Before joining the University of Nottingham Malaysia in 2019, I worked as an environmental sociologist with almost two decade's experience in social audits, participatory rural appraisal and social-environmental impact assessments for sustainable forest and oil palm management; specialising in migrant workers and marginalized communities, gender, religion and development. A civil engineer by training, I graduated with a doctorate degree in Environment and Resource Studies from Mahidol University, Thailand in 2008.
As a monastic academic and meditation teacher who holds a Master's Degree in Buddhist Studies from the International Buddhist College, I aspire to contribute to humanity by raising awareness, understanding the root causes of and seeking solutions to various developmental issues plaguing humankind today through my research and teaching activities.
Further information about my research and copies of some of my publications may be obtained through the following portals:
ORCID iD | Google Scholar | Scopus ID
I am a registered HCV assessor with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) since 2010 and successfully completed the Lead Auditor's Training Course for RSPO (2012). I specialise is in labour and migrant issues in the context of oil palm in Malaysia, Indonesia and Ghana; having conducted social audits for the Roundatable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and various Forestry Departments in compliance with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) for sustainable forest management. I am also a qualified auditor for the Conflict-Free Smelter Programme (CFSP) certification scheme and peer-reviewer for the Malaysian Palm Oil Certification Council (MPOCC).
I have designed and initiated sustainable livelihood projects for Orang Asli (indigenous peoples) in Pahang under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/Global Environment Facility (GEF) and has worked with various rural communities in Malaysia and Indonesia on High Conservation Value Forest assessments (HCVF). In addition, I have worked on socio-economic planning projects such as the Sarawak Railway Social Screening Project, APEC Transboundary Marine Spatial Planning and Management Project and Participatory Needs Analysis for Local Community Oil Palm Mill in Sabah. I also specialise in gender and development issues, having conducted gender needs assessment and research with indigenous communities in Malaysia and Indonesia.
I have developed and am currently teaching three Postgraduate by Taught courses for the MSc. In International Development Management (IDM) programme, i.e. the core modules Introduction to Global… read more
I am currently doing research on modern-day slavery (Trafficking in Persons) in the context of oil palm companies and the manufacturing industry in Malaysia, under a British Council grant obtained in… read more
KARMA TASHI CHOEDRON and SONAM WANGMO, 2019. Silent No More! Critical Review of Sexual Exploitation in Buddhist Practice—A Monastic Perspective In: 16th Sakyadhita International Conference “New Horizons in Buddhism”. Blue Mountains, Sydney, Australia.
KARMA TASHI CHOEDRON and SONAM WANGMO, 2019. Guru Yoga—The Essence of The Path To Enlightenment and the Intricacies Of Guru-Disciple Relations in the 21st Century In: Vajrayāna Buddhism: Proceedings of the Third Vajrayāna Conference, Centre for Bhutan & GNH Studies Centre for Bhutan & GNH Studies. Thimphu.. 153-184
KARMA TASHI CHOEDRON, 2018. Multi Tradition, the Development of Malaysian Buddhism
I am currently doing research on modern-day slavery (Trafficking in Persons) in the context of oil palm companies and the manufacturing industry in Malaysia, under a British Council grant obtained in early August 2021. It is essentially a study based on a project which aims to enhance third-party and internal auditor competency in detecting and reporting incidences of forced labour in the manufacturing and oil palm industry in Malaysia and sensitise employers on the recruitment process of migrant workers and compliance to labour standards to avoid being complicit in TIP. First, the project will train auditors, both internal and third party (external) on what constitutes forced labour from the perspective of the Malaysian labour law and The Anti-Trafficking in Persons (Amendment) Act 2010 and ILO standards. The training will include ways to detect incidences of forced labour during audits and trace non-compliances throughout the supply chain. Second, industry representatives from the management level will be sensitised on ethical recruitment processes and work conditions in compliance with relevant legislation. The expected Outputs are that incidences of forced labour throughout the supply chain would be effectively detected and reported during third-party audits; and that ethical recruitment processes and compliance to labour standards would be increased amongst employers. It is envisaged that this endeavour will contribute to the reduction of incidences in TIP which has plagued both industries and subsequently, elevate Malaysia's status from Tier 3 to higher ranking in the subsequent annual TIP Reports. This study, through prescribed monitoring and evaluation parameters will analyse the impacts and effectiveness of the aforementioend training and generate new knowledge about best practices which can be adoped in nipping TIP in the bud in the manufacturing and oil palm industries in Malaysia.
In tandem with that, I am at the tail-end of my research on gender and Buddhism. This study is a soteriological research onthe ability of women to attain enlightenment, based on ancient Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhist texts as well as liberation stories of past and contemporary female Buddhist masters. The research is based on the problem statement derived from Buddhist literature and some well-meaning monks that the inequality women face is attributed topast evil karma and that it would be good to aspire for male rebirth and continue practice as monks. My study challenges this notion and provides reasons based on both Buddhist theory and practice that this argument does not hold water. It is problematic for two reasons, firstly, the insinuation that women are lesser beings contradicts the teachings on precious human rebirth and buddha nature; secondly, what guarantee is there that women would be able to secure a human life in a future rebirth? Moreover, Buddhist teachings stress that a human life is extremely difficult to obtain let alone a precious human one.
