President's Report, Sakyadhita Australia Annual General Meeting, 27 August 2017
Welcome to everyone here, particularly those who have come from interstate, and thank you for coming. It has been a great honour to be the foundation President of Sakyadhita Australia in its first year. It is a marvellous project to bring together Buddhist women of different backgrounds who practice in different traditions and who live in different states with the common cause of promoting the Dharma in Australia. There is much to do.
If you look at how we have met our Aims and Objectives over the past year, we can claim to have kicked a few goals. We have achieved a greater awareness of this year's international conference in Hong Kong. We provided a scholarship to support the attendance of an Australian nun, Ven. Lozang Drolkar, and provided significant assistance to two Sri Lankan nuns. Through my personal engagement in interfaith dialogue I have continued to build relationships with faith traditions in the wider community. This includes participation in the creation of a new group called Confluence which explores common ground between meditation traditions. It is organising conferences in February and June next year and is based at Melbourne's University of Divinity. I and others visit temples of various Buddhist traditions and hopefully this helps to promote dialogue among the Buddhist traditions. Through our Facebook page we have provided a noticeboard to promote Buddhist activity, particularly activity with female participation.
The Committee has discussed organising a program of visits to nuns just to get to know each other. Our first visit was to a very old friend, Ven. Chikwang Sunim's temple in Kinglake on the occasion of Vesak, the Buddha's birthday. We shared lunch with her community and then she gave us tea in the traditional manner of a Korean tea ceremony. This was a particular treat. It is my hope that more visits to get to know nuns can be organised and that this will be an ongoing program. I would also like to see a 'nun's directory' published on our website so that people can find nuns wherever they are in Australia. We really need an organised program of consultation nationally so that we can understand the context of nuns in their different communities. Some nuns are well supported and have no financial needs, for example, and some are entirely unsupported. I am also extremely interested in what is called in Christianity, 'formation'. This refers to the period at the start of a monastic novitiate where a novice is secluded within a community for several years. The novice learns to find her place within the life of the community and to nurture her inner development. She is given training in discipline, philosophy, meditation and particularly in the Tibetan tradition, ritual.
Every time I hear a Westerner reimagining Buddhism as simply a process of mental development I feel aghast that they have not learnt the importance of Sangha, or community. As you and I know, Sangha has four parts, lay men and women and fully ordained men and women. Luckily in Australia we have all four parts of the Sangha, but as we know, the path to full ordination for women has been tricky in many traditions. If we undertook a survey of nuns in Australia we could find out about their lives within their monastic communities and outside, their process of formation and how supported or unsupported they feel. At the moment we don't have data. Once we have data we could then work more actively towards assisting nuns fulfil their vocations.
This past year we have published and distributed two newsletters and have a new website. The committee has worked well together and it has been a pleasure to meet with everyone once a month. I would like to thank Judith Macdonald in particular for her outstanding work as Secretary and I would also like to mention an old friend of mine, Julie Cattlin, who has provided all the design and graphics work. She has done this voluntarily and has given us a real brand identity and a very polished presentation.
Three of the members of the Committee, Rani, Helen and Suzanne, attended the conference in Hong Kong and were profoundly motivated to pursue the idea of an international conference. While I agree that Australia has the rare good fortune of presenting a harmonious Buddhist community to the world, I have no wish to organise an international conference and so today I am standing down. Luckily other members are interested in joining the new committee so I am confident that Sakyadhita Australia now has strong institutional roots and will be sustained into the future.
I would like to point out one thing. The Australian Buddhist community is now half a million strong and about half of that is comprised of women. This means we have approximately 250,000 women Buddhists in Australia. I would be surprised if there were more than 500 nuns in Australia (and there may be half that) so please consider that if the only focus of Sakyadhita Australia is the promotion of nuns, then we are only looking at 0.2% of Australian women Buddhists. This is one person in 500. We must not neglect the other 499! Sakyadhita Australia must be relevant to the lay women's community as well as the nun's community, and if we look at our Aims and Objectives there is plenty to do that is important to the entire Buddhist and Australian community.
We have already come a long way. When I was born in 1960s Australia even the word 'Buddha' was not heard, and I never met a monk or a nun or visited a temple. Now the Dharma is established and we have not only monks and nuns but also lay teachers and practitioners and scholars. The possibilities of what it is to be a Buddhist in twenty first century Australia are quite different to what was possible a hundred years ago in traditional Buddhist societies. Our diverse, multicultural society, where Japanese and Korean, Vietnamese and Cambodian, Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist people and temples can all be friends is something special in the world and something to celebrate.
I am sorry that that the author Anne McLeod could not come this weekend but it means that we will meet her on another occasion. However, the lessons that can be learned from the book she wrote on the life of Marie Byles, The Summit of Her Ambition, remain important. Marie Byles made a great contribution to Buddhism in the early twentieth century in Australia, but she also made inspiring contributions in the fields of environmentalism and feminism. Marie Byles is a great role model of an engaged Buddhist, and all of us can find ways to put compassion into action and make a difference in the wider society.
I would like to conclude by reading a text from the Gospel of Buddha, translated by Paul Carus. This is a traditional Theravadin text and I have always found it particularly inspiring.
The Dharma is Like the Ocean
"My doctrine is like the ocean, having the eight same wonderful qualities.
Both the ocean and my doctrine gradually become deeper. Both preserve their identity under all changes. Both cast out dead bodies upon the dry land. As the great rivers, when falling into the main, lose their names and are thenceforth reckoned as the great ocean, so all the castes, having renounced their lineage and become the Sangha, become brethren and are reckoned the children of Shakyamuni.
The ocean is the goal of all streams and of the rain from the clouds, yet it is never overflowing and never emptied: so the Dharma is embraced by many millions of people, yet it never increases nor decreases.
As the great ocean has only one taste, the taste of salt, so my doctrine has only one flavour, the flavour of emancipation. Both the ocean and the Dharma are full of gems and pearls and jewels, and both afford a dwelling place for mighty beings.
These are the eight wonderful qualities in which my doctrine resembles the ocean."
My best wishes and blessings to the new Committee.
Translated by Paul Carus, The Gospel of Buddha, Ch. LXI (61), v.3-4, National Book Trust India.