In Buddhism, girls blaze a path however try for gender fairness


This story is a part of a collection by The Related Press, Faith Information Service and The Dialog on girls’s roles in male-led religions.

(AP) — Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, born in England, has devoted her life to attaining enlightenment in a feminine kind — at one stage spending years remoted in a cave within the Himalayas to observe the rigorous path of essentially the most devoted yogis. She later based a nunnery in India centered on giving girls in Tibetan Buddhism among the similar alternatives reserved for monks.

Venerable Dhammananda renounced her household life and a prestigious tutorial profession in Thailand to observe the trail of the Buddha. She then defied her homeland’s unequal standing of girls in Buddhist observe by touring to Sri Lanka to grow to be Thailand’s first totally ordained nun in Theravada, one of many oldest types of Buddhism.


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Born a world aside, they’re amongst a bunch of revered feminine monastics or “bhikkhunis,” lay individuals and teachers who’ve challenged longstanding patriarchal traditions. They’ve blazed a path of progress in latest a long time for Buddhist girls — from schooling by means of superior levels and the creation of nunneries to searching for full ordination.

Throughout branches, although, many on the motion’s forefront say extra must be completed so girls can have equal alternatives.

“It’s shifting as a result of now there’s a lot extra curiosity within the female. Not simply in Buddhism, however worldwide, why have girls been so uncared for and missed for millennia?” stated Palmo. About 100 nuns stay and examine at her Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery in India.

On this picture offered by the Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery, a bunch of nuns play a ritual instrument, the Tibetan longhorn, or dungchen, that are generally used throughout ceremonies, on the nunnery within the state of Himachal Pradesh, India on Oct. 27, 2021. About 100 nuns stay and examine right here. (Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery through AP)

Ladies had been included in Buddhism since its earliest years, and their monastic ordination dates again greater than 2,500 years, stated Judith Simmer-Brown, emeritus professor of contemplative and spiritual research at Colorado’s Naropa College, a liberal arts faculty related to Buddhism. However as monasticism unfold from India to different nations, there typically had been additional necessities to grow to be ordained in these patriarchal societies.

“Full ordination for ladies has been very tough,” Simmer-Brown stated about some branches. “Although Buddhist teachings all the time say that girls have equal means to grow to be enlightened and should even be higher suited to enlightenment than males.”

Prior to now 25 years, as Buddhism has grown within the West and Asian Buddhist societies have been influenced by feminism, there’s extra consciousness of the significance of girls’s management, she stated.

In Buddhism, girls’s standing varies throughout nations and branches that observe completely different traditions and practices. Ladies may be ordained because the equal of monks in China, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, principally dominated by the Mahayana faculty of Buddhism. Feminine ordination shouldn’t be obtainable within the Tibetan custom nor in Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar.

Ladies are additionally banned from turning into monks in Thailand, the place over 90% of the inhabitants is Buddhist. Traditionally, girls may solely grow to be white-cloaked nuns typically handled as glorified temple housekeepers. However dozens have traveled to Sri Lanka to obtain full ordination.

Dhammananda, the pioneering Thai nun, was a revered Buddhist scholar and tv persona earlier than her ordination. Someday she appeared in a mirror and heard an interior voice asking: “How lengthy should I do that?” She took vows of celibacy and determined to stay aside from her three sons, touring to Sri Lanka for her novice ordination in 2001.

Venerable Dhammananda speaks during an interview in the Songdhammakalyani monastery, in Nakhon Pathom province on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. Dhammananda renounced her family life and a prestigious academic career in Thailand to follow the path of the Buddha. She then defied her homeland’s unequal status of women in Buddhist practice by traveling to Sri Lanka to become Thailand’s first fully ordained nun in Theravada, one of the oldest forms of Buddhism. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

Venerable Dhammananda speaks throughout an interview within the Songdhammakalyani monastery, in Nakhon Pathom province on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. Dhammananda renounced her household life and a prestigious tutorial profession in Thailand to observe the trail of the Buddha. She then defied her homeland’s unequal standing of girls in Buddhist observe by touring to Sri Lanka to grow to be Thailand’s first totally ordained nun in Theravada, one of many oldest types of Buddhism. (AP Photograph/Sakchai Lalit

When she returned to Thailand with a shaved head and sporting the saffron robes reserved for males, she confronted criticism for defying the Buddhist male-led hierarchy. They’d say: “Think about a girl placing on the gown, she have to be loopy,” stated Dhammananda, who was totally ordained in 2003.


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20 years later, she stated, folks on the road not “take a look at you with puzzled eyes” as a result of Thailand now has over 280 totally ordained girls nationwide, although they and their monasteries aren’t legally acknowledged and don’t obtain state funding.

Dhammananda contends that Buddha constructed the faith as a four-legged stool — monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen.

“We’re on the precise aspect of historical past,” she stated.

The ladies stay easy existence and are ruled by 311 precepts, together with celibacy. Their ranks and people of lots of of aspirants embrace a former Google government, a Harvard graduate, journalists and docs, in addition to village noodle distributors.

