Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women Summer, 1994 Vol. 5, No. 2 The Saky
International Association of Buddhist Women
Summer, 1994 Vol. 5, No. 2
The Sakyadhita newsletter welcomes contributions by its readers in the
form of articles, letters, drawings, or announcements of interest to
Buddhist women, both lay and ordained. Please remember to express your
support for Sakyadhita by sending in your membership for this year. This
issue was compiled by Karma Lekshe Tsomo, with the kind assistance of Ann
Frederick. Produced by Toby and Alanda Wraye of Touch the Earth
Productions in Santa Rosa, CA. The electronic edition is being produced
and distributed by DharmaNet International in Berkeley CA.
FOURTH INTERNATIONAL SAKYADHITA CONFERENCE
August, 1995, Leh, Ladakh
Sakyadhita is pleased to announce the Fourth International Sakyadhita
Conference will be held in Leh, Ladakh, Northern India, in the beginning
of August, 1995. The conference will be jointly sponsored by Sakyadhita
(International Association of Buddhist Women) and the Ladakh Buddhist
Association, with the cooperation of many Ladakhi women's associations.
Situated high in the Himalayas, Ladakh is a mountainous land with an
old and unique Buddhist culture. Its snowy peaks shelter fertile valleys
and villages over 17,000 feet high. Its people, while adapting modern
technology to make their lives easier, are striving to preserve their
ancient traditions, especially their Buddhist heritage. Open to the
outside world only since 1979, Ladakh offers solitude, spiritual
inspiration, majestic mountain panoramas, and gentle people, in addition
to commendable tourist facilities.
Program planning is underway. Some suggestions for the overall theme of
the conference so far include: //Feminism and Buddhism//; //Buddhist Women
and Power//; //Lifestyle Choices: Lay Practice or Monastic?// We solicit
additional suggestions for the overall conference theme.
After the opening ceremony, one day will be spent on the presentation
of papers by invited speakers, with 30-minute discussion groups following.
Another day will be devoted to papers solicited from the public. We invite
people to submit papers on topics of their choice. Papers or abstracts of
at least 500 words should be received by January 1, 1995, for
consideration. Authors of selected papers will be notified by February 1
and will be invited to read their papers at the conference.
The next three days, we will hold workshops to go into each of several
topics in more depth. The following topics have been suggested for these
(1) Reestablishing the bhiksuni order;
(2) Buddhist education for the modern day;
(3) Dharma and family;
(4) Buddhism and social action.
People who would like to serve as workshop leaders are invited to
submit a resume or description of prior experience.
The sixth day will be a Sakyadhita meeting and closing ceremony. The
seventh day will be devoted to visiting the famous monasteries located
around Leh Valley. Another optional sightseeing tour will be planned for
those who will be able to stay longer. Meditations will be held each
morning and Buddhist ceremonies will be held each evening to give
participants insight into the rich variety of Buddhist traditions.
Flights between Delhi and Leh are heavily booked during the summer
months. Therefore, those interested in attending the conference must make
their plans early. Please send in the accompanying form so we may keep you
We will try to make accommodations available at a range of prices, such
as $5, $10 and $20 per day. We hope to provide vegetarian lunch at the
Please complete and mail the Information Request form provided [below]
to reserve your place at the conference or receive literature.
FOURTH INTERNATIONAL SAKYADHITA CONFERENCE
_____ I am interested in attending the Fourth International Sakyadhita
Conference. Please send further information.
_____ Enclosed is my conference registration fee of US$50 (check or money
order drawn on a U.S. bank).
_____ I am interested in presenting a paper at the Conference.
_____ Please send information on flights from Delhi to Leh.
_____ I am interested in accommodations in the following range:
_____ $5 a day _____ $10 a day _____ $20 a day
I can offer the following talents or ideas:
__________________________________ Country _______________________________
Phone ____________________________ Fax ___________________________________
Please send to: Sakyadhita
400 Hobron Lane #2615
Honolulu, HI 96815 USA
Fax: (808) 944-7070
INDIA: MONGOLIAN NUNS ARRIVE IN DHARAMSALA
On June 6, four Mongolian nuns arrived in India to begin studies in
Buddhist philosophy. Several years ago, the four sramanerikas (novice
nuns) were among the first group of Mongolian women to receive the five
precepts of an upasika (Buddhist laywoman) in recent history. Ven. Bakula
Rinpoche, a highly revered lama from Ladakh and currently Indian
Ambassador to Mongolia, served as their preceptor.
Thubten Dolma and Thubten Kunze of Drolma Lhakang, a practice center
for women in Ulan Bator, were then among the first group of eight women to
receive the sramanerika precepts from Ven. Bakula Rinpoche in 1993.
This was presumably the first time in history Mongolian women received
ordination as nuns. Thubten Choden and Thubten Dechen of Naljorma Lhakang,
the other practice center for women in Ulan Bator, were among the second
group of women to become ordained, also receiving the precepts from Ven.
The nuns, ranging in age from 20 to 25, have received from 8 to 10
years of secular education and have each studied Buddhism privately for
several years. In April, they were awarded scholarships to study at
Jamyang Choling Institute for Buddhist Women in Dharamsala, India.
Travelling by air for two days from Ulan Bator, via Beijing and
Bangkok, the nuns arrived in Delhi to temperatures above 127 degrees
Fahrenheit. Undaunted by heat, fatigue, or language difficulties, they set
off with water bottles to tour the historical sites of Delhi. New-found
friends from Honolulu were duly impressed by their good humor and lively
interest in everything, despite the immanent threat of heat prostration.
We nearly lost three of Mongolia's brightest at New Delhi Station,
amidst the clamoring masses of travellers. Fortunately we found them,
squeezed among the mob of thousands, and enjoyed a reunion of laughter and
tears minutes before the train pulled out. After an 18-hour journey to
Dharamsala by train and jeep, the nuns were welcomed by senior students of
the Institute and escorted to their new lodgings -- a dilapidated hut of
stone and mud nestled in the Himalayan pine forest. Nonplussed, they
happily settled in, neatly arranging Mongolian woolens and sheepskins on
the beds and prayer books and ritual instruments on the shelves behind.
