...Buddhism for Urban America
Urban Dharma Newsletter... November 18, 2003
This Issue: Women & Buddhism
8th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women
2. THE FOUR BODHISATTVA VOWS
3. Buddhist Nuns from a Modern Perspective ...by
4. The Legend of Miao-shan
5. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week: ZEN, WOMEN,
Book/CD/Movie Review: Women in Buddhism - Question &
Answers (795 KB) e-Book
8th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women
June 27 to July 2, 2004 - Temple Tour: July 3 to 5
and Practice of Buddhist Women: Present and Past”
known as the “Land of Morning Calm,” is the venue
of the 8th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women.
Everyone is welcome to attend the conference: lay or ordained,
and neither lay nor ordained, of all nationalities and religious
backgrounds. In addition to discussions and meditation, they
can enjoy the beautiful mountains and forests of Korea.
Korea is proud of its rich Buddhist cultural history. Seoul,
with many temples, monuments, and an ancient Buddhist history
of its own, provides a magnificent setting for this gathering
of international scholars and practitioners of the world’s
Buddhist traditions. According to some scholars the word “Seoul”
comes from the word “Sravasti,” the Indian town
where the Buddha spent 25 rainy season retreats.
GLIMPSE OF KOREA’S BUDDHIST CULTURAL HISTORY
thousand years of Buddhist culture has been preserved and is
still widely practiced in the Republic of Korea today. An estimated
2000 historic Buddhist temples and monuments are testimony to
the living presence of the Buddha’s teachings. Koreans
generally follow the Mahayana tradition, making vows to attain
enlightenment to liberate all beings from suffering. Lay Buddhists
generally marry and have families. They may join any temple
they like and may take the five lay precepts as well as the
Bodhisattva precepts. Buddhists may also decide to renounce
household life and train as a monk or nun. Many lay and ordained
Buddhist take bodhisattva precepts, eat vegetarian food, and
emphasize the practice of the six perfections generosity, Buddhism
was introduced to Korea from China around 372 C.E. Because Buddhism
was perceived to be compatible with indigenous shamanistic beliefs,
it was quickly adopted. Gradually Buddhism developed to a position
of cultural dominance during the Shilla Period (668-935 C.E.).
Emphasis during this period was the law of cause and effect,
and the interrelatedness of all things.
Koryo Period (935-1392) is noted for an emphasis on ritual practices.
The Korean Tripitaka was carved onto wood blocks, which are
preserved to the present day in Haein-sa Temple. The practice
of meditation (Chinese: Chan, Japanese: Zen, Korean: Son) and
the tradition of textual study gave Buddhism new vitality. During
both the Shilla and Koryo Periods, Buddhism enjoyed the patronage
of the royal court.
the Choson Period (1392-1910) was a time of decline for Buddhism.
The new rulers favored Neo-Confucianism and adopted it as the
state religion. Buddhism was severely restricted and periodically
persecuted for five centuries. Temples could only be built in
mountain areas and monks were prohibited from entering the capital
1910-1945, Korea was annexed by Japan. The Japanese colonial
administration supported Buddhism, but promoted the Japanese
sects with a married priesthood, and monks were encouraged to
abandon their vows of celibacy. After the Japanese occupation
ended, the indigenous Korean forms of Buddhism and the ideal
of celibacy were reestablished.
Buddhism is flourishing in Korea. Many new temples are being
constructed and many ancient temples are being restored. Buddhists
are actively engaged in society, organizing education programs,
meditation classes, social welfare projects, and Buddhist cultural
events. In Korea, the numbers of nuns and monks are roughly
equal. After five or six years of training as novices, they
are eligible to receive full ordination as bhiksunis and bhiksus.
Monasteries for nuns and monks are strictly separate and function
independently. Buddhist colleges and institutes provide equal
education opportunities for both nuns and monks. This year a
nun was selected to head the Department of Cultural Affairs
of the Chogye order — a historical first.
COALITION OF BUDDHIST WOMEN
1987, Sakyadhita: International Association of Buddhist Women
has been working to benefit Buddhist women around the world.
Established at the conclusion of the 1st Sakyadhita Conference
in Bodhgaya, India, in 1987, the organization has 1900 members
and friends in 45 countries around the world. Every two years
an international conference is held to bring laywomen and nuns
from different countries and traditions together to share their
experiences on issues of mutual interest and encourage projects
to improve conditions for Buddhist women, especially in developing
at the grassroots level, Sakyadhita provides a communications
network among Buddhist women internationally.
organization promotes research and publications on Buddhist
women’s history and other topics of interest. It supports
Buddhist women’s initiatives to create education projects,
retreat facilities, training center, women’s shelters,
and local conferences and discussion groups. Members strive
to create equal opportunities for women in all Buddhist traditions.
theme of the 8th Sakyadhita Conference is “Discipline
and Practice of Buddhist Women: Present and Past.”
