newsletter on international buddhist woman's activities
In this paper I will focus on the development and contribution of the bhikkhuni Sangha in Taiwan. The reason for choosing Taiwan is because it has been a strong fort for bhikkhunis for the past 3 decades.
The historical background peculiar to Taiwan helps promote the role and status of the bhikkhuni Sangha. When the Communists were taking over Mainland China, Chinese bhikkhunis were afraid that they might not be able to survive the powerful Communists who had respect neither for religion nor religious organizations. Large number of the bhikkhunis migrated to Taiwan with the temple wealth and re-established themselves there. In early 1960s the bhikkhu Sangha who remained on the Mainland China experienced a tremendous hardship under the rule of the Communist Chinese, they were forced to flee the country. Many of them escaped with the ships transporting farm products between Mainland China and Taiwan. Upon landing in Taiwan, they had literally nothing on them and they were warmly welcomed and assisted by the already established bhikkhunis who came out before them.
It was the bhikkhunis who were established first on the island, therefore there was a strong bond between the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. With this important background the readers will appreciate the strong connection the bhikkhunis have over the growth of Buddhism and Buddhist Sangha in Taiwan.
Taiwan was once occupied by the Japanese and hence the name Formoza. Fifty years ago
Taiwan was a backward country with poverty and hardship. The common folk received minimal education and Buddhism as practiced was a form of popular Buddhism with high superstition, a religion of the illiterate and ignorant. Buddhist temples were not associated with the people. Elder monks and nuns still shun photo-taking with the fear that it would shorten their lives. Buddhist monasteries were interested only the ritualistic part and limited themselves in the temple sanctuary.
During the recent 50 years, Taiwan has greatly progressed. There has been political and economic development and education has been uplifted. In the meantime, Buddhism under the combined forces of the monastic and the laity has opened up a brand new face and created a miracle. There are wide spread Buddhist practice, lectures, various post-secondary summer camp, Buddhist education, cultural and charity works, Buddhist bookstores, publishing house, radio and Television broadcasting, even Buddhist satellite program, etc. This has also opened up a whole new horizon of international Buddhist exchange and development.
Once Ven.Pai-Tseng, the then Supreme Patriarch in Taiwan recognized publicly that the Buddhist education was in the hand of the bhikkhunis. Bhikkhunis of different groups have been very strong, capable and committed.
Ven.Bhikkhuni Hiu Wan (Shao Yun Fa Tzu) who is now 91 years old, she is a Zen painter in an international level. After joining the Order she has constantly promoted Buddhist education and provided International forum for Buddhist Education. She started her activities from a circle of disciples forming a Lotus Ashrama and later on developed into Hua Fan University. A beautiful university situated in an area surrounded by the beauty of mountains.
In the south, Ven.Hsing Yun, a bhikkhu also from Mainland China propagates a wonderful message of Humanistic Buddhism much in demand for the present society. His effort to uplift Buddhism in Taiwan goes in the same direction as the bhikkhuni Hiu Wan. Master Hsing Yun's Temple, Fo Guang Shan is strongly supported and run by his bhikkhuni disciples. The largest international Buddhist organization which reaches its wing to cover many countries around the world.
As education is available to everyone, bhikkhunis in Taiwan have gained recognition and they have played an important role in changing the face of Buddhism and uplifting society.
Bhikkhunis and society in the early stage.
Historically the bhikkhuni tradition had long been extinguished from India and Sri Lanka between the 11th and 12th Centuries. However in China, Japan and Korea, the bhikkhuni community not only survived healthily, but it has also contributed tremendously to the society.
The very first bhikkhuni community was founded in the 4th century in China. The first bhikkhuni ....Jing Jien was very committed and played a significant role in promoting the Dhamma in her time. In 443 A.D. the proper ordination for bhikkhunis were given to three hundred women at the Southern Forest Monastery in Nan King. Once the bhikkhuni Sangha came into existence, the female sangha has always played significant role in promoting both the teaching as well as the practice to the householders particularly the women of the families.
Traditionally educating children was women's primary responsibility, so the establishment of bhikkhuni community and dhamma teaching increased their access to Buddhism. The women learned Buddhist teaching and practice from the bhikkhunis and worked as an important link transferring Buddhist learning into their homes. Buddhism took root in a most natural way, that is through the families. Until now, Buddhism has been a Chinese family tradition, and this was largely related to female influence. Even now, most patrons and disciples who give direct support and regular practitioners have been women.
Nowadays in the twenty first century, following the enhancement of education and economy, men and women are getting equal opportunity for education, and bhikkhuni's education had also been highly upgraded. They have created many miracles by their contribution to cultural, education, charity, social welfare, etc. Their works have gone beyond local influence and reaches the international stage. These miracles will leave their marks on Buddhist history.
