Monday, December 30, 2013

A Buddhist Pilgrimage and “the Way of Saint James”

Diane Wilde

Photo courtesy of St. Joseph Catholic Church and School

The El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (the Way of Saint James of the Field of Stars) was unknown to me until about one year ago. I had not heard of it, had no interest in it when I did hear about it, and wondered why someone attempting to live the path according to the Buddha’s teachings would even consider walking this traditional Catholic pilgrimage. When I was invited to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of Bay Area friend Gail Seneca by hiking the El Camino (the Way) along with twenty-three others, my first reaction was “no way!” The no way was based on my misguided sense that I should concentrate my free time traveling in Buddhist countries and engaging in Buddhist-type pilgrimages. However, the idea of hiking eight to fourteen miles a day in northern Spain was appealing. I assured myself this was only due to my own love of roaming―and certainly not desire for a pilgrimage! After all, according to Webster’s Dictionary, the first definition of a pilgrimage is defined as: “a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion, a pilgrimage to Lourdes for example.” How errant and shortsighted my view turned out to be.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Jewels of the Sunset: Bhikkhunis Awaken in San Francisco

Mary King

Ayya Santacitta with Jill Boone, then-president of Saranaloka Foundation

I often marvel at how life is full of surprises—at how our spiritual paths have many an unexpected twist and turn.

Certainly, when my heart is open to the road of life it can turn out to be a really wondrous journey. Even the most difficult roads can turn out to be a blessing in disguise. And, I'm sure that the nuns at Aloka Vihara in San Francisco would agree with me.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Privilege and Prajna

Lori Pierce

Photo: Bellah via Compfight cc
It is famously said that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. Churches and religious spaces are stubbornly resistant to integration. In some ways it makes sense; religious communities are supposed to be intimate. They mirror the relationship we want with the divine when we sit closely together, like a family, sharing a meal, confessing our shortcomings, being asked to feel our most authentic self in a room full of strangers. You don’t want to go to a church, temple, or mosque and feel uncomfortable. You want to be there, alone together, with people who are in superficial and profound ways just like you.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Where Does the Buddha Live Now?

Paula Arai

Kito Sensei

Remnants of injustices of the slave trade were seething and erupted onto the streets of Detroit in the summer of 1967. I was only six when I saw black plumes of smoke billow ominously over the city where I was born to an Anglo-American father and an especially dark-skinned Japanese mother. I was not aware of any Buddhas living around there. We had, however, been blessed the following year by the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who addressed an overflowing throng at our gothic-style Methodist church. Just as its spire towered in the center of downtown Detroit, this church stood out against injustice. Holding my mom’s hand that day, I felt her excitement as I peered over the balcony to see every inch of every pew filled with people I did not recognize. I sensed that something momentous was happening. My mother walked with a proud gait I had not seen before. Hope laced with tension filled the air. I do not remember King’s words that morning, but even now excerpts of his “I Have a Dream” speech evoke a visceral memory of what it felt like to have his sonorous voice reverberate in my heart. If I had been able to see as I do now, I would have recognized him as a Buddha, one who devotes his life to alleviating suffering through non-violent protest and acts of justice.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Involving Men and Media in Buddhist Women's Causes

by Raymond Lam

Bhikkhuni ordination in 2011 received strong support
from bhikkhus and laymen (photo: khemarama.com)
As I begin this contribution for a women’s blog, I have to first acknowledge my background and privilege. I am constructed as a man and all men in a patriarchal society possess male privilege. Initially, I thought a publication tailored for women’s experiences didn’t need yet another man’s intrusion. Yet maleness need not be a disqualification. Men have an essential role in the Buddhist women’s movement and they can bring tangible benefits. When I began editing Buddhistdoor International, I allied the publication with Sakyadhita to learn more about Buddhist women’s progress and struggles on the ground. Over half of Buddhistdoor’s columns and opinion now belong to female voices, lay and monastic. The gender imbalance is intentional. Furthermore, in less than a year this blog has become one of the best resources for reading the stories of Buddhist women.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Announcement: Bhiksuni Dr. Karuna Dharma

We regret to inform you that Bhiksuni Dr. Karuna Dharma, one of the senior-most nuns in the United States and a founding member of Sakyadhita, is currently in critical condition in Sacramento. We request you to please send prayers and loving-kindness her way.

Bhiksuni Karuna Dharma has been a pioneer in the Buddhist community in Southern California since 1969, when she began studying with Dr. Thich Thien-an, founder of the first Vietnamese Buddhist temple in the United States. She took refuge in 1973 and bhiksuni precepts in 1976. She earned a BA in English from UCLA, two masters degrees in Secondary Education and Comparative Religion, and a doctorate (DDh 1979). Following Bhiksu Dr. Thien-an's passing in 1980, Bhiksuni Karuna became the abbess of the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles. With Bhiksuni Prabhasa Dharma, she became a pioneer in ecumenical Buddhist dialogue.