My research collects personal experiences and tries to uncover the most demoralising feature of Buddhism today, especially in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, i.e. that there is a glaring omission of women teachers and masters, especially reincarnated masters. There is a skewed gender ratio of female Buddhist masters/practitioners. Most of the students at dharma centres are female, but teachers are (almost) entirely male. This study will try to uncover why realized women masters were and still are largely invisible, if they even existed at all. Seldom are female masters mentioned in teachings or religious literature and if mentioned, they are almost always regarded as emanations of some ḍākinī or other, never women who realized the fruits of the Buddhist path because of their own ability. Lineage masters right from the founders to one's immediate guru are men. Even if the founders are women, the rest of the lineage gurus are male. There is mention of female Arhats in early Buddhism but has any woman, apart from the legendary Yeshé Dawa who became Arya Tārā, attained full enlightenment? These are among the research questions in this upcoming study. In summary, my upcoming study, which is a co-effort with a Bhutanese gender studies scholar, Dr. Sonam Wangmo aims to seek answers to what was the historical Buddha's stance on women and whether enlightenment is possible for women. After much review of Buddhist literature, there is finally a sense of vindication as we not only found concrete and largely consistent evidence that women have equal potential as men to attain enlightenment, but also numerous liberation stories of women in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism who have actualized buddhahood. The study is expected to be published in early 2022.
Further information about my research and copies of some of my publications may be obtained through the following portals:
ORCID iD | Google Scholar | Scopus ID
My immediate past research culminated in a comparative study between Sikhism and Buddhism compiled in a book titled, "Two Gurus One Message - The Buddha and Guru Nanak: Legacy of Liberation, Egalitarianism and Social Justice". Buddhism and Sikhism, founded by the historical Buddha and Guru Nanak respectively are both religions of India with a two thousand-year gap between the two faiths. Tarungpa Tulku in his 1966 article Guru Nanak in Tibet-A Buddhist view point wrote that Tibetan Buddhists have a special connection with Sikhism due to the belief that Guru Nanak was a manifestation of Guru Padmasambhava. It is with this curiosity that the idea for this book was conceived, leading to the discovery of an astonishing number of similarities between the two spiritual traditions. This comparative study, the first major attempt of its kind, scoured the entire Sikh Scripture Shri Guru Granth Sahib and found numerous parallels with the Buddhist Canon, especially Pali; ranging from the life stories of the founding fathers of the two faiths, their social agenda and core tenets to articles of faith, including religious symbolism. It is hoped that this research can in some way, help to blur the divisions between religious labels and bring out pure spirituality-devoid of fixation on religious externalities which leads to much dissent, especially in this degenerate ere. While acknowledging the rich diversity and uniqueness of each spiritual tradition, this book eventually comes to the conclusion that spirituality transcends religious labels. My study revealed that although the externalities of religion may differ vastly-spiritual insights remain universal.
Prior to the comparative study, I was extensively involved in writing on gender aspects of Buddhism, especially with regards to soteriology and female monasticism. The most recent work on this genre was a critical review of sexual exploitation in Buddhist practice which provided monastic perspective of this pressing contemporary issue. My reesarch on gender and Buddhism also included unveiling feminine presence and expression in Vajrayana Buddhist symbolism in my larger study with a Bhutanese co-researcher, Dr. Sonam Wangmo, on empowerment of Bhutanese nuns. Much of my work on gender and Buddhism is in identifying both Buddhist texts which are gender inclusive and empowering as well as identifying misogynistic and disempowering literature, especially Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist scriptures, lithurgy and liberation stories. Apart from text, my work also included studying discriminatory practices within Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism which disempower female Buddhist practitioners, both monastic and lay.
I have also written on soteriological aspects of Tibetan (Vajrayana) Buddhism in several conference papers, ranging from the importance of Guru Yoga as the essence to path to enlightenment and more contemporary engaged Buddhism issues such as the intricacies of the much misunderstood and often abused guru-disciple relationship. I have also done some research on the origins and spread of Vajrayana Buddhism in ancient Malaya (Suvarnabhumi) in efforts to preserve Hindu-Buddhist archaelogical sites in Malaysia.
My past research, prior to my becoming a monastic was on community-based conservation/natural resources management. My main research was on the need for participatory forest management with the Jakun of South-East Pahang, Malaysia. Centralized forest management is widely regarded as the catalyst for large-scale forest degradation and the loss of access, use and management rights of forest dependent communities. Forest dependent communities are often regarded as impediments to conservation and left out in sustainable forest management initiatives. My publications critiqued the effects of centralization and alternative livelihood projects under the guise of conservation in a Jakun community of South-East Pahang, Malaysia and revealed that economic pragmatism takes precedence over conservation in light of decreased autonomy over their traditional resources and rapid socio-economic changes which not only severely impedes their means to secure basic needs.