topics for discussion include:
THEME AND DISCUSSION TOPICS
Shamatha and Vipassana in the Buddhist Traditions
Buddhist Meditation Practices: Asia and the West
Practices for Developing Loving Kindness and Compassion
Mindfulness in Daily Living,”Meditation and Work
Combining Religious Practices, Combining Buddhist Practices
Practical Meditation Techniques
Meditation on Emptiness
Practice of the Precepts: Lay and Monastic
Food of Dharma: Rituals at Meals and in the Kitchen
Rituals of the Robes
Dharma in Everyday Life
Dharma in Relationships
Education and Training
Teaching Dharma to Children
The Education and Training of Laywomen and Nuns
Buddhist Women and Discipline: Transitions
Historical Spread of Buddhism Throughout the World
Buddhist Responses to Social and Political Realities
Abortion, Death Penalty, Burma, Tibet)
Buddhist Approaches to Conflict Resolution
Interfaith Understanding, Inter-Buddhist Understanding
Trafficking in Women and Children: What Can Buddhists Do?
Learning from Korea’s Experience of “Comfort Women”)
NGOs: Organizing for Social Change
Buddhist Theories of Interdependence and the Environment
Practice and Women’s Issues
Buddhist Liberation, Women’s Liberation
Is an Egalitarian Buddhism Possible?
Buddhism and Women’s Health
Feminist Interpretations of Buddhist Doctrine
Can Women Become Enlightened? How Do We Do It?
Buddhist Practice in Uncertain Times (International Security,
Danger, Global Economics, etc.)
Contemporary Buddhist Practices
Buddhist Practice Today: Tradition and Adaptation
for registration, with payment, is May 15, 2004.
conference updates: http://www.sakyadhita.org
International 47-710-2 Hui Kelu Street Kaneohe, HI 96744
THE FOUR BODHISATTVA VOWS
STATED IN VARIOUS BUDDHIST TEXTS:
take on the suffering of all sentient beings, undertaking the
journey to liberation not for their own good alone, but to help
all others. And eventually, after the attainment of liberation,
not dissolving into the Absolute or fleeing from Samsara, but
choosing instead to return again and again to devote their wisdom
and compassion to the service of the world."
THE WOMEN'S PERSPECTIVE:
nature of Bodhi (Enlightenment) is attained in the same manner
by men and by women. There are not even slight differences in
this connection, neither in the method nor in the quality of
attainment. The Buddha discovered that gender is of no importance
for the aim of freedom. A female saint (Arahat, i.e.,
woman or man) or a female being striving after sainthood is
in no way subordinate to a male saint or male follower of the
Buddha. It is not possible to declare a higher or more important
equality of the sexes.
to the teachings of the Buddha, there exists no practical difference
between the sexes. Man and woman are equal in their dependence
upon each other and in their clinging which must be overcome
(Angutara-Nikaya I,1). Man and woman are equal in the rights
and duties of their partnership, as the Buddha described it
for lay followers in the famous sermon to Singalako (Digha-nikayaNo.31).
Thus stated, for male or female, the Four Bodhisattva Vows,
their importance, meaning, and execution, are the SAME
in any and all cases.
FOUR UNIVERSAL BODHISATTVA VOWS:
However innumerable sentient beings are, I vow to influence
those seekers who have planted the causes and conditions along
the path in succeeding to achieve it.
However inexhaustible the defilements are, I vow to contribute
in extinguishing them.
However immeasurable the dharmas are, I vow to master them.
However unattainable the Way is, I vow to attain it.
Buddhist Nuns from a Modern Perspective ...by Juo-hsueh
a conference on the Lotus Sutra a woman currently doing research
in Japan said to me that she was so surprised to see me there.
I asked her why, and her reply was that in Japan there are very
few nuns and nuns are always in a subordinate position. Since
nuns are few in number and inferior in position, people rarely
see a nun appearing at a public occasion. For this reason, my
attending a conference where the majority of scholars were male
surprised her. Nevertheless, she told me that she met several
nuns from Taiwan studying in Japanese universities.
a nun from Taiwan pursuing advanced studies in the west, I became
more awakened to the issue of women's position in society, particular
in religion. During my stay in America I have been exposed to
the problems which nuns encounter in different Buddhist traditions.
Therefore, contrasting nuns of today with those of the past,
and comparing nuns of one tradition with those of another really
interests me. Moreover, I am interested in looking into the
issue of nuns' role in the modern world and the possible contributions
they may make to human society.
article entitled "Sôtô Zen Nuns in Modern Japan:
Keeping and Creating Tradition" by Paula K.R. Arai evoked
my interest and started me thinking. The Sôtô sect
of Zen is the largest and most organized sect of nuns in Japan.