In 1987 Bhiksuni Karuna Dharma attended the first Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women in Bodhgaya, India, where she presented a paper, "Nuns of Vietnam," that was later published in Sakyadhita: Daughters of the Buddha. After that conference, she took the initiative to register Sakyadhita as a nonprofit organization in the state of California. At the seventh Sakyadhita Conference in Taiwan in 2002, she presented a paper entitled "Bridging the Gap with Interreligious Dialogue" that was published in Bridging Worlds: Buddhist Women’s Voices Across Generations. At the eighth Sakyadhita Conference in Seoul in 2004, she presented a paper, "Buddhist Women’s Contributions in the West,” which was published in Out of the Shadows: Socially Engaged Buddhist Women. As abbess of the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles, she has conducted ordinations for fifty nuns and served the Buddhist community in countless ways. Her story is told in Lenore Friedman's book, Meetings with Remarkable Women: Buddhist Teachers in America.

For up-to-date information on Bhiksuni Karuna Dharma, please visit the IBMCLA's Facebook page

Monday, November 25, 2013

Precedent from Early Arahants on the Bestowal of Bhikkhuni Ordination

by Ayya Tathāloka 

Mural at Wat Po
Written in commemoration of the lunar anniversary of our Venerable Foremother Saṅghamittā Therī’s arrival on Lankadvipa twenty-three centuries ago, as an inquiry into the ordination practices of our early arahant forebears, particularly those great Dhamma emissaries who spread the Buddha's teaching beyond the central heartland of the Indian Madhyadesa to foreign lands, far and wide in all directions.

 Great Activities of Early Arahants

We have heard and read that in the early days of the Buddha sāsana, while the Blessed One still lived and breathed and walked the dusty paths of India's ancient heartland, there were many fully enlightened women, bhikkhunī arahants. The Buddha’s beloved former wife , his foster mother, his half-sister, and many more Sakyan daughters were amongst the ladies of the Madhyadesa who became the Blessed One's foremost disciples, preeminent in all good qualities and virtues.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mindful Eating: Five Ways to Develop a Skillful Relationship with Food

by Jan Chozen Bays

"The Buddha taught one thing, and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering.” I heard Maha Gosananda repeat this phrase over and over to a gathering of Western Buddhist teachers. How ironic that in America, land of plenty, so many people struggle with food, suffering tremendous emotional distress, guilt, shame, and even premature death. Does Buddhism have anything to offer to relieve this kind of suffering? The facts are startling. Doctors predict that children born in the year 2000 have a 30 to 40 percent risk of Type 2 diabetes and may live shorter lives than their parents as a result.

Monday, November 11, 2013

104 Years of Practice

by Konchog Norbu

Venerable Amaa at the 2008 Sakyadhita International Conference in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

While there was no shortage of remarkable Buddhist women that I met when I lived in Mongolia (2005-2009), one stands out among them all: Venerable Amaa who, when I first met her in June 2008, was still strong in her practice at age 104.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Announcement: E-learning course on Bhikkhuni/Bhikshuni ordination

Mark your Calendars! Universität Hamburg's Numata Center for Buddhist Studies and the Women in Buddhism Study Initiative have announced an e-learning cour­se on Per­spec­ti­ves on Bhikk­hu­ni Or­di­na­ti­on, Summer Semes­ter, 2014. Registration begins February 1, 2014.

The cour­se in­tends to of­fer sound aca­de­mic re­se­arch on the le­gal qu­es­ti­ons, ba­sed on a study of the re­le­vant Vina­ya mate­rial, fol­lo­wed by an up­da­ted re­gio­nal sur­vey on the cur­rent si­tua­ti­on of nuns in the Thera­va­da and Mu­lasar­vas­ti­va­da tra­di­ti­ons.

Please visit this link for more information on the course. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Invest Everything In Your Practice

by Kamala Masters

There was a reverential silence as the head nun prepared to shave my head for ordination as a Buddhist nun at the beginning of my participation in a two-month retreat. It was December of 2001 at the Forest Meditation Center of Sayadaw U Pandita, forty miles north of Yangon, Myanmar (aka Burma).

