“The conference includes both academics and people who have practised Buddhism, so I think that Sakyadhita has done a remarkable job in bridging Buddhist practice and scholarship. What we don’t do is just put on a big show about nothing, because we want to get to the heart of the matter.”
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Today, a laywoman panelist got a bit weepy at the start of her talk because she felt so touched to be able to present her paper at the conference. She seemed a bit embarrassed by her tears, but we fellow women in the audience totally got it. Most naturally and reflexively, the audience members started clapping to give her encouragement and she was soon able to continue. It was such a simple moment, but to me it really encapsulated the difference between how women and men respond to open displays of emotion. If we were a male audience, we might well have squirmed in our seats and reaffirmed our view that yes, women are overly emotional and irrational like that. In my own experience, when I have had moments of ‘losing it’ in front of male monks, even ones known for having lots of metta , I can sense how they immediately freeze up a bit and withdraw into themselves, then quickly throw out some nugget of wisdom to ‘solve the problem’ that presumably started the waterworks so sensible conversation could resume. But the way the nuns and other women in the audience responded this morning was totally different – to us, the presenter’s tears were totally not a big deal. We’ve all been overcome by emotion and had spontaneous outbursts like that. Nothing for us to feel uncomfortable about, and certainly nothing for her to feel chagrined about. A few moments later, the tears dried up, the presentations went on, and that was that. Crying is perfectly ok here. This is what is special about being among women and among nuns.
Lots of bald people in robes here. Everywhere you go, you see the rounded heads and flowing robes of one color or another billowing gently in the wind. But when the baldies here speak, it is with feminine voices. Ahh, how heartwarming and nourishing it is to see and hear. As a nun in Thailand, it’s not often you get to be in the middle of a gathering of fellow female monastics in such great numbers and of such diversity as here at the Sakyaditha conference. This morning at the group meditation session, as I looked out at the rainbow of nuns in their different colored uniforms filling the dhamma hall, all sitting in meditation in the same universal cross-legged position, I felt a profound sense of sisterhood that deeply touched my heart. Regardless of which tradition we came from, here we all were, quietly united in working towards the same end — penetrating and sharing the teachings of the Buddha, common father to all us ‘dhitas’ (daughters.)
There is no lack of things to do at the 12th Sakyadhita International Women in Buddhism Conference! When I was not running around hanging directional signs in preparation for the afternoon workshops, I attended today’s panel on New Directions for Buddhist Social Transformation. All of the papers in the panel were interesting, but the one that struck me the most was Diana Cousens’ paper regarding temple accessibility to the disabled.
This is not just an issue within Buddhist temples. Once I thought to ponder it, I realized that many sites I have visited in the past–whether it be a temple on the ghats of Varanasi, India, or a wat in the middle of Bangkok–are utterly inaccessible to people who might be in wheelchairs, use crutches, or just unable to climb many steps. Diana recalled witnessing a palanquin being offered to the elderly and disabled at the Ajanta caves in India, and noted that it wasn’t until a few years after that that she realized the problem of accessibility in religious sites.
I think Diana’s work in pioneering legislation requiring religious sites to list their accessibility levels and availability is of utmost importance. Buildings constructed long before codes regarding accessibility were put in place should be available for people of all ages and ability to explore and witness. Temples, churches, shrines…all of these should be able to open themselves up to those who might need them most; they should not exclude.
Diana’s paper raised an issue I had never considered, and I am glad she presented it to the conference; we must remember that even while we strive to open up the world to women, we must also strive to open up the world to all those who are not given equal status. Everyone must feel enabled, and as long as one group is held back we must continue this mission.
We are posting from the 12th Sakyadhita International Women in Buddhism Conference, being held at Sathira Dhamma Sathan (SDS), a dhamma center in Bangkok, Thailand. This year’s conference theme is Leading to Liberation. We hope to inform and inspire you with pictures, videos, insight, and information.