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Monks & nuns reflect on rights of women

- Focus on revival of bhikkhuni order at academic session of Buddhist conference

The nationwide deliberation on the dignity of women echoed at the international Buddhist Sangha Conference in Patna on Sunday.

At the academic session, the subject of animated discussion was the revival of bhikkhuni ordination. The departure of the Dalai Lama, who had come to Patna on Friday, in the morning did not discourage the monks and scholars attending the conference. They also reflected on equal opportunities for women in every sphere of life, including religious and spiritual practices.

According to the Buddhist traditions, the Buddha at the request of his foster-mother Mahapajapati Gotami created the order of bhikkhunis or fully ordained nun.

Carola Roloff (Bhikkhuni Jampa Tsedroen), a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Hamburg in Germany, said: “The Buddha established equal opportunities for men and women in 500 BC. Religious leaders now have an important role in protecting the dignity of women, who face rampant gender discrimination. The recent gang rape of the 23-year-old paramedical student in New Delhi is disturbing. This is not acceptable.”

She also spoke on the process of ordinance of an aspiring nun. “A trainee is taught the life of brahmcharya (celibacy) by a group of 12 bhikkhunis. She takes the vow of lifetime chastity in front of two sangha members — one male; the other female. The entire process can take up to 12 years.”

Venerable Pannasami, a lecturer at Central University of Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, said: “The Buddha’s teachings are not only for men but also for women. The tradition of bhikkhuni grew after Sanghamitra, the daughter of Mauryan emperor Ashoka established a sangha in Sri Lanka. It prospered in countries like India and Sri Lanka and many others for 1,200 years but slowly disappeared in Thailand and Cambodia. It is time to revive the bhukkhuni tradition.”

The visitors to the conference were also enlivened by the enlightening discussions. Joelle, a Swiss devotee who has been attending the sessions, said: “I have come with my teacher. The large gathering of Buddhist leaders and devotees at the conference is a learning experience for me — a student of Buddhist philosophy.”

She added that Buddhist meditation techniques had attracted her to the religion.


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