In the old, dark wooden office building, I sat in a rickety chair with a clean white towel around my shoulders. The head nun approached gracefully with the office scissors in her hand, and proceeded to take random handfuls of my thick dark hair, cutting closely to the scalp. There were no words exchanged. In between the clip, clip, clip of the scissors, the gulping sounds from my throat were clearly audible, and pregnant with astonishment.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Women in Theravada Buddhism: A Perspective from Santi

by Justine McGill

When I first encountered the community of Santi Forest Monastery and its abbot’s aspiration to help revive full ordination for women in Theravada Buddhism, I had not thought very much about the intersection of Buddhism and gender issues. In 2007 this meeting point came about because I volunteered to speak at an interfaith evening on “the purpose of life,” organized to raise funds for the monastery. When I made the offer, however, I was under the impression that the fundraiser was for a different Buddhist monastery. To my considerable surprise, it turned out there were two monasteries on the outskirts of Bundanoon, a picturesque village in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales in Australia. So my first contribution to the cause of improving women’s status in Theravada Buddhism happened by serendipitous chance.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Great Compassion: An Interview with Reverend Patricia Kanaya Usuki

by Jeff Wilson

Rev. Patricia Kanaya Usuki (photo: Koury Angelo)
Patricia Kanaya Usuki was born in Toronto, Canada, to an Anglican father and a Buddhist mother. Her parents brought her up in the United Church of Canada, one of the few Canadian religious institutions that welcomed people of Asian heritage.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

We invite you to contribute your photos to a visual story e-book that will illustrate the history and cultural diversity of ordained Buddhist women. This photo e-book will tell the stories of Buddhist women from all Buddhist traditions around the world. Though the book will focus on female monastics, stories of significant events involving laywomen would be a welcome and beautiful addition.

Monday, October 14, 2013

From Anti-religious to Buddhist Nun

by Lozang Khadro

When I was twenty-seven I ordained in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Being young and choosing to explicitly identify as a practitioner of faith is an interesting and worthwhile life journey. Despite my paternal family being Roman Catholic I didn’t subscribe to religion when I was growing up. In fact I was quite against religion and clung to a staunch aversion of Christianity, but that has now changed for the better.

Monday, October 7, 2013

It’s All Good

by Anne Carolyn Klein

Everything That Remains by Faryn Davis

Everything is either wisdom or a distortion of wisdom, says Anne Carolyn Klein. Once we see this, we can relax and allow the path to dissolve the disturbed energies that give rise to our habitual reactions.

The Sufi sage Rumi brings us a famous story-poem of adultery and wisdom. He describes a jealous wife who is so careful that for seven years her husband is never alone with their attractive maid. Then one day while out with her maid at the public baths, she discovers she has left her silver washbasin at home and sends the maid to fetch it. The maid eagerly runs to her task. No sooner is she gone than the wife realizes what is at stake and races home herself. Rumi sums up the narrative, saying:
The maid ran for love
The wife ran out of fear
And jealousy.
There is a great difference.
The mystic flies from moment to moment The fearful ascetic drags along month to month.
You can’t understand this with your mind. You must burst open!
— The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne

Monday, September 30, 2013

Uncovering the Lamp

by Harsha Menon

Book review of Wisdom Publication’s The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women (scheduled to be released by Wisdom Publications November 12, 2013), compiled and edited by Zenshin Florence Caplow and Reigetsu Susan Moon.

The upcoming publication of The Hidden Lamp could be said to be a before-and-after moment of female representation in Buddhist literature. This unparalleled volume of one hundred koans featuring women, with additional reflections by present-day female Buddhist teachers is an incredibly well-researched, original, and heartful offering to not just Buddhists, but to spiritual seekers everywhere.

The Hidden Lamp’s diverse collection of contributors ranges from priests and teachers, not just from Zen lineages, but from across the full spectrum of Buddhism. The contributors are professors, authors, monastics, scholars, teachers, anthropologists, activists, attorneys, physicians, librarians, poets, artists, filmmakers, midwives, and therapists. By compiling 100 koans and other stories (the words koan and story are used interchangeably in The Hidden Lamp) of the Buddhist female experience, editors Caplow and Moon create a text that penetrates intentionally, the same way a koan has been traditionally employed in Zen Buddhist practice.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Leaping Off the Wheel

by Ven. Tenzin Chogkyi

In order to answer the question, “How does one know that one is ready to be a monastic?” I would like to share a bit of my own circuitous path towards ordination. I had been a serious practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism for about twelve years before deciding to ordain. For most of that time, I had the attitude, “Oh, I just don’t have the karma to be ordained in this life. In fact I think it’s even more beneficial to show people the aspect of being a serious lay practitioner, so that people like me who don’t have the karma for ordination will have an example to follow.” I actually fooled myself with this rationalization, which was only the flimsiest way of covering up the fact that I really didn’t have any renunciation and was still trying to find happiness in samsara!

