the Tulkus who you have to bow and scape too ie 5 year olds etc, you have to be subserviant, do what a 5 year old, 10 year old tells you to do, so what does that mean for people who find the Dharma later in life? It is really boring not to mention hard to relate to kids so much younger, and they are ruthless. At one centre I went to the kids in their twenties won’t ‘allow’ studnet to even see the teacher and less you sort of first become their sort of servants and work your way up the hieraciacal latter and they were pretty nasty actually.

    Do you get what I mean, do you really think these young people want older people around? Do they just see themsleves are fantastic because they are ordained and people older who are just finding the Dharma as anything more than loosers, their servants or even babysitters for their kids, because they think they are so s…hot. I can tell you I don’t think they do. It is nice to think these kids are sweet and lovely but it is the opposite they are the body guards of the teachers and in some ways the Dharma.

    I mean it is very homely in some ways … but aren’t we suppose to be leaving the homelife… but it is not even homely it is control, and how is having to look after young kids for women anyway any different from there normal mandane lives?

    I suppose it makes it all very homely.

  3. Dear Bhante,

    Could you clarify how ordaining children at this age fits with the rule the Buddha made after his son was ordained and he was asked to not allow children so young to ordain? I know, as you said, that in the tradition the samanera/samaneri ordination allows for this, but would love to hear more about when it started, how it fits with the above mentioned rule, etc.

    I have also heard/read the image Peter mentioned about the crows, but cannot remember where it is. Would appreciate the reference.

    Thanks,
    Linda

  4. I read a book about the Dalai Lamas’ life and family; as it is a biography not an autobiography so I am not too sure you can take it as truth, but it seems he didn’t really enjoy as a child being taken away from his family and growing up in the dark dinghy halls of the monestry. Possibly due the to political climate it may have been necessary who knows.

    Also he and his brothers were actually really quite naughty, I always saw him as quite straight laced but (I hope it is not gossiping to say this as it is written and published in a book) they used to find it all a bit boring or something at a young age sitting listening to teachings and do things like sew the Elder monks robes to the their cushions so that after the teachings when they stood up they would be attached to their seats, stuff like that. Note: Do not try this in your own monestry I think this is something only a very young Dalai Lama could get away with!

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