Today’s guest blog about Songdhammakalyani Monastery – the first Thai Buddhist all-female Monastery is written by Laura M. Kuah, from www.laurentinaphotography.com. All words and images used in this blog are the property of Laura M. Kuah and must not be reused without permission.
Visiting Thai Bikkhunis at Songdhammakalyani Monastery – the First Thai Buddhist All-Female Monastery
On a recent trip to Thailand, I had the opportunity to visit Songdhammakalyani Monastery, the first Thai Buddhist all-female monastery in Nakhon Pathom, just 53 km west of Bangkok. It is the first temple in Thailand built by women, for women.
The Abbess of this unique spiritual space is Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni , the first Thai woman to be ordained as a female monk in the conservative Theravada Buddhist tradition. Because no male monk in Thailand would ordain her, Ven. Dhammananda went abroad to Sri Lanka to be ordained in the Theravada tradition, which is practiced throughout Southeast Asia.
Wat Songdhammakalyani is translated as “the temple of women who uphold the Dharma”. Ven. Dhammananda’s mother, Venerable Voramai Kabilsingh, the first Thai Bhikkhuni (female monk) who was ordained in the Mahayana tradition in Taiwan, founded the monastery in 1960 when she purchased the land from the Queen of King Rama VI. Today, the monastery serves as a temple, education center and is also transforming into an “eco-temple” with a recycling center and organic vegetable garden on the premises.
Day Trip to Songdhammakalyani All Female Thai Buddhist Monastery
Please email to schedule your visit and if you desire, a meeting with Venerable Dhammananda. She meets with visitors between 2-4PM every day.
The monastery is open to female spiritual seekers, but male visitors/family members may also be granted upon personal consultation from Venerable Dhammananda. You may also ask for a tour of the monastery grounds in English.
Lunch is served around 11:15AM and consists of vegetarian dishes, rice, fruits and desserts that were donated from the neighborhoods surrounding the temple. After the meal, everyone is responsible for cleaning their own dishes.
Overnight Visitors to Songdhammakalyani – Stay at a Female Buddhist Monastery in Thailand!
If you would like to stay at a female Buddhist Monastery in Thailand, you can email Venerable Dhammananda stating the intention for your stay. Many people stay between 3-7 days and participate in the monastic schedule, which includes morning and evening chanting (at 5:30AM and 7PM, respectively), all meals, one hour of community work in the afternoon and the weekly almsround.
Overnight visitors stay in simple dormitory rooms with single beds, a private bathroom, a ceiling fan and a desk. There is a suggested donation of USD $20/day to cover your living expenses.
Dress Code for Visiting the Buddhist Female Monastery
Like any temple in Thailand, wear modest and comfortable clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Flip flops are ideal for slipping your shoes on and off in the buildings.
Medicine Buddha Vihara
Located in the back of the monastery grounds, this is a unique temple to the blue Medicine Buddha is used during Buddhist days and weekends. The dark blue metallic Buddha was based on a vision that Venerable Dhammananda saw during her meditation before she was ordained. (That Buddha was large in size and carved out of solid rock. There was an entrance on his right knee. People were seen going inside through the entrance to be healed by the Buddha.) After traveling to many countries and not being able to find such a Buddha image, Venerable Dhammananda returned home and had the Medicine Buddha created in the Thai style of lost wax casting.
The Yadsohara Vihara (the main shrine) is located at the entrance of monastery and is a three-story building that consists of the dining hall, a small meeting area and the statues of the 13 enlightened Bhikkhuni (Arahat Theris) from Buddha’s time. It’s name honors Princess Yasodhara (Siddhartha Gotama’s wife) as she represents all the Enlightened Bhikkhuni of the past who are shining down on Thailand’s female monks. It is important to note that in the center is the statue of Queen Mahapajapati, the Buddha’s own stepmother/aunt and whom is praised as the first Bhikkhuni.
The large panel painting of the Enlightened Buddha that accompanies this hall was created by Ven. Dhammananda’s youngest son.
Here, you can also see a shrine and a life-size portrait draped in beautiful flowers that depicts Venerable Voramai Kabilsingh.
This is the newest addition to the monastery, completed in early 2018. Located just next to the Vihara, this small but growing art gallery features contemporary Buddhist artwork by Venerable Dhammananda’s youngest son, including an intricate twenty-first century interpretation of the ancient Tibetan tangka (devotional painting on cotton/thread), inked nature prints and earth-toned textile sculptures. These compelling expressions of beauty links the finite, human world to the realms of the divine.
Painted Wall of Buddhist Quotes
On the path to the Medicine Buddha Vihara, you will find a salmon pink wall with Buddhist quotes painted in both English and Thai. This is a great wall for silent contemplation and reflection. Ven. Dhammananda’s assistant explained that many of these quotes were original quotes from Venerable Dhammananda herself and some walls also featured her own handwriting.
Located near the entrance of the monastery, you can find a small but impressive collection of books in both Thai and English, the majority of them written by Ven. Dhammananda, as well as her Yasodhara newsletters (produced since the 1980s). In addition to framed artwork and small devotional objects, there are also “Thai Bhikkhuni” t-shirts, tote bags and handicrafts for sale.
How to Get to Songdhammakalyani All Female Buddhist Monastery
Songdhammakalyani Monastery, 195 Petkasem Highway, Muang District,
Nakhonpathom, Thailand 73000. Tel : +66 34 258 270 (front desk).
Front desk opening hours (phone calls / visitors): 8.30am-5pm
Average Uber/Private Driver one-way fare from Central Bangkok: ฿ 700 (during rush hour), ฿500 (non-rush hour) – the rate should not be more than ฿800 one way
The journey from Bangkok took approximately 53 minutes by car one-way.
Pro-Tip: Sometimes, the driver will agree to wait for you during your visit. If you are going for a few hours, this is ideal. Try to negotiate a rate with the driver in advance and have one of the Sisters communicate with him about the time of your departure and schedule of your visit.
Venerable Dhammananda – firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com (another English speaking monastic, often copied on her emails)
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is so important as it will help you with emergencies and unexpected costs on your trip. Make sure that you declare any pre-existing health conditions so that you are covered for those. Check your cover for accidents and medical care and also lost baggage or getting things stolen. Remember to report as soon as something goes wrong on your trip because some travel insurance companies require you to report something that you want to claim for within 24 hours. Read the fine print carefully when you sign up. I always recommend World Nomads. You can get a free quote here:
What to wear when Visiting Temples in Thailand
What should you wear when visiting temples in Thailand? Dress conservatively when visiting temples in Thailand. Wear trousers or a long skirt and cover shoulders.
A scarf is a good thing to have handy in Thailand as you can use it to cover yourself if you are wearing a vest top or maxi dress. Men should avoid shorts and wear t-shirts or a smart-casual shirt.
You will need to remove your shoes before going up the temple steps so wear some comfortable sandals or shoes that you can slip on and off. Birkenstocks are a good option.
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