Friday, November 18, 2011

Women and Buddhism

AWAM (All Women's Action Society) has been conducting programs on the role of women in Malaysia's major religions. We looked forward to the  session on women and Buddhism, because we know virtually nothing of Buddhism.

The presenters were two Buddhist nuns. Sonam Wangmo (Sramaneri Tenzin Dadon), from Bhutan, is a PhD candidate at the University of Malaya, where she is studying the status of Bhutanese nuns. Sramaneri Karma Tashi Choedron received her PhD in Environment and Resource Studies. The facilitators started with a brief overview of Buddhism.
Karma (left) and Sonam
We began by writing and posting a word or phrase to describe what Buddhism meant to us. One person wrote "chanting, chanting, chanting." The presentation never got around to the role of chanting, but a lot of other information was shared. The presenters described the gist of Buddhism as: "do good, avoid evil, purify the mind, that is the teaching of all Buddhas (enlightened ones)." A story that resonated had the morale of the need to rid oneself of the baggage of obsessing about the past and the future. The beliefs we associate with Buddhism were noted throughout the presentation. Here are some highlights: eradicating the poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion; non-violence, karma and rebirth, and non-self (emptiness of self).

In regard to non-self I was interested if Karma has retained her interest and commitment to environmental issues. When I asked I learned that she and other nuns need to be self-supporting. Since as a nun she leads a simple life, she can earn enough by working a few weeks a year.

One question that I didn't ask was whether Buddhists believed in a god. I received a note from a friend that all she knew about Buddhism is that "like the Hinduism Buddhism has millions of gods." Through Googling I learned that believing in a god is not a core belief of Buddhism. And the belief in million of gods is unlikely.

The theme of the program was the role of women in Buddhism. The need for a nun to show respect to any monk without respect to age or time in monastic life seemed to particularly grate. Very little Googling will lead to more information on women and Buddhism; also reading the biographies of the presenters a conference of Buddhism women suggests the richness of their individual lives.

During lunch I learned how incredible the idea of heaven and hell is to a person who has been raised in a tradition of birth and rebirth. Learning about another religion isn't unlikely to cause one to join up. The other lunch conversation was about caring for aging relatives - a challenge to families which are spread all over the globe.

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