According to Arai's research, however, nuns have become fewer
in number during this century, and the reason for this is the
increased opportunities for women in the secular sphere. What
does this statement mean? Does it imply that the more successful
women become in the secular world the less possible it is for
them to commit themselves to the religious life? If this is
true, can we further infer that their decision to become nuns
was influenced more by the difficulty in making a life in the
society than by a genuine intention to pursue enlightenment
or liberation? Can we consequently conclude from this that women
become nuns due to their failure in the secular life?
at this reason for a decrease in the number of Japanese nuns,
I cannot help but examining it from different angles. From a
realistic angle, indeed, an outsider may see no reason for a
woman with a good education, talent, or a successful career
to renounce the world. When they can enjoy such colorful lives,
why would they enter monasteries and live the dull and poor
life of a nun? It is understandable that an outsider see it
this way unless we take the religious significance of being
a nun into account. After all, being a nun is a decision concerning
one's spiritual path rather than a change in occupation.
to the situation in Japan, there is an increasing number of
nuns in Taiwan. It is interesting to find that more and more
women with higher education choose to become nuns even though
they have or have the prospect of good occupations. In the meantime,
it is also noticeable that there are many more nuns than monks
in Taiwan. The ratio of nuns to monks is approximately eight
to one. One may think that in the modern day there are too many
pleasures and enjoyments in life, so it is more difficult for
men to live a monastic life. This may be true. The question,
however, is that if this is the case for men, why it is not
for women? In the past in mainland China, Buddhism was almost
entirely a man's world. Nowadays in Taiwan, radical changes
have been taking place. Nuns not only greatly outnumber monks,
but also prove themselves in leadership capacities as well as
in various other roles.
terms of giving up a more comfortable or successful secular
life full of world pleasures, women in Taiwan appear to be much
more resolute than men. It takes strong will and great determination
to devote oneself to a strictly disciplined monastic life. What
explains the difference between these two traditions--the Japanese
and Chinese--is a problem which deserves investigation.
life is more difficult than it was before since it presents
such a stark contrast to today's secular life. Moreover, monasteries
are by no means harbourages for those who seek easy lives. Therefore,
there would be no reason for one to take on the challenges of
such a life with much more hardship unless it were for the sake
of the religious pursuit. In this light, it is understandable
that education for women in Taiwan, by opening their eyes to
greater horizons, has in many cases led women to a spiritual
awakening. More education may provide them with a deeper understanding
of the meaning of existence and with greater insight into the
nature of human life. Therefore, it is not surprising that many
of them choose a path to spiritual freedom. According to Arai's
research, over the past forty years, the average age of nuns
entering the order was 16. Most of the girls either were raised
in a temple environment or became nuns upon the request of their
parents. However, recently there has been a radical change in
the age of nuns first entering nunneries. The present average
age has risen to 43. Women at this age, whether single or married,
have certainly had much more life experience than those in the
change may suggest that women now make a conscious and mature
decision to commit their lives to the Dharma. At the same time,
it also suggests that nuns now are more competent and have greater
ability to fulfill their social responsibilities. From the point
of view of temple administration, the increase in age as well
as the life experience of the nuns no doubt benefit the functioning
of the nunneries. Yet, from an existential angle as well as
a Buddhist point of view, this advantage does not necessarily
apply to personal practice and smooth interpersonal relationships
among the nuns. To be more specific, nuns in the higher age
brackets might have exposed themselves to more defilements and
accumulated more and deeper habits through their some 40 years'
life experience. The fact that it takes a long time and great
effort to overcome and eliminate those unwanted habits accounts
for some difficulty in religious practice.
the situation in Taiwan is different. There have been a growing
number of nuns and a decrease in their age of entering the order
in recent decades. Although Buddhism is not a religion only
for the elderly, people used to have a misconception that only
after they grow old and have already fulfilled all their secular
responsibilities can they enter the monasteries, to spend their
old age in a quiet and peaceful place, not necessarily for the
sake of the religious pursuit. Things have changed, however.
In Taiwan many more young women decide to become nuns out of
their own free choice as well as a recognition of the value
of an earlier beginning on their religious path.
Buddhist nuns did make history in some matters. For instance,
the first ordained Buddhists in Japan were three nuns, the first
Japanese to go abroad (to China) to study (Vinaya) were nuns,
and also, the first Buddhist temple in Japan was a temple for
nuns. However, in spite of their vital contributions, Japanese
nuns, just like those in other traditions, have never received
the attention and respect they deserve. For most of the history
of the Soto Zen tradition, nuns were in a subordinate position,
being expected to clean, cook, and sew for the monks. Therefore,
they were not allowed to assume positions of power or responsibility.
Arai's article there are some accounts about the progressive
elevation in position of Japanese nuns. Before 1953, the highest
rank a nun could attain was lower than the lowest rank for monks.
