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Sexism in the Sangha

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  • Jeffrey Brooks
    While many of us are seeking an engaged Buddhism, perhaps we should consider how engaged or religion or tradition is. There is a long history sexism in the
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 22 6:38 PM
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      While many of us are seeking an engaged Buddhism,
      perhaps we should consider how "engaged" or religion
      or tradition is. There is a long history sexism in
      the sangha, and as we Westerners embrace Buddhism, it
      seems that we should reflect upon the deeper issues
      within Buddhism that are revealed in its history with
      women. I hope you enjoy this article.

      Kindest regards,

      Jeff Brooks


      Binara Poya and the Bhikkuni Order

      by D. Amarasiri Weeraratne


      Binara Poya commemorates the inauguration of the
      Bhikkuni Sasana by the Buddha. The Vinaya Chullavagga
      account says that the Buddha's maternal aunt who was
      also his foster mother came forward with a band of
      Sakyan ladies and asked the Buddha for ordination in
      the Bhikkuni Sangha.

      The Vinaya account says they were refused three times.
      At a fourth attempt the pleading of Ven. Ananda on
      behalf of the women made the Buddha to withdraw his
      objections. He consented to ordain the women and
      establish the Bhikkuni Order for women renunciates.
      However, the Vinaya account says the Buddha expressed
      dismay and said that as a result of this concession to
      women the duration of his doctrine (saddhamma) would
      be reduced by half. It would end after 500 years.

      Also on this occasion the Buddha is reported to have
      made some antifeminist remarks, e.g. "women are full
      of jealousy, incapable of balanced and objective
      judgement, and hence are not fit to be Buddhas or
      judges in courts of law".

      Obviously these fantastic absurdities have been
      concocted and planted in the Vinaya text by
      male-chauvinist compilers of the Chullavagga-texts.
      Sensible and critical minded Buddhists who are capable
      of winnowing the chaff from the grain will not be
      duped by such fabrications which damage the image of
      the Buddha who was a humanist and emancipator of women
      from the prejudices entrenched in the Brahminical lore
      and tradition of his milieu. However once established
      the Bhikkuni Order proved to be a phenomenal success.

      It liberated women from the shackles placed on them by
      the Brahmin social theory. The founder of Jainism - a
      senior contemporary of the Buddha - had inaugurated a
      Jain order of nuns, and it was well received and doing
      well. So there was no valid reason for the Buddha to
      express misgivings and make a false prophecy about the
      life-span of his religion. The shallow remarks
      attributed to the Buddha in the text are typical of
      the male-chauvinist elements prevalent among the
      obscurantist conservatives in the Sangha.

      Under the Buddha the Bhikkunis were treated in an
      egalitarian manner. Portions in the Sasana were given
      to the nuns in an even- handed manner. Due recognition
      and praise was given to deserving nuns. They compiled
      the Therigatha (Psalms of the Sisters).

      First Council

      At the First Council after the demise of the Buddha
      the male chauvinist monks had the day. They censored
      Ven. Ananda for pleading on behalf of women to the
      Buddha. They faulted him for showing the Buddha's
      corpse to women before men could see it.

      They drew up the abominable Eight Strict Rules
      (ashta-Garu Dhamma) and included them in the Vinaya
      texts in the name of the Buddha. They also recorded
      that the Buddha turned down an appeal by the Bhikkuni
      leader (Pajapati Gotami) against the first Garu Dhamma
      - which damns nuns to eternal servitude and
      subordination to even junior monks.

      However the Bhikkuni Order founded by the Buddha
      survived till the reign of King Asoka and King
      Kanishka in Buddhist India. Sanghamitta led a Bhikkuni
      mission to Sri Lanka and founded the Sinhalese
      Bhikkuni Order at Anuradhapura.

      It flourished for 1200 years and withered away after
      the Cholian invasion in 1017 AD. Whatever was left was
      exterminated at the invasion by Magha of Kalinga.

      However before its extermination in Sri Lanka the
      Bhikkuni Order was taken to China by a team of
      Bhikkunis who went there by ship in AD 439.

      Mission to China

      Details of the Bhikkuni mission to China, and the
      revamping of the Chinese Bhikkuni Order by them are
      recorded in a Chinese classic called "Pi-chu-mi-Chan"
      - Biographies of Buddhist Nuns. An English translation
      was published by the Kyoto University-Japan. A
      Sinhalese translation was published by Dr. (Mrs) Hema
      Gunatilleka, who went to China and studied the
      Bhikkuni Order there.