Buddhist Thai girls have been enjoying extra necessary roles, stated Kritsana Raksachom, a nun and lecturer at Bangkok’s Maha Chulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya College. They more and more lead meditation programs with each female and male followers, train Buddhism and Pali languages to monks and novices in public Buddhist universities, and run charities.

In this photo provided by the Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery, a group of Buddhist nuns rehearse for a ritual commonly known as Dakini Dances, at the nunnery in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India on Oct. 26, 2021. (Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery via AP)

On this picture offered by the Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery, a bunch of Buddhist nuns rehearse for a ritual generally generally known as Dakini Dances, on the nunnery within the state of Himachal Pradesh, India on Oct. 26, 2021. (Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery through AP)

In Sri Lanka, the bhikkhuni order was established within the third century B.C. following Buddhism’s introduction from India however later disappeared because of international invasions and different components. It wasn’t till the late ’80s and ’90s when the primary Sri Lankan nuns in additional than a millennium acquired their greater ordination.

Peradeniye Dhammashanti, a nun on the Paramita Worldwide Buddhist Meditation Heart in Sri Lanka, stated lay girls and bhikkhunis have made vital progress. However she regrets they nonetheless lack enough schooling and locations to meditate.

Buddhist girls in Japan give attention to caring for the bereaved, mentally ailing, elders and households, stated Paula Arai, a spiritual research professor at Louisiana State College. The ranks of female and male monastics are the identical, and girls “have this ‘chutzpah’ as a result of when the custom was launched in Japan within the sixth century, girls had been the primary to be totally ordained, Arai stated.

In Tibetan Buddhism, nuns have achieved lots of the privileges traditionally reserved for monks. They embrace finding out for the geshema, the custom’s highest and most demanding diploma, which was denied to them for hundreds of years.


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“The steadiness is shifting as a result of now, definitely in Tibetan Buddhism, the nuns are extremely educated and have the identical levels because the monks,” Palmo stated. “They’re additionally educating, and so their confidence stage has risen enormously.”

Nonetheless, she laments that within the Tibetan custom, girls can solely grow to be novice nuns and never totally ordained.

“They’re type of standing within the doorway, however they’re not coming into,” stated Palmo. “It’s unhappy that there’s such resistance.”

After witnessing unequal alternatives for ladies, Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo made it her lifelong mission to handle the imbalance.

Born in California, she grew up browsing and traveled to Asia within the Fifties when it was arduous to seek out academics, monasteries and Buddhism books. She studied with masters of Tibetan Buddhism and, within the late ’80s, organized a pioneering worldwide convention of Buddhist girls in the identical village the place the Buddha turned woke up. She went on to create the Sakyadhita Worldwide Affiliation of Buddhist Ladies and an schooling undertaking for ladies that runs faculties in Bangladesh, Laos and the Himalayas.

“To attain that highest stage, girls want the identical instruments to work with, the identical alternatives that males have,” stated Tsomo, who’s a professor of Buddhist Research on the College of San Diego.

Creator and journalist Michaela Haas praised Tsomo, Palmo and different girls profiled in her e book “Dakini Energy: Twelve Extraordinary Ladies Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism within the West.” However she’s upset by the shortage of progress.

“We needs to be additional alongside, and regardless of these nice girls academics, the custom hasn’t modified that a lot,” she stated.

“They need to work additional arduous and do double the work and be tremendous, tremendous certified.” In the meantime in some monasteries, she stated, girls, even nuns, are tasked with cooking and laundry, “so it’s nonetheless an old school understanding of gender roles.”

Venerable Thubten Chodron, right, a fully ordained Buddhist nun, founder and abbess of Sravasti Abbey, puts on her chogu before teaching the dharma, as Thubten Dekyi looks on, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Newport, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Venerable Thubten Chodron, proper, a completely ordained Buddhist nun, founder and abbess of Sravasti Abbey, places on her chogu earlier than educating the dharma, as Thubten Dekyi seems on, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Newport, Wash. (AP Photograph/Younger Kwak)

Venerable Thubten Chodron, who first traveled to India within the Seventies to check below the Dalai Lama and different Tibetan Buddhism masters, stated she has seen “huge” constructive change for nuns since then. In 2003 she opened Sravasti Abbey, in Washington state, the one Tibetan Buddhist coaching monastery for Western monks and nuns in America.

The day begins earlier than daybreak with teachings and meditation adopted by chanting classes.

“I’m coaching all these individuals who will come who’ve a honest motivation and need to observe the self-discipline that we preserve right here,” stated Chodron, who has written books with the Dalai Lama and in addition authored “Buddhism for Newcomers.”

Certainly one of her college students is Thubten Damcho, 38. Born in Singapore, she was launched to Buddhism at Princeton College. After commencement she met Chodron, acquired her novice ordination at Sravasti Abbey and was totally ordained in Taiwan.

“It was a while in my ordination earlier than I understood, ‘Oh, this ordination shouldn’t be obtainable to all girls,’” Damcho stated. “I’m residing in a time the place that is potential once more, and the way uncommon and superb that’s.”


READ THE FULL SERIES: Ladies’s Evolving Affect in Male-Led Faiths


AP journalists Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Grant Peck and Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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Related Press faith protection receives assist from the Lilly Endowment by means of The Dialog U.S. The AP is solely liable for this content material.



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