Questions from Manassinee, a student at Claremont Mckenna, U.S.A.
Answered by Dhammananda bhikkhuni
Updated on 30 Nov 09
1) Do you think there should be a change in rules in the Buddhist monastic life in Thailand that are clearly gender-biased, for example the requirement to show male monks respect and reverence while nuns do not receive any? Nuns as housekeepers and cooks in the monastery, is this degrading?
WE keep all the rules in tact with a clear understanding that the rules of the past may not work for the present. We pay respect to the monks, no problem. WE must be reminded that everyone of us does have that potentiality to be enlightened, so to pay a respect to a monk is to pay respect to that seed of enlightenment within him.
The bhikkhunis and samaneris do gain respect from their own practice. We should not expect that people will automatically pay respect to us when we have not done anything worthy of the respect.
When you say “nuns” I think you mean maejis. Maejis are technically not ordained, they however receive 8-precepts and wear white with shaved heads. Whatever form of work they do, if they do it with wholesome mind (kusala citta), its well and good. Our samaneris here at out temple also do hard work, that is what we consider “an equalizer” to even out all of us. Whether you have M.A. or B.A. or even Ph.D. simply we have two hands, and at this communal work together, we give our two hands and put down all our ego. It really helps for our practice.
2) How do you think Mahayana Buddhist nuns will respond to your cause of advocating for the establishment of a Theravada Buddhist bhikkuni lineage? Will they help and provide support, in what form?
Mahayana bhikshunis are very happy to have us. In fact in the history of the formation of bhikkhuni sangha in this modern time, when we started with dual ordination we also needed the assistance of the Mahayana bhikshunis in order to fulfil the requirement of dual ordination. Then in 1998 the Theravada bhikkhu sangha gave another ordination to make sure that the first batch of bhikkhunis ordained could continue as Theravada.
WE need to learn a great deal from our Mahayana sisters. They are very established both in Taiwan and Korea. One trend that stands out very clearly is that they emphasise greatly on education, and they are indeed the leaders on this respect.
Also they have established a very good ground for social work. There is Tzu Chi foundation in Taiwan, the leader is a bhikkshuni, her name is Sheng Yen. She received both Mag Zai Zai award and Niwano Peace Award for her work.
The assistance that they can give us is the training and Buddhist education. AT Fo Guang Shan they provide education at university level. There are already students from Sri Lanka furthering their study with them. The only limitation is language, candidates must speak Chinese.
In fact bhikkhuni issue is international, we need to pool resource from our sisters of various countries.
3) Why do you think it is important for Thailand to establish this bhikkuni lineage? Will it be established soon or do you think it will take some time for Thai soceity to accept this?
Please note spelling; bhikkhuni for Pali and bhikshuni for Sanskrit. When I mention bhikshuni in Chinese context I choose Sanskrit spelling, and in Theravadin context I choose Pali spelling.
It is only obvious that we must assist to bring about the fourfold Buddhists, namely bhikkhu sangha, bhikkhuni sangha, laymen and laywomen. This was established by the Buddha, and if we truly have respect for the Buddha we must do our best to revive whatever is missing.
Also we must realize that Buddhism, as a set of teaching cannot sit in the blue sky, but must be lived, that is practiced in our lives. When the Buddha established Buddhism he expected that the fourfold Buddhists would:
1.study his teaching
2.put it into practice
3. and be able to defend the true teaching.
This is our responsibility. When I say “our” I mean all the fourfold Buddhists, whether you are bhikkhu, bhikkhuni, layman, or laywoman.
When I went through the ordination procedure, there was a section that I had to tell my preceptor of my intention: that is “Sabba dukkha nissarana” I will try to end my suffering, “Nibbana sacchikaranatthaya” I will try to make Nirvana a reality in my life.
Ordination is not about acceptance, ordination is about commitment. If we lead our lives, true to our commitment, then acceptance comes automatically. WE cannot demand acceptance. The Buddha did not do this, and we should not even think of demanding it when we are not worthy of it yet.
4) How are you trying to change the common perception of women as selfish and eccentric if they leave their homes to lead an ascetic life?
Women should have a choice, just like men. Personally as a married woman, I also have to wait to make sure all my children are grown before I made a decision to commit my self to serve the Buddha. We cannot really judge for others, the point is that we should allow the space for women to grow spiritually.
There is something unique about ordained life. The Buddha said it is a short cut.
I look at my sons, being men they have the opportunity to walk the short cut, and their old mother have to take a longer route. That cannot be the teaching of the Buddha who has always been full of compassion. Indeed the path is open and made available for both men and women, that is the beauty of Buddhism.
Let me remind you again that the Buddha allowed women to be ordained on the basis that women can also be enlightened. Isn’t that a beautiful message?