Honoring My 12th Year Anniversary as an Ordained Buddhist Nun
An Essay by Venerable Ani Drubgyudma, July 15, 2011
Prince Saddhartha was born into the Brahman religion. As a prince, and apparently a pensive philosopher, we can image that he had read and researched the philosophical and spiritual literature of his day. Actually, he had great opportunities to delve into all subjects of interest – philosophy, religion, politics, commerce, etc. – because he was the prince who was going to be a monarch someday. It is recorded that Saddhartha had superior mastery of a number of disciplines.
Saddhartha had access to the most elite of culture and society – he contemplated, and as imagined, debated often with colleagues the issues that concerned the religious and socio-cultural-political evolution in relation to self, culture, and humanity.
Prince Saddhartha was inspired by the poet and philosophers of old who were part of the Brahmanic Vedic literature.
“Buddha himself is recorded to have held that the original brahmans were good men and the Veda (originally) true doctrine but that both had become corrupt and needed to be completely reformed (for example, one should become a brahman by virtue, not by heredity; the brahmans had become mere repeaters of texts, not creative thinkers or ‘meditators’, since the Veda had been compiled). (Indian Buddhism, Warder, 31)
Nevertheless, Saddhartha was a human being who realized that neither he as a the upcoming monarch of his country, nor the current religious, social and political systems, had the answers on what it meant to be human, why suffering, why old age, why death, how do we govern families, work, society, etc? How can human beings find happiness and peace?
Saddhartha’s heart weighed heavy. He knew that the solutions for these questions could not be found through the established systems that were currently in place.
In Saddhartha’s world there was a great philosophical movement know as the sramana movement. Though one of many philosophers, or seekers of truth, within this movement, Saddhartha became the most famous of the sramanas that emerged from this great movement.
These philosophers “were men who had contracted out of ordinary society and became wanderers, living either by gleaning what they could in the woods and fields, or by begging. Their aim was to discover the truth and attain happiness, or at least peace of mind. Having abandoned all social commitments they were free to spend their time thinking, trying out ascetic practices, studying nature, and of course teaching. They set up schools and trained pupils to remember and disseminate their teachings, and they also lectured in villages and cities, even before kings, if invited. The contents of this public lecturing were extremely diverse, but they tended to be ethical, to instruct people how to live, and the food or even fees they received could be regarded as a justifiable return for the teaching they dispensed.
“The sramanas rejected the Veda, and the authority of the brahmans, who claimed to be in possession of revealed truths not knowable by any ordinary human means…” (ibid. 34)
We know that Prince Saddhartha, after many ordeals of living as a forest renunciate, realized complete Enlightenment, he became a master of interdependence.
Buddha Sakyamuni illustrated and taught that the answer to a human being’s suffering is within oneself, and from there expounded the means. He counseled all classes of humanity, including kings. He assisted in the conscious evolution of non-human beings, celestials, and more.
People came to him for advice – spiritual, emotional, familial, political, social – all sorts of counsel. He listened and responded. Kings came to him with advice and donations – he listened and responded.
Social and political influence was embedded and addressed within his relationship with the world in light of an integral and authentic living spirituality. He was fresh and open. Dialogues were common between himself and the community. People felt comfortable sharing what they believed were injustices, and he responded in light of individual situations. He didn’t get out a rule book.
“In the long run, though apparently not at first, by far the most successful and important of the sramana schools was that founded by the Buddha…
“In the scheme of training the most important part is not moral conduct, which though essential is only a preliminary, but meditation, in which the truths about the nature of the universe and one’s own being are contemplated … ” (ibid. 36)
Today, Buddhism is the fastest growing religious system within the USA. Wonderful opportunities exist for a westerner to hear the teachings of the Buddha. Many communities have been planted and are growing.
Eastern cultures have migrated to the West bringing the precious Dharma teachings. The various systems are establishing themselves. The Buddhist Scriptures have been translated into English – how grateful we are for the preciousness of the Dharma activity that has been offered by so many dedicated Buddhist practitioners.
Westerners have ordained as monastics within the various traditions of the Buddhist religious systems.
East West dialogues are common amongst Christian monastics and Buddhist monastics. A tremendous amount of progress has been made, especially with the added wonder of technology.
Nevertheless, there are insidious undercurrents that are not necessarily apparent, or understood. Undercurrents that cause division and confusion within and without the sangha.
Within the religious systems of Buddhism, we can see patterns of dogmatic and legalistic fundamentalism that Shakyamuni himself rebelled against, or perhaps say rejected.
