In this chapter, I explore the contemporary practice of female renunciation in Sri Lanka. Though the laity continue to support female renunciants as many have done since the 1890s, a vast majority of lay nuns at present are impoverished; they find it difficult to ensure the laity's patronage. Moreover, women are no longer encouraged to renounce as they had been in the past; instead, they are expected to fulfill the role society has determined for them as wife and mother.
For many Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the conflict between social and religious obligations is a recurring phenomenon. For women, the conflict is usually resolved by giving priority to social demands, and conforming to female stereotypes. This is certainly the case with the contemporary lay nuns: the dasa sil mālāvo. That lay nuns never lose their association with their lay role as nurturers is perhaps best illustrated in a typical obituary of a lay nun:
Embuldeniya – Nanso Hamine Upāsikā Mathawa [sic], beloved wife of late Mr. D. S. Embuldeniya, loving mother of late Grace, Charlotte, Piyadassi Dayasena, Karunalatha, late Ghandradasa, expired…
It is striking that no mention is made of Embuldeniya Sil Mātā's lay nunnery connections, such as her teacher, and students. In other words, she is first and foremost a wife and mother, despite her renunciation of lay life. By comparison, the death announcement of a monk connects him to his monastery rather than to his blood relatives:
Ven. Dedigama Sri Saranankara Maha Thera – (Chief Incumbent of Sri Jayawardhanarama Purana Raja Maha Viharaya, Renagala, Nungamuwa, Yatigaloluwa and Sri Pujjyawardhanaramaya, Rangellepola). […]