Contribution of nuns to culture and education in modern society.
In the past history there was no formal Buddhist education for women in any form, currently, Taiwan has about 20 Buddhist women's colleges. Fo Guang Shan alone has established and run 10 of these Buddhist Women's colleges with over 500 students enrolled. Over half of the nuns have university degree and there are more than 20 bhikkhunis with M.A. and Ph.D. All the administrative posts in the colleges are occupied by the bhikkhunis. Graduates from Fo Guang Shan are being sent all over the world, preaching dhamma, lecturing at various universities, seeking further education overseas, while others devote themselves to charity work or helping to establish Buddhist fellowship centers or new temples.
Ven.Bhikkhuni Tzu Hui, Master Hsing Yun's disciple, is well known in the Buddhist circle, she has acted as a bridge between culture and Buddhism for 3 decades. Under her able leadership, she has taught more than two thousand students over the years. The four Fo Guang Universities which are underway are all organized and established under her guidance.
In 1992 the Venerable was elected the vice president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists. She became the first bhikkhuni to be elected for such an important post for the WFB Association. Historically the domain of representatives from the Theravadin tradition was out of bound for women, with her election, the tight-knit executive circle has been broken.
During her 40 years in Buddhism she has offered her wisdom and compassion and has added favor to contemporary Buddhist culture and Education. She is among the models of modern bhikkhunis in Taiwan.
There are other bhikkhunis like Bhikkhuni Tze Yi who established the Fo Guang Shan Tripitaka editing committee. Its mission was to create a contemporary Tripitaka edition which includes the various other versions of the Tripitaka and applies modern organization and structures, punctuation, verification techniques, annotation and indexing. Also the publication of the Fo Guang Shan Encyclopaedia had created a name of Buddhist Publications by receiving the Golden Censor prize awarded by the Department of Information. She has also been the chief editor for the "Awaken the World" and "the Universal Gate" magazines. Many bhikkhunis in Taiwan are editors or presidents of many Taiwan Buddhist magazines in the present day world.
Another bhikkhuni who deserves mentioning here is Ven.Bhikkhuni Yi K'ung, another well known bhikkhuni in the Buddhist circle for her excellence talent. She travels around the world to preach Dhamma with deep commitment for cultural and educational development.
Modern Bhikkhunis and development of World Buddhism.
As the world progresses, scientific development and convenience of transportation, modern bhikkhunis no longer stay behind the mountain gate. They express their concern for the well being of the society by stepping out and work towards propagating Buddhism. The current executive director of Fo Guang Shan Pureland Foundation is Ven Bhikkhuni Tze Chuang. She travels alone around the world to give consultations to FGS Overseas branches on education and Dhamma preaching throughout the year. In 1988, under the provision of Master Hsing Yun, she established His Lai Temple in LA which the Life magazine called it "the largest temple in the Western hemisphere." It has helped set the stage for world Buddhism.
Later she also built up FGS branch temple in Hawaii, Guam, San Francisco, London, France, Germany, S.Africa, Thailand and Malaysia. All these temples are currently administered by bhikkhunis.
The present abbess of Hsi Lai Temple in LA is Ven.Bhikkhuni Tze Yung who is not only proficient in organizing large scales activities such as women or youth Buddhist conferences, but in 1991, she had also formed the Buddha's Light International Association (BLIA) Taiwan. Within one year it spread far and wide and became international association. By 1997 this association has 600 sub-chapters with membership over one million and spread over 51 countries. The Venerable is now the chief secretary of the BLIA. Indeed her work is a miracle.
Currently FGS has over 200 bhikkhunis acting as abbesses and dhamma teachers throughout the world.
The Taiwanese Bhikkhunis and their social responsibilities.
Ven Bhikkhuni Tze Yung not only possesses an encompassing world view, she is also very active in benefiting society through various charity programs. She had mobilized many relief campaigns during the disaster or calamities, and set up the Mobile Clinic which provides regular services by delivering free medical care to every corner of Taiwan. However, she realized that relief alone can not be the final answer to all the problems. Therefore, bhikkhunis are always sent along with the unit to preach dhamma message on every trip. Spiritual guidance often provides the solution to the root of the problem in addition to material aids. As bhikkhunis have more opportunities to be in touch with the society, they can then provide the much needed spiritual guidance for a better and long lasting happiness for the people.
In the recent years, many bhikkhunis including Ven.Yi Yun, Chao Chueh, Yong Sheng had received the "National Good People and Good Deeds" award. Yet another great example is the Ven.bhikkhuni Cheng Yuan who has built up an unprecedented scale of Buddhist hospital in Hua Lin and serve the society tirelessly.
The contribution of modern nuns to promote the activities of the purified mind.