After that, a drastic modification in regulations of all Buddhist
sects gave nuns more opportunities. They were allowed to become
head priests of the middle rank in temples. In l978, nuns were
also allowed to attain the rank which is the last level before
Zenji (Zen master). Nowadays, nuns have gained high positions
almost equal to monks. While in some special cases this may
be true, only a few nuns actually gain higher positions, certainly
not all. Generally speaking, the relative inequality in the
positions of women and men still exists.
regard to the position of Buddhist nuns, there exists a unique
phenomenon in Taiwan, which is quite noteworthy. In general
it would not be wrong to say that discrimination on the basis
of gender exists in almost every society. Since sexual discrimination
has had a history of thousands of years, no one can expect a
speedy change. Taiwan is no exception. It cannot be denied that,
generally speaking, many of the laypeople in Taiwan have more
respect for monks than nuns. Obviously this is the natural outcome
of a patriarchal society. Nevertheless, Taiwan's Buddhist followers
also pay respect to nuns as long as nuns prove themselves either
in religious practice or in their career as bodhisattvas, helping
sentient beings in one way or another. As was mentioned previously,
the fact that nuns greatly outnumber monks in Taiwan inevitably
results in nuns' taking more responsibilities and having more
commitment in various aspects of religious affairs. At the same
time, it also creates more chances and freedom for nuns to develop
and demonstrate their capabilities.
active and playing an important role in the world of Taiwanese
Buddhism, nuns are inferior neither in capacity nor in position.
More importantly, the majority of Taiwanese men are not as male-
chauvinistic as those in other countries. In mainland China
nuns are often despised and definitely had an inferior position.
I have experienced monks' disparaging attitudes toward nuns
in some of the temples I visited in China. I also witnessed
unequal treatment toward nuns in a famous temple in Ssu-chuan
Province, where the seating order in the worship hall and at
meals was arranged with monks and laymen before nuns, which
is very peculiar. In Taiwan, however, most monks have more liberal
attitudes toward nuns. This is partly because monks in Taiwan
are the minority and consequently need nuns' aid in various
ways. No one can deny or ignore the nuns' contributions to the
community. Therefore, nuns in Taiwan as a whole do not suffer
oppression or devaluation. Some outstanding nuns in particular
are highly esteemed both by Buddhists and non-Buddhists due
to their distinguished religious practice or great contributions
in either education, social welfare, or in spreading the teachings
of the Buddha. They are recognized and revered, thus becoming
leading figures in the Buddhist community.
the fact that they gain high positions is not something given
by any organization or by monks; instead, they earn their positions
through their own efforts and the recognition of their followers,
or even non-Buddhists. In spite of this, there is something
that should be pointed out to prevent sending a misleading message
to the reader concerning the issue of the nuns' position. Position
is not the main concern of Chinese nuns, nor do they aim at
gaining high status. Instead of arguing for equality of position,
the nuns merely demonstrate their qualities in a quiet way.
In other words, they allow their actions to argue for them.
In Taiwan, the feminist consciousness has not yet been greatly
aroused. Nevertheless, Chinese nuns in Taiwan have a certain
degree of freedom to carry out their own ideals and their achievements.
Consequently they are recognized by Buddhist followers there.
speaking, nuns in almost every traditions were not given opportunities
for proper training or education. Although in the early period,
Japanese nuns seem to have had the potential to develop themselves
in terms of taking ordination, studying abroad, and so on, their
position has declined over the years. It is the traditional
gender discrimination of society that accounts for this decline.
In China during the T'ang Dynasty, too, Chinese nuns once were
well-educated and rather active, but later on they became similarly
absorbed by the dominant patriarchal tradition, virtually becoming
according to Arai's research, in modern times Japanese nuns
have been learning to be strong and independent. At the same
time, they seem to have become aware of the importance of improving
the quality and elevating the status of nuns. Therefore, some
Zen nunneries have been established to train nuns exclusively,
offering elementary through advanced levels of training.
educating of nuns includes traditional Zen training such as
zazen (sitting meditation), chanting sutras, studying Buddhist
texts and Chinese poetry, sewing Buddhist garments, cooking,
and cleaning. In addition to all these activities the training
includes kado (the art of flower arrangement), shodo (the art
of calligraphy), and chado (the art of making tea) as integral
elements. These arts are not regarded merely as skills, but
as expressions of the philosophy of the unity of the body, mind,
from the above-mentioned formal education, there are also various
monthly temple activities which help train the nuns in basic
temple responsibilities, and also serve as opportunities for
the nuns to learn how to interact with and help the laity. Periodical
sesshins (intensive meditation sessions) serve to deepen the
contemplative aspect of the nuns' training.
nuns in the modern age are considered the living holders of
the traditional Zen lifestyle. They generally remain celibate
and continue the rhythm of life which they learn during their
training in the nunnery. At the same time, they help preserve
the traditional arts of Japan.
with the Japanese tradition, Buddhism in Taiwan appears to lack
a well-organized administrative or educational system. Generally
speaking, each temple or monastery is independent. There is
no all-powerful headquarters which controls everything or everyone.
On the one hand, there is little or no organizational unity
in Chinese Buddhism, which produces an image of scattered sand.
