Monday, September 29, 2014

The Times, They are A’Changin'

Venerable Damchö Diana Finnegan 

His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivering the keynote speech during the Inaugural Ceremony of
"A Meeting of Diverse Spiritual Traditions in India" in New Delhi, India on September 20, 2014.
Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

On September 20, 2014, during the first roundtable discussion of a interreligious conference entitled, "A Meeting of Diverse Spiritual Traditions in India - Promoting Human Values and Inter-Religious Harmony," held in Delhi, India, H. H. Dalai Lama spoke in favor of revising a rule stipulating that nuns should sit behind monks, even if the nuns are fully ordained Bhikshunis and the monks are novices. The Meeting of Diverse Spiritual Traditions of India, which was convened by His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself, spanned two days, including plenaries on “Inter-Religious Understanding and Human Values” and on “Environment, Education, and Society.”

In his impromptu comments, H. H. Dalai Lama described three categories to consider when thinking about whether and how religious practices and rituals might be adapted to the times: faith, philosophy, and culture. He noted that culture is dependent on circumstances in the surrounding environment and, as cultures change with the times, certain aspects of religious practice can also be changed.

H. H. Dalai Lama stated that the Buddha instituted equal rights for women and men when he established monastic orders for both monks and nuns. Due to the surrounding culture at that time, however, when Bhikshus and Bhikshunis came together, the Bhikshus went first and the Bhikshunis remained behind, even behind the novice monks. “But times have changed and we have to consider these things seriously. They are part of the culture but not the philosophy,” he said. “We need make effort in order to bring justice.” This statement seems to reflect a shift from traditional thinking, reflecting new cultural assumptions about gender equality in contemporary culture.

Please note, His Holiness was not expected to speak so Ven. Damchö missed recording the first minute or two, when His Holiness set up the structure of his comments, which describes three categories to consider when thinking about whether and how we might adapt religious practices and rituals to the times: faith, philosophy and culture. What is cultural is based on circumstances of the surrounding environment, and as this changes with the times, these aspects of religious practice can be changed. This is the basic structure of his argument. If you skip to about 1:50 minutes and listen from there this is where he comes to the topic of bhikshunis and gender issues. The audio file is not a professional recording, so there are some background noise disturbances.

For more information on this meeting please read the press release from the Office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet here, as well as via the Office of the 17th Karmapa here. You may also watch recordings from the livestream of the ceremonies and plenary sessions held on September 20th and 21st here.

Venerable Damchö Diana Finnegan

Damcho Diana Finnegan was ordained in 1999 as a shramanerika. In 2009, she completed her PhD in Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhism, with a dissertation on gender and ethics in the narratives of the lives of the Buddha's direct female disciples. She currently lives in Dharmadatta Nuns' Community in northern India, translating and editing publications for the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.

1 comment:

  1. His Holiness is Buddha of our time, any kind of discrimination in the Buddhist society doesn't make any sense, gender equality should be practiced and respected or else how one becomes awakened one?