Friday, August 28, 2015

Golden Ribbons in the Tree of Life

I first heard about the 14th Sakyadhita Conference from a friend at Buddha Prabha Vihara, my local Buddhist temple. I was asked to help recruit 100 volunteers. At that time, I thought it would be very complicated to prepare for such a large international conference. I was not brave enough to reject this assignment, but I also wasn’t confident that I could recruit 100 people. Luckily, I had my parents to consult! They told me it’s never wrong to try . . . so I decided to do it.

Just like my other volunteer experiences, I learned how to manage my time well, juggling my studies and my duties as a volunteer. But this time I got more! Although we received six weeks of training beforehand, I think the real training happened during the conference. We certainly ran into problems again and again, but none were insurmountable. I learned how to serve participants and the Bhikkhuni Sangha from all over the world wholeheartedly, and I also made many friends from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Especially, I want to thank Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo and our volunteer coordinators for their advice, which helped me become confident to serve the participants more sincerely.

Each and every single moment during the Sakyadhita conference is like a gold ribbon tied to one of the branches of my tree of life, and I'll never put it down.

The warmth will always be in my heart.

Pricella, Yogyakarta

Monday, August 24, 2015

White Robes, Saffron Dreams: A Look at Gender Inequality in Thai Buddhism

Hilary Cadigan 
June 6, 2014

One of the most distinct illustrations of gender inequality in Thailand is found in its most entrenched institution: religion. In her fascinating new documentary, White Robes, Saffron Dreams, acclaimed filmmaker Teena Amrit Gill explores the discriminatory treatment of women within Thai Buddhism, a topic that has gone largely unexamined in the past.

One of the Buddhist nuns depicted in the film.

The 43-minute documentary, which was released last year and is currently on the festival circuit, follows the story of a Buddhist monk and a Mae Chi (Buddhist nun), and explores the sharp difference in opportunities for males versus females in Thailand, a country that is 95% Buddhist.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Buddhist Reflections on Healing, Letting Go and How Suffering Can Lead to Freedom

Ayya Yeshe Bodhicitta

Letting go is a big theme in Buddhism. It has also been a big theme in my own life. Change and the need to let go are issues we don’t mind hearing about in the context of other people’s lives, but one we don’t really like taking place in our own. But the fact is, sooner or later we all have to accept change, whether we want it or not.

Change, cycles of life and death, creation, expansion and decline are as natural as the seasons. Change can also be a liberating thing, and without it, life would be stale. Change is not always negative. It means we can grow and learn and expand. It means unpleasant situations can transform into more positive situations, but it can also mean we suffer. We can all appreciate the beauty and tempests of nature. We enjoy the blossoming flowers in spring and the new life that emerges from the earth, bringing renewal. We can also enjoy the graceful surrender of autumn as leaves fall and dark comes earlier. Life would be very dull if nothing ever changed. But being born, things must also die. Meeting, they must part and reaching their highest arch, they must also decline. This is a natural law. Somehow because we live separate from nature and mostly in our heads, we have lost sight of this natural law. We hide from old age, try to create permanent security and try to insulate ourselves from anything nasty that could disturb our comfort too much.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Excerpt from Time to Stand Up

Excerpt from "Time to Stand Up"
An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth
The Buddha’s Life and Message through Feminine Eyes

North Atlantic Books
Berkeley, California 2015

Most scholars agree that what is recorded as the Buddha’s story—from conversations committed to memory for four hundred[1] years after his death before they were written down—is subject to interpretation.[2]  The men who recorded his teaching, while offering an extraordinary and vital service, did so with a natural bias for the worldview they inhabited, where women’s perspectives were largely invisible. In this book, I aim to bring a feminine view to a tradition that became one of the most androcentric in the world; Buddhism has been recorded almost entirely from a male perspective. I want to do this because the enlightenment narratives in contemporary Buddhist-inspired movements are deeply informed by a hierarchical, patriarchal, and often misogynist Buddhist monasticism.

Image 1: Before boarding the Climate Train, September 15, 2014, Oakland-Berkerly, CA. Ayya Santacitta and Ayya Santussika with poster made by her granddaughter.
In a very general, broad brushstroke, at the heart of androcentric Buddhism there tends to be a psychological bias toward nihilism. This is a life-denying and somewhat aloof disregard for the world, in which personal salvation and the transcendent are held as primary, and engaged compassionate action, while valued in rhetoric and as an ideal, doesn’t necessarily translate into a sharing of resources or support for the impoverished or marginalized. Followers of Buddhist traditions are just as prone as others to accumulating wealth and landed property for themselves, while displaying insensitivity to issues of economic equity and social justice around them. As we face a burning world that needs proactive and effective response, we have to evolve beyond our tendency toward introversion and narcissism as Dharma practitioners—which is often justified by a cynical ethos that sees the world as samsara[3] (illusory and bound to suffering), and therefore not overly worthy of redemption.

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.