Women in American Buddhism

One of the characteristics of the ongoing transformation of BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther... in America is the visible role of women in American convert BuddhistConvert Buddhism tends to refer to groups of Euro-American Buddhists that have converted to Buddhism rather than being born into the tradition. Generally speaking these Buddhists are focused more on personal and social transformation than their immigrant ... communities both as practitioners and, increasingly, as teachers. While Asian Buddhist women have played significant roles in Buddhist history, on the whole women have been denied equal opportunity to engage in the full range of ritual practices, study of the dharma, and spiritual and institutional leadership positions in the community.

The new American Buddhism, however, has not imported the Asian cultural context of the Buddhist tradition, especially traditional gender roles. By the 1970s, many women were students of Asian Buddhist teachers, both in Asia and in America. And many received dharma transmission, becoming the first women in Buddhist teaching lineages that had been exclusively male for as long as memory holds. The Venerable Karuna DharmaDharma means religion, religious duty, religious teaching. The word dharma comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “to uphold, support, bear,” thus dharma is that order of things which informs the whole world, from the laws of nature to the inner workings ..., an American woman, became the immediate dharma heir of the Venerable Thich Thien-an, one of the first Vietnamese monksA monk is a man who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ord... in America and the founder of the International Buddhist MeditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo... Center in Los Angeles. Charlotte Joko Beck, who started the San Diego Zen Center, and Jan Chozen Bays, the teacher at the Zen Community of Oregon, are both dharma heirs of Maezumi-roshi of the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Maurine Stuart-roshiMaurine Stuart-roshi (1922-1990) received Dharma transmission from her teacher, Nakagawa Soen-roshi, and became the resident teacher at the Cambridge Buddhist Association in Cambridge, Massachusetts. who served for many years as resident teacher at the Cambridge Zen Center, was made a roshi by the Japanese teacher Soen Nakagawa-roshi. Ruth Denison brought the VipassanaVipassana is a form of Theravada Buddhist meditation, also called “insight mediation.” This method directs the attention toward the moment-to-moment workings of the mind and body, thereby developing “mindfulness” of the contents of consciousness a... traditions of U Ba Khin, a Burmese meditation master, to her retreat center called DhammaDharma means religion, religious duty, religious teaching. The word dharma comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “to uphold, support, bear,” thus dharma is that order of things which informs the whole world, from the laws of nature to the inner workings ... Dena in the JoshuaJoshua was the leader Moses appointed to succeed him after his death, laying his hands upon Joshua and committing to him the leadership of the people of Israel. According to biblical history, Joshua led the Israelites, who had been tested for forty years ... Tree desert, where she has become known for retreats especially for women. Sharon SalzbergSharon Salzberg has been practicing vipassana meditation for over three decades. She is a founding member of Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and has taught meditation at Buddhist centers around the world. Her book Loving Kindness: the ... returned from India, having studied with Goenka and Munindra, and is now one of the guiding teachers of the Insight MeditationVipassana is a form of Theravada Buddhist meditation, also called “insight mediation.” This method directs the attention toward the moment-to-moment workings of the mind and body, thereby developing “mindfulness” of the contents of consciousness a... Society in Barre, Massachusetts. In the Tibetan tradition, American-born Pema Chödrön has carried on the tradition of the Sixteenth KarmapaKarmapa is the title conferred upon the head monk of the Karma Kagyu sect of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism. The term karmapa, “man of action,” is derived from the Sanskrit karma (action) and Tibetan pa (man). Each successive Karmapa is understo... and Chögyam Trungpa RinpocheIn Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, rinpoche, meaning “precious jewel,” is the honorific title for highly respected lamas (teachers), especially tulkus (enlightened teachers who have consciously taken rebirth for the benefit of others)., both great Tibetan teachers, and is now abbessAn abbot or abbess is the title of the superior of a monastery or convent. Some scholars and practitioners have used these titles to apply to the ranking monk or nun of a Buddhist monastic community as well. of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. In the Korean Zen tradition, Zen MasterBecause the Chan (Zen) tradition eschews traditional Buddhist textual, institutional, and ethical guides for the attainment of Buddhahood, the master has a critically important role in directing his or her students along the right path. The Japanese Zen t... Seung SahnMaster Seung Sahn, the 78th patriarch in his line of transmission in the Chogye order of Korean Buddhism, was the first Korean Zen Master to live and teach in the West. In 1972, he started the Providence Zen Center. A decade later, he formally organized t... made three of his American students Zen mastersBecause the Chan (Zen) tradition eschews traditional Buddhist textual, institutional, and ethical guides for the attainment of Buddhahood, the master has a critically important role in directing his or her students along the right path. The Japanese Zen t..., one of them is Barbara Rhodes, who has been a leading teacher at the Providence Zen Center.

