Orality, Memory, and Spiritual Practice: Outstanding Female Thai Buddhists in the Early 20th Century

Martin Seeger


Through a study of a number of biographies of outstanding female Thai Buddhists in the period between 1880 and 1950, I want to investigate the access of Thai women to Buddhist teachings and practice. Here I will give particular attention to the religious life and work of Khunying Yai Damrongthammasan, who appears to have produced one of the first significant Buddhist treatises ever authored by a Thai woman. In addition, I will also examine how her major teacher Somdet Phra Buddhaghosajarn Jaroen Ñānavaro conveyed and reflected on Buddhist knowledge. In order to add further evidence to the major arguments I intend to develop in this article, I will also investigate, albeit only briefly, or refer to relevant aspects of the religious life of a number of female Buddhist practitioners of the same time period, many of whom did not come from a privileged social stratum as Khunying Yai did; she belonged to the nobility. The case studies will allow me to examine the significance of orality and memory for female Buddhist practice and education in early 20th century Thai Buddhism.

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