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Himalayan Girl: Lhakpa Dolma Lama

Lhakpa Dolma Lama (right) with friends from SMD School in Kathmandu, Nepal

My name is Lhakpa Dolma Lama and I am a student from Nepal currently studying in Melbourne, Australia at Ivanhoe Grammar School under a full scholarship for year eleven and twelve. I want to be a health worker when I grow up. I am the only member in my family who has been to school. For that reason I do work hard on my studies and English is my fifth language after my mother tongue Nubri, Tibetan, Nepali, and Hindi.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Maranasati for the Modern World

by Kim Allen, with contributions from Shaila Catherine

Mindfulness of death, when developed and cultivated, is of great fruit and benefit, culminating in the deathless, having the deathless as its consummation. Anguttara Nikaya 8.73

Image originally appeared in
East County Magazine

Our Western society has become particularly adept at hiding death. It occurs behind closed doors or in "sanitized" locations like hospitals and nursing homes. We rarely see corpses, much less the process of dying itself. More seriously, death is often interpreted as a kind of failure or something gone wrong, completely ignoring its spiritual dimension.

In our time and place, Buddhist contemplation of death may be more relevant—and spiritually potent—than ever. The Buddha's teachings encourage people to contemplate, deeply investigate, and directly understand death for themselves, for it is a path to liberation.

When the Buddha embarked on his spiritual quest, one of the most powerful prompts was seeing a corpse and understanding that he too would die. He set out to discover that which does not age, sicken, or die: Nibbana, the Deathless Liberation.

Monday, September 2, 2013

From Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery

The following article was originally featured in the May 2013 issue of the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery Newsletter. On April 18, 2013, the main temple at DGL underwent a consecration ceremony, which was officiated by Kyabje Khamtrul Rinpoche with Kyabje Dorzong Rinpoche, Kyabje Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche and other lamas and monks including five togdens from Khampagar Monastery and the monks of Jangchub Jong Monastery. The nuns of DGL displayed their confidence in ritual by enacting the roles of chant leader, sacristan, and musicians.

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo with monastics after Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava Puja on
day three of temple consecration

Temple Consecration & Celebration

The following is a compilation of accounts written by various nuns. Their words have remained unedited as to showcase their true voices during this momentous occasion.

How lucky we are! It has taken some years to build our temple and finally the opportunity came for consecration by His Eminence Khamtrul Rinpoche with H.E Dorzong Rinpoche, H.E Choegyal Rinpoche and some other tulkus. All nuns were very busy up to this day and everyone very excited. The temple has been very nicely painted from inside and outside. It had also been beautifully decorated. On the morning of April 18th we were ready to welcome H.E. the 9th Khamtrul Rinpoche, Shedrup Nyima, the Spiritual Director of our nunnery.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Taming the Want Monster

The if-I-don’t-get-it-I’ll-die type of desire that we think is tied to happiness

by Toni Bernhard

餓鬼草紙 (がきぞうし (Hungry Ghost Scroll), late 12th century, Kyoto National Museum

How many times in your life have you smiled and shook your head in disbelief at how strongly you thought you had to have some material thing or some experience—that “if I-don’t-get-it-I’ll-die” type of desire? Now you look back and it's just one more item on that list of “wants” that no longer has any hold over you.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Life of a Korean Seon Buddhist Nun

by Martine Batchelor

Songgwangsa Temple in Songil, Korea, 1976

I was a Seon Buddhist nun in Korea between 1975 and 1985 because I wanted to meditate. I felt the need to transform my mind and my emotions. Reading a Buddhist book I realized that meditation could help me to do that.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Freedom Before Release

The First Daylong Silent Retreat in a California Maximum Security Prison

by Diane Wilde

"Since this first retreat in 2009 at California State Prison, Sacramento, we have held daylong retreats
at six prisons, usually once or twice a year." Photo courtesy of Seattle PI: http://www.seattlepi.com
California State Prison at Sacramento (CSP-SAC) is a maximum security prison. It is also known as “New Folsom” and is adjacent to the more infamous prison, “Old Folsom,” where Johnny Cash gave his famous concert in the prison cafeteria. The men in our sangha at the time were mainly lifers (meaning they were probably not ever leaving prison) and had come to Buddhist services initially out of curiosity, or boredom, or perhaps needing a spiritual lift. Our sangha of twenty-seven men was mostly African American with quite a few Muslim practitioners, along with a smattering of Christians, and a number of spiritual seekers.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Going Beyond Gender Ambiguity in Theravada Forest Tradition

by Tathālokā Bhikkhunī

In the past decade a modern revival of the ancient tradition of full ordination
 for women into the Buddhist monastic community, or sangha,
has unfurled in South and Southeast Asia as well as in the West.
Image courtesy of www.Dhammadharini.net.

