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History of Sakyadhita Australia 1987 -2021

1987:   The first Sakyadhita International Conference was held in Bodhgaya.  The late Ven. Ayya Khema, a German-born Australian nun based in Sri Lanka, helped co-ordinate the inaugural conference and became a founding member.  The conference addressed systemic disadvantages experienced by Buddhist nuns for centuries with a particular focus on the reintroduction of the bhikkuni ordination in those countries where the ordination had either died out, such as Sri Lanka, or had never been introduced, such as Tibet.  

1989: Ven Chi Kwang Sunim, an Australian nun living in Korea, responded to the request of Ven. Lekshe Tsomo, (Chair of Sakyadhita International) and organised a one day conference in Los Angeles. This established the initial interest in creating national branches.

1991:  Ven. Chi Kwang Sunim helped coordinate the second Sakyadhita Conference at the Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand. She accompanied and translated for the first Korean delegation as well as later delegations of Korean nuns to Sakyadhita International conferences.

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1992-93:  Australian resident, Mrs Ranjani de Silva, was another founding member of Sakyadhita Australia.  She established Sakyadhita Sri Lanka  in 1992 and organised the Sakyadhita International Conference in Colombo that year which was attended by 600 people.  Ranjani was elected International President in 1995 and served in that role until 2000.

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1993–2013: Australian Buddhist women continued to attend the biennial Sakyadhita International conferences. The 2013 International Conference ‘Buddhism at  the Grassroots’  was held in Vaishali, India.  Dr Anna Halafoff and Dr Di Cousens were among those who gave papers. At this Conference the idea of Sakyadhita Australia was discussed amongst the  few Australian participants and it was suggested to have a follow-up meeting once we were all back in Melbourne.


On 3rd March 2013 a meeting was held at the Buddhist Society of Victoria to explore the possibility of establishing an Australian chapter of Sakyadhita International.  Those attending were:   Dr Anna Halafoff, Dr Diana Cousens, Judith Macdonald, Ranjani de Silva, Helen Richardson and Venerable Bhikkhu Jaganatha , the resident monk at the BSV at the time.  Various issues were discussed and the suggestion was made to work in conjunction with the Australian Association of Buddhist Studies and other academic  links.  The objectives of other Sakyadhita national organisations were discussed and the need to work on objectives for the Australian context, also the role of the ordained sangha in future planning.

Unfortunately due to other commitments on the part of the meeting attendees, the idea to form a Sakyadhita Australia was not carried forward.

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2015: The 14th International Conference ‘Compassion and Social Justice’ was held in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, in June.  Australians Dr Di Cousens, Thich Nu Phuoc Uyen and Bhikku Sujato gave papers.  The latter giving a call to nuns to step up “The future belongs to you” was his stirring message. Ven Ajahn Brahm also gave a moving evening keynote address on his role in Australia in the reinstatement of the Theravadan Bhikkhuni sangha and the personal repercussions. Dr Anna Halafoff was unable to attend but was a co-author on a paper with two others.


Perhaps due to its proximity to Australia there was a large contingent of Australian attendees, enough to give energy to the aspiration of forming a Sakyadhita Australia.  Several meetings were called during the Conference and with the added interest it was decided to establish a national chapter of the organisation. An interim committee was set up to explore the possibilities and lay the foundations.  Discussion centred around producing a brochure and making it available at the forth coming Perth Buddhism Conference.  Vicky McClafferty from Perth agreed to liaise with the committee on the brochure.


The first meeting of this committee on Australian soil was held  in August 2015 Participants were:  Ven Chi Kwang Sunim, Dr Di Cousens, Helen Richardson, Judith Macdonald and Justine McGill who had worked closely with Bhante Sujato on his book  “White Bones, Red Rot, Black Snakes”, an examination of the portrayal of the feminine in early Buddhism.………

The primary question to be addressed was, ‘Why have a Sakyadhita Australia?’ This resulted in lively discussion and eventually the formulation of the  aims and objectives  (See Addendum).


