Since the time of the Buddha women have played significant roles in Buddhist societies but until recently their contributions have often gone unrecognized. In the past two decades the landscape has shifted dramatically. Buddhist women have come out of the shadows and begun to take active roles both in the sphere of religion and social transformation. The 1st Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women held in 1987 in Bodhgaya India gave rise to a revolutionary new awareness among Buddhist women that has led to major changes throughout the Buddhist world.
Out of the shadows: Socially Engaged Buddhist Women is a collection of essays that sheds light on Buddhist women’s vast achievements. Theses essays tremendous odds their earnest spiritual practice and their diligent efforts to relieve the sufferings of the world. Beginning with the story of the Buddha’s wife and spanning more than two thousand years of history the essays illuminate the lives of Buddhist laywomen and nuns from a diversity of cultures throughout Asia and beyond. The richness and variety of their struggles and accomplishments are a valuable chapter in women’s history and an inspiring legacy.
Karma Lekshe Tsomo teaches in the Department of Theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego. She has a Ph.D. in Comparative philosophy from the University of Hawaii. Her books include into the Jaws of Yama lord of Death: Buddhist Bioethics and Death Buddhist women and Social justice Buddhist women across cultures realizations and sisters in solitude two traditions of Manstic ethics for women. She is the president of Sakyadhita International association of Buddhist women and director of Janyang foundation an initiative to provide educational opportunities for women in developing countries.
In the last 20 years Buddhist women have come our of the shadows and begun to take a visible role in their tradition and on the world stage. Since 1987 when the 1st Sakyadhita international conference on Buddhist women was held in Bodhgaya India Buddhist women have joined hand and begun a small revolution of consciousness in the Buddhist world. Every two years disciplines and religious traditions meet together to discuss Buddhist backgrounds academic disciplines and religious traditions meet together to discuss Buddhist women’s history values presentations sitting meditations chanting practices small group discussions and cultural performances to understand the experience of Buddhist women around the world. The 8th Sakyadhita international conference on Buddhist women held in Seoul Korea from June 27 to July 4, 2004 was the latest in this series of international gatherings.
Creating a forum that unites so many people disciplines and perspective in an atmosphere of mutual respect is a significant contribution to human society. It is especially significant that this monumental endeavor is being initiated by Buddhist women a segment of society that until recently has been marginalized and largely ignored. Only since 1987 when Sakyadhita international association of Buddhist women was formed in Bodhgaya have scholars practitioners artistes and activists from around the world begun to unite at a grassroots level and assume leadership in working for the welfare of the world’s Buddhist women. Now less the 20 years later working steadily and become recognized as a highly dynamic forum representing over 300 million women worldwide. This movement emerging from obscurity into the international spotlight as a force for social change is an example of how women can unite work harmoniously together and make significant progress toward global understanding.
The articles included in out of the Shadows: socially engaged Buddhist women are written by many unique individuals and political strife are but a few. As real as these obstacles are Buddhist women have come to realize that biased attitude toward women are often shaped simply by tradition without due thought. For example even through Buddha Sakyamuni recognized women’s equal spiritual potential over 200 years ago Buddhist women today do not always receive a decent education or have full access to religious instruction. Although Buddhist women may have more freedom than in other societies they hold few positions of power in the realms of politics and religion. While there is little evidence to suggest that women are consciously oppressed or silenced their potential has certainly been neglected. Fully empowering women requires change and are therefore challenges the status quo.
Sakyadhita’s conferences and publications represent a vision of women working cooperatively across boundaries of ethnicity nationality economic status educational background and religious affiliation. Fully appreciating the difference of language and culture that ordinarily separate human beings teams of scholars practitioners and volunteers join together to create a vibrant international forum to discover the uniqueness of women’s histories and experience as well as their commonalties. These visionary individuals and groups and for social change in a spirit of peace and harmony despite differences of language and culture offering a beacon of light in a world of strife.
Although a number of books have appeared in recent years on the topic of engaged Buddhism women’s efforts have generally been relegated to a single chapter if they appear at all. In out of the shadows socially engaged Buddhist women it is clear that women’s contributions have been enormous and diverse. The volume begins by describing Buddhist women’s lives in specific societies them moves to an investigation of their roles in Buddhist women’s world history. The next sections discuss Buddhist education everyday practice and meditation practices all of which are essential for the continuation of Buddhist culture. Perhaps achieve liberation and to practice to Dharma in every aspect of their lives. The next section describes their heroic struggles. Lest it be assumed that Buddhist women live isolated shive to achieve liberation and to practice the dharma in every aspect of their lives. The next section solitude the next section sheds light on some of the many projects they have initiated for the social good. The controversial issue of full ordination for Buddhist women is considered for the from several perspectives. And finally women discuss Buddhism in the contemporary world.
In this volume short articles about remote regions like Mangolia and Zangskar are placed alongside erudite essays on philosophy and history. The fact that so many different voices are included and valued is profound testimony on Buddhist women’s outlook on the world. In doing so we hope to model the values of inclusion and social equity that we treasure. To model these values speaks volumes about women valuing other women and supporting each other as women strive to be the best we can be both as individuals and as members of the human family. It is an immense privilege to honor the hard work that these women are doing to benefit society even against great odds. We are pleased to highlight these achievements so that readers can learn more about the Buddhist tradition and the vibrant community of Buddhist women practitioners. We are honored to include the voices of women why may not have a voice in their own societies. The diversity of these articles reflects the diversity of the contributors the very diversity that is the strength of the Buddhist women’s movement. Each writer shares a glimpse of wisdom offered in a spirit of compassion from her own corner of the world. Through these words you can experience the vitality of the Buddhist traditions that have endured for centuries and supported the spiritual and intellectual development of millions of people.
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