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Women of the World


Honouring the best on International Women’s Day
Published: 5/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Outlook

To celebrate International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8, 19 women, six of whom are Thai, will be honoured with the Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award tomorrow.

The award presentation ceremony will take place at the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women.

Senator Rosana Tositrakul is among the Thai recipients who include Bhikkhunis and a group of mae chees, or white-robed nuns, who are active in spiritual and social services.

The award recipients are:

Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts (US)

A former business executive, Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts is the leading Teacher of the Heart Circle Sangha in New Jersey, US. She conducts meditation retreats, teaches Zen workshops and offers koan studies.

She is also the co-founder of the Psycho-Spiritual Healing Project, a continuing joint project of the Heart Circle Sangha and Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka to bring counselling skills to local para-professionals following the tsunami of 2004. Joan leads a team of US psychotherapists who travel to Sri Lanka to teach psychotherapeutic counselling skills.

Bhikkhuni Poonsirivara (Thailand)

After living in the US for 26 years, studying, getting married, raising two children and finally becoming ordained, Bhikkhuni Poonsirivara decided to return to her homeland of Thailand.

She built a meditation retreat called the Suan Siri Dharma Centre for youngsters and is committed to developing a network to support female ordination and to engage in social work. Women have a lot to contribute to society if we can transcend cultural barriers, she said.

Mae Chee Brigitte Schrottenbacher (Austria)

In April, 1989, Brigitte Schrottenbacher attended her first meditation retreat in Thailand. That changed her life. Now, she has been living in Thailand for nearly 20 years and has become a meditation master and dharma teacher for both Thais and international students.

Since 2002 she has been touring Europe annually, offering dharma teachings in many countries, and returning with offerings for Thai mae chees and social service projects in Thailand which include support for Aids patients and disaster victims.

Mae Chee Chuejai Pathumnan (Thailand)

Mae Chee Chuejai Pathumnan, 47, has been living under monasticism for 25 years. Apart from teaching vipassana meditation, the nun is active in early childhood education and social services. She is currently the abbess at the Rattana Paiboon Meditation Centre in Bangkok. She also directs the Early Childhood Development Centres of the Thai Mae Chee Institute in Buriram and Bangkok. In addition, she teaches at the Community Occupational College of Bangkok.

Bhikkhuni Chao-hwei Shih (Burma\Taiwan)

Born in Burma, Bhikkhuni Chao-hwei Shih moved to Taiwan when she was eight years old. She teaches Chinese, Buddhism and Religious Studies at Hsuan Chuang University, where she is currently a professor.

Founder of the Research Centre for Applied Ethics and dean of Graduate Studies at Hong Shih Buddhist College, she is also active in environmental protection and animals rights. She is also a vocal supporter of female ordination.

Janice Willis (US)

A professor of religion at Wesleyan University in the US, Janice Willis is one of the earliest US-scholar practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. She has authored numerous essays and books on Buddhist meditation, hagiography, women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and race.

In 2000, Time magazine named Willis one of six spiritual innovators for the new millennium. In 2003, she was a recipient of Wesleyan University’s Binswanger Prize for excellence in teaching, and she was profiled in a 2005 Newsweek article about Spirituality in the US.

Her books include Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey (2001) and The Diamond Light: An Introduction to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation (1972).

Maha Pajapati College (Thailand)

Founded by the late Mae Chee Khunying Kanittha Wichiencharoen, the Maha Pajapati College plays an important role in educating nuns to enhance their social roles and status. After 15 years, the project is now complete with educational services and many community outreach programmes in practise.

Bhikkhuni Nantayani (Thailand)

Bhikkhuni Nantayani is the abbess of Nirotharam temple in Chiang Mai. Her women-only environment is full of Bhikkhunis and Samaneris (female novices) as part of her efforts to raise the role and social status of Thai women in the North of Thailand.

Bhikkhuni Nantayani actively teaches dharma practices and her spirituality serves as a source of inspiration for other women.

Dharma Moli Project (Nepal)

The Dharma Moli Project is a monastic school which gives both spiritual and occupational training to young girls who are at risk of human trafficking. The project was founded by Bhikkhuni Dharma Vijaya of Nepal and Bhikkhuni Molini of Burma.

Lama Tsultrim Allione (US)

Tsultrim Allione was one of the first women from the US to be ordained as a Tibetan nun in 1970. She is the author of Women of Wisdom, a groundbreaking book on the lives of great women Tibetan practitioners.

