By Ayya Vimala
As a nun you are not only a pioneer, with much less support than the monks, both spiritually and financially and often don’t have a place to stay. Many monks pretend you don’t exist or treat you like some contageous disease because they fear their own defilements. You are cut off from your male friends because you have the wrong gender. Nuns try to find fault with other nuns for not keeping the rules the way they feel they should be kept out of fear of not being accepted themselves. And lay people often have all kinds of preconceived ideas of what a nun should be like, almost like a picture of perfection, always smiling and happy. But the truth of the matter is that we are just people, and yes, I’m depressed at times too. I don’t always smile and am not always happy. Does that make me a bad nun? Or does it make me human?
Sometimes I envy those monks who can live the monastic life with an inspiring teacher and learn the living Dhamma. I never had that. Most other nuns never had that. Our teacher is the internet. We have to find our own way. And yes, it can be very lonely at times. Even if you are lucky enough to be able to stay near an inspiring monk for a few months, you are never accepted into the community, always kept at a distance; there is always this tension because you are seen as a danger to their monastic life. It is sometimes hard not to buy into that feeling of inferiority, or feeling you are just not good enough.
I admire all those women, whether they have 8 or 10 precepts or are fully ordained, who have to fight every day to keep in the robes, to battle the depressions and the setbacks, who have no place to stay and no support, because they have the sincere wish to follow the Dhamma. It is not up to me to find fault with the way they keep their rules. Many have to use money or cook for themselves; they just don’t have the support. If I would criticize them for that, I would not be following the Buddha’s teachings. Instead, I should look at their conduct. Do they show compassion and help each other? Do they try to overcome their defilements and pardon each other’s faults, acknowledging that we all want to learn, to develop ourselves? The Vinaya are the guidelines for our practice, not the be-all and end-all of all things. If the Vinaya becomes a cause for anger, resentment and faultfinding, we have lost the way.
So can we please stop faultfinding and criticizing each other and try to develop ourselves in the Dhamma and support each other in that? If somebody has the wholesome intention of ordaining, and at least 10-20 monastics come together to confirm this wholesome intention, should we then try to find fault in all the details of the procedure and accuse that person of not being actually ordained? Should we not stop all this faultfinding and help each other? Is that not the Buddha’s intention? Isn’t it difficult enough to live this monastic life?
The Sangha should be a refuge, we should all help each other, regardless of our gender or our background, regardless of our ordination lineage, regardless of how we interpret the Vinaya, or if we are not ordained at all. We should stop finding fault with each other and putting each other down, but ask ourselves how we can support each other. Life is hard enough.
Just another brick in the wall
As the other thread seems to have gone in the direction of material support for nuns, which is of course great and much needed and appreciated, I want to focus a little more here on another aspect I touched upon and something I only recently started fully appreciating.
Some years ago I did not notice this, or did not want to notice it, even though I heard other nuns say things. I thought it was just them. At first I took it all in my stride, thinking it’s part of the path, it’s just the way things are and just be equanimous with it all. But now it is slowly creeping up on me, I have begun to see the detrimental effects on my own mind.
You might not have an adblocker on your browser. You might think that those commercials have no effect on you; you never had the intention of buying that stuff anyway. But if you keep on seeing these ads, even without paying attention to them, over and over again, they actually start having a subconscious effect on the way you see things and the way you behave. This is how marketing works.
It’s just all these small little signs that if they happen once or twice you don’t think anything of it. Like a monk ignoring you or starting to get nervous when he accidentally finds himself in your presence. Or a monk not wanting to sit anywhere near you, or when you see that senior nuns always have to go behind the junior monks on Pindapata if they are allowed to go at all. Or when you have to sit on a lower seat than monks junior to you. Or when you accidentally touch the box of tea-bags, and it has to be re-offered to the monks. There are so many little signs, too many to list here, that just say: you’re different, you’re inferior. The lay people also pick up on those signs and start acting like that to you as well.
Even those monks who see it have to face the pressure from their peers and superiors. A friend telling me he cannot talk to me because I’m a woman and his superiors won’t agree or the lay people will get upset. Another telling me I should talk to the nuns. But amongst the nuns we can all only just say the same thing. We can try to support each other, telling each other: “it’s not you!”, but as long as we cannot have an open and honest dialog about these things with the monks, nothing is going to change; they will never understand. Like I could never appreciate this until it happened to me. But they stay safe behind the comfortable walls they have built; for them all is well, why put in the effort to understand?
I look into my own mind and find it harder and harder to fight against this. Like a relentless virus that keeps creeping in, wispering: “you’re not like them!”. I can so understand why so many nuns disrobe. It’s not just the material support; that’s only part of the picture and just one more of those subconscious triggers saying: “you’re not worthy of the same support as monks”. It’s the very slow and gradual undermining of your psyche, an almost imperceptible force that eats away at you until you cannot go on any more.
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
(Find original post here)
Post from the discussion in original thread (by Ayya Vimala):
This is not about me. This is about the institutionalized discrimination that undermines the Bhikkhuni Sasana. It’s about that same institutionalized discrimination that has caused the Bhikkhuni lineage to die out in the first place.
Just because it is “part of Buddhist culture” does not make it right, nor does it make it “what the Buddha taught” or part of the EBTs. Where in the Vinaya does it say that nuns have to go behind the Samaneras on Pindapata?
I would also rather sit behind my computer and lead a quiet life just coding and meditating and forget about all of this. But how can I not speak up when 3 nuns I know disrobed in just the last month as a direct result and other friends are depressed and even traumatized.
Today I heard for the first time of a Sri Lankan monastery in Illinois where nuns are asked to go on Pindapata with the monks in line of ordination date, not gender. Contrary to popular belief on this forum, this is the only monastery that I know of where this happens, the only other one stopped when it’s abbot left 6 years ago.
I have a deep respect and gratitude for the Ajahns who have helped the nuns to gain full ordination and who help them to build monasteries. But the underlying problems have not yet been addressed and these patterns that have culturally grown are still alive today, even in their monasteries. It is not enough to give nuns a place of their own to keep them out of the monk’s monasteries. By doing so you cut them off from all training and you keep the discrimanatory patterns alive that have culturally grown but are not part of the Vinaya and that are in the end not helpful for anybody, including the monks.
In my opinion we need to have an active dialog between monks and nuns to learn to understand each other and to eradicate these patterns that are detrimental to Buddhist practice.
These discrimanatory practices have their roots in fear of the “other”, the fear of difference and change and they have to be rooted out for us all to be able to grow and develop.
After all, fear is the path to the Dark Side.