The next challenge was linguistic, as they struggled to communicate in
English or Tibetan -- whichever emerged first. Many humorous moments
ensued. Instead of "Fleas are eating me," Thubten Dechen declared, "I am
eating fleas." We, of course, advised her not to eat too many! Before
long, due to the vagaries of Tibetan verb forms, she began having the same
problem with mice. Besides being of linguistic interest, this may give
readers some insight into living conditions in the romantic solitude of
As the first Mongolian women to study Buddhism in India, the nuns were
kindly granted a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama soon
after arrival. Unfurling blue scarves of greeting in the Mongolian style,
the nuns paid their respects to their country's undisputed spiritual
leader. They then presented their offerings of natural incense and dried
cheese. His Holiness took a keen interest and encouraged them in their
FRANCE: A FRAGRANT MOUNTAIN ORDINATION CEREMONY
was held at Plum Village, in the southwest of France founded and led by
the renowned Vietnamese master Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. The ceremony, held on
August 5, consisted of a transmission of the bhiksu and bhiksuni
pratimoksa precepts, including transmission of precepts by a council of
According to Vietnamese tradition, a sramanerika (novice nun) may
receive the full ordination after two or three years. Nuns meeting this
qualification and possessing a letter of sponsorship from their teacher
were eligible to receive the full vows during the Fragrant Mountain
Ordination Ceremony. Those nuns not currently under the guidance of a
master were invited to go two months beforehand to practice with the
community at Plum Village under the guidance and sponsorship of Ven. Thich
Retreats for nuns, monks, and lay people are held at Plum Village each
year during the summer months. More information is available by writing
Sr. True Virtue, Plum Village, Meyrac, 47120 Loubes-Bernac, France.
INDIA: MONASTIC TRAINING COURSE FOR NUNS
A course in monastic training for nuns is scheduled for three weeks in
February, 1996. For many years, Western monastics, especially nuns, have
felt the lack of proper monastic training. Western bhiksunis who attended
the Conference of Western Buddhist Teachers in Dharamsala in March, 1993,
discussed the problem with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who
enthusiastically supported the idea of Western nuns providing this
training for themselves.
Four Western bhiksunis -- Thubten Chodron, Jampa Chokyi, Sangye
Khandro, and Tenzin Palmo -- have subsequently planned to organize a
training and educational program at Sarnath or one of the other Buddhist
pilgrimage places in India. It will provide Western nuns of the Tibetan
tradition with training similar to the strict training in the Chinese
tradition, which each of the four bhiksunis received during their higher
ordination, with extremely beneficial results.
The program is directed primarily at nuns from all lineages of the
Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but nuns from other traditions are also
welcome. Requests from lay women who are seriously considering ordination
in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition will be considered on an individual
The schedule will consist of two sessions daily, including teachings,
meditation, discussions, and time for individual practice. A number of
respected Buddhist teachers have been invited to give teachings and
training. The chief medium of communication will be English, though
translation into other languages can be made upon request.
The purpose of the program is to provide an intensive educational
program for new nuns to explore with them the meaning of being a Buddhist
nun, providing opportunities for friendship and support. It will serve as
a forum for discussing topics and problems encountered by Western nuns
seldom addressed in a traditional setting.
Traditional Vinaya teachings and instructions on monastic behavior will
be given, considered in the light of the present twentieth-century
situation. Other topics include: 1) The history and approach of the
various Buddhist traditions, with a view to differentiating between the
Buddha's teachings and the cultures in which they exist; 2) The
experiences of Christian, as well as Tibetan, Korean, Thai, and Western
Buddhist nuns; 3) The development of counseling, listening and teaching
skills, incorporating Buddhism and psychology; 4) The teachings concerning
relying on a spiritual mentor and how they are frequently misunderstood;
5) Topics related to human relations: friendship, self-esteem, apologizing
and forgiveness, compassion and assertiveness, jealousy, sexual feelings,
guilt and purification, relaxation, doubt, intimacy and independence.
For more information, please contact: Ven. Thubten Chodron, 741 N. 70th
Street, Seattle WA 98103, Fax: (206) 545-7131, or Ven. Sangye Khadro,
Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 494-D Geylang Road, Singapore 1438, Fax: 65-741-
RUSSIA: DALAI LAMA VISIT CANCELED
A visit by the Dalai Lama to Russia's two million Buddhists has been
postponed because Moscow does not want to upset Beijing. The Tibetan
spiritual leader's trip to Buryatia, Kalmykia, and Tuva regions, where
there are Buddhist communities, has been put off until next year.
President Jiang Zemin of China is due to visit President Boris Yeltsin
in Moscow in September. The two former rivals for influence in the
communist bloc enjoy increasingly warm relations. China is also Russia's
biggest arms customer.
SINGAPORE: MEMBERS ARE HAPPY TO ANNOUNCE SAKYADHITA
Singapore's application for registration as a charitable organization
was approved in July. This means more delegates from Singapore will be
able to attend the Fourth International Sakyadhita Conference in Ladakh.
The delegates hope to arrange a tour of Tibet, Bhutan, and Bodhgaya after
More information on the activities of Sakyadhita Singapore is available
from Ven. Sek Bao Shi, recently elected treasurer of Sakyadhita
International, at: 70 Jalan Lapang, Singapore 1441.
SRI LANKA: DESPITE THE TREMENDOUS SUCCESS OF THE THIRD
International Sakyadhita Conference in Colombo, which was attended by the
President of Sri Lanka, it is learned the Ministry of Buddhist Affairs has
cut down the allocation for nuns (dasasilmathas) by fifty percent for
1994. As a result, the nuns do not even have the bus fare to meet in their
districts and the district organizations have become defunct. This has
proven to be a severe handicap to the nuns and their efforts to improve
their education and living conditions. Members of Sakyadhita Sri Lanka are
waiting to meet the new government officials to discuss the situation.