2016 : What followed in 2016 was a busy and productive period in the formation of Sakyadhita Australia..   Contact was made with the office of Sakyadhita International to ask about the procedure for becoming affiliated with the international body.  Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo sent this encouraging message:  "We hope you will work closely with Buddhist women from many backgrounds and traditions to develop a robust, effective, and harmonious organization to benefit countless sentient beings!"


Whilst this recognition was given by Sakyadhita International it was not the same as affiliation which required extensive paperwork and did not come until a year later. Advice had also been sought as to ways to get such an organisation ‘off the ground’.  Accordingly, the decision was made to begin with a Facebook page, as an accessible, low cost way to communicate with Buddhist women throughout Australia and internationally.


 Forming a viable organisation from the ground up was time-consuming.  The following could be seen as the “achievements” of that period:

  • Application was made to Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) for registration as an incorporated body.  This entailed meeting set requirements such as audited financial reports and holding regular AGMs according to the Model Rules.

  • Promotion material was created including a brochure (with a logo) and membership form.

  • A bank account was set up with the Bendigo Bank.

  • A Google email account was opened.

  • Plans for a website were made.

  • A Facebook page for Sakyadhita Oz was up and running and provided a very useful way to communicate events, resources and news.

  • Community outreach was conducted especially visiting temples and sangha from the multicultural community.

  • Publicity about the existence of Sakyadhita Australia was circulated to all Buddhist temples and centres throughout Australia.

  • An information stall was held at the International Wesak Day event in the Melbourne Town Hall.

  • And finally, there was extensive planning for the launch of Sakyadhita Australia at the Inaugural AGM.


The Inaugural General Meeting of the newly formed Sakyadhita Australia was held at the Buddhist Society of Victoria in Melbourne on 18 June 2016.   About 50 Buddhist women and seven nuns came together from four Australian states to participate in the Inaugural GM as well as a weekend  of workshops and panels. The Interim Committee had laid the groundwork for incorporated status and had also developed a brochure and membership materials. The Sunday launch day was a great success. The keynote speaker was Ven. Chi Kwang Sunim who spoke on the early influences of Buddhism in Australia. It was a very full program, with meditation, a Dana lunch, the first AGM and a number of workshops discussing pertinent issues.


The first committee was formalised at the meeting, with Dr Di Cousens (Vic) elected as President and Treasurer, Professor Suzanne Franzway (SA) as Vice-President, and Judith Macdonald as Secretary.  Committee members were: Rani Hughes, Helen Richardson, Lydia Brown, and Helen Kemp (NSW).  It was a great satisfaction to all involved that the extensive work required to establish Sakyadhita Australia had been successful and that women from many Buddhist traditions could now unite under the umbrella of Sakyadhita Australia.


The meeting viewed an online welcome message from Sakyadhita International President Jetsu Tenzin Palmo who said,

"I am delighted to hear that a new chapter of Sakyadhita is about to be established in Australia, that's really very, very good news. ... Australia has an important role to play as a bridge between Asia and the West and especially in Buddhist circles it's very  important that women have an increasingly strong voice in their understanding of how the Dharma can really benefit us in our daily life and in the world around us. Up until now, as we know, women's voices have been quite muted in the Buddhist world, so this is a very important step forward for all of us. Sakyadhita is unique - because it is the one organisation run for and by women and also it is totally non-sectarian within the Buddhist world; intended for monastics and lay people alike. I hope you will be able to support each other and think of innovative ways to go forward and really promote the Dharma in the world today which has never needed it more, than it does right now! Thank you, thank you very much."


Other business included the unanimous approval of the aims and objectives of Sakyadhita Australia and the acceptance of the Model Rules from CAV for running an incorporated body.  August 2016 saw the production in hard copy and electronic form Sakyadhita Australia’s first Newsletter.  With the next Sakyadhita International conference on the horizon it was decided to offer a scholarship to fund an Australian Buddhist nun to attend the conference in Hong Kong in 2017.  In October  the first fund-raising film night was held, to be followed by others. The very full first year ended with an enjoyable  dinner at a Thai Restaurant.


