Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Religion is often seen as a driver of violent conflict, especially in the contemporary context of transnational extremist movements. Nonetheless, religion continues to be a resource for peace in many places around the world, often with women leading the way. Thailand is no exception. Here, religion serves as a source of inspiration and courage for many women leaders in their long-long commitments to transform structural, socio-cultural, and interpersonal violence.
During our Field Study in the Deep South, members of the Network of Civic Women for Peace spoke to us about the Koran as the spiritual reference for Muslim women healing from trauma and for their work to organize peace dialogues. Similarly, women leaders of the Buddhist Peace Network highlighted the ethics of their religious tradition as the overarching framework of their peace initiatives. For both Muslim and Buddhist women in Pattani, religious values serve as both the starting point and sustaining architecture for local and regional peace activities.
Recently, in a visit to Chiang Mai, five of the Rotary Peace Fellows met the forward thinking peace advocate, Ouyporn Khuankaew, co-founder of the International Women´s Partnership for Peace and Justice (http://womenforpeaceandjustice.org/). Author, healer, social activist, lay Buddhist nun and feminist, Ouyporn co-founded a peace center for women´s education, healing and spiritual practice in the Buddhist village where she grew up, 30 minutes from downtown Chiang Mai. Here, as throughout most of Thailand, women are asked to sit in the back of the temple in order not to distract the monks. Therefore, with Ouyporn´s guidance, the women of the village constructed a temple where they can meditate together freely as principal participants. It is a small, simple adobe mud building, yet women are cool and happy sitting together under the image of the Buddha, whom they learn offered women the chance for intensive practice and taught that men and women are equally capable of achieving enlightenment. Very proud to have constructed the temple with their own hands, the women went on to build an adjacent adobe library which is filled with books on Buddhism, feminism and gender, including stories of the first Buddhist women. In addition, they built a large adobe dormitory which can house the many participants who come annually from all of Southeast Asia and from around the world for the summer programs tailored for women social activists seeking spiritual renewal.
Ouporn spoke to us about another feminist Buddhist leader in Thailand, the Ven. Dhammananda, an active member of the International Committee for the Peace Council (http://www.peacecouncil.org/ ). Previously Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Ven. Dhammananda is a scholar of Buddhism and former professor of philosophy at Thammasat University in Bangkok. She is the first Thai woman to be fully ordained as a Theravada nun. She was ordained in the Dharmaguptaka ordination lineage in Sri Lanka, a country which has maintained the lineage of nuns begun by the Buddha, unlike Thailand where the lineage has been lost. Ven. Dhammananda has attracted many women with interest in the ascetic Buddhist path and now there are 100 ordained Buddhist nuns in Thailand who practice together in their own monastery.
Dr. Mónica Maher – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 21