2018 First International Buddhist Bhikkhuni Forum
Awaken Inner Wisdom in Women – Buddha’s Grand Compassion and Wisdom
The First International Buddhist Bhikkhuni Forum, held at University of Toronto on May 26 – 27, 2018, was the inaugural conference in North America bringing together Buddhist nuns and scholars of Buddhism in an international academic platform inviting different Buddhist lineages to participate. Organized by Great Compassion Bodhi Prajna Temple and North America Karma Kagyu Bhikkhuni Institute and co-hosted by Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, the Forum was attended by the public, Bhikkhunis, professors and researchers collectively from five universities, namely, University of Toronto, Harvard University, Baldwin Wallace University, Nipissing University, and Eckerd College.
The Forum received a congratulatory letter from Ms. Mary Ng, Member of Parliament, House of Commons of Canada with her best wishes.
At the Opening Ceremony, Venerable Miao Jing, Abbess of Great Compassion Bodhi Prajna Temple and the organizer of the Forum, expressed her sincerest welcome to the attending Buddhist nuns, scholars, and lay practitioners, and explained the historical importance of reviving the Bhikkhuni Upasampada (the Full Ordination for Bhikkhuni) through discussion and exchange of practices. Venerable Miao Jing stated that the message behind the slogan – Awaken Inner Wisdom – is to bring female practitioners together by engaging Buddhist nuns and scholars to share their works and views in empowering women to shed lights on delivering Buddha dharma to Western societies in 21st centuries.
Dr. Frances Garrett, representing the supportor of the Forum – Department of the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, also highlighted the Forum as the first in history to foster an open dialogue between female practitioners for support and encouragement, and hoped that the global development of Buddhism in 21st century can be more diverse and also recognize the importance and revival of Bhikkhuni lineages in all Buddhist Traditions.
The Forum had two themes, 1) The Impact and Significance of Restoring the Tibetan Lineage Bhikkhunis’ Ordination in the 21st Century, and 2) The Importance of Female Buddhist Practitioners to the Development of Modern Eastern and Western Society in 21st Century, two keynote speeches by Venerable Yi Fa and Venerable Miao Jing, several academic presentations by Buddhist nuns and scholars of Buddhism, and two round tables discussions to share perspectives and exchanges among presenters and audience.
The features of this Forum includes a) another first – as the first international academic forum initiated by a Buddhist Nunnery in North America, b) a collaboration between of Buddhist monastic practitioners and academic scholars to combine practice and research, c) an inter-lineage dialogue and exchange among Buddhist nuns from Mahayana, Tibetan and Theravada traditions sharing their efforts and experience in upholding Vinaya and reviving the full ordination for Bhikkhunis.
Venerable Miao Jing from Great Compassion Bodhi Prajna Temple mentioned in her keynote speech that four pillars in propagating Buddha’s teaching are formed by both monastic members and lay disciples divided into four communities — monks, nuns, lay men, and lay women (respectively Bhikkhu, Bhikkhuni, Upasaka, Upasika). Each community is important and no community can be left out. It will be a pity for those who wish to learn Buddha dharma if any of the four communities is missing or unavailable. Thus, we need to have more Bhikkhunis and female practitioners to be involved, to provide an environment for them to learn from each other and to share their learning, and to overcome the challenges with Buddha’s compassion and wisdom.
Venerable Miao Jing’s also mentioned the Founder of the Order of Nun, Mahapajapati Gotami who had been ordained by Buddha more than 2000 years ago in ancient India when the caste system and social hierocracy dominated the society and culture. Mahapajapati Gotami set an example for all women with her dedication and devotion for wisdom and practice and was considered an influential role model for future Buddhist nuns upholding Bhikkhunis lineage. Today, only in the Mahayana traditions the Bhikkhunis Ordination has been reserved and given, while in several places in the world, many Buddhist nuns cannot receive full Bhikkhunis ordination nor complete Buddhist education. It is our hope that the Bhikkhunis of Mahayana traditions can continue their support and assistance to help nuns in Tibetan and Theravada traditions to revive their lineage’s Vinaya practice, to fulfill the true essence of four pillars of communities as Buddha had taught us.
Venerable Yi Fa, the Founder of Woodenfish Foundation, spoke about “Empowerment of Women in Buddhism” in her keynote speech. The Woodenfish Foundation under her guidance in the past decade has focused on introducing Western youths to learn Buddhism in Buddhist temples in China to experience monastic life, culture, and etiquettes. One of its popular programs is the United Nation Student Program. Venerable Yi Fa shared her views of modern Bhikkhunis and how Buddhist nuns in Chinese Mahayana traditions — Venerable Cheng Yen in Taiwan as an example — are contributing to the religious community, bringing peace to the societies, engaging in social actions for education and welfare. Female practitioners are equally capable of carrying out Buddhist missions therefore she encourages women to put their wisdom and compassion into practice.
During the Closing Ceremony on day two of the Forum, Venerable Miao Jing stressed again that the importance of collaboration between East and West is beyond research, lineages, and traditions, and how important it is to revive the Bhikkhuni Ordination and Vinaya education for Buddhism to develop in the Western world. “The world will be as big as your devotion,” said Venerable Yi Fa. The Forum has made the first step with success to bring Bhikkhunis of different traditions together to awaken inner wisdom in all female practitioners to bring hope and peace to the world. The Forum supporter, Dr. Frances Garrett from Department for the Study of Religion, also expressed that University of Toronto would like to continue to support the International Buddhist Bhikkhuni Forum in the future to increase awareness in issues relating to female practitioners.
The Forum was conducted in English and provided with simultaneous interpretation into Mandarin onsite by professional conference interpreters. The Forum was also streamed live via the organizer’s online channel to reach a wider audience in real time. The two-day Forum from May 26 to 27, 2018 was successfully closed with a Declaration of International Buddhist Bhikkhuni Forum signed by Buddhist nuns, scholars, volunteers and attendees.