On the other hand, however, we can see a kind of "order
in chaos" or "unity in separation" in Chinese
Buddhism, which is also the unique feature of Chinese culture.
What Chinese people emphasize is that, in a harmonious way,
members of the same group preserve their special characteristics.
Therefore, in Taiwan no central organization for the training
of the clergy has ever been established. Each temple or monastery
is responsible for the training of its own new members. Because
of this independent functioning, we often find differences in
various aspects of monastic life, such as the tunes in which
the Buddhist hymns are sung, the way the mantras or sutras are
chanted, and rituals performed as well as the pattern of daily
life, instructions for religious practice, and interpretations
to the lack of a central headquarters, the head of each temple
can make changes or improvements in certain aspects whenever
the need arises. In short, the creative genius of the heads
of temples creates variations in the many aspects of religious
life, and produces a colorful kaleidoscope of religious practice
with diverse presentations of Dharma. It has been mentioned
that Chinese nuns in Taiwan have much freedom to express themselves
and this is the evidence. They can start their own nunneries
or temples, subservient to no one, and decide how they would
like to run them.
thing that most interests me is the different images of Buddhist
nuns in Japanese and Chinese traditions. In the Chinese tradition,
both monks and nuns are expected to be like "superior men,"
which is a very masculine term. Superior men are the role models
in Chinese culture. Of course, this can be criticized as evidence
of gender discrimination. However, from a different angle, it
shows that nuns are expected to release themselves from the
traditional submissive and feminine image of a woman, and consequently
to transcend their subordinate position. In this sense, Chinese
nuns have the ambition and make efforts to challenge and break
down the traditional expectations for women to seek the favor
of men. Just as men do not favor masculine woman, nuns do not
accept the traditional image of femininity imposed on women.
Chinese nuns are not expected or educated to fit the image society
has drawn for women.
our description of the multi-faceted training designed for Japanese
Soto Zen nuns, we learn that the nuns are expected to acquire
great and diverse abilities. Through contrasting the nuns now
with those in the past, an improvement in quality can be seen.
However, the training program seems to emphasize the cultivation
of people competent in running temples. The training in flower
arrangement and tea ceremony is undertaken due to economic considerations.
In other words, the nuns have to make their own living by the
techniques they acquired.
is interesting is that, according to Arai, the ideal for nuns
is just what is expected of Japanese lay women generally. There
is a positive side to the nuns' fitting the traditional images
and expectations of women because, in this way, the Soto Zen
nuns make a positive contribution to the preservation of Japanese
culture, yet it seems that the nuns' main function is to run
the temples. They teach, yet they primarily teach flower arrangement
and tea ceremony, and as a means of making a living. Poverty
is not the only difficulty in the lives of the nuns, but it
is admittedly one factor explaining why life in the nunneries
has become more stressful. It is quite understandable that fewer
and fewer women would like to devote themselves to the monastic
life if they have to make their own living. If this is the case,
there will be few differences between the secular and the monastic
life in terms of the amount of time available for religious
question of why there is a decreasing number of nuns and an
increase in age in Japan, whereas in Taiwan there is an increase
in numbers and a decrease in age is not an easy one to answer.
A comprehensive look at the social, economic, psychological,
and religious dimensions necessary to understand these opposite
developments in Japanese and Chinese Buddhism is beyond the
scope of this essay. Nevertheless, I would like to propose an
assumption which might be crucial to this issue. Chinese Buddhists
generally are quite practice-oriented. This emphasis on religious
practice strongly dominates the minds of the Buddhist followers.
Therefore, when it is time to make a decision, most of them
are able to disregard the possible difficulties in the monastic
life and resolutely dedicate themselves to seeking the Dharma.
Moreover, Chinese nuns generally are expected to be great practitioners
rather than successful temple administrators. They have more
alternatives to select from if they are not interested in running
a temple. Even the nuns who seclude themselves from society
and make no "concrete" contribution to humanity earn
respect and support from the Buddhist followers. If they are
good practitioners, their contribution is in being living spiritual
models of the teachings for other Buddhists to admire and follow.
The Legend of Miao-shan
China Kuan-yin (Avalokitesvara) came to be most frequently worshipped
in female form as the Goddess of Mercy. This transformation
from an originally male deity into a female one seems to have
occurred sometime during the Northern Sung dynasty (960-1126)
and is reflected in Kuan-yin's miracluous appearance in human
form in the legend of Miao-shan.
cult to Miao-shan at Fragrant Mountain Monastery (Hsiang-shan
ssu) was first made public in an inscription written by Chiang
Chih-ch'i (1031-1104) in 1100. Before then this monastery had
been known for its splendid statue of Kuan-yin as the Great
Compassionate One (Ta-pei) with a thousand arms and a thousand
eyes. The legend recorded by Chiang identifies the Fragrant
Mountain Monastery as the location of Kuan-yin's manifestation,
where she revealed herself in her Great Compassionate form with
a thousand arms and eyes, neatly joining the Miao-shan legend
with the image of Kuan-yin enshrined in the monastery. It went
on to claim that the relics of Kuan-yin were enshrined in a
stupa, thus making Fragrant Mountain Monastery a popular pilgrimage
center. An inscription of 1185, commemorating the restoration
of the Fragrant Mountain Monastery, noted that since around
1100, "the abbots of this monastery successively built
it up on a magnificent scale and with increasing extravagance.
