By Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni
All dear Dhamma friends,
I am returned to our vihara from a beautiful time under the saffron-gold full moon eclipse in the freshness and tranquility of the Awakening Forest ~ at our bhikkhunis’Aranya Bodhi Hermitage.
Not only was it the time of a special full moon super moon with eclipse, but also the 2598th lunar anniversary commemorative day of the founding of our Bhikkhuni Sangha with the Buddha so long ago. And, it was the day of one of the most special events in the life of a woman or any human being who goes forth into the monastic life in this Buddha’s Dispensation: it was the day of a Pabbajja for our dear friend and anagarika, Michelle Raymond.
Recently, I was at Brian Gravestock’s Bike Clinic – designed to outfit and repair bikes for the homeless and unemployed. I love going there. Conversations with Brian, observing his dedication and the kind and respectful way he deals with his customers is as important to me as getting my bike repaired. I frequently leave the clinic energized, encouraged and inspired.
The bike clinic operates from the garage of a shelter helping homeless men transition to mainstream. While I was there, a well-dressed man from the shelter came up to me and talked at length about my electric bike’s battery. I was impressed by his command of the subject. But I was mystified. I didn’t expect an educated and articulate man to be homeless. When I shared my thoughts, Brian said, “Most people are here because they have gotten into trouble. But I don’t think it is right to judge someone by the worst thing that they have done.” Touched, I reflected more on it.
Many of us have experienced guilt being been used to shame us into skillful behavior. The problem is that it doesn’t work very well. When we feel guilty we feel bad about ourselves. This can diminish our energy as well as capacity to focus clearly. Without clear focus, it is more likely that we will do the same thing again. When we do the same thing again it can reinforce the idea that we are, in fact, a bad person. It is ironic that guilt contributes to repeating our mistakes. Yet, when we see this, we can be motivated to find a guilt free way to be more skillful.
From a Buddhist perspective, guilt serves no useful purpose. What is extremely important is to separate out the cause-and-effect of the unskillful action and its result from the bad person who is the agent of the action. Looking this way, we can see that there isn’t an enduring bad person that does bad things. Instead, we see the result of unwise attention, unwise action and unskillful results. When we don’t feel like we are a bad person, we aren’t likely to succumb to feelings of toxic shame. Instead we can see that when we do something unskillful, it causes unskillful results. Seeing this, we naturally recoil from causing harm.
Seeing our choices and their results has positive impacts. Rather than drain our energy and loose focus, we are careful not to make the same mistake again. Since there isn’t a “me” that gets configured when we look at the cause and effect, we don’t see ourselves in a fixed way – thinking we are basically bad, stupid or get everything wrong. Likewise, when we see others make mistakes, it makes it a little easier to stay open to their strengths, vulnerabilities and weaknesses, place their actions in context, and stay connected.
Dear Venerables & Friends,
I received a note from venerable bhikkhuni Kusuma Theri at Ayya Khema Meditation Center in Sri Lanka today. Ven Kusuma is often called “the first Sri Lankan bhikkhuni [in modern times],” as she was a great pioneer in the reemergence of the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha in one of it’s ancient homelands, Sri Lanka.
For this post I’d like to examine a little more closely some of the issue around the problem of discrimination against women in the Sangha. This is a hard topic, and there will be much inner resistance to accepting my conclusions here. All I can ask is that the reader be aware of their own responses, and to reflect that the writer, too, has dealt with similar responses over many years in working with these issues. For this piece, I will concentrate on the ‘normal’ form of sexism, where it is men who discriminate against women.
First up, what is ‘sexism’? I would give the following definition: sexism is irrelevant or disproportional discrimination against a person based on their gender. Sexism is by definition wrong, since it harms women by depriving them of their full humanity. In a more subtle sense, sexism harms men too, since men’s sense of security is maintained by harming the ones they love.
Thanissara just sent me this letter. Having known her as a nun at Amaravati and having just come out of the community from which these events have been occurring, I would encourage you to read the letter below and sign the petition if you too are concerned and agree with the points.
I invite you to consider signing this petition http://new.ipetitions.com/petition/bhikkhuni-ordination/
You will see that it is an expression of concern and disagreement in view of:
the lack of acknowledgment regards the legitimacy of the recent Perth Bhikkhuni ordinations undertaken by Ajahn Brahm by the Forest Sangha elders Ajahn Brahm’s consequent expulsion and the delisting of Wat Bodinyana from the lineage of Ajahn Chah the un-negotiated 5 point agreement placed upon the nuns at Chithurst and Amaravati monasteries by the UK male elder council. The UK nuns signed under pressure, in an atmosphere of secrecy, having been made clear to them that no further ordinations would happen without their consent to these five points (which mirror the garudhammas but go further in disallowing them from seeking Bhikkhuni ordination)
This is challenging territory. In the transmission of the Buddhadhamma in the West, in which the monastic community plays a vital role, a culture of dissent is not usually encouraged, or necessarily seen as conducive for practice. However there are moments when right speech is not silence, but is challenge and a respectful invitation into dialogue. I believe in the light of these recent events, this is such a moment.
There are times in life when the situations one finds oneself in present challenges that do not have simple solutions. When what one has been familiar with suddenly becomes non-existent, the challenge in practice is to accept things the way they are and find an appropriate response. Often there can be an overlay of the “way it use to be” and “should be” obscuring what is. It is the meditator’s way to recognize such obstacles for what they are and return to what actually is and knowing how one can respond that leads to balance and well-being.
Dipa Ma, The Story of a Great Master
March 25, 1911 – September 1, 1989
I first heard about Dipa Ma in 1979 while I was a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I was taking a course with Jack Engler and the stories he told about Dipa Ma’s depth of suffering and level of transformation after she began meditating left a deep impression in me. I had a deep and strong aspiration to meet her and I did. In honor of the anniversary of her death and in celebration of her life, may I recount some of what I have learned about this remarkable woman and how she touched my life.
I live in no man’s land, right next to a piece of road that is unincorporated by the county. Sandwiched between the cities of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, it seems to belong to no one.
In England I was part of a large community of monastics in a well-established tradition with excellent support. I left all this behind when I returned to the US. I live without a community of other Buddhist monastics near by, where wearing robes and living as an alms mendicant continue to be foreign to most people I encounter. As a female Buddhist monastic in a secular world, I live in my own no man’s land. I sometimes ask, where do I belong?
We live in a time where we have little faith. Our leaders have spent too long saying things that are untrue; using distortions to promote the privilege of some at the expense of others; promoting policy that makes no sense. Discernment has seen this for what it is. We have listened to rhetoric and party lines, hearts numbed and despairing. For many it has seemed like this is the way it is and the way it is going to be.
What happens when there is a leader who speaks in language that resonates? What happens when what is being said is congruent with values that are held as true? What happens when there is an ability to name dishonesty, and greed for what it is and say that to hold the safety of a society above its core values is to be taken as false? What happens when there is both the willingness and strategies that may begin to address the global and social issues at hand?