Entering into the world of the Therīgāthā, we find a world in which women's voices are radically honest with regards to the sufferings and joys that they faced both in lay life and monastic life. The joys of the senses and of relationship, as well as the sufferings of abuse, the death of loved ones, even the suffering of Buddhist practice and apparent non-progress on the Path before their final enlightenment, is all related in the ancient therīs' enlightenment verses with fresh forthrightness and honesty. It is a kind of "no holds barred" text in terms of the gritty and glorious realities of these ancient monastic womens’ lives.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Female Dalai Lama: Why It Matters

by Michaela Haas

His Holiness the Dalai Lama greeting a young Tibetan girl upon his arrival at Tumkur University to inaugurate an international conference entitled "Contemporary Human Suffering: Wisdom of Bhagwan Buddha," organized by Tumkur University. Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/DalaiLama

There is no hope for a female pope, but there might be one for a female Buddhist leader.

When Pope Francis washed the feet of two young women during Easter, this provoked the criticism of conservative Catholics who pointed out that the liturgies only allow men's feet to be washed, and cheers of progressives who saw it as an omen for a change in the Church's stance toward women. Many hope that the new pope will be a little more inclusive, especially when it comes to women's issues and questions concerning sexuality and contraception. More than 70 percent of American Catholics want the new pope to ordain women, approve the use of contraception, and let priests get married. Theoretically, any Catholic male can be elected pope, but women are the only group categorically excluded.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Interviewing Buddhist Women: Venerable Suniti

By Willow Myers

Ven. Suniti, in bright orange robes, enjoys the 13th International Sakyadhita Conference with other
monastics in Vaishali, India, January 2013.

When I met Venerable Suniti the first thing I noticed was her eyes, her bright, bright eyes. These eyes are brilliant dark orbs framed in rectangular black glasses perched on her nose. Her look quickly breaks my stereotype of a demure nun. With a look that is congruent with her personality, Venerable Suniti proves to be a real dynamo.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Buddhism for Women, Women for Buddhism: Change is Coming

Interview by Raymond Lam

Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo is the Branch and Chapter Coordinator of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women. In this series of seven questions we presented to her, she reflects on some key issues about Buddhist women and the long road ahead.

Buddhist Door: My interest has always been how Buddhism can empower and transform women, and how women can in turn empower and transform women. I want to see this virtuous cycle happen because I can see that many old institutions—once run exclusively for men, most of them still run by men—need a fresh voice that can actually bring people back to Buddhism again and grow all three traditions. Do you think this is still a fair charge to make, or are we seeing genuine if slow progress across the board?

KLT: Change is gradually happening, but Buddhist institutes are still run almost exclusively by men. As an ancient tradition struggling to survive under very different social conditions and faced by intensive conversion attempts in many countries, Buddhism needs to utilize all of its human resources, especially women. Overall, women have proven themselves to be competent, honest, and enthusiastic about preserving Buddhist traditions, though their contributions have rarely been acknowledged.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Can the Theravada Bhikkhuni Order be Re-established?

A Response by
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Sri Lankan bhikkhuni from Karuna Sevena visiting Angela Home near Colombo

This article was written in response to a statement issued by the Concise Tripitaka Editorial Board and published in the Daily News (Colombo) on March 29, 2012, under the heading: “Can the Theravada Bhikkhuni Order be Re-established?” The Board, expressing the viewpoint of the Mahanayaka Theras (the chief elders of the Buddhist monastic establishment in Sri Lanka) offered a negative answer to this question, but the author takes a different point of view. He contends not only that the Theravada Bhikkhuni Order can be re-established, but that it has already been re-established and that, by taking a liberal attitude, the ordination can be regarded as valid.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Kindhearted Companionship

by Anja Tanhane

Charlotte Joko Beck
I’m in an unusual position for a Buddhist, as I belong to Ordinary Mind Zen, a Buddhist school founded by a woman, Charlotte Joko Beck, in 1995. This means that even though my teacher, Geoff Dawson, is a man, his teacher was a woman. One of Joko Beck’s innovations in Zen was to emphasize the importance of working with everyday emotions, rather than trying to escape them. It’s no coincidence that several of her dharma heirs, including Geoff Dawson, are practicing psychologists/psychiatrists.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are, not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.  Charlotte Joko Beck

Monday, June 24, 2013

Women and Buddhism: Are Women Good for Religion?

