Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sexism in Buddhism... and what to do about it

My bus reading this week is Holy Cow, by Sarah MacDonald about her experiences living in India. She writes about meeting Tenzin Palmo, one of the first Western Buddhist nuns who started her own nunnery in India with help from the Dali Lama. Quoted by MacDonald, Palmo says,
"While there were some nunneries, there was no educational program for nuns, they effectively had no voice. Religious texts were written by monks and so naturally were one-sided. Nowadays this situation is being slowly redeemed as more and more nunneries are being founded and many include a study program, sometimes using the same curriculum as the monasteries. In the next few years we certainly hope to see women study to become teachers. In the meantime, our nuns still believe that monks are naturally more intelligent and pray to be reborn in a male body." (162)
It's interesting to see a religion confront its internal sexism; I'm familar with the issues within Christianity but I don't know much about sexism and religion outside of the Abrahamic traditions. Apparently when Palmo met with the Dali Lama, she told him about her own battles within Buddhism against sexism and the stories she told made him cry, which led to his support for her nunnery.

You can read about Tenzin Palmo in Cave in the Snow: Tenzin Palmo's Quest for Enlightenment.

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