Modern bhikkhunis have long changed their directions ---from just concentrating on their self-practice within the limit of their temples, to giving care and concern to human societies. They participate widely in Dhamma teaching, social welfare and carry out activities that are beneficial to human morality. Ven. Bhikkhuni Tz'u Jung promoted a series of activities that are beneficial to human morality. The Venerable promoted a series of activities on "Mind Purification", one of them was to advocate the seven precepts through charity sales and various forms of cultural performance. The seven precepts are to abstain from smoking and drugs, sexual misconduct, violence, stealing, gambling, indulging in excessive drinking and false speech. The activity received tremendous support by the society. As a result 20,000 people participated in the "Ten Thousand People Gathering of the Lantern Festival" for the world peace held in the Tao Yuan gymnasium.
Another effort is made yet in another direction, to bring many juvenile delinquents and inmates into repentence. The Bhikkhunis Yi Hang and Yi Cheng devoted themselves by preaching dhamma over two hundred times annually in various prisons in Taiwan. They have also conducted "Refuge-taking" ceremonies many times and various short-term cultivation retreats in the penitentiary. Each time there were hundreds of inmates participating in the event. Besides the bhikkhunis of FGS also set up a crisis line to assist people with different problems or emergency situations.
Taiwan bhikkhunis were often invited by organizations such as universities, rehabilitation centres, social service centers, even government departments to give whole series of "Purifying the Mind" seminar and it has received enthusiastic response. Modern bhikkhunis have reached the stage in which they can now lead the society to step on the bright and righteous path.
Promotion for International bhikkhuni Ordination.
The bhikkhuni Sangha in Taiwan is most established in the world. With this recognition FGS was the very first Buddhist Temple to open a platform for the bhikkhuni ordination, making it available for women of other Buddhist traditions. In 1988 the very first international bhikkhuni Ordination was offered at Hsi Lai Temple,FGS branch in LA where more than 200 women from different traditions received bhikkhuni ordination. In 1998 FGS organized yet another historical making ordination ceremony in Bodh Gaya, India. Again more than 200 women received bhikkhuni Ordination. Ven Bhikkhuni Chueh Men, Ven.I Hua , representing FGS, led the team to organize this historical event successfully. The bhikkhunis realized the sensitive issue that the Theravada were facing and made sure that they invited also the Theravada Senior monks to come as preceptors so that it will be accepted by the Theravada Sangha once the newly ordained bhikkhunis return to their homeland. The 1998 international ordination made a strong impact particularly for the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka, 30 Sri Lanka women came for the ordination. Some progressive senior monks in Sri Lanka understood the need of women and hence started organizing the ordination for women in Sri Lanka itself. The figure of bhikkhunis now reaches already 400 in Sri Lanka. The lineage now spread over to Thailand and possibly Cambodia within this near future. The farsightness of FGS indeed bore an immediate result. Both ordinations in 1988 and 1998 were basically the work of bhikkhunis under the support of the Master Hsing Yun.
In order to promote Buddhism more widely and globally, a wholesome bhikkhuni organization is a must since there is a close relationship between family education and the development of the society and country. And women play an important role in educating their children. Mahatma Gandhi said, "Educating a male, you educate only a person, if you educate a female, you educate several generations."
As a bhikkhuni, the opportunity and facilitation of contact with other women is easier due to the nature of Asian cultural backgrounds. For example, FGS 's bhikkhunis often pay family visits and helps many people to establish a Buddhist family. Since many parents often encourage their children to participate in the activities conducted by the monasteries like chanting, sutra lectures, etc. this can also contribute to the solving of juvenile and family problems.
Looking from the angle of world Buddhist history, the strength, organization and the active contribution of bhikkhunis was unheard of. From self-practice to leading the masses in cultivation, from charitable work to cultural and educational development; from classroom to television broadcasting and international travelling lecture series; from family visitation to purifying the mind activities, all these express the devotion and spiritual practice of bhikkhunis.
It is a pity that many countries in Asia for example Thailand, India and Tibet do not have the tradition of a bhikkhuni community. Taiwan can serve as a model for what can be accomplished through the strength and commitment of the bhikkhunis Sangha. By empowering bhikkhunis, all members of the sangha and society are elevated. The young people who will b e the leaders of the 21st century are increasingly being educated towards the development of equality within human society. Buddhism must also be ready to promote the advancement of equality in the future with the steps necessary now to advance the status of the bhikkhunis. By enabling both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis to equally serve the society.
It was our greatest wish that by combined efforts, we can give a new hope to the future of bhikkhuni Sangha, by providing educational opportunities for the new generation of bhikkhunis. And with that we should be able to bring miracles to the development of society through the spirit of Buddhism.
It was the Buddha who established the bhikkhuni Sangha, and it is only our duty to pay respect to him by keeping alive the tradition of bhikkhuni which he had trusted upon us.