Because the bodhisattva's relics were there in the stupa and
many miracles were wrought, every spring in the second lunar
month people from all parts would come, regardless of distance.
The worshippers must have numbered tens of thousands, and they
made donations according to their means. The monks of the monastery
had no need to go begging to meet their annual budget. They
had more than enough to eat."
oldest extant version of the legend is preserved in a chronicle
of Buddhism in China, the Lung-hsing fo-chiao pien-nien t'ung-lun,
written in 1164 by Tsu-hsiu. The story, as adapted from the
translation by Glen Dudbridge (pp. 25-34), goes as follows:
(596-667) once asked a divine spirit about the history of the
bodhisattva Kuan-yin. The spirit replied:
the past there was a king whose name was [Miao]-chuang-yen.
His lady was named Pao-ying. She bore three daughters, the eldest
Miao-yen, the second Miao-yin, and the youngest Miao-shan.
the time of Miao-shan's conception the queen dreamed that she
swallowed the moon. When the time came for the child to be born,
the whole earth quaked, and wonderful fragrance and heavenly
flowers were spread near and far. The people of that country
were astounded. At birth she was clean and fresh without being
washed. Her holy marks were noble and majestic, her body was
covered over with many-colored clouds. The people said that
these were signs of the incarnation of a holy person. Although
the parents thought this extraordinary, their hearts were corrupt,
and so they detested her.
she grew up the bodhisattva became naturally kind and gentle.
She dressed plainly and ate only once a day. In the palace she
was known as "the maiden with the heart of a Buddha."
By her good grace the ladies in waiting were converted; all
turned to the good life and renounced their desires. The king
took some exception to this and prepared to find her a husband.
Miao-shan, with integrity and wisdom, said: "Riches and
honor are not there for ever, glory and splendor are like mere
bubbles or illusions. Even if you force me to do base menial
work, I will never repent [of my resolve to remain chaste]."
the king and his lady sent for her and tried to coax her, she
said: "I will obey your august command if it will prevent
king asked: "What do you mean by 'three misfortunes'?"
said: "The first is this: when the men of this world are
young, their face is as fair as the jade-like moon, but when
they grow old, their hair turns white and their face is wrinkled;
in motion or repose they are in every way worse off than when
they were young. The second is this: a man's limbs may be lusty
and vigorous, he may step as lithely as if flying through the
air, but when suddenly an illness befalls him, he lies in bed
without a single pleasure in life. The third is this: a man
may have a great assembly of relatives, may be surrounded by
his nearest and dearest, but suddenly one day it all comes to
an end [with his death]; although father and son are close kin
they cannot take one another's place. If it can prevent these
three misfortunes, then you will win my consent to a marriage.
If not, I prefer to retire to pursue a life of religion. When
one gains full understanding of the original mind, all misfortunes
of their own accord cease to exist."
king was angry. He forced her to work at gardening and reduced
her food and drink. Even her two sisters went privately to make
her change her mind, but Miao-shan held firm and would not turn
back. When the queen personally admonished her, Miao-shan said:
"In all the emotional entanglements of this world there
is no term of spiritual release. If close kin are united,they
must inevitably be sundered and scattered. Rest at ease, mother.
Luckily you have my two sisters to care for you. Do not be concerned
queen and the two sisters therefore asked the king to release
her to follow a religious calling. The king was angry. He called
for the nuns [at White Sparrow monastery, Po-ch'üeh ssu]
and charged them to treat her so harshly that she would change
her mind. The nuns were intimidated and gave her the heaviest
tasks to do--fetching wood and water, working with pestle and
mortar, and running the kitchen garden. In response to her,
the vegetables florished even in winter, and a spring welled
up beside the kitchen.
time went by, and Miao-shan still held firm to her purpose.
When the king heard about the miracles of the vegetables and
the spring of water, he was furious. He sent soldiers to bring
back her head and to kill the nuns. As they were arriving, mountains
of cloud and fog suddenly appeared, totally obscuring everything.
When it cleared, Miao-shan was the one person they could not
find. She had been borne off by a spirit to a crag in another
place, there to live. The spirit then said: "The land here
is too barren to sustain existence." He moved her altogether
three times before they reached the present Fragrant Mountain
(Hsiang-shan). Miao-shan dwelt there, eating from the trees,
drinking from the streams.
went by, and the king contracted jaundice. His whole body was
corrupt and suppurating, and he could no longer sleep or eat.