Meanwhile, Sakyadhita Sri Lanka has defined its two main objectives as
(1) helping the dasasilmathas, (2) taking Dhamma to families at the
village level. Efforts to achieve the first objective so far include
communicating with dasasilmathas at the district level and collecting
information about their education and qualifications. Most are keen to
improve their knowledge of English, so as a pilot project, Sakyadhita will
fund an English language program in Badulla district for an initial period
of six months. A two-day workshop at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute
will provide motivation and training for community service, including
first aid, pre-school teaching, Dhamma counselling, and organization of
Efforts to achieve the second objective include collaborating with
other non-governmental organizations to provide training, both in the
family and in the village community. The Dhamma training programs center
on meditation practice and discussions on how to apply Dhamma in daily
life. Participants are very happy with these programs and find they help
them solve problems both at home and at work.
As part of this effort, Sakyadhita conducted a five-day meditation
retreat at Kelani Raja Maha Vihara attended by 100 people from all parts
of the island, mostly women. Many were inspired to organize similar
retreats in their own villages. The women are finding the monks' attitudes
toward Sakyadhita's objectives are positive.
Another program, one in which dasasilmathas have been active, is the
care of long-term care patients. Sakyadhita has organized visits to the
Home for Incurables at Rajagiriya, where volunteers bathed, cleaned, fed,
and attended to all the personal needs of the residents. The chanting of
the nuns, broadcast through the public address system, delighted the
inmates, who invited them to hold a full night of chanting in November
this year. Similar visits to hospitals, orphanages, and care homes for the
elderly are planned.
The needs of Sakyadhita Sri Lanka include transportation (a vehicle or
travel funds), English teachers, and a building for establishing a
permanent center in Colombo. Inquiries may be addressed to Sakyadhita Sri
Lanka, 50 Alwis Perera Mawatha, Katubedda, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. Telephone:
UNITED STATES: SAKYADHITA HAWAI'I HOSTS DALAI LAMA VISIT
His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited the Hawaiian Islands from April 14
to 18 this year at the invitation of Sakyadhita members in Hawai'i,
working in conjunction with the East-West Center, the U.H. School of
Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Studies, the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for
Peace, and other community organizations.
The Dalai Lama has consistently championed policies of non-violence,
even in the face of great aggression, articulating the concept of
universal responsibility and its importance for creating world peace. The
renowned spiritual leader, winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize, provided
inspiration to thousands. His message was especially meaningful to the
Hawaiian people, who are engaged in a peaceful struggle for self-
determination not unlike the Tibetans' struggle.
The overarching theme for the Dalai Lama's visit was "Compassion for
World Peace." On April 14, he was welcomed by spiritual leaders of the
Hawaiian people with a traditional Hawaiian blessing and offering ceremony
(ho`okupu). The same day, in a special joint session of the Hawai'i State
Legislature, he expressed appreciation for the State's successful
On April 15, he participated in a day-long symposium on the topic of
"Local Identity in the Global Community: Creating Peace in the 21st
Century." Together with Ms. Pualani Kanahele, a Hawaiian spiritual leader
from the island of Hawai'i, and Dr. Chandra Muzzafar, a Muslim social
activist from Malaysia, he shared perspectives on how the tensions that
exist between local and global identities can be resolved to achieve
peace in the world community. He stressed the important role women, the
first educators of children, play in this task.
On the morning of April 16, His Holiness addressed an interfaith
gathering of more than 2,000 people on "Compassion for World Peace." Later
that evening, at the Waikiki Shell, his talk on "Is A Non-Violent Society
Possible?" attracted more than 7,000. It was followed by an intercultural
presentation of Hawaiian and Tibetan chants and songs. On April 17, he
travelled to the Island of Hawai'i, where he delivered a talk on
"Compassion and Wisdom" at Wood Valley Temple.
Although Sakyadhita members were joined in their organizational efforts
by friends of many other faiths, and of both genders, newspaper and
television reports made special mention of the predominance of women in
the planing. The coordinator of the visit, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, is
currently Secretary of Sakyadhita International.
TIBET: BUDDHIST NUNS SENTENCED TO PRISON
Eleven Tibetan Buddhist nuns have been sentenced to prison terms
ranging from two to seven years, apparently for attempting a protest,
Amnesty International reported.
The international human rights group Amnesty International said the nuns
from Garu Nunnery, north of the Tibetan capital city of Lhasa, were
arrested on June 14, 1993. The report was not clear on the reason for the
arrests, but said unofficial sources in Lhasa speculated the nuns were
arrested before they managed to begin a protest.
The nuns were 18 to 25 years of age. The report listed the sentences
for eight of them, but said the jail terms for the remaining three were
not known. It said the nuns were taken to Drapchi prison outside Lhasa,
which holds Tibet's most serious political prisoners. Currently, of the
208 political prisoners there, 49 are nun, 124 are monks, and 35 are
laypeople, Amnesty International said.
UNITED STATES AND AUSTRALIA: INTERFAITH MEDITATION RETREATS
A unique Insight Meditation experience is offered to Buddhists, liberal
Christians, and participants in 12-step programs, at Resources for
Ecumenical Spirituality in the United States and Australia. Retreats often
combine Buddhist and Christian practice, mostly Catholic, Quaker, and
Theravada Buddhist. They feature integration of both Buddhist and
Christian perspectives, especially in their contemplative component and in
a spirit of open-hearted inquiry. An interfaith contemplative forest
monastery, open also to laity, is planned in Missouri, U.S.A. Books and
tapes are available. For further information, please contact: Rev. Dr.
Mary Jo Meadow, RES, P.O. Box 6, Mankato, MN 56002-0006, U.S.A.
FRANCE: TOWARDS A BHIKSUNI ORDER IN THE WEST
Plum Village will host a retreat for sharing experiences on the future
of a Bhiksuni Order in the West. The retreat is scheduled for June 25 to
30, 1995, in southwestern France. The focus of the discussion will be how
to ensure that communities of nuns flourish in the West.
Plum Village is a Buddhist practice community under the guidance of the
Vietnamese Zen master Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. It includes a group of 25 nuns
of Vietnamese, American, and European origin who have been studying and
developing community practice life together for many years. These nuns
would like to practice and share experiences with nuns of other religions
and traditions, with discussions on issues of monastic life.
The retreat will be conducted in English with translation into French,
Vietnamese, and possibly other languages. It is open to monks, lay people,
Buddhists, and non-Buddhists as well as nuns.
