My personal projects bring me to unexpected places without and within. They allow me to discover new perspectives on life, on womanhood, on identity and spirituality.
The Nun’s Path
A personal project exploring the lack of gender equality in Theravada Buddhism, the oldest and most traditional of the 3 buddhist branches.
In the eleventh century, Sri Lanka was conquered by the Colas of southern India, who destroyed the monasteries and eliminated the monks and nuns. In 1070, Sri Lanka invited monks from Burma to restore the order of bhikkhus, as Buddhism had disappeared in India by this time. Unfortunately there were no surviving orders of Theravada nuns anywhere to find. It was however rule that ten nuns were needed to ordain a new nun, and so ordination of bhikkhunis was no longer possible, and so there has been no fully ordained order of Theravada bhikkhunis since that time.
Nuns are called Dounji, in Cambodia, their status is far lower than that of the monks, since they are not ordained monastics, but simply laywomen who’s tradition began with older woman taking up residence in the temples to serve the monks, assimilating the rules, shaving their hair, dressing in monastic white cotton and living by the buddhist precepts.
To be a nun is not easy I learn, while visiting the group of 50 Cambodian nuns who live in the Andouck (turtle) pagoda outside of Battambang, Cambodia along with a group of 100 monks.
While lay women’s support has been beneficial to maintain institutional Buddhism over the centuries, such valuable support has sadly been unavailable for the female path. The role of women in Theravada Buddhism has primary been to support the monks on their spiritual path, with money and food donations, and also as servants, working as food-preparers, cooks, cleaners, gardeners, spiritual guides, teachers, carers, and so much more.
Not being allowed proper ordination has made it difficult for nuns to find guidance, wisdom and confidence on their path to enlightenment. Most buddhist nuns in Cambodia see their role as the servant, the humbleness demanded of them seems like a meditative practice, however, often I cannot help but recognize that this humbleness is not equally required of male practitioners. If the Buddha taught that the same path leads women and men to enlightenment, why than are women and men offered so very different paths? And why has there never been a female Buddha? I learn that a woman has to be reborn in a male body to have the chance to gain enlightenment.