      Apart from Sri Lanka, the Theravada Bhikkuni Sasana
      was not established anywhere else. That's because in
      the backward cultures of South East Asia the position
      of women was weak and poor. The Bhikkuni Order cannot
      function in countries where women's rights are not
      recognised and appreciated.

      The Bhikkuni Order which became defunct at the end of
      the Anuradhapura period was never succeeded nor any
      attempt made to revive it. That is because during the
      Polonnaruwa period Sinhalese Buddhism became an
      admixture of Buddhism and Tamil Hinduism. The adoption
      of the caste system, worship of Hindu gods,
      downgrading of women in terms of the Manu laws became
      the order of the day. No woman was allowed to renounce
      the lay life, wear the yellow robes and live the holy
      life of a Bhikkuni in a nunnery - observing even the
      Dasa Sila of novices.

      Under British rule

      In 1815 Sri Lanka came under British rule after the
      last Sinhalese King was shamelessly betrayed to them.
      The British gave the people democratic rights, civil
      liberties and religious freedom. Under them the so
      called low-castes managed to go to Burma and get
      ordained as Bhikkus.

      These monks came back to Lanka and set up the
      Amarapura and Ramanna sects which permitted ordination
      of "low-castes". Similarly Miss Catherene de Alwis
      Gunatillake, a close relative of Sir James Alwis and
      Maha-Muddaliyar Solomon Dias Bandaranaike - went to
      Burma in the company of Burmese pilgrims who had come
      to Lanka and there she sought ordination as a junior
      Buddhist Nun, (samaneri) observing Ten precepts. She
      was received right royally, ordained and trained
      there. She came back to Sri Lanka in 1903 and founded
      the Dasa-Sil-Mata- order of Buddhist Nuns (DSM).

      The governor Sir Henry Blake, Sir D.B. Jayatillaka,
      Anagarika Dharmapala and other Buddhist leaders
      supported her. They built a nunnery for her at
      Katukelle, Kandy.

      DSM order

      Thus was founded the DSM order which represented the
      Bhikkunis of old. Women from many parts of the island
      came to her for ordination. She ordained, trained them
      and sent them to outstations. Philanthrophists and
      wealthy Buddhists built and offered nunneries to them.
      Today there are some 2500 of them.

      Revivalist pioneers

      The first person in modern times to advocate the
      revival of the defunct Bhikkuni Sasana was Anagarika
      Dharmapala. He opened a nunnery at Darley Lane,
      Colombo with two European and five Dasa Sil Upasikas.
      Two years later he departed to India and his nunnery
      was closed down. Catherene de Alwis (ordained as
      Sudharmacharini in Burma) took up from where he left.

      In 1952 Ven. Narawela Dhammaratana of the Vidyalankara
      University led a peace delegation to Peking, China.
      After his conference he took time to study the
      Bhikkuni order in China, its history and validity in
      terms of the Dharma-Vinaya. He found it eminently
      suitable to revive the Bhikkuni Sasana in Lanka by
      getting them to ordain a batch of our Dasa-Sil-Matas.

      He advocated this in his popular work- "Lankave
      Iranama" published by M.D. Gunasena and Co. He
      organised a centre for training DSM Nuns for Bhikkuni
      ordination. His untimely death disrupted his programme
      of work. Scholars like Dr. G.P. Malalasekera,
      Henpitagedera Gnanaseeha, Walpola Rahula, Ven.
      Balangoda Ananda Maitreya. Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasara
      and Rev. Inamaluve Sumangala, Pandit Talalle
      Dhammaloka etc pursued the issue. Mr. J.R. Jayewardene
      when President sent a Buddhist delegation to China to
      study and report on the feasibility. The report of the
      delegation went into cold-storage due to the JVP
      insurrection and the anarchy that prevailed.

      After normality returned after the collapse of the
      insurrection, Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasara, Rector of
      the Parama Dhamma Seminary, Ratmalana with the
      assistance of a band of like-minded Theras revived the
      Bhikkuni order in Sri Lanka at Buddha-Gaya, India with
      the assistance of the Fo-Guang-Shan Buddhist Mission,
      Taiwan. A beautiful souvenir was published giving all
      details and photographs of this historic ceremony.

