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"My Heart The Sun" - Cat Kurtz on Thailand's nuns & their struggle for equality

Thailand's Buddhist nuns face great risks to become fully ordained and attain equal status with monks. Author Cat Kurtz focuses an impatient Western lens on this patient Eastern struggle, and both the observer and the observed are transformed. I hope a publisher picks up Kurtz' book, "My Heart The Sun," so I can read it from cover to cover. Until then, I highly recommend reading this new excerpt: http://girlstrektoo.com/blog/?p=141

Comments

Rita Banerji's picture

hmm...the history!

hi Cara,

People hate me when I tell them this -- that this is a historical problem with the rules the founder father of Buddhism set. Buddha believed that women were not intelligent enough to understand the nuances of Nirvana -- and that they were too sex-obsessed and letting them into the order would mean the end of Buddhism! So he would not allow them in. When Ananda his disciple -- a feminist man i think :-) challenged him, then Buddha let women in, but only on the condition that they would always be secondary to monks, they would never be of equal status. So the senior most nun was always to bow and remain humble before the newest male monk! That's history -- I always tell people who practise "new age buddhism" to go read up before they argue!

I was wondering is your book out yet? Should we make the post now?

hugs
Rita

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

Cara Lopez Lee's picture

I don't kill the messenger

Hi Rita,

Perhaps you've heard of the ancient Roman practice of killing a messenger who brings bad news? I don't believe in this kind of thinking. It's sad to know that Buddha thought women inferior, but not surprising. Even if it were, I have a lot of room in my head for changing ideas, beliefs, and information. I'm glad you shared that bit of history. Too bad some people blame the messenger for only sharing her knowledge.

Many religious organizations are finally admitting that the exclusion of women from important positions in churches, temples, and synagogues is not based on spiritual principles, but on human error. It seems that its time for Thailand's Buddhist leadership to get on board.

Indeed, my book is out, Rita. I've been swamped with book launch activities, or I would have e-mailed sooner. I believe that I've already sent you all the info for a post, but please let me know if you need or desire anything else. Otherwise, would you be so kind as to let me know the day you plan to run the excerpt, so I can link back to your site & announce the post to my online followers. I greatly appreciate your interest & support. Don't hesitate to let me know how I can return the favor.

Many thanks,
Cara

A Thai Buddhist's picture

Re: hmm...the history!

Hi there, Rita:

I have to say that I have never heard specifically that "Buddha believed that women were not intelligent enough to understand the nuances of Nirvana."

On the other hand, according to the tradition I have heard, the Buddha believed that NO ONE would be able to understand the nature of Nirvana.

According to the Theravada tradition that I am familiar with, the Buddha was not planning on teaching the Dharma to ANYONE, until Lord Brahma came down and persuaded the Buddha that humans would be intelligent enough to understand the Dharma. That is why the first teaching of the Dharma (the Miracle at Sarnath) took so long after the Buddha actually reached enlightenment.

So maybe there is some tradition I am not familiar with, but I have never heard anything specifically singling out women as being unable to understand the Dharma.

As for another point you make about the Buddha's thoughts on women being "too sex-obsessed and letting them into the order would mean the end of Buddhism!" Again, I have never heard that.

But I have heard something of the opposite; That because MEN were overly susceptible to the charms of a woman, that the Buddha commanded that men and women should be segregated and that the Sangha should not be fully integrated. From what I have heard, it seemed the Buddha was much more concerned about the men having the obsession.

As for the last part, I don't know about the ancient tradition, but today the most senior nun must, indeed, still bow to the most junior monk. As a woman Buddhist, this is quite off-putting.

And one other thing that I wanted to agree with you about is your quote;

I always tell people who practise "new age buddhism" to go read up before they argue!

I wish more people would do that. I am surprised at how many people think that Buddhism is simply meditation, or how many people call Buddhism a "philosophy" instead of a a religion. That is sort of like me, as a Buddhist, seeing the Holy Communion and saying that "Catholicism is only a diet of bread and wine."

I would kindly suggest that those who are interested in reading up on Buddhism might take a look at some of the teachings of Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Jumnien, Ajahn Summetto, since they go much deeper into the religious aspects of Buddhism.

Rita Banerji's picture

Sorry!

Sorry Cara -- I lost your email :( and i know it's all in the click of a button but there are so many sites that I sort of plan for them like expeditions. YOu know -- I will do all of that together when I go to that site :)))

But will you please send me your email again -- because that's easier -- i go into my yahoomail almost every day.

Hope your book launch events went off smoothly. Your post we plan for this Friday or Saturday. I will try Friday but this being India -- there's always the possibility the internet is down or the electricity line is down (both quite frequent events).

And we are called "Gender Equal" now. I discovered there was already a Gender Links in Africa!! I will send you a link when it is posted. The site http://genderbyteslinks.wordpress.com/

About Buddha -- what I admired about him was that his religion historically kick-started on of the biggest revolutions in India. Buddhism arose in opposition to the caste system. And he openly challenged the caste system. Buddhism was inclusive of people of all castes and classes. And he also is probably the earliest Labor Union leader :)) He demanded that the working class should be given equal pay, paid holidays, compensation for injuries etc. This coming more than 2000 years ago is what makes it so remarkable!

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

Cara Lopez Lee's picture

All Set

Hi Rita,

No worries. I sent that email again. Friday or Saturday sounds great. I understand about possible delays, please just let me know when it goes live if you can, so I can post an announcement and link to your site. Also, please send me the new link to Gender Equal when you change it - if that's what you're doing. Then I'll put it up on my blogroll... and announce it on my Girls Trek Too Facebook group.

Yes, I like that about Buddha, too. He believed enlightenment was attainable for everyone, no matter their class, and it seems his social agenda flowed from that. To me the caste system seems like simply another justification for the wealthy and lucky to hang onto their privileges - and for the poor and unlucky to find a way to cope with it.

Anyway, if Buddha was a little behind on his feminism, maybe we can cut him a little slack, since he was swimming upstream against a flood of long-standing social inequality.

Take care,
Cara

Hello, Cara, and "Sawasdee Kha" as we say in my home country of Thailand.

It is difficult for Thai nuns to get the respect that they deserve, which is hard for me to see since I was born and raised in Thailand. I don't know if it is that way in other countries or not.

I remember back in the 90's I interviewed one of (if not the only) ordained female monk (not a nun, but an ordained woman monk). When I told everyone about this, they all said, "Oh, you mean a nun?" And I said, "No, a female monk." People thought I had just been out in the sun too long.

But attitudes are different. A few years back when Ajahn Jumnien, the abbot of Wat Tham Seua (Tiger Cave Temple) and one of the most respected monks in Thailand, came to teach here in the San Francisco Bay Area, he told me that there was growing acceptance in Thailand for women to be fully ordained.

Anyway, I do hope that one day soon we will see acceptance of full ordination for women monks in my home country of Thailand.

The times, they are always changing, aren't they? I'm glad to hear that you met an ordained woman monk in Thailand. But I'm wondering was she ordained in Thailand or elsewhere? My friend, author Cat Kurtz, also talked to an ordained female monk in Thailand for her book, but that woman had to be ordained outside Thailand because the main Buddhist order in Thailand wouldn't permit her to be ordained with them. She was allowed to return to Thailand, so she was an ordained monk living in Thailand - a fine distinction, but an important one. Still, if a high-ranking male monk from Thailand said there was growing acceptance for women to be fully ordained in his country, then either way... it seems the change must be coming. :) Thank you for the good-news update!

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