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A Thilashin (Burmese: သီလရှင်, pronounced: [θìla̰ʃɪ̀ɴ], "possessor of morality", from Pali sīla) is a Burmese Buddhist female lay renunciant. They are often mistakenly referred to as "nuns" (bhikkhu), but are closest to samaneri "novitiates".

Thilashin during alms round in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma).

Like the Mae ji of neighbouring Thailand and the dasa sil mata of Sri Lanka, thilashin occupy a position somewhere between that of an ordinary lay follower and an ordained monastic. However,they are treated more favourably than mae ji, being able to receive training, practice meditation and sit for the same qualification examinations as the monks.

Thilashins observe the ten precepts and can be recognized by their pink robes, shaven head, orange or brown shawl and metal alms bowl. Thilashins would also go out on alms round on uposatha days and receive uncooked rice or money.

Thilashins are addressed with the honorifics "sayale" (Burmese: ဆရာလေး, [sʰəjàlé] "little teacher"), and "daw" (ဒေါ်, [dɔ̀]). These are used as honorifics to the Buddhist name given.

Thilashins can reside in either separate quarters or in segregated monasteries. They do not have to look after the monks, but may help cook if required. Although ranked lower than the monks, they are not subservient to them.


Thilashins are not ordained members of the sangha.[1] The bhikkhuni lineage of Theravada Buddhism died out, and for various technical and social reasons was therefore permanently absent, leaving the lay practice of living as a thilashin the only option for women who wish to renounce in Burma. As a result, in many respects the lifestyle of thilashins resembles that of an ordained bhikkhuni, even to the extent of making a daily alms-round.

There have been efforts by some thilashins to reinstate the bhikkhuni lineage, although there are reservations from the government and general populace. A new Theravada bhikknuni sangha was first convened in 1996 and since then many more have taken the full vows. However, in Burma thilashins remain the only monastic option for women at this time.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ The Buddhist world of Southeast Asia By Donald K. Swearer