2017:  Sakyadhita Australia embarked on fundraising to provide scholarships for nuns to attend the Hong Kong International Conference.  Our principal fundraising activities were movie nights at Cinema Nova in Melbourne such as the screening in May of the film ‘Loving’.   A formal application process and criteria were developed for the nun’s scholarship.  Ven. Lozang Drolkar wasthe successful applicant; a nun in the Tibetan tradition she had ordained in 2011, was based at the Chenrezig Institute in Queensland  and was then Chairperson of the Australian Sangha Association.  Further fundraising allowed Sakyadhita Australia to provide support for two Sri Lankan nuns so they could  attend the Hong Kong conference.


In June 2017 the 15th International Conference ‘Contemporary Buddhist Women : Contemplation Cultural Exchange and Social Action’ was held in Hong Kong.  Many Australians attended and papers were given by Dr Meg Adam and Dr Anna Halafoff.  Sonja Webb worked extremely hard ‘at the desk’, supervising enrolments, etc.


Attendees at the Hong Kong conference were encouraged to commit to holding the next Sakyadhita International Conference in Australia. Members and the Sakyadhita Australia Committee debated the demanding logistics involved in organising an event for hundreds of national and international participants. Those who had attended the Hong Kong conference returned to Australia with a commitment to the idea but others on the committee felt that Sakyadhita Australia was too small and too under resourced to undertake an international conference.


The first Sakyadhita Australia AGM was held on Sunday 27th  August , 2017, again at the Buddhist Society of Victoria.  Preparation for this first formal AGM to comply with the demands of Consumer Affairs Victoria occupied the preceding weeks but eventually all paperwork was in place with a set of templates provided for future organisers to follow.


The program commenced the day before with the screening of a film about Australian Buddhist pioneer Marie Byles. (It was planned to hold the launch of AnneMcLeod’s  biography, ‘The Summit of her Ambition’  but unfortunately Anne could not attend).  At the AGM outgoing President Di Cousens recounted the organisation's achievements so far and advised she was leaving because she could not commit to organising an international conference.  Our first secretary Judith Macdonald also stepped down; both had contributed a large amount in setting up Sakyadhita Australia.

Professor Suzanne Franzway was elected as the second President, Rani Hughes as the Vice-President. The Secretary was Lydia Brown and Sharon Thrupp was the Treasurer.  Committee members were:  Helen Richardson, Dr Meg Adam, Ven Lozang Drolkar, Liv Conquest, Sirini Kularatne-Samarapathi, Helen Richardson

Ven Drolkar gave the keynote speech with the title ‘Meditate or Advocate’?  in which she explored the question of whether Buddhist women and nuns should keep quiet and practice in order to benefit society, or should they become more socially active? Her personal conclusion was to do both, because when it comes to discrimination against women and nuns in Buddhism, the work does not stop with a conference! 


Following the AGM, the new committee took the opportunity of having so many members being present to look at issues associated with the proposed Australian conference.  Chaired by Ven Chi Kwang the meeting discussed whether such a conference might advance our aims and objectives for Sakyadhita, financial concerns, venue suggestions, etc.


2018: Our second AGM was held on Sunday May 13th 2018 at the Vietnamese Quang Minh temple in Braybrook Melbourne. The temple provided a colourful setting; the day began with an impressive welcome ceremony, a group meditation and then a generous vegetarian lunch. At the AGM Professor Suzanne Franzway was re-elected as President , Dr  Meg Adam was elected Vice- President, Dr Lydia Brown as secretary, Sharon Thrupp as treasurer, and general committee members Ven Drolkar.


Our keynote speaker was Ven. Bodhichittha from the Nisala Arana centre, who spoke on the importance of managing stress. There was also a  presentation on the history of Buddhism in Australia by Dr Anna Halafoff.


The Australian committee started to work on planning for the conference. They explored possible venues with a special interest in those that would reflect Australian Buddhism’s multicultural traditions. In June 2018 representatives of Sakyadhita International toured the country. They decided to hand the work to a professional event organiser who had proposed a hotel in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. This had the benefit of tourist opportunities in Sydney as well as the comfort and catering provided by an established hotel. Although this took the load off the Australian committee it did cause some disappointment.


