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Monday, July 27, 2015

Joy is Hidden in Sorrow

Ayya Medhanandi

During these days of practice together, we have been reading the names of our departed loved ones as well as those of family and friends who are suffering untold agony and hardship at this time. There is so much misery around us. How do we accept it all? We've heard of young and vibrant people lost to suicide, aneurysm, AIDS, and motor neurone disease. And so many elderly who still cling to life even while suffering chronic poor health, physical and mental pain, poverty, disability, and isolation.

Death is all around us especially as we come to the end of the year and the start of the winter season. This is a law of nature. It's not something new. And yet we go about our lives oblivious to the fact or acting as if nothing will ever happen to us–as if we're not going to grow old or die, as if we'll always be healthy, active, and independent.

We are inclined to identify with our body and mind, defining ourselves by our appearance, profession, our possessions, social connections, even our thoughts. But when tragedy strikes, these habitual perceptions can destroy us: "I'm ugly, I'm redundant, I'm depressed, nobody loves me, I'm a traumatised person, I deserve better".

Dwelling in such negative perceptions, we are not able to stand like those oak trees along the boundary of the Amaravati meadow–patient through the long winter, weathering every storm that comes their way. In October they drop their leaves so gracefully. And in the spring they blossom again. For us, too, there are comings and goings, births and deaths–the seasons of our lives. When we are ready, and even if we are not ready, we will die. Even if we never fall sick a day in our lives, we still die–that's what bodies do.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Impressions from the 2015 Sakyadhita International Conference

They came in robes and in street clothes, with perfectly coiffed hair and with shaved heads, in sandals, in boots, and in high heels. They came from all over the world, on wings, on wheels, by foot. They came, the Buddhists, the Muslims, the Hindus, and the Christians, and some who have set aside all religion. They came, over 1,000 of them, in search of inspiration. And that is what they found.


The 2015 Sakyadhita Conference is the first I have attended, though it has been offered for nearly 30 years now. Organized by an ordained woman who practices Tibetan Buddhism and teaches at the University of California in San Diego, the Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo, this conference for Buddhist women was centered on the theme of compassion and social justice. It is supported by Venerable Lekshe, other nuns and monks, and dozens of women and men volunteers who gain nothing but the satisfaction of knowing that they have helped so many.

Monday, June 29, 2015

History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia: Part 10

Shedding Light on the Bhikkhunīs & the Great Founding Women of Borobudur

Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhunī


the Bhikkhunīs of Borobudur
Image 1: Bhikkhunīs of Borobudur
This paper is the tenth and final post in a series of extracts from the larger article titled “Light of the Kilis: Our Indonesian Bhikkhunī Ancestors” which explores what is known of the ancient Buddhist women monastics and ascetics of the Indonesian archipelago.
 
Chronologically, this post falls between part 4 and part 5 in this Awakening Buddhist Women blog series. Prepared especially for the 14th Sakyadhita International Conference in Yogyakarta, this previously unpublished extract was presented live at the Sakyadhita Conference. 

“Light of the Kilis” is based on research materials gathered from travelogues, local oral traditions, dedicatory inscriptions, monuments, and statuary, or what remains of these within their cultural and historical context. The materials span a time period of more than 2000 years, from the 3rd century BCE up to modern times.

Here we focus on the 8th and 9th centuries and materials that are of direct relevance to the Sakyadhita Conference locale and of special interest and value to women in Buddhism. I touch on the feminine aspect of Indonesian candis, the appearance and role of both the esoteric Bhagavatī Aryā Tārā, the human queen Devī Tārā, and her daughter (or granddaughter) Śrī Sanjiwana Prāmodhavardhanī, the latter two Buddhist women being key persons involved with the foundation and establishment of the world-famous Borobudur monument. I also highlight images of bhikṣuṇīs and the dual sangha (bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs) that are portrayed on three levels of the wall reliefs of the Borobudur monument. These images are of outstanding historical value, because we can glean from them unparalleled visual knowledge of Buddhist women’s monastic way of life at the time they were created. I review and describe these images in the context of the Dharma teaching stories they illustrate – shining examples of women’s leadership and eminence in the Buddhist sangha, as they were conceived of and understood during this period.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Moms and Dads Wait -- A Lot

Jacqueline Kramer

As I sit in the waiting room while my granddaughter, Nai’a, has her weekly piano lesson, it occurs to me that all over the world, moms and dads wait. They wait on cold, wet benches during soccer practice, they wait at markets to procure ingredients for the evening meal, they wait in cars, they wait in lines, they wait on couches during lessons and doctors visits, and they wait outside on dusty roads. Waiting is a universal factor of being a parent and homemaker. It is a factor few discuss, except occasionally, and then only with contempt. Waiting can be mind numbing. We tend to see it as a waste of time, a waste of what could have been a real life. Because of these many hours spent waiting instead of utilizing our talents, writing our novel or moving up the ladder of success, parenting is often viewed as the bottom of the occupational food chain. Women, particularly Western women, may feel they are watching their lives slip away from them like sand through open fingers.