      Ven. Inamaluve Sumangala took up the continuance of
      annual ordinations at his Rangiri Dambulla historic
      temple. He continues his good work. Now there are some
      300 fully ordained Bhikkunis in Sri Lanka living in
      their nunneries.

      Repercussions in Thailand

      Thailand (Siam) has never had a Bhikkuni order: Due to
      contact and close relations between Sri Lanka and
      Thailand in the recent past, a start has been made in
      reviving the Bhikkuni order in Thailand. Wat Song
      Dharma Kalyani-is the newly founded nunnery at Nakhorn
      Pathom where Dr. (Mrs.) Chatsumarn Kabilsingh has
      formed the nucleus of the Bhikkuni order there.

      The senate of the Thailand Parliament has appointed a
      committee to study and report the feasibility of
      reviving the Bhikkuni order in that land.

      The Sangaraja of Cambodia is a supporter of the
      revival of the Bhikkuni order. He has attended some of
      the bhikkuni Ordinations in Saranath, Buddha-Gaya and
      Dambulla.

      Similarly the Dalai Lama is sympathetic to the revival
      of the Bhikkuni order in the Tibetan tradition of
      Buddhism. Already there are Bhikkunis in the Tibetan
      tradition of Buddhist Nuns among their diaspora.

      Therefore when we commemorate the establishment of the
      Bhikkuni Sasana on the Binara Poya day by the Buddha
      in India, we should also recall its vicissitudes down
      the ages, and resolve to support and welcome its
      expansion in the modern world with its premium on
      human rights which includes the rights of women in all
      spheres of human activity.

      __________________________________
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    • Amida
      I have just got back from a round world trip visiting Buddhist groups in a number of countries. My impression, broadly is that the West is more sectarian and
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 23 1:55 AM
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        I have just got back from a round world trip visiting Buddhist groups in a
        number of countries. My impression, broadly is that the West is more
        sectarian and less sexist and the East is more sexist and less sectarian.

        One hopes that the Buddhism of the future may have less of either of these
        isms, but the danger is that they catch our disease and we catch theirs.

        May enlightenment prevail.

