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."