Daughters of the Buddha: Launch of Sakyadhita Australia
20 June 2016
Guided sitting practice had already begun when I tiptoed into the Buddhist Society of Victoria’s meditation hall last Saturday morning. A row of nuns draped in robes of ochre, russet, and chestnut hues presided from either side of the illuminated Buddha statue at the front of the room.
I located a spare cushion among the congregation of lay-practitioners and made my prostrations, acutely aware of the rustling of my jacket, the plod of my handbag onto carpet, the flutter of activity I’d introduced into an otherwise tranquil space. My fellow meditators sat unperturbed.
Venerable Chi Kwang Sunim was leading the practice. Her comforting voice, at once grandmotherly and stately, soon had me at ease. As I settled in, allowing my thoughts and restless itches and twitches to subside, I felt suddenly aware of the feminine presence in the room. It was one of stability and peace. I was being held by the energy of my sisters in the Dharma.
It was an experience befitting the event: the inauguration of Sakyadhita Australia, a non-profit, non-sectarian organisation founded to connect and support local Buddhist women.
Sakyadhita means daughters of the Buddha, and the International organisation, with which the local branch will be affiliated, was founded in 1987 in Bodhgaya, India, under the patronage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
While gender certainly imposes no limitation on one’s capacity for spiritual enlightenment—a truth taught by the Buddha himself—women have long been underrepresented in the various Buddhist traditions. I believe it to be a fact that simply mirrors the historically patriarchal structures of the societies within which the religion flourished.
So I was not the only attendee who was deeply moved when after the meditation we offered dana, a lunchtime meal, to the nuns. Like some others, I’ve never had the opportunity to offer food to nuns before, only to monks. Providing sustenance as fuel for their enlightenment was as nourishing to my heart as it was to their bodies, if not more so.
After receiving a blessing and taking our fill of the delicious vegetarian dishes, we moved into an afternoon program of discussions and workshops. Via video, we were encouraged by Venerable Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, President of Sakyadhita International, to strengthen the voices of women in our ‘understanding of how the Dharma can really benefit us in our daily life and in the world around us.’
Indeed, the voices of the women of Sakyadhita Australia are worthy of being heard. A panel discussion brought to light some gems of insight from psychologist Dr. Lydia Brown, whose work focuses on compassion and the mind-body connection. When she reported that in scientific studies women are generally found to have lower levels of self-compassion than men, it struck a personal chord.
Then there was the gentle insistence of Venerable Nirodha, urging us to not to neglect the ‘deep spiritual development of our nuns’, and that we must support their opportunities for self-retreat; she feels a danger in overburdening them with commitments as community educators and counselors, when it comes at the expense of their deepening wisdom through practice.
And through a Tai Chi workshop with inimitably humble instructor Rani Hughes, who considers herself a ‘baby’ of the Tai Chi world after a mere twenty years of practice, we were guided to bring our mindful attention back into our bodies.
What I found most heartening of all, however, were the moments of spirited debate peppered throughout the day. Some Sakyadhita members were of the staunch opinion that the organisation should set firm resolutions addressing issues of global consequence: climate change, asylum seekers, the recent massacre in Orlando, Florida.
Others insisted that instead of biting off more than we can collectively chew, the focus should be contained to pressing matters in our own neighbourhoods, including how to support victims of domestic violence and rape.
To my mind, the debate is a reflection of the Dharma itself. We practitioners are constantly grappling with polarities. We work to cultivate hearts of love and compassion for all sentient beings (an aspiration of the grandest scale), but at the same time we cannot fail to generate the same love towards the challenging individual right in front of us—that guy who cut us off in traffic, a difficult family member, not to mention the person staring back at us in the mirror. We practice for enlightenment, the complete transcendence of the suffering of cyclic existence (a goal that, if I’m honest, on most days feels epically unattainable), yet we go about it through honing our focus down onto one infinitesimally small moment at a time.
I suspect our ability to harmonise these polarities increases with the deepening of our insight, for ultimately are we not also aiming to transcend the dualistic tendencies of the ordinary mind?
As we progress in the Dharma, we inevitably stumble on occasion, and trip over our overly complex sense of self. At least, this is what happens to me constantly…but I’m quite certain it’s not a unique disposition.
I’m sure the same will hold true for the evolution of Sakyadhita Australia, whose members bring a variety of noble aspirations to benefit others. But what I witnessed at the launch event was a willingness to engage with different perspectives and views with respect, warmth, and loving-kindness.
Additionally, there was one point of unwavering mutual agreement: that the foundation of the organisation should be one of fostering compassionate social action.
So I left the event reassured that the spirit of the Dharma is alive and flourishing among the daughters of the Buddha. And that is definitely something precious and worthy of our support.
With love and respect, Narissa
Narissa Doumani, author of A Spacious Life: Memoir of a Meditator
live mindfully ~ love openly
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