The Historical Influence of Women in Buddhism

Tashi delek , everyone!

I’m writing this post with good news! The lama has decided that he will visit our village! Everyone is very excited over the prospect. We all are partaking in the preparations for his arrival, so traditional offerings such as food, chalk drawings of the eight auspicious symbols and tormas are needed. I mentioned some of these preparations in my last journal entry before we knew whether or not the lama was coming, and now that we know for sure, we will definitely need to start them! There’s excitement bubbling in the village already! Everyone has a role to fulfill but we are all looking forward to the event.

The lama’s visit to our village has come in a very opportune time. Our village and the nearby one have suffered some tragedies, including lost crops and injuries. I was devastated to learn of some of the tragic casualties that occurred both in our area and our neighbours. I suddenly remembered one night when I could not sleep, from when I read some of Tsele Natsok Rangdröl’s works on the intermediate state between living and dying, which focuses on how the elements that parallel the body’s physical failure as one approaches their death. Once all the five elements, five winds, and sense-faculties stop working, the person also stops breathing and eventually passes on. I know that one day we will all die, that the time is undetermined and we cannot know for sure when that happens, but the thought of it is still very daunting. I hope that the lama who is coming to visit will be able to advise us on some of the steps we can take to bring better fortune to our small village, and perhaps ways we can improve ourselves so that such disaster will not strike us, at least not in this magnitude, in the future again.

On another separate note, I wanted to talk about the important contributions of women in Buddhist culture today. This was brought on by a particular dream I had last night, from a faint memory of reading stories with my mother when I was a very young girl. I dreamt of the story of Mahapajapati Gotami, who was the Buddha’s adoptive mother after the Buddha’s mother died, and the first Buddhist nun to be ordained.

She became a bhikkhuni after she accepted the 8 Conditions, which are the additional conditions of the bhikkhu vinaya that bhikkhuni must follow to be ordained. In the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha, which is the Bhikkhuni’s Code of Discipline, there are 181 rules that both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis share and then there are an additional 131 rules that are specific to bhikkhunis. There are several reasons for these rules, and it is to protect bhikkhunis from abuse or becoming in servitude, and from complaints after a bhikkhu’s specific behaviour, or others.

I also read of another early bhikhuni, Patacara, who saw great sorrow and suffered from the deaths of her children and family. Patacara wrote a poem on her process of enlightenment, where she focuses on events that are seen many times in Buddhist literature on reaching enlightenment. These events include a time of intense concentration, followed by relaxation, and then finally an external catalyst that allows one to reach their enlightenment. In Patacara’s poem, she describes the lamp going out, and her “mind was freed”. In the time period that Patacara lived in, women did not have many freedoms at all. They were not allowed to do many actions as a result of the societal norms of the era. Nevertheless, the order of nuns gave the women more freedom in that they could have influence over other women in their order or over laywomen. While the nuns also had more rules in place than monks, they were also given more freedom in this respect than a laywoman’s role in a layman’s society.

In our village right now, the nuns live in the monastery that I also reside in. I’m a scholar but I am not a nun. I find it very nice here in the monastery as it is quiet and perfect for my research. I keep myself busy with my work. I’ve mentioned this briefly before, but I am working towards researching specific passages in the Pali Canon. I like to help out with the housework in the monastery in my free time, especially since my husband is often away working (such as when he was in the next village helping to heal the sick). We all get along well in the monastery, and we each have own work to do.

I can hear one of the nuns calling me now! I believe she is calling me to help her some work in the library. There are still lots to do in preparation for the lama’s arrival. I will keep you updated on the lama’s visit next week. Until then, I must say goodbye!

Chagpo nang (Take care),


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