Living the Dharma
We all are aware
of the problems we face today, and we are also aware of the
potentials and the qualities present in the female sangha.
When there is a talk about women and Buddhism, I have noticed
that people often regard the topic as something new and different.
They believe that women in Buddhism has become an important
topic because we live in modern times and so many women are
practicing the Dharma now. However, this is not the case.
The female sangha has been here for centuries. We are not
bringing something new into a twenty-five hundred-year-old
tradition. The roots are there, and we are simply re-energizing
When women join the sangha, sometimes
one part of their minds thinks, "Maybe I won't be treated
equally because I am a woman." With that attitude, when
we do a simple thing, such as enter a shrine room, we immediately
look for either the front seat or the back seat. Those who
are more proud think, "I'm a woman," and rush for
the front row. Those who are less self-confident immediately
head for the last row. We need to examine this kind of thinking
and behavior. The foundation and essence of the Dharma goes
beyond this discrimination.
Sometimes you suffer from doubt and dissatisfied
mind in your Dharma practice. When you do a retreat, you wonder
if bodhicitta would grow more easily from actually working
with people who are suffering. You think, "What is the
benefit of selfishly sitting in this room, working toward
my own enlightenment?" Meanwhile, when you do work to
help people, you think, "I have no time to practice.
Perhaps I should be in a retreat where I can realize the Dharma."
All of these doubts arise because of ego.
Dissatisfied mind arises toward the precepts
as well. When you do not have precepts, you think, "The
monastics have dedicated their lives to Dharma and have so
much time to practice. I want to be a monastic too."
Then after you become a monastic, you are also busy and begin
to think that being a monastic is not the real way to practice.
You start to doubt, "Perhaps it would be more realistic
to stay within the world. The monastic life may be too traditional
and alien for me." Such obstacles are simply manifestations
of a dissatisfied mind.
Whether you are a monastic or a lay practitioner,
rejoice in your practice. Do not be rigid or worry unnecessarily
about doing things wrong. Whatever you do-talking, sleeping,
practicing-allow spontaneity to arise. From spontaneity comes
courage. This courage enables you to make an effort to learn
each day, to remain within the arising moment, and then the
confidence of being a practitioner will emerge within you.
That brings more happiness, which will enable you to live
according to your precepts. Do not think that precepts tie
you down. Rather, they enable you to be more flexible, open
up, and look beyond yourself. They give you the space to practice
the path of renunciation and bodhicitta. It must be understood
that by taking the precepts we are able to loosen our rigid
individualism in many ways and thus be more available to others.
Previously, many women lacked the confidence
that they could achieve enlightenment, but I think that is
not much of a problem now. Many women practitioners, lay women
as well as nuns, have done incredible work. Different projects
are underway and our external circumstances are improving.
Nevertheless, some people ask, "How can we practice with
the shortage of female role models to teach us?" I wonder:
Does the teacher you dream of have to be a woman? If so, will
you want to spend as much time as possible with her? Our wants
and wishes never end.
I agree there is a great need for women
teachers, and many young nuns are exceptional in their education
today. We should definitely request them to teach. Many nuns
simply need the confidence to teach and thus to help one another.
To learn, you do not necessarily need a teacher who has studied
thousands of texts. Someone who knows just one text well can
share it. We need people who will pass onto others what they
But our ego blocks us from learning and
benefiting from each other. Those who could teach often doubt
themselves thinking, "Who is going to listen?" And
those who need to learn often look for the "highest"
teacher, not the teacher with knowledge. Looking for the "perfect"
teacher is sometimes a hindrance. You think, "Why should
I listen to this person? I have been a nun longer than she
has. I have done a three-year retreat, but she hasn't."
Watch out for this type of attitude. Of course, a person who
has all the qualities and can expound all the teachings properly
is very important. But also realize that you are in a situation
where any knowledge is appreciated. Until you meet this "perfect"
teacher, try to learn wherever and whenever you can. If it
is knowledge you are looking for, you will find it. People
will be available to teach you, but you may lack the humility
needed to be a perfect recipient.
I believe Buddhism will be Westernized.
Some changes definitely need to come about, but they need
to be well thought out. It is not appropriate to change something
simply because we have difficulty with it. Our ego finds difficulty
with almost everything! We must examine what will enable people
to be more flexible, to communicate better, and to extend
themselves to others, and then make changes for these reasons.
Deciding what and how to change is a delicate matter and can
be very tricky. We must work carefully on this and be sure
to preserve the authenticity of the Dharma and keep true compassion
The Need for Community
We in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition often
become absorbed in "my vows," "my community,"
"my sect," "my practice," and this keeps
us from putting our practice into action. As practitioners,
we should not become isolated from one another. Remember that
we are not practicing and are not ordained for our own convenience;
we are following the path toward enlightenment and working
for the benefit of all sentient beings. Being a sangha member
is a hard, yet valuable responsibility. For us to make progress
and our aspirations to bear fruit, we must work together and
appreciate one another honestly. Therefore, we need to know
one another, live together, and experience community life.
We need places where Western nuns can
live and practice, just as in the East. If we sincerely want
the female sangha to flourish and develop, some amount of
hard work is necessary. We cannot simply let it be and say
it is difficult. If problems exist, we are, more or less,
responsible for them. On the other hand, good results come
from working together and being unified. In Western society,
you become independent at a very young age. You have privacy
and can do whatever you like. Community life in the sangha
immediately confronts you with living with different people
who have varying opinions and views. Of course problems will
arise. Instead of complaining or avoiding your responsibility
when this happens, you need to bring your practice to the
Constructing a place for the sangha is
not too difficult, but developing trust is. When someone disciplines
you, you should be able to accept it. If you want to move
out the moment that you do not like something, your life as
a nun will be difficult. If you think about giving back your
vows every time your teacher or someone in the monastery says
something you do not want to hear, how will you progress?
