Monday, March 17, 2014

Awakening Buddhist Women, Now

Karma Lekshe Tsomo

Opening ceremony at the 13th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women

What a difference a year makes! Never before in world history has there been a Buddhist women’s blog and now there is one! As of today, 33,831 unique visitors have visited the Awakening Buddhist Women blog. Who would have guessed that Buddhist women could create such a stir? Not only are the numbers impressive, but also the diversity of the blog posts—their writers, their readers, and their content is remarkable. With a wide spectrum of topics, perspectives, and cultures written by women of widely varied backgrounds—scholars, practitioners, scholar/practitioners, activists, artists, mothers, and nuns—the Awakening Buddhist Women blog has become one of the most exciting contemporary phenomena in transnational Buddhism.

The blog has been unique in tackling some very controversial issues head-on. The issue of full ordination of Buddhist women, for example, elicits strong feelings on all sides. Is advocating for the full ordination of Buddhist women denigrating the religious roles of nuns who elect other forms of renunciant practice? What explains the opposition to higher ordination for women and what will it take to overcome outdated attitudes toward women in the Buddhist world?

Conference attendees from Mongolia
Another hot button issue concerns the term “American Buddhism.” Who is and who is not represented by this term? Are green-card holders who are not yet eligible for passports “American Buddhists?” This question is significant because, even though the majority of Buddhists in the US are either Asian or Asian American, both popular literature and academic research on American Buddhism often focuses on non-Asian Buddhists. Will the real American Buddhist please stand up? This debate forces us to confront issues of privilege and disenfranchisement in US Buddhist spaces. Is it possible that Buddhists, who pride ourselves on being liberal minded, prefer to practice in Buddhist centers with people who look just like themselves? Why are many “American Buddhists” hesitant to visit their local Thai or Cambodian temple? What happened to the liberal value of cultural diversity?

Another debate concerns the current mindfulness trend. Can the practice of mindfulness be extracted from its religious and philosophical context? Some claim that the practice of mindfulness, like “secular Buddhism,” is the ideal match for a capitalist society. Allan Hunt Badiner’s book Mindfulness in the Marketplace: Compassionate Responses to Consumerism advocates greater awareness and responsibility in exercising our buying choices in hopes of offsetting the deleterious effects of corporate capitalism on the environment and human society. A very different interpretation of “mindfulness in the marketplace” is the way mindfulness is being marketed—to corporations, prisons, the military, and the general public—becoming a consumer item in itself. The Buddhist practice of mindfulness is widely acknowledged as a healing force that can be applied to resolve real problems in the world, but is it legitimate to market mindfulness without acknowledging its roots in the Buddhist tradition? How useful is mindfulness without a foundation of ethics, divorced from compassion, loving kindness, and wisdom? After all, one can kill or rob a bank very mindfully.

Nuns of different traditions
In response to these and other debates, Awakening Buddhist Women has become a free-thought zone, open to a wide spectrum of ideas and opinions. The blog has become a valuable global forum for sharing experiences and interpretations of Buddhist thought and practice, with glimpses into the lives of Buddhist women from the forests of Thailand to the slums of India to undergraduate classrooms in California. The blog provides links to many different women’s projects and news about upcoming events, such as the 14th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women scheduled for June 23 to 30, 2015, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Stay tuned for more exciting posts!

Karma Lekshe Tsomo: Bhiksuni 

Karma Lekshe Tsomo grew up surfing and roaming the coastline in Malibu, California. Her Zenn family name led her to Buddhism at a young age. In 1964, she set off to go surfing in Japan and wound up doing Zen meditation. After many adventures, she ordained as a nun in France in 1977, and lived for many years in India and Hawai’i. Currently, she teaches Buddhism at the University of San Diego, directs the Jamyang Foundation, and volunteers with Sakyadhita.

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