        Namo Buddhaya
        Dharmavidya

        > While many of us are seeking an engaged Buddhism,
        > perhaps we should consider how "engaged" or religion
        > or tradition is. There is a long history sexism in
        > the sangha, and as we Westerners embrace Buddhism, it
        > seems that we should reflect upon the deeper issues
        > within Buddhism that are revealed in its history with
        > women. I hope you enjoy this article.
        >
        > Kindest regards,
        >
        > Jeff Brooks
        >
        >
        > Binara Poya and the Bhikkuni Order
        >
        > by D. Amarasiri Weeraratne
        >
        >
        > Binara Poya commemorates the inauguration of the
        > Bhikkuni Sasana by the Buddha. The Vinaya Chullavagga
        > account says that the Buddha's maternal aunt who was
        > also his foster mother came forward with a band of
        > Sakyan ladies and asked the Buddha for ordination in
        > the Bhikkuni Sangha.
        >
        > The Vinaya account says they were refused three times.
        > At a fourth attempt the pleading of Ven. Ananda on
        > behalf of the women made the Buddha to withdraw his
        > objections. He consented to ordain the women and
        > establish the Bhikkuni Order for women renunciates.
        > However, the Vinaya account says the Buddha expressed
        > dismay and said that as a result of this concession to
        > women the duration of his doctrine (saddhamma) would
        > be reduced by half. It would end after 500 years.
        >
        > Also on this occasion the Buddha is reported to have
        > made some antifeminist remarks, e.g. "women are full
        > of jealousy, incapable of balanced and objective
        > judgement, and hence are not fit to be Buddhas or
        > judges in courts of law".
        >
        > Obviously these fantastic absurdities have been
        > concocted and planted in the Vinaya text by
        > male-chauvinist compilers of the Chullavagga-texts.
        > Sensible and critical minded Buddhists who are capable
        > of winnowing the chaff from the grain will not be
        > duped by such fabrications which damage the image of
        > the Buddha who was a humanist and emancipator of women
        > from the prejudices entrenched in the Brahminical lore
        > and tradition of his milieu. However once established
        > the Bhikkuni Order proved to be a phenomenal success.
        >
        > It liberated women from the shackles placed on them by
        > the Brahmin social theory. The founder of Jainism - a
        > senior contemporary of the Buddha - had inaugurated a
        > Jain order of nuns, and it was well received and doing
        > well. So there was no valid reason for the Buddha to
        > express misgivings and make a false prophecy about the
        > life-span of his religion. The shallow remarks
        > attributed to the Buddha in the text are typical of
        > the male-chauvinist elements prevalent among the
        > obscurantist conservatives in the Sangha.
        >
        > Under the Buddha the Bhikkunis were treated in an
        > egalitarian manner. Portions in the Sasana were given
        > to the nuns in an even- handed manner. Due recognition
        > and praise was given to deserving nuns. They compiled
        > the Therigatha (Psalms of the Sisters).
        >
        > First Council
        >
        > At the First Council after the demise of the Buddha
        > the male chauvinist monks had the day. They censored
        > Ven. Ananda for pleading on behalf of women to the
        > Buddha. They faulted him for showing the Buddha's
        > corpse to women before men could see it.
        >
        > They drew up the abominable Eight Strict Rules
        > (ashta-Garu Dhamma) and included them in the Vinaya
        > texts in the name of the Buddha. They also recorded
        > that the Buddha turned down an appeal by the Bhikkuni
        > leader (Pajapati Gotami) against the first Garu Dhamma
        > - which damns nuns to eternal servitude and
        > subordination to even junior monks.
        >
        > However the Bhikkuni Order founded by the Buddha
        > survived till the reign of King Asoka and King
        > Kanishka in Buddhist India. Sanghamitta led a Bhikkuni
        > mission to Sri Lanka and founded the Sinhalese
        > Bhikkuni Order at Anuradhapura.
        >
        > It flourished for 1200 years and withered away after
        > the Cholian invasion in 1017 AD. Whatever was left was
        > exterminated at the invasion by Magha of Kalinga.
        >
        > However before its extermination in Sri Lanka the
        > Bhikkuni Order was taken to China by a team of
        > Bhikkunis who went there by ship in AD 439.
        >
        > Mission to China
        >
        > Details of the Bhikkuni mission to China, and the
        > revamping of the Chinese Bhikkuni Order by them are
        > recorded in a Chinese classic called "Pi-chu-mi-Chan"
        > - Biographies of Buddhist Nuns. An English translation
        > was published by the Kyoto University-Japan. A
        > Sinhalese translation was published by Dr. (Mrs) Hema
        > Gunatilleka, who went to China and studied the
        > Bhikkuni Order there.
        >
        > Apart from Sri Lanka, the Theravada Bhikkuni Sasana
        > was not established anywhere else. That's because in
        > the backward cultures of South East Asia the position
        > of women was weak and poor. The Bhikkuni Order cannot
        > function in countries where women's rights are not
        > recognised and appreciated.
        >
        > The Bhikkuni Order which became defunct at the end of
        > the Anuradhapura period was never succeeded nor any
        > attempt made to revive it. That is because during the
        > Polonnaruwa period Sinhalese Buddhism became an
        > admixture of Buddhism and Tamil Hinduism. The adoption
        > of the caste system, worship of Hindu gods,
        > downgrading of women in terms of the Manu laws became
        > the order of the day. No woman was allowed to renounce
        > the lay life, wear the yellow robes and live the holy
