Wednesday, May 19, 2010

thinking about gender in buddhist monasticism

Sometimes the obvious questions get asked last. Two years into our lives together, here, one such question has come up in our community life, and we are now organizing a workshop to allow us to draw on others experiences as we wonder: If women tend to communicate with each other differently than men do, if women tend to respond differently to hierarchical authority, and if women tend to form different sorts of friendships than men do, then wouldn't communities comprised entirely of women flourish under different organizational structures and different communication practices than have historically been found productive for Buddhist male communities?

The vast preponderance of Buddhist monastic communities to date have been male communities, and therefore obviously employed practices and social structures that were designed by men for men. Yet this simple fact has often been overlooked when it comes to our thinking about and development of nuns’ communities. The planned workshop will ask the simple but overlooked question: Are there ways that Buddhist nuns' communities can draw on the particular strengths and needs we have as women? This workshop will be held at next year's Sakyadhita conference in Singapore. That conference is open to all, and we particularly welcome here your comments and thoughts.

Tibetan Buddhism teaches that women and men have the same essential nature. Both ultimately share the same basic potential for spiritual growth and enlightenment. Yet it also clearly acknowledges that social conditioning has a major impact on the tendencies, needs and strengths that any given person can bring to bear at any given moment. Whenever people live together, the habits, expectation and internalized roles that they have imbibed with their earlier socialization take on great relevance. This is certainly so in the case of gender socialization.

A great deal of sociological research has been done into the ways that men and women in the same society display differences in their friendships, their ways of caring for others and their styles of communication. If we are able to tailor the social practices within our monastic community to reflect the strengths we have as women, this could be of great benefit to the health and stability of our community. For example, as women we might tend to be more comfortable sharing our internal processes in ways that allow us to address more effectively the interpersonal and personal issues that will inevitably arise in any social group. Thinking about such differences gives us an opportunity to support each other in ways that might not readily occur to men to do, and that therefore might not be part of the traditional monastic practices developed in male communities. In order for us to better support each other in our spiritual growth and in our daily lives, we begin by asking what relative strengths we might have and how we might integrate them into our community life.

To read more, continue here for the full discussion of the issues this workshop will explore.

1 comment:

  1. dear sisters, today is 100th international women's day and i want to thank you from the heart for offering this workshop at the upcoming conference. we are also in the process of founding a nuns' monastery here in the bay area, please visit for more info. at the moment we are in a powerful transition as we are leaving our lineage next month in order to ordain as bhikkhunis. we will not be able to attend the conference this year, but hope to meet you at a future gathering.

    please visit our vihara, if you are in the bay area.

    with warm wishes - in Dhamma