After four years as a nun, she returned her monastic vows to have a family. She has continued to practice, study and teach dharma for the last 30 years.

Rinchen Khando Choegyal (India)

Rinchen Khando Choegyal was born in Tibet and has lived in exile since the 1960s. She has dedicated herself to the Tibetan cause and has travelled throughout the world advocating the preservation of Tibetan culture. She has helped exiled Tibetans by focusing on education, improving conditions for the elderly and the poor, and developing religious studies for women.

As founder of the Tibetan Nuns Project, she has helped build many nunneries for refugee nuns.

Mae Chee Nalinrat Sutthithamvith (Thailand)

Mae Chee Nalinrat Sutthithamvith is a dedicated meditation master. She has been a nun for 38 years and now resides at her temple, Buddha Savika, in Chon Buri.

Charika Marasinghe (Sri Lanka)

The Oxford-educated Charika Marasinghe practices dharma by being an active advocate of human rights. She is currently with the Sarvodaya Movement, the largest NGO in Sri Lanka. She herself began the Savordayas legal aide programme and is well known internationally in the field of children’s rights.

Krisadawan Hongladarom (Thailand)

Assoc Prof Krisadawan Hongladarom is Thailand’s expert on Tibetan Buddhism.

Her book At Earth Dust, describes her pilgrimage of prostration in Tibet. Afterwards, she resigned from her teaching job to practice and to introduce Vajrayana Buddhism to Thailand.

Her foundation, the Thousand Stars Foundation, is building a retreat centre and the Tara Maha Stupa in Hua Hin to honour the female Bodhisattva.

Oddom van Syvorn (Cambodia)

Oddom van Syvorn is a Cambodian peace activist, meditation teacher and peace educator. She teaches meditation to women and children in her home province, Banteay Meanchey, as well as offering peace education and nonviolence training.

While she has worked for the most part in relative obscurity, not seeking notice for herself, Sivorn was one of the 1000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Susan Pembroke (US)

A psychotherapist by profession, Susan Pembroke is the founder of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis and also the founder and guiding teacher of Insight Meditation of Ventura, California, US.

She began meditating in 1986 and has studied with a number of teachers within the Buddhist Theravada tradition. The Alliance for Bhikkhunis was formed to support monastic Theravada women in the US and abroad who are fully ordained or seeking ordination. (Visit

Senator Rosana Tositrakul (Thailand)

A longstanding advocate of non-violence, senator Rosana Tositrakul is also a pioneer of reviving the use of medicinal herbs and self-care in Thailand.

A devout Buddhist, she believes in applying the teachings to initiate change and alleviate human suffering. Her participation in the people’s movements to counter corruption has won much public respect. Many of of her translation of Buddhist Dharma teachings have also become best-sellers, which encourage Thai Buddhists to go beyond rituals to practice and understand the heart of Buddhism.

Bhikkhuni Pannavati (US)

Bhikkhuni Pannavati is co-abbot, founder, and spiritual director of the Embracing Simplicity Hermitage. Although active in dharma services, her priority remains the practice to attain spiritual liberation.

Carol Gansho O’Dowd (US)

Carol Gansho O’Dowd is one of a handful of women clergy in the Buddhist Churches of America, a network of 60 Buddhist Jodo Shinshu Japanese temples. She has established a Buddhist Women’s Association to honour the women who have been the kitchen ladies for years quietly serving the temples.

Sensei Gansho’s passion lies in concept of the community helping everyone tap into the spirit of the community. She engages in intra- and inter-faith dialogues, and is also a member of the Colorado Association of Psychotherapists.

Bhikkhuni Dharma Dana (Taiwan\Cambodia)

Bhikkhuni Dharma Dana is the founder and abbess of Panna Vihara, which is located outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In residence are 13 Bhikkhunis, 11 Samaneris and 10 to 20 helpers.

They are in the process of developing Buddhist education for Cambodians in conjunction with the head of the Sangha and the Ministry of Culture and Religion.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Surasawasdi #

    Congratulation for all, especially Ajarn Kris. Although I can’t join many good activities of the foundation, but I know that this is the new page of understanding Tibetan Buddhism.

    May 19, 2009
    • Thank you kha Ajarn. Hope you will have time to attend some of our activities in the near future. We always think of you and wish to invite you to give a talk again.

      May 21, 2009

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