The motivation begins with you. You must begin with a solid,
sincere motivation and want to follow a path of renunciation.
When you have that motivation, problems will not seem so big,
and you will meet teachers and receive teachings without much
Simply waking up as a community, walking
into the shrine room as a community, practicing as a community,
eating as a community is wonderful. This must be learned and
practiced. The experience of living together is very different
from understanding a nun's life by reading books. A teacher
can say, "Vinaya says to do this and not that,"
and people will take notes and review the teaching. But this
is not the same as living the teachings together with other
people. When we actually live it ourselves, a more natural
way of learning occurs.
As a sangha, we need to work together.
It is important for us to help each other and to help those
in positions of responsibility in whatever way we can. We
also need to respect those who teach us. When a nun is well
trained, she can teach other nuns. The nuns who study with
her will respect her, saying, "She is my teacher."
She is not necessarily their root teacher, but she has good
qualities and has given them knowledge, and that is reason
enough to respect her.
See that in your lifetime, you give whatever
you know to at least ten people. Receiving complete teachings
is difficult, so when you are fortunate enough to receive
teachings, make sure to make it easier for others to get them.
Help to improve the circumstances and to share what you learn
so that others do not have to struggle as much as you did.
When many instructions and teachings are given, we will have
educated nuns who are well versed, and they will benefit many
The Importance of Motivation
Whether one is a nun, a Westerner, a Tibetan,
a lay person, a meditator, or whatever, practice comes back
to one thing: checking oneself. Time and time again, we need
to observe very carefully what we are doing. If we find ourselves
simply seeing our Dharma practice as an extracurricular activity,
similar to a hobby, then we are off track.
Almost all human beings begin with good
motivation. They do not begin to practice Dharma with a lack
of faith or a lack of compassion. As people continue to practice,
some meet favorable conditions and increase their good qualities.
They gain genuine experiences through their meditation and
grasp the real meaning of Dharma practice. But some who begin
with inspiration, faith, and strong motivation, find after
many years that they have not changed much. They have the
same thoughts, difficulties, and problems as before. They
appreciate and agree with the Dharma, but when it comes to
practicing it and changing themselves, they find difficulties.
Their own ego, anger, laziness, and other negative emotions
become so important and necessary for them. Their minds make
difficult circumstances seem very real, and then they say
they can't practice.
If this happens to us, we have to examine:
How much do we really want enlightenment? How much do we want
to go beyond our negative emotions and wrong views? Looking
carefully into ourselves, we may see that we want enlightenment,
but we also want many other things. We want to enjoy pleasure,
we want others to think that we are enlightened, we want them
to recognize how kind and helpful we are. From morning to
night we encounter samsara, with all its difficulties, at
very close range. Yet how many of us actually want to go beyond
this and leave samsara?
Genuine great compassion motivates us
to attain enlightenment and benefit sentient beings. Nevertheless,
we tend to use compassion and bodhicitta as excuses to indulge
in what we like. Sometimes we do what ego wants, saying, "I'm
doing it for the sake of others." Other times we use
the excuse that we have to do our Dharma practices in order
to shirk our responsibilities. But Dharma practice is not
about running away from responsibilities. Instead, we need
to turn away from habitual negative patterns of thought and
behavior, and to discover these patterns we need to look within
ourselves. Until that is done, simply speaking about the Dharma,
teaching, or memorizing texts does not bring much real benefit.
You talk about compassion and benefiting
sentient beings, but it must begin this moment, with the person
sitting next to you, with your community. If you cannot endure
a person in the room, what kind of practitioner does that
make you? You should listen to teachings and put them into
practice so that you change.
Faith is an essential element on the path
of renunciation, on the path to enlightenment. Our faith is
still comparatively superficial and therefore shakable. Small
situations make us doubt the Dharma and the path, causing
our determination to decline. If our motivation and faith
are shakable, how can we talk about leaving behind all the
karma and negative emotions that have been following us for
lifetimes? Through study and practice we will begin to develop
real knowledge and understanding. We will see how true the
Dharma is, and then our faith will be unshakable.
In the West, people often want teachings
that are enjoyable to listen to, ones which say what they
want to hear. They want the teacher to be entertaining and
tell amusing stories that make them laugh. Or Westerners want
the highest teachings: Atiyoga, Dzogchen, Mahamudra, and Tantric
initiations. People flood to these teachings. Of course, they
are important, but if you do not have a strong foundation,
you will not understand them, and the benefit that they are
supposed to bring will not be achieved. On the other hand,
when the foundation practices-refuge, karma, bodhicitta, and
so forth-are taught, people often think, "I've heard
that before so many times. Why don't these teachers say something
new and interesting?" Such an attitude is a hindrance
to your practice. You have to focus on changing your daily
attitudes and behavior. If you cannot do basic practices,
such as abandoning the ten negative actions, and practice
the ten virtuous ones, talking about Mahamudra will bring
Three activities are necessary. Any particular
time of your life can contain all three but in terms of emphasis:
first, listen to, study, and learn the teachings; second,
think and reflect upon them; and third, meditate and put them
into practice. Then, with a motivation to benefit others,
share the teachings to the best of your capability with those
who are interested and who can benefit from them.