There is a Zen practice called shikantaza that has some features in common with waiting. Shikantaza translates as just sitting. Bonnie Myotai Treace describes shikantaza as, “The brightest pain, the dullest ride home on the subway: just mountains and rivers proclaiming the awakening way. Nothing excluded.” This is how shikantaza works: with eyes closed or open, wherever you find yourself, just sit. Don’t try to do anything. If a thought comes, watch the thought as it enters and exits. It doesn’t matter if the thought is pleasant or unpleasant, kind or cruel. Adding judgment to the thought takes us far away from the present moment. Thought is just an amorphous event passing through your field of awareness. If a sound arises, hear it until it fades, if a challenging feeling comes, feel it without turning away or distracting yourself. If a pleasant feeling comes, share the space with it without trying to make it last longer. Everything just happens within a field of consciousness that watches without our making any attempt to change, understand or judge the content. In other words, we just sit. We become a field in which things happen. There is no doing anything, no visualizing, no noting, no focusing, no trying to be more or less anything. All is welcome. We are like a tree or a boulder. This is an openhanded, openhearted, intimate way of being with life just as it is.

Monday, June 15, 2015

What Would I Do for the Dharma? Thinking about Ryonen

Susan Moon

Image 1: Calligraphy
by Ryonen Genso
Ryonen was a woman Zen teacher in 17th century Japan. A story about her has been cooking inside of me ever since I read it some years ago.

As a young woman, Ryonen Genso was an attendant to the empress, and was known for her beauty and intelligence. When the empress died, she felt the impermanence of life, and she went in search of a Zen master with whom she could practice.

She traveled to the monastery of Master Hakuo Dotai, who refused her because of her beauty, saying her womanly appearance would cause problems for the monks in his monastery.

Afterward, she saw some women pressing fabric by a river, and she took up a hot iron and held it against her face, scarring herself. Then she wrote this poem on the back of a small mirror:
To serve my Empress, I burned incense to perfume my exquisite clothes.
Now as a homeless mendicant I burn my face to enter a Zen temple.
The four seasons flow naturally like this.
Who is this now in the midst of these changes?
She returned to Hakuo and gave him the poem. Hakuo immediately accepted her as a disciple. She became abbess of his temple when he died, and later founded her own temple. Before her death she wrote the following poem:
This is the sixty-sixth autumn I have seen.
The moon still lights my face.
Don’t ask me about the meaning of Zen teachings—
Just listen to what the pines and cedars say on a windless night.

Monday, June 8, 2015

On the Front Lines

This essay was drawn from an interview conducted by Dennis Crean, former managing editor of Inquiring Mind (1998-2011) and Martha Kay Nelson, also an editor of the Mind (2011-present).
From Inquiring Mind, Vol. 31, #2 (Spring 2015). © 2015 by Inquiring Mind. Used by permission. 

Paper copies of the final issue of Inquiring Mind are available here only until 15 June 2015.
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By Ayya Santacitta & Ayya Santussika

We women monastics don’t have the privilege of shutting ourselves off from the need for change. Because we are not part of the establishment, we live our lives on the front lines. As bhikkhunis, what pulls us to the front lines of climate change is the pioneering spirit of the bhikkhuni movement itself. We are already going against the grain to reestablish the order of fully ordained Theravada nuns; we’re willing to step out of a patriarchal system and create something new. And because we lack the “golden handcuffs” of abundant financial support, we don’t have to worry about keeping everybody happy. We have the freedom to respond to the urgent needs of the day, applying the Buddha’s teachings to the crises humanity faces now.

Image 1: Ayya Santussika and Ayya Santacitta 
teaching a daylong retreat on "Stable Heart, Stable 
Climate" at Insight Santa Cruz.
We are working to pass on to the next generation a presentation of the Dhamma that is applicable to this day and age. A contemporary Dhamma has to be embodied by both female and male monastics, otherwise many people will turn away, thinking this religion doesn’t recognize the clear truth that women and men alike are both sorely needed as leaders. The Dhamma must not be confined to the old order of things, which is very much about dominating nature, taking what you can get and throwing back what you don’t want. This is the way women—and the environment—have been treated for centuries. As bhikkhunis, we are stepping out of that.

Monday, June 1, 2015

History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia: Part 9

Tomé Pires Witness & the Beguines, 

change comes to the roles of women in religion in Indonesia


Ayyā Tathālokā Bhikkhunī

In this ninth post in our “History of Women in Buddhism - Indonesia” series leading up to the Sakyadhita International Buddhist Women’s Conference in Indonesia, we come to the last of the ancient and premodern records of Buddhist women leaders, kilis and bhikkhunīs in Indonesian Buddhism, with one final and telling glimpse from a surprising Western source, before sweeping social changes overtook Java, Sumatra and much of the archipelago. We touch on some of the changes brought by Islam and by Colonialism, and the impact they had on women in Indonesian religion and spirituality, and women in Buddhism.

Extracted from Ayyā Tathālokā’s paper “Light of the Kilis: Our Indonesian Bhikkhuni Ancestors,” this article is part of the series leading up to the 14th Sakyadhita Conference in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. This article is dedicated to the first Theravada bhikkhunī ordination in contemporary times in Indonesia which is planned to precede the Sakyadhita Conference in June 2015.