by Joan Halifax, PhD, founding abbot, Upaya Zen Center

IWP: BEST project in Thailand

Since the mid-sixties, I have practiced Buddhism. From my point of view, Buddhism is more of a philosophy and, as well, a method to train the mind and heart. At its base, there should be no gender bias in Buddhism, if we examine Buddhism’s basic tenets. But in fact there is, as we learn that female monastics observing the full nun’s Patimokkha (311 rules), or precept body (the Vinaya), are subject to eight precepts that favor their brother monks, precepts that imply nuns are less worthy than individuals of the opposite sex. These are called “the eight heavy rules” and were reputedly crafted by the Buddha, who resisted ordaining women until he was persuaded otherwise by his cousin Ananda and the power of the presence of his stepmother and her women associates.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Women on the Path: The Transnational Sangha

by Vinita Agrawal
Free am I, oh so free am I
Being freed
By means of the three crooked things:
The mortar, pestle, and my crooked husband!

(Therigatha 11)

In the quest for enlightenment, men and women are equal. Emancipation is a matter of the heart—so why should it matter whether the individual who seeks it is a man or a woman? In reality however, women who are on the spiritual path have vastly different stories to tell as compared to their male counterparts. They face many obstacles in their endeavors towards self-realization—more, perhaps, than in any other area of their lives.

Family and societal pressures, traditional mindsets, dictates of patriarchy, and lack of women teachers are some common difficulties that stall women from seeking the road to liberation.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Interviewing Buddhist Women: Su Su Sein

Su Su Sein
Photo by Helen Richardson
By Willow Myers

It was 1987 and Su Su Sein planed to attend the first Buddhist Women's Conference in November in Bodhgaya, India. When she arrived at the airport she handed over her passport, a passport she wouldn't see again for twenty-six years. According to Su Su, "They took our passports, not just mine, all of us. At that time things were different and they became very hard to get after that. I was only able to get a passport again this summeraround July [2012]. This was because now the government has new rules. They  opened a new office in upper Burma; it only took three weeksit's easy so now."

As this quiet, slightly stooped, unassuming Asian woman of sixty-six years tells me her story I notice myself reacting and marveling at her patience. I tell her that November of 1986 is the birthdate of my son, the year before the conference. I comment that I was a young woman when I had him and now he is an adult and I am old enough to be a grandmother. Waiting twenty-five years to leave her country is a long time! I wonder if this was frustrating for her. We struggle a bit with our language differences, laughing at ourselves until she understands what I'm asking. Then she replies, "I felt sorry, very sorry I couldn't leave . . . I'm very happy now."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bhikkhuni Today: The Joys and Challenges of a Pioneer

by Amma Thanasanti Bhikkhuni
Theravada prayer flags made of recycled robes with aspirations for Māgha Pūjā (Sangha Day) at
Santi Forest Monastery on February 25, 2013

This article was originally published in a different format in Present.

I am blessed to be an American-born bhikkhuni living in the United States, blessed to be part of a society that insists on equality, celebrates pioneers, and encourages living according to one's values. My vision of how laypeople and monastics can evolve as an integrated community to support each other to awaken would not be possible in many other contexts. For a variety of reasons, the US is a highly favorable container in which Buddhism can flourish in our postmodern world.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Remembering Khandro Tsering Chödrön, “The Queen of the Dakinis”

by Michaela Haas

Khandro Tsering Chödrön at Lerab Ling Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Center in France ©Rigpa

Wherever she went, whether it be in a small park in India or a hospital in Europe, inadvertently people would feel drawn to her. Not knowing anything about her, people would inquire as to who the petite Asian lady in the wheelchair was, noting they felt a special presence. In his bestselling book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, her nephew, Tibetan Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche, refers to Khandro Tsering Chödron as "the greatest woman master of our day." In her, he goes on to say, "you see very clearly what years of the deepest devotion and practice can create out of the human spirit. Her humility and beauty of heart, and the shining simplicity, modesty, and lucid, tender wisdom of her presence are honored by all Tibetans, even though she herself has tried as far as possible to remain in the background, never to push herself forward, and to live the hidden and austere life of an ancient contemplative."

Monday, May 27, 2013

Ordination of Buddhist Nuns: The Ice Seems to Be Broken

by Jampa Tsedroen (Carola Roloff)

His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama at the First International Sangha Conference

For forty years, His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet has stood firmly in support of the revival of the ordination of nuns. In a forward written recently for a booklet on Tibetan nuns, [1]  H.H. the Dalai Lama explains how, in the eighth century, when the Indian master Śāntarakṣita (725–788) brought the ordination lineage for monks (bhikṣus) to Tibet, he did not bring nuns (bhikṣuṇīs), thus the ordination lineage for nuns could not take root in Tibet.

