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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. May's Theme: "Appreciation"
Volume 5 Issue 4 ISSN# 1708-3265

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Dhamma talk for Outstanding Women In Buddhism Ceremony

by Jacqueline Kramer

To mark the United Nations International Women's Day (March 8th) the first "Outstanding Women in Buddhism Awards" was in Bangkok on 6th March 2002. This event was the brainchild of one individual, Venerable Bhikkhuni Rattanavali, who felt that there was a need to honour Buddhist women spiritual leaders as a means of creating a culture of dialogue and peace. Excerpt from: OWIB Website

Distinguished Outstanding Women in Buddhism panel, fellow honourees, ladies and gentlemen. It is a privilege to be here with you today to honour the good works and contributions of women in Buddhism. I dedicate the merit of our time together to the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

For centuries the monks, nuns, laywomen and laymen in the East have kept the precious jewels of the dharma alive. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this. I have been studying and practicing Theravadin Buddhism for over 30 years. My teachers, Anagarika dhamma dinna, the Venerable Ananda Maitreya, Achan SobinNamto, the Venerable Punnaji Mahathera and Ayya Khema have all undergone travel, adventure and hardship to bring the Buddha's teachings to the West where I, and many others, have been gifted with them. I did not need to travel East, the teachings came to my door.

Part of the brilliance of the Buddha's teachings is that whenever they have traveled to a new culture, they were flexible enough to adapt to that new culture. This was true when Bodhidharma traveled to China and met the sophisticated, artistic culture there and true when Padmasambhava traveled to Tibet and met the hearty, colourful traders there. Now the dharma has traveled to the West. And what has it met there? It has met a culture which loves science and psychology, a culture which loves physical results and transformation, a culture of individuals dedicated to psychological and social growth.  

Alongside these psychological and scientific leanings, the West is also a culture in which many dedicated women and men have worked long and hard so that women and men can stand side by side as equals. We have further to go but have made great strides in this area. In the West we cherish freedom and equality. These values are written into our constitution, a constitution we are still growing into. We are also very individualistic and like to make up our own minds rather than obediently follow others. It is a culture of people who want to see how a thing works before buying it; we like to take our teachings out for a spin. This is good for some things and not so good for other things but great for Buddhism.

This is an exciting time for Buddhism. During its time in the West Buddhism has taken on new vitality and colouration. Americans are hungry for the nourishment Buddhism provides and Buddhism is growing in leaps and bounds there. We love the possibility it offers for transformation. We love that the Buddha tells us to not take his word for what he teaches but to try it out in our own lives. We love that so many dedicated practitioners throughout time have provided practices to do just that. We are hungry for the sensible, non-judgmental approach to life Buddhism offers.

Many Westerners begin the Buddhist practice of meditation before learning about the precepts, the suttas or the abhidhamma. They come to Buddhism to find more peace of mind, relief from pain and stress. Some enter Buddhism through the Wisdom gate of study. Some embrace Buddhist practices and bring those practices back to their own religious tradition, Christianity or Judaism.

Still, many women in the West are troubled by the treatment of women in Buddhism. When my students voice these concerns to me I point out that Buddhism is growing and changing, as are all living systems. It is up to us to honour the feminine in the teachings. We remember that the Buddha made it perfectly clear women could become enlightened just as men and in the Buddha's time, and since, many women have achieved enlightenment. When my students are troubled by how Gotami had to ask the Buddha repeatedly to create a female sangha and was repeatedly refused until Ananda spoke on her behalf, I ask them to look deeper into the story. These were different times; the Buddha pushed the envelope as far as he could for that age. Gotami showed us how we need to be persistent. In our persistence we can change even the Buddha's mind.

In the West we have female and male Roshi's teaching side by side. Not one higher than the other. We have laymen and laywomen dedicating their lives to teaching the dharma. We have meditation retreats where men and women sit together. In the West men and women are developing the path together, side by side. This is exciting and a long time coming. Since women make up about half the population of the world it would be a shame to deny them access to these transformative teachings and practices. Given the danger to our Earthly home it is imperative that as many men and women as possible become enlightened.

I serve laywomen, the most neglected component of the fourfold sangha. I serve laywomen through the Hearth Foundation by teaching lay Buddhist practice classes online to mothers throughout the world. Mothers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Finland, England and all over the United States come together in our virtual classroom to study Buddhism and learn how to apply the Buddha's teachings to everyday life. Hearth's classes are offered freely, in keeping with the Buddhist tradition. We have virtually no overhead to pay for, since the classes are online. The mothers can come to class as suits their families needs and schedules without having to find childcare. There, in our virtual classroom, the mothers find a message board where their sangha has posted responses to the week's lesson. Friendships are formed and support, as well as inspiration, offered.

The women I teach do not always have Buddhist centres nearby and, even if there are centres nearby, they are seldom family-friendly. When the Buddha taught he tailored his teachings to the population he was addressing. When addressing mothers we are talking to women who need practical lessons, lessons which will be useful in their hectic everyday lives. They are interested in relationships. They are interested in being in this world but not of it. Mothers love deeply, serve twenty-four-seven and are in a constant state of development. They provide a beautiful place for Buddhism to plant its seeds! These seeds enter their husbands, children, neighbours, and relatives and offer respite from materialism.

Now the West, through myself and many others, returns to the East to thank you for sharing your beloved Buddhism with us and to share what we have discovered about everyday transformation and the feminization of Buddhism. It is an exciting time for Buddhism as dedicated women teachers and practitioners take their place alongside dedicated male teachers and practitioners, the female perspective adding selflessness, unconditional love and relatedness to the male gift of creation and wisdom. Thank you for inviting me to share this honour with you. May all beings, without exception, be free.

Please read Jacqueline's interview in our November 2007 issue and take a moment to learn about her award here.

Jacqueline Kramer is the director of the Hearth Foundation. She has been studying and practicing Theravadin Buddhism for 30 years, is a Religious Science Practitioner and student of the world's wisdom traditions. Her root teacher was Annagarika Dhamma Dinna who taught in the Sri Lankan tradition. She also studied with Ven. Ananda Maitreya, Achan Sobin Namto, Ven. Punnaji Mahathera and Ayya Khema. Her work with mothering and homemaking came out of an insight she had one afternoon while out in her back yard. As she looked into the eyes of the neighbour's cow she had an experience of unity and love for the planet and the desire to help protect the planet for her newborn daughter and all other beings. She realized this was her life's purpose. Jacqueline writes a weekly newsletter, books on mothering as a spiritual practice, and has created online lay Buddhist practice classes which she offers, as is the Buddhist tradition, at no cost. She is a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and friend.

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