In November our first Zoom Webinar was held with a very special guest, Ven. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo,  the President of Sakyadhita International. The title of her presentation was ‘New Horizons in Buddhism', which was a precursor to the upcoming Australian International Conference with the same theme. The webinar, including a Q and A, was recorded and posted to our website, thanks to Dr Meg Adam’s IT skills.


2019 :  The 16th International Conference ‘ New Horizons in Buddhism’ was held in the Blue Mountains at the Fairmont Resort.  Fundraising assisted five nuns and four lay women to attend the conference.  Australian committee members, particularly the President - Professor Suzanne Franzway, Vice President Dr Meg Adam, Rani Hughes, Ven. Lozang Drolkar and Secretary Dr Lydia Brown all worked extremely hard in the previous year assessing academic papers and workshop submissions, preparing them for publication and organising the workshops.  Australian women were involved in hosting sessions, giving papers and also giving many of the workshops.  Again, Sonja Webb's work on the Registration desk was invaluable.

The Conference opened with a session on ‘Buddhism in Australia’; speakers were Dr Anna Halafoff., Ven Chi Kwang, Ven Mioau You, , Dr Di Cousens, Prof. Suzanne Franzway and Anna Markay, The topics (in order) were the history of Buddhist Women in Australia, Life as an Australian/Korean Bhikkuni, Humanistic Buddhism in Australia, Working for Buddhism in Australia   and New Horizons for Emergency Sanghas – such as Community Groups.


In the afternoon Australians Dr Jack Wicks, Damcho Dyson and Tahlia Newland gave a paper called ‘Personal Reflections on Rigpa and Aftershocks of the Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche’ which would lead to the formation of the Alliance for Buddhist Ethics.


The fourth AGM was held at this conference. Prod. Suzanne Franzway announced her retirement as President. She had brought academic rigour to the Sydney conference and generally contributed a great deal to the development of Sakyadhita Australia. Dr Meg Adam also announced her retirement from the Vice President role.

Helen Richardson was elected as the third President; Jo Murphy as Vice- President, Ven. Chi Kwang Sunim as spiritual advisor. Dr Anna Halafoff joined the committee.


A webinar featuring Roshi Susan Murphy was held in October.  Roshi Susan had been a keynote speaker at the Sydney conference. She is the founder and resident teacher of Zen Open Circle and an important global voice in the Ecological Buddhism movement.


2020:  The Committee decided to hold a ‘Mini Conference’ and AGM at the Chenrezig Institute, Queensland. Plans were well advanced with speakers and workshops (thanks to Jo Murphy and Sharon Thrupp)  but all had to be cancelled because of the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.   Jo Murphy who became Secretary during this time was particularly energetic with developing systems so we functioned as a more professional organisation.   


In June the AGM was held by Zoom. The guest speaker was Ven. Thubten Chokyi from Chenrezig Institute who spoke on her engagement in prison chaplaincy.  Helen Richardson remained as President, with Ven. Chi Kwang elected as both Vice- President and Spiritual Advisor.     Jo Murphy resigned from her role as Secretary, she had contributed an enormous amount so this was a great disappointment. 


With continuing lockdowns during the Pandemic, the emphasis was on digital events. During the year, webinars were held with speakers including Ven. Karma Lekshe, Carol Perry and Roshi Joan Halifax.  A monthly meditation group was commenced. The first was led by Ven. Chi Kwang, followed by  Ven. Ayya Jitindriya and Ven. Chokyi. The committee embarked on fundraising for the two catastrophic events of the year being the bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic. Donations raised via ‘GoFundMe’ for those affected by the bushfires were offered to several Buddhist centres and other groups affected by bushfires.


Funds were raised to support the work of Red Kangaroo and the Bodhi Foundation, which are Australian charities working in India to assist those affected by Covid-19. The committee was pleased that  $11,000 was raised (which exceeded the $10,000 goal) for the struggling families in India.

2021 :  In March we hosted a Webinar with well-known author and teacher Sharon Salzberg  - her topic was "‘Mindfulness and Loving Kindness during a time of a Pandemic  and other Crises’

The Annual General Meeting in June saw a new Committee elected.   The guest speakers were the new President and vice President of Sakyadhita International, Sharon Suh and Dr Hsiao-Lan Hu who spoke on their background with Sakyadhita, their plans for the forthcoming Digitial Conference  and future directions for the organisation.  


