FURTHER REPORT on the LAUNCH of SAKYADHITA AUSTRALIA.
18TH June 2016.
Many of you will have already read the beautiful blog post by Narissa Doumani of the launch of Sakyadhita Australia. If not, do go to http://narissadoumani.com/sakyadhita-australia-launch-event/.
On our Facebook page you can also find some photos and accounts of the workshops and panel speakers. In this report I would like to go a little further into the content and suggestions arising from these activities.
Ven Chi Kwang Sunim, an Australian nun of more than 30 years standing in the Korean Mahayana tradition, gave an outline of the history of Sakyadhita International from its inauguration in 1988 to the present. She spoke about the many Conferences she had attended and the benefit she had derived from participating.
She was followed on the panel of speakers by Ven Nirodha, the Senior Nun at Santi Forest Monastery, Bundanoon, NSW.
“First and foremost”, she said, “nuns must respect themselves as nuns. There is still a long way to go but we are all, lay women and nuns alike, capable of achieving enlightenment.”
She went on to say how much she enjoyed her first Sakyadhita International Conference in Indonesia last year, that it had been wonderful to be with such a large number of nuns and the whole experience was an eye-opener to her.
“Many monks”, she said “have a lot of time and support to put into their practice but for nuns it is not so easy. The community still has high expectations of nuns. We need more time, and encouragement to take the time to become adept practitioners, not only scholars.”
She called on Sakyadhita Australia to support and encourage nuns to take time for spiritual development so they can in the long run, help all women.
Ven Vajira received full Bhikkhuni ordination in a ceremony at Santi in September 2016.
She started by congratulating Sakyadhita Australia on coming into existence and stressed the importance of support for the world-wide Bhikkhuni sangha.
She expressed her gratitude to Ajahn Brahmavamso from Bodhiyana Monastery in Perth who in 2009, by breaking with the Thai tradition and ordaining nuns in Australia, had made it possible for more Theravadin nuns to take full Bhikkhuni ordination. This was a ground-breaking action but sadly not many ordinations have taken place since then. Bandung in 2015, just before the 14th Conference, was the last one. This was remarkable as there had not been a nuns’ ordination in Indonesia for 1000 years.
Ven Vajira will return to Germany in October 2016 where she will continue her studies with Ayya Sucinta, the first nun at the BSV’s former nuns centre, Sanghamitarama.
We wish her great success in her life as a bhikkhuni.
The next panel speaker was Dr. Lydia Brown, a psychologist from Melbourne.
Lydia opened her talk by recognising the large presence of nuns at the launch and expressed the hope that Sakyadhita Australia would offer continuing support to Australian nuns.
She also commented on what a positive and novel experience it had been to offer the midday meal today to more than eight nuns: an important first for Sakyadhita Australia.
Lydia is a qualified psychologist and has a PhD in self-compassion and Buddhism. She teaches mindfulness meditation.
The impetus for her PhD study grew out of a visit to Sri Lanka shortly after she had graduated. Visiting this strongly Buddhist country in order to study with a senior monk, she was however impressed by the nuns and how important they are in the everyday life of Sri Lanka. “They are leaders and teachers” she said “but they still have to bow down before a teenage monk.”
“Why is it” she said “that women do so much for Buddhism- they are a core part – but are seldom seen as leaders? The female brain is wired for empathy- we are able to put our own needs aside in order to help others.” This experience led her to look more deeply into these questions and women and Buddhism more generally.
550 non-Buddhist women participated in her PhD study on women and mid-life. The study showed that women who expressed a higher level of self-compassion on a scale of 26 items, were less worried about the challenges of menopause and showed more resilience.
She defined self-compassion broadly by three characteristics: mindfulness, self-kindness and concern for common humanity, and spoke about the importance of each one.
Lydia is now looking for funding to continue her study into how loving kindness meditation might change the nervous system and the mind/body connection.
Four workshops were offered: (1) A Gathering of Nuns to Share Concerns, (2) Tai Chi Taster led by Rani Hughes, (3) Women, Ecology and Climate Change led by Helen Kemp, and
(4) Supporting Girls’ and Women’s Education led by Yasmin Moore.
As I still only occupy one physical body, I was able to attend only one – the latter, but for more photos and notes on the other three workshops, do go to our Facebook page.
Supporting Girls in a Sri Lankan School
To introduce the topic, Yasmin spoke of the importance of supporting girls’ education in developing countries such as Sri Lanka. She outlined how she and several other women from the Buddhist Society of Victoria had all attended the same school in Colombo which was established by a pioneering Sri Lankan Buddhist woman, not as an elite school but to make a good Buddhist education available to as many girls as possible.
The discussion was far-reaching but included the following main points which they thought should be taken up by Sakyadhita Australia (SA):
All actions should be based on Buddhist ethics.
As Buddhists we have the skills of mindfulness and clear awareness to guide us. We need to build on these attributes.
SA should aim for longevity and incorporating a long term view for the continuation and growth of SA should be part of all activities, objectives and processes.
Attracting younger members is a priority and the group would like to see an outreach component as part of the aims and objectives of SA.
Young people could be included in leadership positions or in an advisory capacity.
There is a need to create exposure of SA work and its aims with a range of approaches which would appeal to all age groups and backgrounds.
Some examples of this could be:
Q & A sessions
Discussions between younger nuns and young women
Reach out to University Buddhist societies: send brochures, encourage visiting nuns to speak, encourage scholarly study of Buddhism
Make contact with university religious studies departments (eg. Latrobe Uni), circulate our brochure, offer speakers.
The group strongly supported community participation with a view to raise money for education and conference participation not only for nuns but also for girls and women from developing countries.
Supporting nuns from Australia was identified as of immediate importance. As we heard throughout the day, Buddhist nuns do not get the support, or the time, that Buddhist monks receive. Sakyadhita International was set up primarily to support and further the growth and development of nuns.
It is important to encourage Buddhist women – lay and nuns- to engage in scholarly study and research. The two-yearly Sakyadhita Conference offers a wonderful opportunity for the presentation of research undertaken or in progress, as well as the grass-roots activities and programs. Australian Buddhist women should have the confidence to speak out on their ideas and experiences.
We are particularly grateful to this group for the creative and far-reaching suggestions they contributed. The Sakyadhita Australia Committee will certainly be looking into these ideas. A representative on the Committee would be a good start, perhaps even a young woman. Wouldn’t that be good!