Wednesday, May 18, 2011

2,500 yrs later, Tibetan Buddhists on women

Michaela Haas (author and UC Santa Barbara lecturer) (edited by WQ)
Tibetan lamas honor the historical Buddha's relics (Choice Kurniawan/

2,500 years after the Buddha, Tibetan Buddhists acknowledge women
Buddhist women are celebrating a landmark victory: In April, the renowned Institute for Buddhist Dialectical Studies (IBD) in Dharamsala, India, conferred the degree of "Geshe" -- the Tibetan equivalent of Ph.D. -- to Ven. Kelsang Wangmo, a German [Vajrayana Buddhist] nun.

This is a first in many ways: Traditionally, Geshe degrees are conferred on monks after 12 or more years of rigorous study in Buddhist philosophy. For the first time in history, a nun has now received the degree. Even more surprising, it was conferred on a Western woman.

Ven. Kelsang Wangmo [pictured here] was finally rewarded for mastering the strenuous course of study in higher [Tibetan] Buddhist philosophy. She had already been teaching philosophy at the Institute for more than five years.

So why is this such a big deal, and why did it take so long? In the West, the first female professorship was awarded to a woman at a European university in 1732. Almost 300 years ago scientist Laura Bassi taught physics at the University of Bologna. And more than 2,500 [now almost 2,600] years ago the Buddha allowed women into the monastic order [Sangha]. He did this by ordaining his foster mother, Maha Prajapati.

She and 500 like-minded [Shakyan] women donned saffron robes, shaved their heads, and walked 350 miles barefoot to show their unwavering determination. But it was only after Ven. Ananda intervened on their behalf that the Buddha finally granted their request -- a revolutionary decision in India at the time.

[This was a first for a world religion, but it was not a first for India. Not long before, the Buddha's contemporary Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, admitted women into a wandering ascetic order similar to Buddhism's.] More