Monday, November 16, 2015

Wonderwell Mountain Refuge—A Flowering of Buddhism in America

Harsha Menon 

Wonderwell Mountain Refuge. Photo by Wonderwell Mountain Refuge

As I arrive at Wonderwell Mountain Refuge for a weekend stay, it is immediately evident that while Wonderwell is a place of meditation, it is also a place of great activity—from the people working in the rock garden to those cooking in the kitchen, each person is working with a strong sense of purpose. I feel that everyone is truly invested in his or her work, clearly stemming from a sense of ownership and belonging. . . .

Located in the small rural town of Springfield, New Hampshire, Wonderwell was established by the Natural Dharma Fellowship, an organization of Buddhist practitioners from across New England “dedicated to the joy of awakening.” Founded by Lama Willa Miller, a Dharma teacher for many years, and rooted in her own Buddhist training, the Natural Dharma Fellowship focuses on the transmission of the Tibetan traditions of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. A not-for-profit organization, it consists of local practice groups as well as intensive retreat and student and teacher training.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Announcement: Lopon Dr. Rita Gross


It is with sadness that we relay the news that world-renowned feminist-Buddhist scholar and practitioner Rita M. Gross passed from this life on Nov. 11, 2015 at her home in hospice care. She had a severe stroke in late October, but did not appear to suffer. Lopon Rita asked that her ashes be sprinkled into the Lotus Pond at Mindrolling Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche's retreat center in central Virginia, Lotus Garden.

Dear Friends,

Rita M. Gross
Today we have been notified with the sad news that Rita Gross has suffered a life-changing stroke. Please hold Rita, and all who are close to her, in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

The contributions that Rita has made are impossible to underestimate. As an academic, Dharma teacher, advocate and community builder, Rita has touched many lives with her work. Rita is one of six senior teachers at Lotus Garden who were appointed by Her Eminence Mindrolling Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche. Rita has also been a senior teacher in the Shambhala tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Rita's Buddhist teachings have been non-sectarian and she has taught for both Zen and Vipassana centers in addition to her work in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has been a founder and leader in the field of feminist studies in religion and has done groundbreaking work on women in Buddhism. In addition, she has focused on the theology of religious diversity and interreligious exchange, and has offered a variety of solo or co-taught workshops on this topic for seminaries and religious institutions. Rita helped to build the Society for Buddhist Christian Studies and co-edited their journal for more than a decade.

Rita’s approach has been a rare combination of academic and Dharmic perspectives. Her warm, humorous, and very clear teachings have reached thousands of highly appreciative students.

Some of her works include:

Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism.
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Religious Feminism and the Future of the Planet: A Buddhist-Christian-Feminist Conversation.
(with Rosemary Radford Ruether)
New York: Continuum, 2001.

A Garland of Feminist Reflections: Forty Years of Religious Reflection.
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009.

Religious Diversity--What's the Problem? Buddhist Advice for Flourishing with Religious Diversity.
Cascade Books, Wipf and Stock, 2014 

How Clinging to Gender Identity Subverts Enlightenment 
Shambhala Publications. (forthcoming)
For more information on Rita's life work please visit her website.You can also read more about Lopon Rita on Lion's Roar and Tricycle.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The First Bhikkhuni Ordination at Koh Yo, Thailand

By Venerable Varadhamma Bhikkhu

On Saturday, November 29, 2014 there was a higher ordination for bhikkhunis for the first time at Koh Yo in Songkhla Province, as well as the going forth of another 47 samaneris. Conducting ordinations for females to go forth as samaneris is one of the periodic Dhamma activities at “Tipaya Sathan Dhamma Bhikkhuni Arama.”

This, however, is not the first Bhikkhuni Ordination in Thailand. The first Bhikkhuni Ordination in Thailand took place in about 1928 when the two daughters of Mr. Narin Bhasit took samaneri ordination. His two daughters Jongdee and Sara were 13 and 18 years old respectively at the time of their going forth. After a period of two years, once Sara was fully 20 years old, she took higher ordination as a bhikkhuni. This happened 82 years ago. Nor was the ordination at Koh Yoh the second bhikkhuni ordination in Thailand. In recent times there have been a number of bhikkhuni ordinations held in Thailand, however they were not publicized.