Objectives of Sakyadhita Australia

  1. To create a network of communication and support for Buddhist nuns and lay women in Australia, regardless of cultural and language background.

  2. To function as a noticeboard to promote all Buddhist activity, with particular attention to female participation.

  3. To promote harmony and dialogue among the Buddhist traditions.

  4. To work for gender equity in Buddhist education, training, institutional structures, and ordination.

  5. To foster compassionate social action for the benefit of humanity.

  6. To promote awareness of the Sakyadhita conferences and to support attendance at the conferences.

  7. To act as advocates for the protection of the natural environment and the protection of the planet from global warming.

  8. To build relationships with faith traditions in the wider community




Web :

Facebook :  @Sakyadhitaoz

Sakyadhita Australia Incorporated A0095411K


Sakyadhita Australia Committees - 2015-2022

2021-2022 Committee

President :  Helen Richardson 

Vice President and Spiritual Advisor :  Ven Thubten Chokyi

Treasurer :  Sharon Thrupp

Membership Secretary :  Sonja Webb

Minutes Secretary :   Sky Dawson 

Committee Members :  Dr Jack Wicks, Linda McGuire, Liz Gibbons.

2020-2021 Committee 

President: Helen Richardson

Vice President and Spiritual Advisor: Ven Chikwang  Sunim

Treasurer:  Sharon Thrupp

Secretary (shared role ): Elizabeth Gibbons working with Helen, Sharon and Sunim.

Committee members:  Dr Jack Wicks, Kim Lam  


2019 - 2020 Committee

President : Helen Richardson

Vice President : Jo Murphy

Treasurer : Sharon Thrupp

Secretary : Sirini Kularatne-Samarapathi*

General Committee Members : Ven. Chi Kwang Sunim, (Spiritual Advisor) Carol Khan, Dr Anna Halafoff, Ai Kien Dang and Dr Jack Wicks.

Note : After Sirini’s resignation Jo Murphy took on the role of secretary, Ven. Chi Kwang Sunim became Vice President.


2018-2019 Committee

Prof. Suzanne Franzway (President)

Dr Meg Adam (Vice-President) (and Acting Secretary during Lydia’s absence overseas)

Dr Lydia Brown (Secretary)

Sharon Thrupp (Treasurer)


General Committee MembersVen Lozang Drolkar, Rani Hughes, Sirini Kularatne-Samarapathi, Helen Richardson, Kien Dang


2017-2018 Committee :

Prof Suzanne Franzway ( President)

Rani Hughes (Vice-President)

Dr Lydia Brown (Secretary)

Sharon Thrupp (Treasurer)


General Committee Members: Ven Lozang Drolkar, Liv Conquest, Sirini Kularatne-Samarapathi, Helen Richardson, Dr Meg Adam


2017: Australian Conference Committee (formed to look at possibilities/organise this conference)

In Person

Ven. Chikwang Sunim (chair) Rani Hughes (Organizer) Helen Richardson, Liv Conquest, Margaret O’Riordan,  Ranjani De Silva, Laila Najjar, Lydia Brown


Via Skype/phone: Venerable Chokyi, Venerable Drolkar, Venerable Lozang Tseten, Venerable Miaoyou, Dr Meg Adam, Dr Anna Halafoff, Sonja Webb, Liz Gibbons, Sharon Thrupp, Kirsty Sharman, Prof. Suzanne Franzway


2016-2017 Committee

President and Treasurer: Dr Di Cousens

Vice President: Prof Suzanne Franzway

Secretary: Judith Macdonald

General Committee Members: Helen Richardson, Rani Hughes, Lydia Brown, Helen Kemp


Interim Committee 2015 - 2016

Dr Di Cousens, Judith Macdonald, Helen Kemp, Prof Suzanne Franzway, Anja Tanhane, Helen Richardson, Lydia Kemp, Rani Hughes and Ven Chi Kwang, Inge Riebe

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