Those interested in attending are encouraged to write as quickly as
possible so that more detailed information may be sent and arrangements
made. The address is: Nuns' Retreat, Attention: Sister Francoise,
Coordinator, Plum Village, Meyrac, F-47120 Loubes-Bernac, France. Tel:
(33) 53947540, Fax: (33) 53947590.
GERMANY: A MEDITATION COURSE WITH VEN. AYYA KHEMA
will be held at Monastery Niederaltaich, a Benedictine cloister in
Bavaria, from June 30 to July 9, 1995. Ven. Ayya Khema, one of the
founders of Sakyadhita, is trained in the Theravada tradition and has
written a number of books on Buddhism, including //Being Nobody, Going
Nowhere.// The course will be conducted in English. Further information
may be obtained by writing: Buddha-Haus, Uttenbuhl 5, 87466 Oy-Mittelberg,
Germany. PH: 8376 502, FAX: 8376 592.
THE THIRD INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE OF BUDDHIST WOMEN
[Dr. Harris, a scholar of Comparative Religions, presents her personal
reflections on the last Sakyadhita Conference, held from October 25 to 29,
1993, at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute in Colombo, Sri Lanka.]
I enjoyed the Third International Conference on Buddhist Women in
Colombo, organized by Sakyadhita ("Daughters of the Buddha"):
International Association of Buddhist Women. It drew ordained and lay
people from over twenty countries and was a true meeting of sisters in the
Dhamma. The series of conferences began in 1987 when some 150 women met at
Bodhgaya in India for the first Conference on Buddhist Nuns. Sakyadhita
was born there. The second meeting was in Bangkok, this time embracing in
its title both lay and ordained. The Colombo Conference came about through
the determination of one woman, Ranjani de Silva, who had been inspired at
Bangkok to offer Sri Lanka as the next venue.
Doubt and controversy met Ranjani at the beginning. There were members
of the ministry of Buddha Sasana who opposed the whole idea, because they
linked it with militant pressure for the reintroduction of the Bhiksuni
Order in Sri Lanka and decided it was too contentious to touch. There were
even some Buddhist women who were wary. Ranjani and her companion, Kusuma
Devendra, did not give up, though at times they felt they were hitting
their heads against a brick wall. Eventually, widespread support was
gained. The result was so positive, Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, President
of Sakyadhita, claimed lightheartedly that Ranjani might need a needle to
puncture her ego because of her success.
The opening ceremony was held at the Bandaranaike Memorial
International Conference Hall. Bhiksunis, samaneris, and sil maniyos were
officially welcomed by the President of Sri Lanka, the President of the
Maha Bodhi Society, and the Minister of Health and Women's Affairs. The
Buddhist heritage of liberality to women was recalled and participants
were urged to work for the good of religion and society.
At the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, the Conference venue, the
atmosphere was relaxed and informal. The most striking visual feature in
the conference hall was the presence of the sil maniyos, or dasasilmathas.
These Sri Lankan women renouncers follow a ten-precept ordination, the
only ordination possible for women in Sri Lanka. Ninety-four of them were
registered participants. Their yellow and orange robes filled a good
section of the hall. Continuous translation into Sinhala was given and,
although only a handful spoke in plenary sessions, their concerns
dominated many of the small discussion groups scheduled for the mornings
My discussion group contained three vocal and lively sil maniyos eager
to talk about their problems, from handling money to improving their
English, from the discipline of younger nuns to their hope of a Theravada
Bhiksuni ordination. They were articulate and convincing.
The orange robes of the sil maniyos mingled with the maroon robes of
the Tibetan nuns from Dharamsala and the Westerners trained in the Tibetan
tradition, the brown of the two nuns from Amaravati in England, the light
gray of the Bhiksunis from Singapore, the saris of the Sri Lankan lay
women, and the informal western styles. The majority of participants were
Sri Lankan, but Buddhism as a world religion was present in Colombo, a
religion that has adapted itself to every culture it has touched. The
largest foreign delegations were from Singapore and Thailand, and there
were women from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Korea, India, Russia, Taiwan and
Australia, as well as America and several European countries. An important
question for me was whether Buddhism could create unity in such diversity.
The Conference theme was "Buddhist Women in Modern Society." Kusuma
Devendra wrote in the Conference souvenir issued at the opening: "We
believe women, who have the life-bearing capacity and nurturing capacity
as wives and mothers, are capable of changing the present trends of the
world." In a paper given during the conference, she explained what she
meant by this, stressing the need for women to develop a higher
consciousness, which could destroy selfish striving and conflict-creating
Reformation of the mind and then of the world was the Conference's main
emphasis. In this, there was unity. East met West. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh,
who is from Thailand, touched the heart of it. Speaking on "Maintaining
Human Values in a Time of Rapid Change," she described the tragic
imbalance in the world between material and spiritual development, and
pleaded for Buddhist women to help reverse this by a radical letting go of
the self, "and everything connected to self." She added: "What is the
purpose of our coming together? We want to go forward in sisterhood. There
is only one word that I can describe -- faith. Faith in the Buddha, Dharma
and Sangha is the key word that will enable us, sisters, to work together
for the upliftment of our sisters and Buddhism as a religion."
Refuge in the Three Jewels was also stressed by Dharmacharini
Sanghadevi, a member of the Western Buddhist Order from England. Stating
that the survival of Buddhism depended on "spiritually vital
practitioners," she urged everyone to a lifetime commitment to the Three
Jewels and said: "Only if we are able to reach this level of confidence in
the Three Jewels will we be able to set up the conditions for the arising
of Insight, thus entering the Stream. Only with the Stream Entrants and
beyond will the Buddhadharma survive." She equated stream entrance with
the arising of bodhicitta, which she described vividly as "the eruption of
the transcendental within the mundane... an outpouring of boundless
compassion into the universe."
In all of this, there was an intense urgency and a vision of a world
transformed by the eradication of selfish greed. Individual mind culture
was seen as the starting point. All would have agreed with this.
Divergence came with the level of social involvement this should lead to.
At one end of the spectrum was Kusuma Devendra whose presentation on
"Peace and Conflict Resolution in a Threatened World" concentrated solely
on conflict eradication in the mind.
