is the historical development of mae jis? And what is their
The oldest historical evidence on mae jis is found in a record
written by a Christian missionary who visited Thailand during
mid Ayudhya period (arond 17th century A.D.) giving an image
of an elderly woman wearing white residing in the monastery
'ji' is still arguable. Some mae jis think that it derives from
'Jina', meaning "a conqueror," but this word is usually
used for the Buddha, it is doubtful then if mae ji would use
the word in the same sense. In the Buddha's time, there was
parivrajika, which means ascetics, but again they belong to
a non-Buddhistic sect. There is yet another group known as 'Ajivika'
also non-Buddhists. In old Thai literature, there is mentioning
of ji pluey' to denote the naked ascetics belonging to the Jain
religion. The word 'ji' means simply 'ordained one' and could
apply to both genders. The prefix 'mae' literally means 'mother',
but actually only denotes female gender. Hence 'mae ji' should
mean 'ordained woman'.
there is no regulation applicable to mae jis. Generally it implies
Buddhist women with shaved head, wearing white, observing 5-8
precepts. They could reside in the temple compound or at home.
The Department of Religious Affairs does not consider them "ordained"
resulting in the uneven treatment mae jis get from various related
ministries. The Ministry of communication does not consider
them 'ordained' hence they cannot apply for special half fare
on train service. The Ministry of Interior considers them 'ordained'
hence they lose their right to vote when it comes to election
time. The monks generally would group them together with upasika,
laywomen. According to classical Buddhist grouping, there are
monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Mae jis really do not fit
in any one of these categories.
of Buddhist Communities
not lay women as they observe a more committed religious lifestyle,
yet they are not nuns (bhikkhuni) as the bhikkhunis observe
311 precepts and go through ordination procedure where as mae
jis have only 8 precepts with no formal ordination.
of Mae jis under Her Majesty's Royal Patronage has made a frequent
attempt to deal with begging mae jis, considering their action
to destroy the image of mae jis in general but the problem still
lingers on. As long as there is no definite policy for action,
as long as the Department of Religious Affairs has not taken
into consideration to clarify the status of mae jis, organizing
the registration and issuing I.D. cards for mae jis so that
each one may be checked and rightly placed, parasites cannot
be weeded out.
mae jis are poor and lack proper education. The general public
do not see mae jis as a representation of women trying to lead
a religious life. Society, therefore, neither shares the problems
that mae jis face nor have any sympathy for them. They become
a minority to wade through obstacles on their own without clear
In the past
decade, few women from upper strata of society with education,
social and financial back-up have become mae jis. They positively
help to promote social welfare and improve the image of mae
jis. Mae jis themselves become more aware that they need improvement
in education even with economic limitations.