None of the doctors could cure him. He was about to die when
a monk appeared, saying he was well able to cure him, but would
need the arms and eyes of one free from anger. The king found
this proposal extremely difficult to meet. The monk said: "On
Fragrant Mountain, in the south-west of your majesty's dominion,
there is a bodhisattva engaged in religious practices. If you
send a messenger to present your request to her you can count
on obtaining the two things."
king had no choice but to command a palace equerry to go and
convey his message. Miao-shan said: "My father showed disrespect
to the Three Treasures, he persecuted the suppressed the True
Doctrine, he executed innocent nuns. This called for retribution."
Then she gladly cut out her eyes and severed her arms. Giving
them to the envoy, she added instructions to exhort the king
to turn towards the good, no longer to be deluded by false doctrines.
the two things were submitted to him, the monk made them up
into medicine. The king took it and instantly recovered. He
generously rewarded the monk-physician. But the monk said: "Why
thank me? You should be thanking the one who provided the arms
and eyes." Suddenly he was gone. The king was startled
by this divine intervention. Ordering a coach, he went with
his lady and two daughters to the hills to thank the bodhisattva.
met, and before words were spoken the queen already recognized
her--it was Miao-shan. They found themselves choking with tears.
Miao-shan said: "Does my lady remember Miao-shan? Mindful
of my father's love, I have repaid him with my arms and eyes."
Hearing her words, the king and queen embraced her, bitterly
weeping. The queen was about to lick the eyes with her tongue,
but before she could do so, auspicious clouds enclosed all around,
divine muscians began to play, the earth shook, and flowers
rained down. And then the holy manifestation of the Thousand
Arms and Thousand Eyes was revealed, hovering majestically in
the air. Attendants numbered tens of thousands, voices celebrating
[the bodhisattva's] compassion resounded to shake the mountains
and valleys. In a moment, the bodhisattva reverted to her former
person, then with great solemnity departed. The king, the queen,
and the two sisters made a funeral pyre, preserved the holy
relics, and on that same mountain built a stupa.
again asked: "The bodhisattva can take mortal form in any
place and surely ought not to be present solely at Fragrant
Mountain." The spirit replied: "Of all sites at present
within the bounds of China, Fragrant Mountain is pre-eminent.
The mountain lies two hundred leagues to the south of Mount
Sung. It is the same as the Fragrant Mountain in present day
5. ZEN, WOMEN, AND BUDDHISM
...ZEN, THE TAO, ENLIGHTENMENT, AND BUDDHISM FROM THE WOMEN'S
women must have completed their studies and some must have started
temples, but we know very little about the history of women
in the Dharma because the translators and historians were mostly
first `bhikshuni` mentioned in the Ch'an literature was a disciple
of Bodhidharma named Tsung-chih. Very little of her life-story
is known (see). The Cheng-te ch'uan-teng lu tells us that before
returning to India after many years of teaching in China, Bodhidharma
asked his disciples to relate their realization of the Dharma.
said, "I perceive that the Buddhist path is transcending
language and words and yet not separating from language and
words." Bodhidharma said, "You have attained my skin."
Bhikshuni Tsung-chih said, "What I comprehend is like joyfully
seeing the `Aksobya's` Buddha-land." After seeing it once,
you never see it again.
have attained my flesh," said Bodhidharma. Tao-yu said,
"The four elements are originally empty and the five aggregates
are non-existent. Not even one thing of what I comprehend is
have attained my bone," said Bodhidharma. Finally Huei-k'o
made a bow to the teacher and stood aside in silence.
said, "You have attained my marrow."
is the story of how the Dharma was transmitted to the Second
Patriarch Huei-k'o. Bhikshuni Tsung-chih was one of Bodhidharma's
most advanced students. Although she was not the top disciple,
the mere fact that she played a role in the scene of the Dharma-transmission
is itself very significant. We might say this makes a good beginning
for `bhikshunis` in the Ch'an tradition.
that accept Women as Advanced Bodhisattva and imminent Buddhas.
Vimalakirti Sutra and the Srimala Sutra belong to this category.
In these two sutras the position of the female reaches its hightest
peak. The doctrinal basis for this culmination lies in the Mahayana
doctrines of Sunyata (emptiness), "Tathagatagarbha"
, non-duality, etc. Instead of attempting to identify maleness
with Bodhisattvahood and Buddhahood, the sutras in this category
claim that notions of duality--either male or female, subject
or object, etc.--are merely mental attachments contradicting
the teaching of emptiness. The characteristics of "maleness"
and "femaleness" are simply illusory and irrelevant.
On this basis, the female bodhisattva refuses to undergo sexual
change. When asked by Sariputra to transform herself, the Goddess
in the Vimalakirti Sutra said, "I have been here for twelve
years and have looked for the innate characteristics of femaleness
but have not been able to find them. How can I change them?"
Then the Goddess changed Sariputra into a female. This is to
reinforce her assertion that every one and every thing transcends
gender distinctions when one views the world as empty. This
Viewpoint is concretely illustrated by Sariputra's transformation.
