Buddhism has high esteem, reverence and respect towards women in the society since the Buddha’s days. Lord Buddha bestowed full freedom to women in participating in the religious life which of course was very radical at those times. This gave an opportunity to women to prove their worth, capabilities and the capacity to attend the highest position in the religious way of life. Buddha thus established the Bhikkhuni order so as to walk on the path of enlightenment and Nibanna.
But the nuns in Ladakh did not enjoy the status and the opportunity to study and practice the Buddha’s teachings in an organized way nor was there any proper Nunnery where regular classes and teachings were undertaken. They were and still are confined much to their family chores working as unpaid maid servants. Higher ordination or Bhikkhuni Ordination is still an issue which lacks genuine support from the community and spiritual leaders. As such need of an initiative to uplift the nuns and their status was indeed was an urgent need.
Guruji Sanghasena Mahanayaka Thera’s visit to the Fo-Kuang-Shan, the biggest monastery in Taiwan, in 1991, brought him in contact with highly educated and dignified nuns who were so successfully balancing their commitment to their own spiritual development with working for the welfare of Buddhist communities in Taiwan and overseas. Guruji was strongly influenced by these nuns and the structure of the nunnery, to start a similar initiative for the nuns of Ladakh, back home.
Guruji Sanghasena, therefore, with the initial support from the Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) established the Mahabodhi Nunnery, fist of its kind with first batch of young nuns in the year 1996 so as to effort towards improving the impoverished living condition of the Nuns and to restore their self esteem and dignity in the society. Previously non-existent, a comprehensive secular and religious education is provided to the young Nuns in this safe and healthy spiritual environment. It provided to them an opportunity to develop and grow to their fullest potential and offer their services for the development of their fellow sisters in the remote and neglected communities.
The Mahabodhi Phandeyling Nunnery has trained over 30 nuns from all parts of Ladakh as well as the less well known Buddhist communities in the areas such as Arunachal Pradesh. The combining of secular and religious education, the monastic discipline and the exposure to many different cultures at Mahabodhi have enabled these Buddhist women from the Himalayan region to choose a secular life rich with spirituality or give a lifelong commitment to a monastic life of service and meditation. The senior nuns students were sent abroad to participate in several International Buddhist Women Conferences. For the first time, Guruji Sanghasena invited and hosted the International Buddhist Women Conference (Sakyadittha) at Devachan Campus of Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre.
23 young nuns are at the Nunnery are receiving their monastic training which includes practice of the Vipassana meditation, study of basic Buddhist philosophy, Buddhist history, Ladakhi, Tibetan, English and Pali languages. They regularly attend the Mahabodhi School at the campus with other regular children. This gives them both a sound secular education as well as an opportunity for integration with broader society. They get all their facilities of food, lodging, clothing etc. free of costs at the nunnery.
Guruji Sanghasena Mahanayaka Thera certainly aspires and wishes very strongly to train and make the Mahabodhi nuns as Socially Engaged Buddhist Nuns, respectful and skillful Dhamma and meditation teachers, community leaders, religious administrators and healers. They will be encouraged to shoulder leadership responsibilities in carrying out the various educational, Medical, spiritual and charity projects on the campus. They will be encouraged to help in organizing special pujas and render dhamma talks to the residents at the campus. In the long run, their work will enhance the status of Nuns and women and enable them to play a significant role in promoting the welfare and preserving the cultural heritage of the Ladakhi communities.
FULL BHIKKHUNI ORDINATION
It is one of the world’s greatest puzzles that women, who make up half the world’s population, have been so much discriminated throughout history. Many factors have contributed to this state of affairs. Men in the past assumed a dominant position. They also invented religious ‘reasons’ to explain why women are inferior.
Buddha gave full freedom to women to enjoy opportunities to study and practice religion, and to lead a dignified life. But before the advent of the Buddha, women did not enjoy sufficient freedom and were deprived of opportunities to exhibit their innate spiritual and mental capabilities. It was the Buddha who founded the first society of women, the order of the Buddhist Nuns.
Unfortunately the Bikkhuni Order slowly declined and disappeared from many countries.
I am not convinced with all the given reasons to discriminate women. I feel it is totally unfair and unjust to have any kind of discrimination against women, especially from the religious point of view. Women should enjoy equal respect, support, and opportunity to learn, practice and to teach Dhamma – spirituality.
How can a man dare to think his mother is inferior or look down upon, who has poured so much of love and care in the bringing up the children ..? Men and women should never be compared in terms of superiority and inferiority – men and women are unique, there are no comparisons.
To improve the impoverished living conditions of the nuns and women and to restore their lost dignity and position in Ladakhi Society, we have founded a Nunnery and an Adult Literacy Project. It is our strong wish to train and make our sister nuns respectful and skillful Dhamma and Meditation Teachers, religious leaders, administrators, advisors, and councilors and healers. I have been raising my support in favor of Full Bhikkhuni Ordination. It is regrettable that the response from religious leaders and teachers has not been positive. I had to send many girls to Taiwan, who wanted to become nuns and get good education, monastic training and Full Bhikkhuni Ordination.
For the first time in the history of Buddhist nuns in Ladakh, MIMC through its Mahabodhi Phandeyling Nunnery helped some Ladakhi nuns to receive Full Bhikhuni Ordination from the unbroken linage of Chinese Bhikkhuni Sangha.
With Guruji Sanghasena’s initiative, MIMC has also hosted the first ever International Buddhist Women Conference in Ladakh in 1995. This conference was important milestones in the overall development of nuns in Ladakh.
In the next millennium, women will play an increasingly important role in the development of a society. It is necessary for us to prepare them for that role by giving them equal opportunities to participate in the every field of human endeavor. AT the same time, however, women must not see the bringing up a family as disregarding. The traditional role as a mother, as a caring person, must never be abandoned. What we need to do today is to establish a balance between the two sexes, and refrain from the tendency to see them in confrontation with each other.