Today in the East and in the West, some traditions, have maintained precepts/rules and roles that base their authority on the Buddhist Canon that is followed to the letter.
Others find” loopholes” and profess to keep the Canon precepts, in light of not being able to really keep to the precepts (rules) in today’s world. They pick and choose what loopholes are relevant to their situation culturally and socially, climatically and politically – often with a same underlying attitude of arrogance that rigid fundamentalism embodies.
This gives rise to a very subtle delusion that often is not realized by the person themselves as to the karmic implications and repercussions.
One can think about the radical religious fundamentalist who forbid gay behavior on a Scriptural law that says it is an abomination to the Lord for a man to lay with a man. Yet this rule directly follows a rule that says if a man wears wool on his skin, it is an abomination to the Lord. Why the gay rule and not the wool rule?
There are numerous examples of exactly the same pattern within the Buddhist Sangha, that effect in detrimental ways both women and men.
Men do not have nearly the amount of cultural and social issues to deal with as women rununciates or lay. Yet the precepts that determine women’s conduct and position cause some men to sympathize. They are aware of the injustices and limitations as articulated in the Buddhist Canon in light of humanity’s evolution towards human justice and gender equality.
Men are also aware of the out-of-date precepts that apply to themselves as men.
But often some within the Buddhist sangha keep silent, so as to not rock-the-boat, or are afraid to lose face, or support for themselves and/or their institutions, others don’t really care because it does not effect them personally. It is a very complicated situation for both Buddhist men and women – renunciate and lay.
For some, the root of the confusion and doubt lies in the fear of disobeying the scriptures, rather than disobeying a human being, or social norms. There are scriptural references that subordinate women, and/or put the fear of women, or the fear of being born as a women, into the minds and behaviors of the sangha membership.
Some Buddhist women and men, leaders and laity, believe that only men can realize complete and perfect enlightenment, or arhantship, so they want to be re-born as a man in order to do so. They believe this because it is written in their Canon.
The karmic play of interconnections and interpenetrations are vast and deep. Many examples can be given as to how and where broken precepts and conduct are overlooked by others because it is the Master who is a Arhant or Bodhisattva in action. It should be viewed this way, he is probably. Yet this tolerance is not so for all monks, and definitely much less tolerance is in place for the nun.
Some of today’s leaders say to women, make your own monasteries and temples, we will not control the women’s sangha. But that is not necessarily true. It is true, but not true.
Women are creating systems that are truly a blessing in the world.
Yet there remains an underlying issue that maybe is overlooked. Most of the systems are still based on pleasing the systems that still approve and interpret precepts and views from the present Canon where women are not equal to the monks.
Why are we segregating the sexes in religion?
Why doesn’t half of humanity, known as women, have governing status except amongst themselves?
Why does the governing power remain male dominated ?
Why is the Canon viewed by many as a divinely given oracle and law never to be amended?
To dismiss injustice and gender inequality because it is part of a tradition, culture, society, or nation is not appropriate.
Social injustice and gender inequality are major karmic influences that cannot be endorsed under a guise of religious tolerance or social norms.
It is unacceptable not to participate in at least raising consciousness and shedding light on these issues.
It is unacceptable to not be aware of where in our lives we may be karmically connected in perpetuating social injustic and gender inequality – whether it is in what food we purchase and eat, where we invest our money, what associations we keep, what traditions we endorse, etc.
Why not a Re-Visioning, a Reformation? An amendment, a Declaration of Liberation in light of a 21st century integral and living authentic spirituality?
We can honor the Canon. We can cherish it and study it extract the essence of the spirituality and wisdom that it offers to humanity.
But must we use the monastic precepts, or other outdated precepts as “The Law” that codifies roles of behavior and roles in today’s world that are indeed endorsing injustice and gender inequality?
Asking for approval and not realizing that seeking the influence of approval is to be in bondage to the approver and that system.
Buddhist leaders, renunciates and lay, must make the changes themselves – living the truth that they want to see in the world.
Those that are leaders, who have cutthrough the obstacles of the Eight Worldly Concerns, can create organizations that are spiritually alive.
It is a living, integral, and authentic Buddhist spirituality that matters the most for the individual, society, culture and nature.
The early life of Buddha Shakyamuni’s actions and philosophy are seeds that can be gleaned and planted – an awakening and stabilization of an enlightened consciousness must occur within each individual – our systems should support this unfolding.
Unless the abbess/abbot, or lay leader, and those closely connected with the leadership of a system are spiritually awake and in the process of stabilizing as altruistic compassionate wisdom human beings the system is doomed to be an institutional, basically confused, clone on planet earth.