See as well The Lotus Sutra, in Buddhism considered revolutionary
in its approach to the equality of the sexes and equality amongst
all people generally.
paragraphs courtesy Heng-ching Shih: Chinese Bhikshunis in the
Chinese Bhikshunis in the Ch'an Tradition
2. Man and Woman in the Teaching of the Buddha
3. The Sound of One-Hand Shoe Tying
4. METTA ZETTY: A Modern Woman's Awakening-Experience Outside
5. ANN FARADAY: An Account of the Realization of Emptiness
6. SUZANNE SEGAL: A Collision with the Infinite
7. VALERIE VENER: A Near Death Experience Opens the Door to
an Awakening Journey
8. MO-SHAN LIAO-JAN - First Woman Dharma Heir In Chinese Zen
9. MUGAI NYODAI - Japan's First Female Zen Master
10. ROSLYN MOORE: This Bursting Heart. Satsang leads to Enlightenment
11. HERE LIES THE HEART: A Woman's Meeting With Enlightenment
12. DEATH OF THE EGO: A Buddhist View Man or woman ego? Does
it matter in Enlightenment?
13. A DALAI LAMA DISCUSSION: Teachers Who Have Sex With Women
14. THERIGATHA: Chapter V, The Files
The Old Woman of Taishan - Master Dogen's 300 Koan Shobogenzo,
was the Old Woman of Taishan? Old women appear in various koans,
frequently acting as catalysts of awakening for unsuspecting
travelers. They are never identified, remaining nameless, yet
clearly showing some appreciation of the Dharma. The most famous
of them was the Rice Cake Seller who challenged Te Shan in Dharma
combat, bringing to life his doubt and facilitating the beginning
of a real spiritual search which ended in his Attainment and
the burning of all his Zen books and commentaries. The encounter
between Te Shan and the old woman in the tea house is told,
delightfully and in full, in Wu-men's commentary to Case 28
of the Gateless Barrier.
old women in Chinese Zen history were often matriarchs whose
children had grown up, or whose families had been destroyed
in the turbulent times of war and famine. They no longer had
any family responsibilities and many entered monasteries. In
fact, Iron Grindstone Liu, a successor of Master Guishan and
an important teacher, was such a Zen adept. Many other women
must have completed their studies and some of them must have
started temples, but we know very little about the history of
women in the Dharma, mainly because the translators and historians
have been men who tended to ignore the accomplishments of women.
There are still relatively few women Buddhist scholars, but
as more and more appear on the scene, we will find out much
more about the history of Zen, Women, and Buddhism.
KUAN YIN: COMPASSIONATE SAVIOURESS
17. THE LEGEND OF MIAO-SHAN
18. THE FIRST AND SECOND NUNS OF THE BUDDHIST ORDER
19. The Enlightened Nun Kisagotami
20. The Enlightened Nun Subha
21. THE CHALLENGE OF EMPTINESS: The Spiritual Transformation
22. A Bibliography in Buddhism for Feminists
23. A BUDDHIST VIEW OF WOMEN: A Comparitive of the Rules for
24. BUDDHIST WOMEN: An Account of Famous Women in Early Buddhist
25. FROM THE SUTRAS: Life Stories of Historical Bhikshunis -
A little long and slightly complicated, but worth reading.
26. Buddhist Women in Burma
27. Buddhist Nuns from a Modern Perspective
28. Women and Buddhism
30. Tara, Female Buddha
31. Samyutta Nikaya V.2: Sister Soma
32. Women Zen Masters in the Raihai Tokuzui by Zen Master Dogen
33. The Place of Women In Buddhism
34. Discourses of the Ancient Nuns
35. Buddhist Women at the Time of The Buddha
36. Bhikkuni-Samyutta Sutras
37. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Women and the Female in Buddhism
38. Women Active in Buddhism
39. Journal of South Asia Women Studies
The Four Bodhisattva Vows - From the Women's Perspective
Women in Buddhism - Question & Answers (795 KB) e-Book
- Free Download
in Buddhism - Question & Answers by * Ven. Chatsumarn
Chatsumarn Kabilsingh provides answers to questions often asked
about women and the ordination issue and related topics. She
responds to such questions as: In the Buddha's time what role
did women play in Buddhism? Why cannot women become buddhas?
What is the Buddhist attitude towards prostitution? What is
an attitude of a Buddhist towards abortion? What is the unique
characteristic in American Buddhism which might interest a feminist?
Samaneri Ven. Dhammananda Samaneri Venerable Dhammananda (Chatsumarn
Kabilsingh Ph.D.) is the first female novice to be ordanied
in Sri Lanka. She plans to have her high ordination in 2003
as a female monk (Bhikkhuni). Samaneri Ven. Dhammananda, has
a MA and Ph.D. in religious studies, and was former Associate
Professor at the Thammasat University in Thailand.
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