At the other end was a vibrant account by Theja Gunawardhana of the
political courage of the detained but democratically elected ruler of
Burma, Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Stating that "Karuna [compassion] is the
foundation of Buddhist practice. Ahimsa [non-harm] is the practice of
karuna in the form of moral and spiritual sacrifice," Theja presented Suu
Kyi as an embodiment of the power of metta [loving kindness] at the heart
of the solar system, and added: "She is the embodiment of political
righteousness which the Buddha held tantamount to human righteousness.
Both are one. We see how Suu Kyi has grasped the social dimension of the
precepts laid down by the Buddha. To her, one-sided emphasis on passively
negative aspects of the religious life has no significance. She has in her
mahakaruna [great loving kindness] opened her own heart to the trials and
woes of human experience."
Others simply stressed the importance of action. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh
emphasized that Buddhist women must offer their services "to the
betterment of our society." Sanghadevi claimed, "A selfish Buddhist is a
contradiction in terms." It was only in the presentation of Ven. Jampa
Tsedroen, a German trained in the Tibetan tradition, that the struggle to
create a balance between meditation and action was mentioned. For her, it
was a major issue: "I am sure you will agree that Buddhists have to
support the non-violent struggle for world peace, especially monks and
nuns, but to what extent? We cannot meditate on the Four lmmeasurables --
love, compassion, joy, and equanimity -- and then not take an active
interest in the welfare of the living beings next to us. This would make
us untrustworthy. But what to do if as a result of this attitude everybody
in a monastic community gets so active that one does not find any place
for study and meditation? What to do if monks and nuns become even more
active than lay people or managers?"
The Conference as a whole did not take up Jampa Tsedroen's concern
seriously. There was little analysis of either the socio-economic and
political forces which lead to conflict or the kind of active involvement
appropriate for Buddhists. There was certainly a deep awareness of the
reality of dukkha [suffering] on a worldwide scale. There was no
triumphalism about human achievement. Consumerism, the ecological crisis,
war and the breakdown of family values formed a backdrop to the
conference. Yet these problems did not come to the center of discussion,
which some saw as a failing. Members of the International Network of
Engaged Buddhists from Thailand shared their disappointment with me that
the tone of the conference was too academic and avoided talk of practical
action in the political and social spheres. Others noticed that the socio-
political situation in Sri Lanka was hardly mentioned. In private
conversations, I was asked about the human rights situation, the war, the
ethnic question, and the existence of poverty and malnutrition. Concern
for all of this was present, but it was not expressed formally.
If there was one topic which touched social struggle, it was ordination
for women. Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, an American nun and Secretary of
Sakyadhita, stated in a paper tabled but not read at the conference,
"Today, at an international conference in the capital of the modern nation
of Sri Lanka, we have been forbidden to discuss the issue of ordination
for Buddhist women." At some point in the planning, this stricture might
have been present, but by the time the final program was ready, the
ordination of women was firmly on the agenda.
The second plenary presentation was by Senarat Wijayasundara of the
University of Colombo. Although this paper was titled "Women in Theravada
Countries with Special Reference to Nuns: Problems and Solutions," the
daily program billed it as: "The Order of Buddhist Nuns -- Its Revival:
Arguments For and Against." Stating that Buddhism in Sri Lanka was
incomplete and defective through the lack of a Bhikkhuni Order, Dr.
Wijayasundara outlined six possible ways of re-introducing it. The
reaction he provoked, especially among some of the Sri Lankan
participants, was emotional. Hands clapped vigorously. Arms waved. A
heated discussion followed with calls for decisive action. It was obvious
to me that some wanted ordination to become the key conference issue. This
was not allowed to happen. Although ordination was openly present on the
programme, there was no provision for it to become central, and purposely
so. I feel this was partly because of political sensitivities, but it was
also due to the fact that ordination was simply not the most important
issue for many present. What some felt was central, others dismissed as
peripheral. Any fear or hope that the conference would inevitably center
on reactivating the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka was unfounded. Among the
foreign delegates, there were some who accepted that the issue was
important but did not feel it should be pursued for its own sake. However,
there was another voice which challenged the very root of the ordination
The Pali Canon speaks of a Fourfold Society, consisting of monks, nuns,
lay men and lay women, and the wellbeing of society is seen to lie in the
healthy functioning of each part. Supporters of Bhikkhuni ordination at
the conference unfailingly appealed to the idea. Jampa Tsedroen, for
instance, suggested that Sri Lanka could no longer be considered a
"central land" in which the Dhamma flourished because the four categories
of disciples were not present and it was on this that Dr. Wijayasundara
rested his view that Buddhism in Theravada countries was defective. Yet
Dharmacharini Sanghadevi of the Western Buddhist Order in England, when
speaking on "The Role of Laywomen in Buddhism," posed a radical challenge
to the whole concept. She claimed that the socio-economic classes
represented in the Buddhist texts made no sense in a western context and
that new structures were necessary. She therefore cast doubt on the
relevance of the lay/ordained distinction for the West. The image of "lay
women" seemed to speak to her of "blind support" of an often corrupt
Bhikkhu Sangha and a conditioning productive of dependence and lack of
creativity. She urged Eastern women to cease such support. "There is
nothing to be gained spiritually in venerating someone who is not worthy
of veneration, and unfortunately not all bhikkhus are so worthy," she
declared. She put her own Order forward as a new model: "We have only one
set of precepts for both women and men, and therefore only one
"ordination," that is, the Dharmacharini. Dharmacari ordination, which
means that in the WBO/TBMS one is ordained simply as a full practising
member of the Sangha, not as a laywoman or layman, a nun or a monk or any
one of the other three classes of socio-religious persons. Our Order
embraces those who live in family situations, those who are single
parents, those who are single, those who are celibate. In doing so, it
offers a new model to the rest of the Buddhist world."
Sanghadevi's presentation produced reactions both from Sri Lankan women
and from Westerners who had accepted the Asian tradition. An American nun,
Ven. Miao Kwang Sudharma, walked emotionally to the front after the talk
and warned that Westerners should be very careful before tampering with
any word of the Buddha. For her, the Fourfold Society concept was central
to Buddhism and she embodied this in her yellow robes. Similarly, the Sri
Lankan chairperson stressed that bowing down to members of the Sangha did
not show blind support of corrupt monks but reverence for the renunciation
the robe represented.