Buddha said to change what rules don’t apply. He said to be a lamp unto yourself.
It stands to reason that each individual and each organizational system must determine what causes and conditions, which include the environments, are effective in order to be lamps and manifest in the world as light-bearers within their own given situation and environment.
We must reflect on the essence of Buddha Shakyamuni’s spirituality. What did he model? Why did he leave the palace having the capacity to create any type of environment that may seem beneficial for practice? Where did he originally cultivate? What kind of environment? Why? How did he cultivate? What kind of environment did he live his spirituality in after his enlightenment? How did he maintain his compassion wisdom mind? Where did he continue to live after his enlightenment? What was the essence of his lived authentic spirituality?
Other questions to consider may be: Who has been narrating Buddha’s story? From what religious, social, cultural, and political system is the story being narrated for today?
Many sincere Buddhist leaders, renunciate and lay, have been investigating these questions for along time. Much has been discussed and written, but often to the putting down of real experiential practice. Therefore, we acclimate to the systems in place that offer the comforts to do so, and one of the most essential aspects of Buddha’s spirituality – meditation and forest retreat – is not practiced.
Buddha was not a Buddhist. The Buddhist religion and spirituality arose from Shakyamuni’s realizations and was carried forth through disciples who were socially, politically, and culturally connected – who created institutions within society that blossomed into what we call the Buddhist religion in all its cultural forms. The practice is about waking up to the fact that each human being has a potential to stablize as an altruistic compassionate wisdom being.
Saddhartha was among other things a “cultural creative”, who though a Prince soon to be King, did not have the answers to what he considered most important in terms of living and reigning on earth. He was someone who thought deeply and realized that he, along with others, needed to find happiness and peace of mind. He was someone who had realized that the current systems were oppressive to the individual and to the society.
Thus, after he realized Enlightenment, he began a new one, one of many in his day, as a community of followers gathered around him.
Today, Buddha might be seen from an observer’s perspective as a “cult leader”, because large communities formed around him. He had great followings of disciples, who if they didn’t join the renunciates, lived close-by. Or maybe he would be seen as a radical philosopher, a colleague of Thoreau – “a lunatic on the fringe of society”, as a New York Times literary critic wrote when referring to Thoreau.
Buddha’s cousin, also a sramana, tried to kill him under a so-called religious viewpoint. Milarepa, who many do not realize was a yogi monk ordained by Marpa, was poisoned by a geshe (that lead to Milarepa’s death, though he assisted the very geshe who poisoned him to realize his error and thus the geshe found liberation), Bodhidharma was poisoned 6 times by Buddhist monks who did not agree with his Buddhist practice, the last poison portion led to Bodhidharma’s death, Gandhi was shot by a fundamentalist, Jesus knew that he would betrayed and denied by disciples, and indeed he was.
What is at play here? What are the underlying implications?
There is a vast difference between a living, integral, and authentic spirituality versus a legalistic and rigid fundamentalism.
Sometimes we barely recognize fundamentalism. It may not be apparent that words rather than actions kill just as mightily as the sword. Insidious remarks hold amazing influence that undermine. Images hold an amazing power of influence and control. Perspectives are impermanent, fleeting, like a mirage.
There are foundational insights and environments that assist in the spiritual formation of a human being and that are universally recognized through the lived experiential of those that took the time to test it for themselves – living saints and sages, living buddhas and the bodhisattvas that were, and are, human beings of both genders, from all religious traditions throughout the world.
Buddha taught and exemplified a spirituality on how to cultivate and stabilize an altruistic compassionate wisdom – an enlightened consciousness living and breathing on planet earth in order to serve. He exemplified how a human being can realize happiness and peace of mind.
What a joy it is to have the precious teachings that have been handed down to us through the effort of dedicated sangha. What gratitude we have in our hearts.
But just as a human body gets dirty, needs washing and feels great in new clean clothes, so an institutional body gets worn out, dirty, and needs washing along with some new clean clothes.
Enlightenment is up to each individual to realize and stabilize for themselves – beginning by asking many of the same questions as Prince Saddhartha, and then practice in environments that are beneficial to awakening and stabilizing.
Leadership within all systems of humanity must strive to address and erase injustice and gender inequality, along with outdated systematic protocols – socially, culturally, religiously and politically. It is through enlightened leadership – altruistic compassionate wisdom human beings – that this is possible.
Buddha said this.
Buddha said that.
Master said this.
Master said that.
What does Awake Mind say through you?
How is Awake Mind blessing the world