These are just a few of the many women who have become influential teachers in the various streams of the Buddhist tradition in the United States. They are about the business of creating new kinds of Buddhist institutions in the United States. They have generated new organizational forms, such as retreats specifically for women, nationwide conferences on women and Buddhism, and journals such as Kahawai: A Journal of Women and Zen. And to some extent their style has given a freshness and immediacy to the language of Buddhist teaching and practice. Pema Chödrön’s book The Wisdom of No Escape, Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen, and Sharon Salzberg’sSharon Salzberg has been practicing vipassana meditation for over three decades. She is a founding member of Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and has taught meditation at Buddhist centers around the world. Her book Loving Kindness: the ... Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness all give hands-on, homespun Buddhist teachings woven from the idiom and substance of daily life. The “feminization” of Buddhism might well become one of the lasting characteristics of the distinctive new form of the Buddhist tradition taking shape in America.

Buddhist women in Asia, North America, and Europe have also established networks with one another in the past twenty-five years. One concern has been the ordinationOrdination means consecration to a priestly or monastic life. The term is used in the Buddhist tradition for the rites of becoming a monk (bhikkhu) or nun (bhikkhuni); in the Jewish tradition for the rites of becoming a rabbi; and in the Christian traditi... of women into full monasticA monk is a man who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ord... orders. On the whole, the leadership of Asian Buddhist traditions has been dominated by men, especially monks. According to tradition, women were admitted to the early sanghaThe Sangha is the community of monks or, more broadly, the community of Buddhists. To formally become a Buddhist, one takes refuge in the Three Treasures: the Buddha, Dharma (the Buddha’s teachings), and Sangha. In its widest sense, “sangha” refers ... by the BuddhaBuddha means “awakened one” and specifically refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama (traditional date, sixth c. BCE), the historical founder of the tradition that became known as Buddhism. All Buddhist traditions agree that ther..., but the order of Buddhist nunsA nun is a woman who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully or... died out in the TheravadaTheravada, literally “the way of the elders,” was one of the eighteen earliest sub-schools of Buddhism. Today, the term designates the various traditions of Buddhism most prominent in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Although these traditions differ in i... and Tibetan traditions. However monastic lineages for women did continue in most MahayanaMahayana, the “Great Vehicle,” is a form of Buddhism the originated in India and spread to Central and East Asia, encompassing schools in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. Its primary characteristics include a more supernatural view o... traditions and orders of nuns have persisted to the present primarily in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. In the 1980s a worldwide Buddhist women’s movement, the International Association of Buddhist Women, began bringing Buddhist women from both East and West together. The linking of the Buddhist women of America with Buddhist women throughout the world is sustained by NIBWA, the Newsletter on International Buddhist Women’s Activity, published by Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, professor of religion and philosophy at Thammasat University in Bangkok and a frequent speaker at U.S. Buddhist conferences. More recently, the 1st International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha met in Hamburg in 2007. The goal was to once and for all reestablish the ordination of nuns in those Buddhist traditions that had lost their nuns’A nun is a woman who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully or... lineages. However, ordinationsOrdination means consecration to a priestly or monastic life. The term is used in the Buddhist tradition for the rites of becoming a monk (bhikkhu) or nun (bhikkhuni); in the Jewish tradition for the rites of becoming a rabbi; and in the Christian traditi... of these nuns still remains controversial and is not accepted by all throughout the worldwide Buddhist community.


X
- Enter Your Location -
- or -