The question of ordination, therefore, touched a wider issue -- that of
the changes a religion undergoes when it moves across cultures to become a
world religion. The Westerners present who had shown support for the
traditional pattern by taking robes were yet quick to admit that their
path in the West was not always easy. Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo claimed that
she sometimes felt a greater affinity with Roman Catholic nuns than with
some western Buddhist lay women who saw her robes as symbolizing a wish
for superiority rather than a commitment to the Dhamma. Ven. Jampa
Tsedroen opened her presentation on challenges to monastic life by sharing
that there had been times when she had questioned whether nuns and monks
had the right to exist. She had decided that they had, but she also
stressed that "Westerners cannot and do not want to become Asians. But
many of them want to become Buddhists and some even want to become
Buddhist monks and nuns. Therefore one challenge -- not only of monastic
life, but also of Buddhist life today -- is to take the essence of
Buddhism, separating it from Asian culture, and to transfer only this
essence to the West."
From the very beginning of Buddhism's success in the West, this plea
has been present. Yet, there were also voices at the Conference which
challenged stereotyped cultural polarizations between East and West. For
instance, Dr. Lorna Devaraja made a powerful case that women in pre-
colonial Sri Lanka had enjoyed more freedom and greater equality with men
than her non-Buddhist counterparts in Asia and the West. She stressed that
the core of Buddhism was liberating for women and that such liberation had
existed in practice in Asian society, challenging any inference that the
role of Sri Lankan lay woman was inevitably one of dependence. Examples of
Asian women's struggles for greater freedom within society also came from
Japan and, as previously mentioned, from Burma, offering paradigms more
challenging than some western stereotypes of Asia would suggest. The
issues surrounding the creation of a western Buddhism truly able to speak
to western society will stretch far beyond the Conference.
A further important area where I sensed divergence of views was in
attitudes to Buddhist-Christian relationships. Mr. Gamini Jayasuriya, the
President of the Maha Bodhi Society, at the opening ceremony, urged
Buddhist women to protect family values and to defend Buddhism by
combatting the threat of Christian evangelistic organizations which
"subvert the religion and culture of our people, and introduce alien ideas
and alien values." This did not become a major theme during the days which
followed. Yet I was told that every small discussion group had raised the
question of "unethical conversions" as a threat to Buddhism. Mistrust of
Christianity was very much present, but it was strongest among the Sri
Lankan participants. I wanted to invite two Christian friends to Ven.
Karma Lekshe's presentation, "Comparing Buddhist and Christian Women's
Experiences." When I asked a Sri Lankan organizer whether this would be
possible, there was hesitation and even reluctance. When I shared this
reaction with a foreign delegate from America, there was surprise and
disbelief, and I was advised to go straight to the President of
Sakyadhita. Eventually, my two friends were warmly welcomed, particular1y
by the speaker, who had written in her tabled paper: "Buddhist and
Christian women have much to share and much to learn from one another....
By networking in their local communities, women spiritual practitioners
can provide each other with encouragement and support for spiritual
values. By linking up on an international level, they can be of great
benefit in the modern world.... By bridging religious differences, they
set an example for the world's peoples to emulate in overcoming strife and
discovering our common humanity on the deepest spiritual level."
Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo was not alone in her attitude. Ven. Jampa
Tsedroen quoted Thomas Merton with respect as a fellow monastic who had
helped her to see that "over-activity is a hindrance to inner
development." At several points in her talk on the monastic life, she
included Christian monastics in her comments. However, there was a marked
difference between Western and Eastern experiences here. From the West
came a voice which asserted that Buddhist and Christian monastics shared
common problems and could give strength to one another, while remaining
true to their religion. From Sri Lanka came the voice of mistrust, based
on painful experience of missionary aggression in the colonial period and
contemporary allegations of unethical conversion campaigns.
The Conference organizers were determined to present the best side of
Sri Lanka to participants. During the Conference, visits were arranged to
Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara and the International Buddhist Cultural Centre
at Nedimale. Afterwards, there was a pilgrimage to Kandy and Anuradhapura
during which delegates received VIP treatment and a warm Sri Lankan
welcome wherever they went. The only Sri Lankan struggle officially
highlighted was the need to improve the education and situation of the
dasasilmathas. To this end, a resolution was passed at the end of the
Conference to work towards a residential training centre for nuns in Sri
As a person committed to social action as well as mind culture, I
wished there had been more analysis of the forces within "Modern Society"
which we were being asked to engage with or to counter. I know that some
delegates would have valued more information about the ongoing violence in
Sri Lanka and poverty. Although unavoidable, it was also a shame that Sri
Lankan participants remained somewhat separate from the rest. Due to a
lack of space, they ate in a different building and usually left in the
The strengths of the Conference, however, outweighed any shortcomings.
After this, the third conference, I was aware of a far greater
understanding between Buddhist traditions than at the first. At the first
conference, sisterhood had been hoped for. In Colombo, it was a fact due
to the 6 years of Sakyadhita's existence. When speakers exhorted us to
spread the Dhamma, to find hope in the Dhamma, to revolutionize the world
with Dhamma, to join hands with Dhamma women everywhere, there was unity
and urgency -- the authentic voice of Sakyadhita.
GLORIOUS HONOR FOR HUMBLE NUN
by William Huâ
A Buddhist nun, Cheng Yen, won the prestigious Magasaysay Award this
year for her outstanding social services. This is the story of Cheng Yen,
who started out 25 years ago with a handful of followers, but today is the
head of a multi-million dollar charity organization with more than 1.3
Cheng Yen is a 54-year old Buddhist nun, respected and adored by more
than a million followers who regularly make donations to the Buddhist Tzu-
Chi Cultural Enterprise Center which she heads.
Taiwan experienced a rare economic slowdown last year, but even so the
Tzu-Chi Center received more than NT$2.3 billion (US$90 million) in
donations contributed by more than 1 million believers. The contributions
are used to help needy people, and to run the Buddhist General Hospital
and a Junior College for Nursing operated by the center.
