of the Arya Kshema Nuns’ Conference
January 20, 2014
I begin by paying
homage to this distinguished assembly, headed by His Holiness
the 17th Karmapa and His Eminence the 12th Goshir Gyaltsab
Rinpoche, along with the eminent tulkus, learned khenpos and
geshes, venerable sangha and community of lay supporters.
Karmapa has convened this historical first winter Dharma session
for Karma Kagyu nuns in this most sacred site of Bodhgaya, so it
might be auspicious to recollect a conversation that took place
here shortly after the Buddha’s enlightenment and before he left
the vicinity of the Bodhi tree. At that time, Mara came and
suggested that the Buddha should pass into parinirvana since he
had already accomplished his aim of attaining complete
enlightenment. The Buddha replied that he would only pass into
parinirvana after not only his bhikshus but also his bhikshunis
and upsakas had a clear understanding of the Dharma and could
successfully debate with those who argue against the Dharma.
This conversation is related in the Sanghabhedavastu (dge
‘dun byen gyi gzhi) and other Sanskrit texts as well, and
clearly demonstrates that the Buddha intended that his female
sangha also take an active role in defending the Dharma, and
thereby preserving it for future generations.
Now, a very short
distance from the Bodhi tree where this conversation took place,
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa is creating new opportunities for
nuns to develop our clear understanding of the Dharma, so that
we too can debate and help fulfill the Buddha’s plan for his
female sangha to also contribute to the preservation of the
Dharma in the world.
To do so, as His
Holiness often reminds us, we need to actively cultivate the
wisdom that arises through study, reflection and meditation. We
are incredibly fortunate to be under the care of such a kind and
wise guru who is leading us along the path to liberation and
arranging all the outer conditions that we need to complete that
path. We ourselves also need to work hard to develop the inner
conditions so we can make full use of the outer opportunities.
Until now, women
around the world have faced two major obstacles to developing
their potential: outer obstacles and inner obstacles. The outer
obstacle is lack of material and educational opportunities, and
His Holiness is now creating those outer conditions for us. The
inner obstacle is a lack of confidence in our own ability to
make use of those opportunities.
I think to many of
you, it may look as if Western women have never faced any of
these obstacles. But, actually, the equal opportunities that
women now have in the West are relatively recent. Less than 100
years ago in the United States, women could not even vote! Over
the course of just a few generations, women were offered more
and more educational and professional opportunities, but many
times have been held back by doubts about their own abilities.
My own mother was born in a time when women could receive the
same education as men, but many had not yet developed the
confidence to actually use that opportunity. My mother received
a good education, but becomes painfully shy in public. So many
times I have heard her say, “I could never do that,” yet she
never told me and my sister we could not do it. She and my
father both encouraged us children to believe in our own
potential, and this was an important condition for us to explore
to see for ourselves what our limitations really are.
The point is that
even if we have opportunities, if we think we are not really
able to make use of those opportunities, this thought will
limit our confidence and hold us back.
As His Holiness
has said in the past, ideas about what a woman or man can do or
what a woman or man should be are just ideas – they have no
existence outside our mind. However, when we believe that these
ideas describe our actual nature, this belief affects our
experiences and limits our efforts to develop our potential. If
we believe we cannot accomplish something, we definitely will
not accomplish it.
We should not
let the mundane views of society tell us what our capacity is,
but rather we should let the wisdom of the Dharma shape our
understanding of ourselves.
The Dharma tells us we all have exactly the same Buddha nature.
When we fully realize this potential within us, we will have all
the qualities that society normally tells us are either
masculine or feminine.
Even if we do not
always have full confidence in our own potential, we do
have full confidence and trust in our supreme spiritual guide,
the Gyalwang Karmapa, and he has been telling us nuns that we
do have the capacity to study seriously and practice deeply,
and therefore to become qualified to take up more responsibility
for the Buddhadharma. So our trust in our supreme guru and in
the teachings of the Buddha can become the basis for us to
develop confidence in ourselves.
conference is taking place in the 21st century, at a historical
moment when there is an unprecedented need for the teachings of
the Buddha. Our rapid material progress has led much of the
world to believe that we can find happiness by having more
material things. This view creates more dissatisfaction on a
personal level, and collectively our unbridled consumption is
having a devastating effect on the natural environment. If we do
not change our understanding about where happiness comes from,
in just a few generations we may have destroyed the planet’s
capacity to support this way of life. The Buddhadharma offers a
blueprint for a more sustainable way of living on this planet,
based on a correct understanding of where lasting happiness
comes from and a more compassionate way of relating to one
another and to the planet.
Therefore there is
an urgent need for everyone who has committed their lives to
upholding the Dharma to develop themselves to their fullest
capacity, and especially for nuns to actively contribute to the
flourishing of the Dharma. The Gyalwang Karmapa has also
commented that we are living in an era when the world especially
needs the particular qualities that women manifest more clearly.
Society has long assigned to women the role of caring for
others, and if we look to our own experiences, we can all see
the quality in women of “sensitive listening to others’ needs,”
setting aside their own wishes and allowing compassion to guide
their loving actions that are represented in the figure of the
mother, and that are so urgently needed in today’s world.
In his own
immeasurable kindness to us, His Holiness is now providing the
means for nuns to develop, so that this inherent potential of
lovingkindness can become a full source of benefit to the world.
On behalf of
people in Western countries whose happiness and wellbeing
depends on the availability of Buddha’s teachings, I would like
to request you nuns to deepen your Dharma understanding and
practice, and to accept the responsibility of helping to keep
the teachings of Buddha alive and available around the world,
wherever they are so very much needed.