My research also focused on the traditional knowledge and environmental ethics of indigenous peoples, specifically, with the wetlands indigenous peoples of the South-East Pahang Peat Swamp Forest (SEPPSF) in Malaysia, i.e. the Orang Asli Jakun. I studied the changes in traditional lifestyles of the Orang Asli Jakun caused by external and internal pressures which pose a potential threat to the knowledge systems of these indigenous peoples which may have an impact on the attitudes of these peoples towards their natural resource base. My research also unveiled various types of medicinal plants used by the Orang Asli Jakun for healing and in my publications, I argued for the conservation of these resources for the benefit of future generations.
Other works on traditional knowledge including my social action research projects under the UNDP Small Grants Programme for the Promotion of Tropical Forests (SGP PTF). Information and communications technology (ICT) was used to document the fast-eroding traditional knowledge of the Orang Asli Jakun. My research was a case study of a group of indigenous Orang Asli Jakun youth between 16 to 22 years of age in Kampung Simpai, a village in the wetlands of South-East Pahang, Malaysia who documented their traditional knowledge using ICT. The documentation is part of the village's effort to preserve their knowledge on traditional medicine and plants deemed important for their livelihood through a community-based project.
My Ph.D. thesis was on forest-related traditional knowledge and environmental ethics of the Orang Asli Jakun. I argued that anthropologists for the most part of the 20 th century romanticised about indigenous peoples as stewards of the forest. My study revealed that human actions towards forest biodiversity were greatly influenced by a set of intricate forest-related knowledge systems and values. The values, ethics and motivation of indigenous peoples in biodiversity conservation are being challenged in the academic circles, eroding the notion of the 'ecologically noble savage'. The debate on the existence of environmental ethics amongst traditional communities is rekindled in this thesis. The setting of this thesis is in an indigenous community in the South-East Pahang Peat Swamp Forest, Malaysia, called the Jakun. This research on human ecology explores the Jakun traditional knowledge on the natural environment and the existence of environmental ethics based on their traditional knowledge and practices.
Other past research include an exploration into the environmental ethics of women in predominantly Buddhist countries. Environmental consciousness, commonly referred to as environmental ethics, is the foundation for our attitudes towards the environment. Environmental ethics raises deep questions about individual responsibility for the well-being of nature, which is linked to our very survival on this planet. Women in traditional societies tend to be conservationists, because of their responsibilities for securing food, fuel, and water. My research revealed that women realize that their labour burdens increase due to scarcity or depletion of natural resources and therefore, rural women have a high level of interest in conserving natural resources. These women are the most severely affected when there is shortage of fuel or when their environment is degraded, for example, by the pollution of water sources or deforestation.
My research on marginalised communities is also in need of mention. I studied religion as a binding factor for People of Indian Origin (PIO) residing in Malaysia and argued that religion is a ferociously upheld perception within the Malaysian Indian community that switching religions is tantamount to discarding one's identity, the ultimate betrayal of the ancestral lineage. One ceases to be Indian once one embraces Islam. One ceases to be Punjabi once one practices Buddhism or Christianity. Switching religions is taboo amongst the PIO and is a cause for expulsion from the basic family unit and ultimately, the cultural group altogether. Generation after generation of PIOs guard the religions they were born into., to maintain first and foremost, as they believe, the religion itself, second, family ties; third, the gene pool of a particular Indian sub-group and fourth, the larger identity which is linked to survival as a cultural group in a predominantly Muslim country.
My proposed study (I have applied for two grants which will be announced very soon) is designed to invoke policy changes through concrete recommendations for the prevention of labour infractions and trafficking in persons (debt bondage) of migrant workers in certified oil palm plantations in Malaysia, in line with the Malaysian National Action Plan on trafficking in persons and SDG target 8.7, prevention of human trafficking seeks to understand the viability of sustainable oil palm certification schemes in mitigating incidences of labour infractions in order to enhance the marketability of Malaysian palm oil.
The Malaysian oil palm industry has come under severe criticism for perpetuating the exploitation and repression of a precarious labour force. Scholars argue that the palm oil industry is neither sustainable nor a viable development, due to infractions of labour rights, including elements of trafficking in persons such as debt bondage which has marred the certification process and image of the oil palm industry as a model of sustainable development. Malaysia is a destination country which has a high demand for migrant workers, especially in the oil palm industry. The US State Department in its 2020 report categorised Malaysia under the Tier Two Watch List which is an acknowledgement that Malaysia has a massive human trafficking problem which needs to be addressed urgently. This study is aimed at gauging the viability of oil palm certification schemes in terms of mitigating the social cost of labour, especially amongst migrant workers using field research methodology, combining both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The team leader brings into this proposed research her vast fieldwork experience in participatory approaches drawing on her background as a sociologist and social compliance auditor who has conducted and led research teams in oil palm plantations. There are studies which analyse the effectiveness of certification schemes in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, studies on the effectiveness of certification schemes in mitigating labour infractions, including debt bondage (trafficking in persons) are wanting. Therefore, this research will culminate in new knowledge on the relationship between sustainable oil palm certification initiatives and the prevalence of labour infractions and trafficking in persons in certified oil palm plantations in Malaysia. This study is designed to invoke policy changes through concrete recommendations for the prevention of labour infractions and trafficking in persons (debt bondage) of migrant workers in certified oil palm plantations in Malaysia.