Cheng Yen was born in Chingshui Township, Taichung County, Taiwan,
1937. Her original name was Chin Yun; Cheng Yen is her religious name.
She was adopted by her uncle while she was a child and since then has
regarded her uncle and aunt as her parents. Her adopted father owned many
movie theaters in central Taiwan and she started helping him with his
business at the age of 20.
In 1952, when she was 15, her mother suffered an ulcer and a perforated
stomach. The doctor told them that she must have an operation to save her
life. At that time such an operation would have been risky and Cheng Yen,
in an attempt to relieve her mother's condition, began chanting the name
of the Buddha. She made a pledge to the Buddha that she was willing to
reduce her own life by 12 years if her mother could be cured.
She then had the same dream for three consecutive days, in which she
saw a small temple with a large door in the middle and two small doors on
both sides, with an image of the Buddha across the hall. Her mother was
lying on a bamboo cot beside the Buddha and Cheng Yen herself was fanning
the fire in a stove to boil her mother's herbal medicine.
Suddenly, in her dream, she saw a white cloud floating in through one
of the smaller doors, and on the cloud was a beautiful lady. She looked up
and saw the lady take out a packet of medicine from a vase she was
carrying, but she said nothing. Cheng Yen knelt down and received the
medicine from the lady and then watched her disappear. Cheng Yen opened
the packet and gave the medicine to her mother.
For three days she had the same dream, and, by coincidence or not, her
mother was cured without having to go through an operation. At that time,
she became a vegetarian, but still did not understand Buddhism.*
[ * Note: Vegetarianism is highly stressed among Chinese Buddhists. It
expresses compassion for all living beings and is considered a mark of
Five years later, one day in June of 1960, when her father was 51 years
of age, he suddenly complained of a headache. He also vowed to become a
vegetarian. Later, he walked to his office at the Kuang Hwa Movie Theater
with Cheng Yen following closely behind. When they reached the movie
theater, he started complaining about his headache again and lay down on a
couch. She immediately sent for a doctor who took his blood pressure and,
after finding it too high, gave him an injection.
A little while later, his blood pressure dropped and she sent for their
private pedicab to take him home. She helped him walk upstairs, but by
then he was unable to speak. They sent for a doctor again, and the doctor
said it would have been better if they hadn't moved him. A day later, her
father died and she was full of remorse for the next few days: '...Why did
I have to move him to our home? If I had not, he would not have had a
stroke and he might still be alive.' Ever since that day, she always
wondered where her father, or rather the spirit of her father, was.
One day she visited the Fung Yuan Temple. A nun gave her a religious
book and said to her, "Read this and you will understand where your father
went." Actually, nothing was said about her father in the book except the
general remark "...with mortals, if there is birth, there is death."
Later on she visited the temple often and finally she thought of
becoming a nun. But she kept rejecting the thought, because now that her
father was dead and her mother in poor health, she had to take care of the
family business and her younger brothers and sisters.
She asked a nun at the temple one day, "Which kind of woman is the
The nun replied, "The kind that can carry a grocery basket," without
She said, "I carry a grocery basket everyday, but why am I so unhappy?"
"Come back when you understand my meaning," said the nun.
Cheng Yen returned home and spent her days as always: buying groceries
in the morning and then taking care of housework and their family
business, but the questions still haunted her. "If a woman can carry a
grocery basket, and has a purse full of money at her sole disposal, will
she be happy? Is that what the nun meant?"
She kept on pondering, and one day she finally realized that "carrying
the basket" meant taking up social responsibilities and preaching love and
kindness to everyone. Thus, despite her mother's objections, she left home
and became a nun.
In 1966, Cheng Yen witnessed a tragedy in a hospital in Hualien. A
young girl who had had a miscarriage was refused admission to the hospital
because she could not afford to pay a deposit. Although suffering from a
loss of blood, she was sent away. Cheng Yen summoned her 30 followers and
asked each of them to save 50 cents a day from their grocery money, saying
that if they did this, they would save about NT$5,000 a year, enough to
save the life of a girl who couldn't afford to pay the deposit required by
From this 50 cents a day, the Buddhist Tzu-Chi Charity Fund was founded
in 1966. Cheng Yen went on with her work quietly, collecting donations
from her followers and other Buddhists, and wisely using the funds to
relieve the poor, the sick, and the needy.
More and more people learned of her religious and charitable efforts,
and donations started pouring in. By 1985, she had collected enough
donations to set up a sizable Hospital, the Buddhist General Hospital in
Hualien, in Eastern Taiwan.
During the past five years, the number of her followers has grown
tremendously to more than 13 million persons and donations reached a high
of more than NT$2.3 billion last year. This year the amount is certain to
reach a new high.
The Buddhist Tzu-Chi Cultural Enterprise Center now runs the Buddhist
General Hospital and a junior nursing college, publishes two periodicals,
and coordinates a massive network of charity and relief organizations.
Cheng Yen has also achieved worldwide acclaim, culminating in the
Magasaysay Award which she received this year for her outstanding
performance in social service.
Cheng Yen accepted the award, but donated the prize money for the
relief of earthquake victims in the Philippines and flood victims in
Cheng Yen is a philanthropist, a social worker, but most of all, she is
a pious and humble Buddhist nun.
(This article is reprinted from //Dynasty// magazine, published by
BUDDHIST MONASTICISM IN THE WEST
by Bhiksuni Tenzin Palmo
A native of England, Bhiksuni Tenzin Palmo began practicing Buddhism in
the Theravada tradition, then later travelled to India, where she studied
with Kamtrul Rinpoche at Tashi Jong. She has been a Buddhist nun for over
thirty years, twelve of them spent in a cave meditating on her own.
Having lived many years near a monastery with a hundred Tibetan monks, she
has valuable experience to share concerning the monastic life. She now
lives mainly in Assisi, Italy.
This presentation was given at a conference of Western Buddhist teachers
in Dharamsala in 1993.