This higher ordination can be considered to be the first ‘formal’ bhikkhuni ordination. Provincial officials were invited to take part in the event so that they could be aware of what was going on in the area under their responsibility. These included the officials from the Buddhist Office of Songkhla, the Provincial Governor of Songkhla, members of the Office for the Management of the Provinces on the Southern Border, represented by Suphanat Sirantavineti, and the Vice Governor of Naratiwat Province, who came to open the event. A letter was sent to inform the Prime Minister of Thailand of the event, which received a letter of thanks in return. Furthermore, a letter was sent to Phra Thep, the Crown Princess of Thailand to ask for her blessing in this event. We, likewise, received a letter from the Royal Office. Therefore, this was not a ‘secret’ ordination, but rather it was formal and openly publicized.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Finding My Way

Jessica Morey

When all of our lives are so similar and yet so different, where can we look for guidance? As Jessica Morey has learned—and what she now teaches to teenagers—the best guidance is discovered in ourselves.

The eighth grade was no picnic. Like a lot of 14-year-olds, I felt isolated and confused. Where to go in life? And the combination of pulling away from my parents and dealing with my peers didn’t help. Were my friends rapping with the same stuff I was? How could I know? I could barely name it for myself.

My mom made a proposal: “You and your brother should try a mindfulness retreat.” If I hadn’t seen over the years how she herself seemed different after her occasional retreats at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS)—when she came home, her eyes seemed filled with what I could only describe as joy—I never would have agreed.

But my brother and I did agree. So we headed off to IMS, full of skepticism and with a promise that if we didn’t like it, mom would come get us.

It was strange when we arrived. Everyone seemed a little too nice. But our fellow teenagers seemed pretty normal, so we both decided to give it a go.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Great Theris

by Roshi Joan Halifax

The Theris, or First Nuns, have long been a mystery to Buddhist women. They stand like a lovely mountain range covered in mist, not visible but their presence is felt. As Buddhism has met the modern world, more and more women are practicing. So also are women taking great responsibility as the heads of monasteries, as Dharma teachers and scholars. And many of us wish to know and express our gratitude to our women ancestors.

Photo 1: Artist Mayumi Oda with Upaya's
Mahapajapati Statue
It is in our generation that more is being learned about the women who joined the Buddha’s Sangha 2500 years ago. Their presence in early Buddhism created a revolution in social values that only now is beginning to come to fruition in our modern cultures.

I am a Western woman, a Dharma teacher, and the founder and abbot of a monastery in the United States. I went to Thailand in February 2002, to attend the Aryavinaya meeting inspired by the Thai social activist Sulak Shivaraksa. Prior to my journey to Thailand, I had learned about a brave woman and scholar who had been recently ordained as a Samaneri (novice nun) by Bhikkshunis in Sri Lanka. Her name was Samaneri Dhammananda. This was the first such ordination of a woman in Thailand in 1000 years as the nun’s line had died out a millenium ago. I asked one of the conference coordinators if I could possibly stay with the Samaneri after the meeting. I wanted to meet this courageous person, to practice with her friends, and learn more about her journey.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Buddhist Women As Agents of Change: Case Studies from Thailand and Indonesia

Lai Suat Yan

While in Thailand the majority of its population are adherents of the Theravada Buddhist ‘tradition’, in Indonesia, Buddhism is a minority religion with the Theravada Buddhist ‘tradition’ embraced by the majority of Buddhists. However, the development of the Theravada tradition in Indonesia is much influenced by its counterparts in Thailand.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Call for Submissions: 2015 Sakyadhita International Newsletter

We are now accepting submissions for the 2015 Sakyadhita International Newsletter. If you have stories, artwork, interviews, or other items you feel may be beneficial for our annual publication please share it with us.

Please review past issues of the Sakyadhita International Newsletter and email Danie with submissions or questions.

If we cannot use a piece for the newsletter we may have other options available, such as this blog, so please do not hesitate to reach out to us with your submissions.