Gender equality for buddhist nun?

 Gender equality for buddhist nun ? 

Gender equality for buddhist nun?

The Buddha’s “Eight Heavy Rules" included a stipulation that placed Buddhist nuns under the supervision of monks, which have undermined women’s status within the ancient religion.
In recent years, multiple Buddhist nuns have taken on leadership roles that bear either ordination status or academic degrees, all of which was relatively unheard of in Buddhist monastic traditions in the past. However, this change has also met with much resistance, as traditionally Buddhism has allowed only men to serve in these roles.
The early Pali Vinaya texts in the Buddhist canon recount how Buddha thrice rejected the request of his foster mommy, Mahaprajapati, to be ordained, before his disciple, Ananda, persuaded him to simply accept women into the monastic body.
Ananda had to make two arguments for his case an emotional one – that Mahaprajapati had been kind to the Buddha and raised him – and a logical one – that women, too, had the potential to become enlightened.
Indeed so, the Buddha stipulated a redundant set of rules – the Eight Heavy Rules, or gurudharma in Sanskrit – that effectively placed the nuns under the supervision of monks. These rules have formed a vital part of the Buddhist discourse on women’s status.
As a scholar of Buddhism with a focus on gender, I have been nearly following the debates over women’s leadership. Nuns in virtually all Buddhist traditions, from Sri Lanka, Tibet and Nepal to Thailand, are becoming equal members within the sangha, or the Buddhist community.

Ordination and occasions

The Buddhist monastic community is divided into a fourfold system of novice monks, novice nuns, completely ordained monks and completely ordained nuns, each with a set of precepts, or Vinaya, that they need to follow.
Of the three major Buddhist monastic traditions – Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, Mahayana Buddhism in East Asia and Tantric Buddhism in Tibet and therefore the Himalayas – a continuous lineage of completely ordained nuns is established only in the East Asian Mahayana tradition.
This is because to conduct the full ordination ceremony there need to be five completely ordained monks and five completely ordained nuns present. While there are individual cases of completely ordained nuns in both the Theravada and the Tibetan traditions, the rarity of these cases made a continuous lineage practically impossible.
Those who are completely ordained have to adhere to multiple rules governing their speech, behaviour, clothing, diurnal schedule, and interaction with others. While novice nuns have only about 100 precepts to follow; those that are fully ordained need to adhere to over 300. Still, full ordination also offers prestigious standing in the community, higher ritual status, and freedom from serving monks and aged members, cooking, cleaning and performing day-to-day maintenance.
Also, because of the lack of equal ordination status for nuns, lay patrons have generally preferred to have monks undertake ritual tasks instead. As a result, nuns not only receive less financial support from their families, than monks do, they're also paid less by patrons of their monastic community.
The overall lack of opportunity, income and prestige further perpetuates a cycle that disadvantages female monastics.
Seeking change
Buddhist women began to seek change and request full ordination from the East Asian tradition as early because the 1970s.
At the primary International Conference for Buddhist Women in 1987, the issue of full ordination for Buddhist women emerged together as the central theme. This conversation was initiated by a group of nuns from Europe and therefore the united states within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
“ Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women” was established shortly after the conference. With its name inspired by the Pali and Sanskrit word meaning “ daughters of the Buddha,” Sakyadhita serves as a foreign forum on women’s status and gender Equal opportunity in Buddhism.
As with the acknowledgement of women into the Buddhist community, the establishment of a continuous lineage of full ordination was accompanied by controversy since its inception. The different opinions among Buddhist women and feminist scholars came to the fore at the International Congress on Women’s Role within the Sangha in Hamburg, Germany, in 2007.
While some hailed the return of full ordination for ladies as a victory against patriarchy, a group of Tibetan and Himalayan nuns affiliated with the Tibetan Nuns Project openly stated their discomfort with the feminist label placed on efforts to reinstate completely ordained nuns.
Despite the difference in their opinions, multiple more nuns have taken concrete steps to elevate their ordination status, either in groups or independently. For illustration, in Tibetan Buddhism, while the Dalai Lama has yet to weigh in on this issue, the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, decided to initiate this change. The Karmapa is the leader of the Karma Kagyu academy, another major Tibetan Buddhist academy.
“Another approach toward constructing future female Buddhist leadership has to do with education”
In March of 2017, with important fanfare and therefore the Karmapa presiding, 19 women received novice monastic vows from a group of five completely ordained nuns from Nan Lin Vinaya Nunnery in Taiwan. It marked the primary step to revive the long-misplaced tradition of full ordination for Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist monastic women.

In addition, there are illustrations of ladies from Buddhist communities in Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Burma receiving full ordination abroad. To do so, these nuns usually seek ordination from their East Asian Buddhist sisters, outside their lineage.

While the problem of ordination remains controversial within the Thai Buddhist community, the presence of completely ordained female Buddhist leaders such as Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, a Thai Buddhist nun, scholar and activist, has encouraged multiple in Thailand to require a similar pathway and receive ordination from abroad.

Seeking advanced religious education

In addition to providing equal standing for nuns through restoring ordination, another approach toward constructing future female Buddhist leadership has to do with education.

Historically, limited educational chances were available to Buddhist women. Still, in recent years two emerging education initiatives have come to fruition across the Himalayas Nuns within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition are, for the primary time in Buddhist history, receiving the uppermost degrees and becoming Buddhist scholars and educators themselves.

The first of such gender-equal monastic teaching programs started in Eastern Tibet. It grants the title of khenmo – the topmost degree in Buddhist learning within the Nyingma tradition – to nuns who have completed a rigorous decadelong curriculum. Since the 1990s, over 200 women have graduated from the program. Some remained in tutoring roles, while others assumed editorial or publishing places, or became administrators at the Buddhist academy.

Another group of Tibetan nuns at Dolmaling Nunnery in Himachal Pradesh, India, have received the geshema degree – the topmost degree in Tibetan Gelugpa monastic erudition – since 2016, following a precedent set by the German Tibetan nun Kelsang Wangmo. As of 2019, 44 nuns hold the geshema degree. Like their counterparts in Eastern Tibet, multiple geshema graduates became schoolteachers at their institutions and are cultivating future generations of female scholars.
In a tradition that associates much status and prestige with lineage transmission and scholarly achievement, establishing a legitimate ordination lineage and providing equal education chances clear the way for ladies to become leaders in unprecedented ways. It also ensures a ceaseless impact on future generations.


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