* * * * *
First, I would like to make it clear that monasticism is not for
everybody nor should it be. However, there should exist the institution of
monasticism for that small group of individuals who are drawn to the ideal
of a total dedication to the Dharma through renunciation and purity. The
information for this presentation is drawn from the Western monastic
Sangha of the Tibetan tradition and does not refer to the Chithurst
As we all know, modern society is based to a large extent on greed and
the belief that happiness mainly depends on the acquisition of material
things and the satisfaction of our desires. Sex and violence rage
The monastic Sangha is a group of people whose lives are based on
purity, renunciation, restraint, and discipline -- on reducing wants and
desires. This goes directly against the stream of the world. And even
Dharma centers are not immune to the idea that more is beautiful.
Traditionally, in the East, the Sangha had the role of preserving and
transmitting the Dharma. People in the East supported the Dharma and
respected the Sangha. They loved the Sangha and were very proud of them.
In the West this is not the case. For one thing, many of the scholars
and meditation teachers who transmit the Dharma are lay people. However,
this fact does not mean that the Sangha is useless for the modern world.
The Sangha preserves a way of life based upon Dharma principles. They
are a living example that restraint and simplicity bring happiness and
peace. They remind us that one can live with no sex, no family, few
possessions, no security, and yet be perfectly happy and content.
The Sangha should have the time to devote themselves to study and
practice without the material problems of earning a living or the
emotional entanglements of personal relationships which are too close.
The Sangha has freedom, both physical and emotional, which is often not
available to those who have to live a lay life. Unfortunately, modern
attitudes which stem from our Protestant and materialistic background
cause Western Buddhists to have a strong sense of superiority of family,
close intimate relationships (i.e., sexual) and success in their lives and
careers. These values are then projected as desirable despite the fact
that they are mostly based on desires and attachments. Many people
practice the Dharma within this lifestyle and regard it as a superior
Members of the Sangha are consequently seen as escapists, neurotics,
parasites, as people unable to face the challenge of intimate
relationships, and so on.
This is something we know all too well. Renunciation is disparaged and
misunderstood. It is seen as a perversion, and the renunciant is regarded
as someone who can't make it in the world, because the world has renounced
and rejected him or her!
A true monastic lives without any security, depending on the
unsolicited generosity of others. This is not being a parasite! This is
going forth in faith. Jesus said, "Give ye no thought unto the morrow what
ye shall eat and what ye shall wear." That, in a way, is what being a
member of the Sangha is all about. Not overmuch concerned with your
physical existence, you have faith that the Dharma will provide you with
enough for your needs. If from your side you practice in all sincerity,
there is the faith that you will never starve and will be supported in
In Dharma circles in the West, the Sangha lives in a kind of limbo.
They are neither supported by the lay community, nor even by the lamas
themselves. Even when there is some support forthcoming from centers where
they work, they are nonetheless second-class citizens in many ways. They
are given poor places to stay, and are treated inferior to paying guests
who have lots of money and can support the centers. The Sangha is always
shoved into the background. This is really true. They are given very
little personal attention. They receive very little respect or even
appreciation for having in fact devoted their whole lives to the Dharma.
Centers are mainly geared towards lay people, while the Sangha are
shunted to one side and considered unimportant. Quite often they are
overworked, running centers with very little training or experience.
People have very high expectations, and the stress of maintaining high
standards is very difficult with very little training.
The Sangha community consists of imperfect human beings, after all,
needing some sympathy and appreciation. But they very rarely get it,
actually. Monastics in the West lose out on the pleasures of family life
and the worldly life, while at the same time having very few of the joys
of a true monastic life, because they are usually not living in a
community. Living by themselves, prohibited from doing the things that lay
people can do, and not living a monastic life either, they are reduced to
a kind of monastic bardo (intermediate realm). It is a very hard life for
many of these Sangha in centers.
As they often do not live in monastic communities where close
relationships are possible, some of them feel very lonely. They feel that
they are unable to integrate the ideal of non-attachment with friendship.
They feel that affection towards others means only becoming involved
again, something unsuitable for monastics. Unable to balance these two,
their practice becomes sterile, causing them to feel alienated from people
They often feel that the robe itself alienates them from other people,
causing others to act artificially towards them, preventing any close
relationships. Some feel uncomfortable wearing robes on the street because
people stare, and shout "Hare Krishna;" they feel conspicuous and on show.
They feel the robe separates them from others so that they cannot even
help people effectively.
They get very little support from the lamas. This is true, your
Holiness. Western lay people are not even encouraged to esteem the
Sangha, at least not the Western Sangha. In traditional Asian societies
lay people naturally esteem and support the Sangha; this is not so in the
West. The lamas never mention respecting the Sangha as part of their
Dharma practice, so the lay people think, "Who are they?" There is no
sympathy or appreciation for what they are trying to do.
The lamas take very good care of their Tibetan Sangha, building big
monasteries, training the monks, really caring when they ordain them,
putting them into a monastery -- a whole support system. This is
nonexistent for the Western Sangha. The lamas ordain us and then we are
just thrown out into the world, with no training, no background, no
encouragement, no support, no guidance, nothing! Just a "get on with it."
This is very hard.
I am surprised that so many Western Sangha stay for so long and I am
not surprised when they disrobe. They start with so much enthusiasm, so
much pure faith and devotion, but this gradually goes down and down as
they get so discouraged and so disillusioned.
And there is no one who helps them. This is really true, your Holiness.
It is a very hard situation and it has never happened in the history of
Buddhism before. Always the Sangha was cared for and nurtured, while in
the West this does not happen. I truly don't know why. There are a few
monastic centers, such as the Theravadin centers and Nalanda Monastery,
which are doing very, very well. But for the nuns, what is there?
Frankly, there is simply nothing.
To end on a higher note, I make a prayer that this life of purity and
renunciation which is so rare and precious in this world, this jewel of
the Sangha, may not simply be thrown down in the mud of indifference and
(His Holiness wept in response to this presentation.)
* * * * *
This article is reprinted from //Sangha//, a publication of the
International Mahayana Institute. It is available by writing to: The
Editors, Sangha, GPO Box 1981, Kathmandu, Nepal.
I support the goals of Sakyadhita and would like to become a member.
Enclosed is my donation of $10 for a one-year membership.
______________________________ Telephone _______________________________
Please send a check or money order in U.S. dollars only.
Thank you for your support.
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Please remember to renew your membership for 1995.
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