“It would be good if Tibetan bhikṣus were to agree upon a way in which the Mūlasarvāstivāda bhikṣuṇī ordination could be given. . . . We Tibetans were very fortunate,” the Dalai Lama continues, “that after a decline during the reign of King Langdarma in the ninth century, we were able to restore the bhikṣu lineage which was on the verge of extinction in Tibet. As a result, many people have been able to listen, reflect, and meditate on the Dharma as fully ordained monks, and this has been of great benefit to Tibetan society and sentient beings in general. It is my hope that we may also find a way to establish the bhikṣuṇī saṅgha in the Tibetan community as well.”

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

In the Company of Spiritual Friends: Sri Lanka’s Buddhist Nuns

by Susanne Mrozik

Author Susanne Mrozik with a spiritual friend

This article was first published by the Alliance for Bhikkhunis in the summer 2011 edition of  Present, a journal that documents the voices and activities of Theravada Buddhist women.

It is, once again, a very hot and humid day in Sri Lanka. I prepare to board one of several buses I will take today to travel to a meeting that I'm not sure I really want to attend. Sweaty and grimy, dreading the hours of uncomfortable travel ahead of me, I am in a bad mood. But as I step into the bus, I see a Buddhist nun seated in the front row. I sit down next to her, we smile at each other, and my bad mood lifts. I am in the company of a kalyanamitta, or spiritual friend.

Ven. Payutto, a Thai monk-scholar, tells us that a spiritual friend is anyone “who is well prepared with the proper qualities to teach, suggest, point out, encourage, assist, and give guidance for getting started on the path of Buddhist training.” Buddhist scriptures also tell us that spiritual friends, like the nun seated next to me, can teach without even saying a word. This nun’s kind, but disciplined demeanor visibly embodies her Buddhist training. Seeing her, I come back to the present moment, briefly letting go of my aversion to the physical discomforts of the day, and open up to the possibility of joyful human connection even on a really hot bus.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Liberation in the Midst of Suffering

by Ryūmon Hilda Gutierrez Baldoquín Sensei

"Taj Mohammad, center, borrowed money to pay for hospital treatment for his wife
and medical care for some of his children." Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Recently two articles leading with pause-moment headlines landed in my inbox within twenty-four hours of each other. The first one in the Atlantic reminds me “How Racism is Bad for Our Bodies” and the second one, in the Huffington Post, reminds me “Buddhist ‘People Of Color Sanghas,’ Diversity Efforts Address Conflict About Race Among Meditators.”

Monday, May 6, 2013

What is “Feminine”?

by Jacqueline Kramer

Guan Yin of the Southern Sea, painted wood, Chinese, Liao (9071125), Jin Dynasty (11151234),
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, USA

The Vimalakirtinirdesha Sutra tells the tale of the great layman Vimalakirti who lives in a home that offers shelter to a seemingly endless parade of beings. One of the beings who has taken up residence in his home is a goddess. One day, the Buddha’s great disciple, Shariputra, comes to call on Vimalakirti and encounters the goddess. Not one to mince words, or perhaps shocked to see a female in the great Vimalakirti’s home, Shariputra asks the goddess, “Why don’t you change your female sex?”

Monday, April 29, 2013

No Longer MIA in History

by Munissara Bhikkhuni

Recently I was reading a report on the activities of a monks’ monastery in the local Buddhist group´s newsletter. I knew that the monks, especially the abbot, had been very kind and allowed a Buddhist nun to stay at the limited women´s quarters in the monastery to do a three-month retreat during the traditional rainy season retreat period. I was therefore expecting that the nun would be included in the report’s description of the community that spent the rains retreat and was surprised to find it made no mention of her at all. It enumerated only monks, postulants training to be monks, and laypeople.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

DANAM: Call for Papers

Every year, DANAM (Dharma Academy of North America) convenes a conference in conjunction with the AAR (American Academy of Religion). This year the AAR will be held in Baltimore, Maryland, from November 23-26, with the DANAM conference generally held the day before. The theme for this year's gathering is “Modern Masters.”
Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo has been asked to help convene a DANAM panel and has proposed the topic "Buddhist Women Masters." A subtitle will be selected based on the papers selected. If you would like to submit a proposal for this panel, please send it to Ven. Lekshe by May 1: tsomo@sandiego.edu. You are welcome to circulate this announcement to your colleagues and students.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why Sakyadhita is Important: A look at Buddhist women's experience from the Therigatha and today

by Sarana Nona Olivia

Female monastics and Buddhist laywomen listen to His Holiness the Karmapa
at the 13th International Sakyadhita Conference, January 2013.

