Tea House

Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends

Tag: women

Exploration and Freedom: Womanhood, Relationships, and Love

Making women’s issues more visible is not just about putting more females in positions of religious authority, like fully ordained bhikkhunis. It is about discussing and acting out ways of relating and loving that women feel liberated by and unleash everyone’s potential to provide fulfillment, satisfaction, and even enlightenment for others. When it comes to the thorny subject of love, I want to look at relationships beyond the simple dichotomy of non-attachment or pure passion and possession. Life is not so simple and I firmly believe that Buddhism understands this.

I was struck and inspired by a post from fellow blogger Lyudmila Klasanova, which was about the “Dharmodaya”: a sacred tetrahedron that symbolizes the female reproductive organ and the source of wisdom and birth.

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Sakyadhita in Hong Kong: Confluences and Reunions

From 22-28 June, The University of Hong Kong hosted the largest ever event to do with Buddhist women in the city. This could only have been done through Sakyadhita, whose tireless volunteers worked in tandem with our friends at the Centre of Buddhist Studies to bring an impressively diverse and intellectually enriching symposium about Buddhist women’s interests in this busy metropolis, which despite its prosperity and fast-paced life cries out for spiritual ideas and possibilities. It was, of course, also a delight for attendees to reunite with academics, meditators, and Venerables who have been regulars at previous biannual conferences over the decades.

Nuns at the Big Buddha, Hong Kong. Photo by Olivier Adam

Throughout its history, Sakyadhita’s conferences have been held mostly in Asia, and most of these Asian countries, save for some pockets of liberal or progressive thought, are “traditional” – very strictly patriarchal, non-egalitarian, and socially conservative. The Buddhist establishment in some of these countries might be indifferent or even antagonistic to the idea of women assuming higher positions of authority in the Buddhist religion, and this includes bhikkhuni ordination.

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Embodied Women

What does it mean to be a woman in the Buddhist tradition? To me, even a question as important as bhikkhuni ordination in the Theravada and Vajrayana schools is not as basic as the question of “the woman” in Buddhism. Nor am I convinced that gender is inconsequential to conventional Buddhist life just because gender is illusory at the ultimate level. Our society is gendered and we operate on gender as much as we use conventional illusions like “I” or “you.”

I’m not so much reflecting on the activist side of things, important though that is in winning more equitable circumstances for women. What I wonder more is how do women, as the Other in a mostly androcentric world, manoeuvre as embodied beings in the Buddhist world of monasteries, temples, charitable organizations, and university institutes?

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I was Siddhartha’s Mother

They carried me into the forest.
The sal trees, shaken by our clamour
Showered small soft flowers on us.
The trees’ slender trunks rose column-like
Into the leaves, and everywhere, that scent.

He was born on a floor of petals.

Later, he will talk about impermanence:
Bodies are flowers, fading.
Faded, the newborn.

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Tears of Tara

Lyudmila Klasanova

White Tara. Drawing by the author

In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Tara is a complex figure that integrates mythical and historical threads and combines different functions. She is presented as a female aspect of Buddha and a symbol of unlimited compassion. The goddess protects humanity and saves people from dangers, protects them from fears, and helps fulfil their wishes. Her compassion to all sentient beings as well as her aspirations to save them from the suffering are described as stronger than a mother’s love for her own child.

Tara is among the most popular deities in the Buddhist world and among the most revered goddesses in Himalayan traditions. She is an object of worship not only for Buddhist monks and nuns, but also for lay Buddhists who invoke her to achieve material prosperity, spiritual healing, and liberation from all kinds of suffering.

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Homage to the Primordial Wisdom Dakini

Lyudmila Klasanova

A dakini is one of the most remarkable manifestations of the Buddha nature in female form. In Buddhist tradition, dakinis are worshiped as human emanations of wisdom that keep the key to the esoteric knowledge of Vajrayana and reveal the path to complete freedom. The term was originally associated with secondary figures in the entourage of the deities of local traditions of India. In classical Sanskrit texts, dakinis are described mostly as hostile demonic creatures inhabiting sinister and secluded areas or places of cremation. Such spaces are considered sacred because of the opportunity they provide for inner contemplation and spiritual realization.

Dakini Vajravarahi. Drawing by the author.

The change in the adoption of the figure of a dakini occured under the influence of Buddhist meditative schools (6th-7th century), as a result of which they begin to be venerated as protectors of meditation and spiritual guide who help in removing illusions. The way they are accepted in Tibetan Buddhism is completely different and this is expressed very well in their Tibetan name khandroma, which translates usually as “a woman, who is walking, flying or dancing in the sky”. In the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, khandroma is a symbol of the sky, which is all-embracing, like emptiness. She is the one who reveals the truth about the emptiness of all phenomena and moves blissfully in boundless space of emptiness.

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