        > life of a Bhikkuni in a nunnery - observing even the
        > Dasa Sila of novices.
        >
        > Under British rule
        >
        > In 1815 Sri Lanka came under British rule after the
        > last Sinhalese King was shamelessly betrayed to them.
        > The British gave the people democratic rights, civil
        > liberties and religious freedom. Under them the so
        > called low-castes managed to go to Burma and get
        > ordained as Bhikkus.
        >
        > These monks came back to Lanka and set up the
        > Amarapura and Ramanna sects which permitted ordination
        > of "low-castes". Similarly Miss Catherene de Alwis
        > Gunatillake, a close relative of Sir James Alwis and
        > Maha-Muddaliyar Solomon Dias Bandaranaike - went to
        > Burma in the company of Burmese pilgrims who had come
        > to Lanka and there she sought ordination as a junior
        > Buddhist Nun, (samaneri) observing Ten precepts. She
        > was received right royally, ordained and trained
        > there. She came back to Sri Lanka in 1903 and founded
        > the Dasa-Sil-Mata- order of Buddhist Nuns (DSM).
        >
        > The governor Sir Henry Blake, Sir D.B. Jayatillaka,
        > Anagarika Dharmapala and other Buddhist leaders
        > supported her. They built a nunnery for her at
        > Katukelle, Kandy.
        >
        > DSM order
        >
        > Thus was founded the DSM order which represented the
        > Bhikkunis of old. Women from many parts of the island
        > came to her for ordination. She ordained, trained them
        > and sent them to outstations. Philanthrophists and
        > wealthy Buddhists built and offered nunneries to them.
        > Today there are some 2500 of them.
        >
        > Revivalist pioneers
        >
        > The first person in modern times to advocate the
        > revival of the defunct Bhikkuni Sasana was Anagarika
        > Dharmapala. He opened a nunnery at Darley Lane,
        > Colombo with two European and five Dasa Sil Upasikas.
        > Two years later he departed to India and his nunnery
        > was closed down. Catherene de Alwis (ordained as
        > Sudharmacharini in Burma) took up from where he left.
        >
        > In 1952 Ven. Narawela Dhammaratana of the Vidyalankara
        > University led a peace delegation to Peking, China.
        > After his conference he took time to study the
        > Bhikkuni order in China, its history and validity in
        > terms of the Dharma-Vinaya. He found it eminently
        > suitable to revive the Bhikkuni Sasana in Lanka by
        > getting them to ordain a batch of our Dasa-Sil-Matas.
        >
        > He advocated this in his popular work- "Lankave
        > Iranama" published by M.D. Gunasena and Co. He
        > organised a centre for training DSM Nuns for Bhikkuni
        > ordination. His untimely death disrupted his programme
        > of work. Scholars like Dr. G.P. Malalasekera,
        > Henpitagedera Gnanaseeha, Walpola Rahula, Ven.
        > Balangoda Ananda Maitreya. Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasara
        > and Rev. Inamaluve Sumangala, Pandit Talalle
        > Dhammaloka etc pursued the issue. Mr. J.R. Jayewardene
        > when President sent a Buddhist delegation to China to
        > study and report on the feasibility. The report of the
        > delegation went into cold-storage due to the JVP
        > insurrection and the anarchy that prevailed.
        >
        > After normality returned after the collapse of the
        > insurrection, Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasara, Rector of
        > the Parama Dhamma Seminary, Ratmalana with the
        > assistance of a band of like-minded Theras revived the
        > Bhikkuni order in Sri Lanka at Buddha-Gaya, India with
        > the assistance of the Fo-Guang-Shan Buddhist Mission,
        > Taiwan. A beautiful souvenir was published giving all
        > details and photographs of this historic ceremony.
        >
        > Ven. Inamaluve Sumangala took up the continuance of
        > annual ordinations at his Rangiri Dambulla historic
        > temple. He continues his good work. Now there are some
        > 300 fully ordained Bhikkunis in Sri Lanka living in
        > their nunneries.
        >
        > Repercussions in Thailand
        >
        > Thailand (Siam) has never had a Bhikkuni order: Due to
        > contact and close relations between Sri Lanka and
        > Thailand in the recent past, a start has been made in
        > reviving the Bhikkuni order in Thailand. Wat Song
        > Dharma Kalyani-is the newly founded nunnery at Nakhorn
        > Pathom where Dr. (Mrs.) Chatsumarn Kabilsingh has
        > formed the nucleus of the Bhikkuni order there.
        >
        > The senate of the Thailand Parliament has appointed a
        > committee to study and report the feasibility of
        > reviving the Bhikkuni order in that land.
        >
        > The Sangaraja of Cambodia is a supporter of the
        > revival of the Bhikkuni order. He has attended some of
        > the bhikkuni Ordinations in Saranath, Buddha-Gaya and
        > Dambulla.
        >
        > Similarly the Dalai Lama is sympathetic to the revival
        > of the Bhikkuni order in the Tibetan tradition of
        > Buddhism. Already there are Bhikkunis in the Tibetan
        > tradition of Buddhist Nuns among their diaspora.
        >
        > Therefore when we commemorate the establishment of the
        > Bhikkuni Sasana on the Binara Poya day by the Buddha
        > in India, we should also recall its vicissitudes down
        > the ages, and resolve to support and welcome its
        > expansion in the modern world with its premium on
        > human rights which includes the rights of women in all
        > spheres of human activity.
        >
        > __________________________________
        > Do you Yahoo!?
        > Yahoo! Finance Tax Center - File online. File on time.
        > http://taxes.yahoo.com/filing.html
        >
        >
        >
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        --
        Amida
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