With a desire to translate the Therigatha and a small grant from Naropa, I spent part of summer 2000 at the Barre Center, learning Pali. Lucky for me, Pali is a close cognate to ancient Greek so with Andy generously answering questions and Mu Seong and Sumi making me feel at home, I was able to complete the 522 stanzas, or some 72 poems. Included in the Khuddaka Nikaya, the Therigatha is said to be verses composed by the first bhikkhunis, contemporaneous to the historical Buddha. Having been trained as a classicist and always looking for extant material composed by women, I was drawn to the Therigatha partly because it is among the oldest texts attributed to women and also because I wanted to see how it could be used as a teaching text. Clearly, since it had been preserved, it must have had a purpose.

Monday, April 15, 2013

In Tribute to Mother Beings

by Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni

Compassion From the Heart of Mother Southard
via seescapes.com
To those who are mothers themselves; to the mothers of all of us—to whom we owe our lives, and to the loving mother within you—within all of us.

If we share more than fifty percent of our DNA with carrots, imagine how much all of us of every gender share the kamma or the capacity for loving mothering!

During our last year's “Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering,” an eminent psychologist gave a presentation on “Spiritual Bypassing.” In his introductory lecture, he mentioned that at the heart of all religious and spiritual practices, we share the anxiety of our incarnation as beings that grew in the exquisitely nourished and protected environment of the womb and were then expelled from this primal, genitive Eden. And then feeling the agony of separation, a feeling attenuated by the mother’s holding, that mutual beholding in enraptured loving attention when child and mother gaze into each other's eyes. Then that changes. He said that our whole lives and our spiritual journeys are then based upon and centered in that love, that separation, and then the finding within ourselves and our later relationships (including our relationships with ourselves) that reunion, or relegare. Relagare is Latin for religion—that is, reunion.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Working with Obstacles: Is Female Rebirth an Obstacle?

 by Rita M. Gross

This post originally appeared in full in Feminism and Religion on February 6, 2013.

Buddhist teachings recommend appreciating obstacles because they are helpful to our practice.  Without obstacles we would never develop profound understanding or compassion. Buddhists have also frequently claimed that female rebirth is an obstacle. If obstacles are of great benefit, shouldn’t women, who encounter more obstacles than  men, rise to the top of the hierarchy of  revered Buddhist teachers? But that has not happened. Is this obstacle actually of benefit to women, as teachings on the helpfulness of obstacles would suggest? After practicing Buddhism for almost forty years, I have come to appreciate how much the many obstacles I faced over the years have taught me. For a woman of my generation (born 1943), none has been greater than the limitations placed on me as a woman, both by Western culture and by Buddhism. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Buddhist Women Awaken

by Tenzin Palmo

Recently a busload of nuns from the Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery went off to Dharamsala to participate in the One Billion Rising candlelight procession protesting violence against women. It was an encouraging sign that many men joined alongside carrying banners proclaiming their support. The One Billion Rising demonstration had celebration as an integral part of its expression. The "rising" is joyful because it is bringing the energies of the world into balance.

Monday, March 25, 2013

From Our History to Our Future

by Sandy Boucher

Women began voicing the Dharma two and a half centuries ago during the Buddha’s lifetime. The Buddha’s aunt, Pajapati, led the first women’s liberation march to demand ordination, a successful demonstration that resulted in the Buddha’s establishing the bhikkhuni order.

Now 2,500 years later, we are continuing that legacy and addressing the still-unfinished business around the world of changing patriarchal dominance and exclusion into equality and justice. In the United States, we have made large strides in the last twenty-five years since 1980 when I first did zazen in a Zen center where I found my Theravada teacher Ruth Denison and began the vipassana practice that I continue to this day. We have participated in the great adventure of Buddhism’s coming to the West and have transformed many elements of this spiritual path in the movement toward the evolution of a distinctively American form of Buddhism. We can be proud of our accomplishments. But for successive generations of Buddhist women to come, there is much unfinished business!

I want to give a brief appraisal of what feminist work in Buddhism has accomplished, and perhaps what it has failed to do.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Auspicious Beginnings: The Inception of Sakyadhita

Female monastics and laypeople at the 12th International Sakyadhita Conference
held in Bangkok, Thailand in 2011
by Karma Lekshe Tsomo
Until 1987 most Buddhist women lived isolated lives in their own communities, without even meeting Buddhists of other traditions. The 300 million Buddhist women in the world constituted a significant silent majority. If the uncounted millions of Buddhist women in China and North Korea are added to that figure, this silent majority becomes even more significant. One big change in the last 20 years is that Buddhist women are no longer isolated. The electronic revolution has made organizing women much easier than before. Since 1987 Sakyadhita has put new technologies to work to ensure that Buddhist women can no longer be ignored.