Daughters of the Buddha: The 18th Sakyadhita Conference in Seoul Celebrates the Sacred Feminine

- through Francois Leclercq

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All photos by Olivier Adam for Sakyadhita International

Buddhist monks and lay people from around the world gathered in Seoul from July 23 to 27 for the 18th International Sakyadhita Conference on Buddhist Women 2023. The largest gathering in Sakyadhita history, jointly organized by the Korean Bhikshuni Association and Sakyadhita Korea, more than 3 Buddhist monks, lay people, guests and dignitaries from different countries and Buddhist traditions were present for this auspicious occasion, to share their experiences and research, and to provide support and encouragement to the projects and initiatives aimed at improving the conditions of Buddhist women, especially those living in developed countries.

The first in-person Sakyadhita conference since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2023 forum in Seoul was one many attendees had been looking forward to – an opportunity to touch base with countless old friends from around the world, forge new connections, sharing and inspiring: five days of reflection and wisdom on compassionate action and conscious social engagement in the face of the intrinsic impermanence of all phenomena.

The event was held at the COEX Convention & Exhibition Center, Seoul's largest event center in the capital's glitzy Gangnam district. This year's conference was sponsored by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism; Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of South Korea; Seoul Metropolitan Government; Gangnam District Government; the Korea Tourism Organization and the neighboring 3th-century Korean Bongeun-sa Buddhist Temple, which also took on the daunting challenge of hosting some of the monastic participants and feeding up to 000 people a day.

The theme of the conference, "Living in a precarious world: impermanence, resilience, awakening", was a pointed reference to the increasingly apparent truth of impermanence in the world around us, as evidenced by the climate crisis, environmental destruction, political extremism, social instability and the growing incidence and threat of violent conflict. Directly addressing this theme and its implications, the conference program included a wide range of programs, including paper presentations, discussions, workshops, exhibitions, meditation sessions and cultural performances.

Underlying this theme was an implicit understanding and acknowledgment of non-sectarianism among the representatives, based on a shared mutual admiration and appreciation for the dedication and commitment of Buddhist women around the world, many of whom live and work in the circumstances the most difficult. .

Women dressed in the characteristic robes of various Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions – ordained monks from Bhutan, Cambodia, Canada, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Japan, Korea , Thailand, USA, Vietnam and beyond – shared the in light of their Dharma manifestations, all committed to promoting peace through the Buddha's teachings, fostering an international network of compassion and empowerment among Buddhist women, to promote harmony and understanding between Buddhist traditions, to work for the physical and spiritual well-being of Buddhist women worldwide, and to encourage compassionate social action for the benefit of all beings.

The President of Sakyadhita International, Professor Sharon Suh, emphasized in her welcome address to the participants: "Although we have experienced so many challenges, crises and struggles globally, especially in the past few I also know that we have been so inspired by the Buddha's teachings, which have emerged to help alleviate suffering in the world. Buddhists are no strangers to precariousness and impermanence and are therefore quite well equipped to help themselves and others to develop resilience, healing, awakening and liberation. This gathering of Buddhist women from around the world is a wonderful time for us to come together as a global sangha and share our insights, experience and wisdom across different lineages and traditions in the name of liberation.

For five days of presentations, panel discussions and workshops, the focus was on Buddhist women and their invaluable role as agents of change for social transformation. Topics ranged from the practical to the academic, but it was perhaps the informal encounters and conversations among Buddhist women around the world where the purpose of the conference most readily manifested.

Monks from Bhutan to Cambodia to the United States connected with their contemporaries from Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Thailand – chance encounters between Dharma sisters where stories and experiences were shared, inspiration and motivation was nurtured and eyes were opened to the depth and breadth of the global women's sangha in the 21st century. Meanwhile, paper presentations and panel discussions provided food for thought and conversation with a focus on research, practical experience and applications, networking, and developing local and international programs to empower and transform individuals and communities.

The 18th International Sakyadhita Conference on Buddhist Women 2023 was a shining example of the alignment between Buddhist scholarship, Buddhist activism and Buddhist practice around the world. Topics and perspectives highlighted included the successes of leading Buddhist women, the difficult issues of gender discrimination, and the touchstones of nurturing and ordaining women in an atmosphere of respect and support. mutuals.

Among the many highlights, Gelongma Pema Deki, along with Gelongma Namgyel Lhamo and Dr. Tashi Zangmo from the Bhutan Nuns Foundation, spoke about the historic ordination of 144 bhikshunis in Bhutan in 2022. Cambodian scholar Marlai Ouch shared the challenges facing women in Cambodia still face seeking full ordination, just as they do in other Theravada societies. Myodo Jabo, Zen and Vajrayana practitioner, gave a stimulating presentation on Guanyin Bodhisattva and gender fluidity. Meanwhile, Canadian researcher and BDG columnist Vanessa Sasson and Professor Sharon Suh presented a Q&A on Vanessa's important new book The Gathering: A History of Early Buddhist Women it has inspired and delighted many visiting bhikshunis.

As nations, governments and corporations pursue scientific, technological and economic advances with resolute obsession, it is becoming increasingly clear that individual, social, environmental and cultural well-being is seriously lagging behind, wisely , compassion and loving-kindness seems like an afterthought in the shadow of unsustainable economic growth and the exploitation of the people and natural environments we depend on for life: Billions of people live in vulnerable communities who struggle to subsist in oppressive conditions amid severe shortages of the basic necessities of life, while a small subset of the privileged few accumulate obscene levels of wealth; women and children are regularly sold as sex slaves; animal populations and their habitats are exploited to the brink of extinction; the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people are sacrificed at the altar of war waged for political power and economic domination. While digital technology allows us to deliver information to millions of people at the touch of a button, people and societies are still struggling to overcome the same negative mindsets and conditions that have haunted humanity for millennia: anger, greed, jealousy, distrust, hatred.

As noted by Ven. Bongak Sunim, President of the Korean Bhikshuni Association of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and Co-President of Sakyadhita Korea, in her welcome message: "It is painfully obvious that the modern world and civilization can no longer protect us or guarantee a eternal happiness. . The world turned out to be truly impermanent. But acknowledging the transience of our existence in such a precarious world is not enough. By realizing this impermanence, we can simultaneously perceive the perpetuity and limitlessness of time and space as well as rediscover that we are unique and priceless beings in our own right. To do this, we must always remain attentive and perceptive. In this time of crisis and chaos, we would like to hold a celebration of insight and awareness here in Seoul, South Korea. We hope that women and bhikshunis from all over the world will join us. Let us come together in harmony and participate together in this nirvanic feast.

Sakyadhita traces her beginnings to 1987 with a conference for Buddhist nuns held in Bodh Gaya, India, which aimed to build support for the full ordination of female monastics in the Theravada tradition. For more than 35 years, Sakyadhita has grown into an organization of monastic and lay women and aims to represent and empower them, with branches and chapters around the world.

The International Association of Buddhist Women Sakyadhita is now the leading global body committed to transforming the lives of women in Buddhist societies, aspiring to empower and unite Buddhist women, promote their well-being and facilitate their work for the benefit of the Dharma and all sentient beings. . "Sakyadhita" means Daughter of Shakya (the historical Buddha's clan name). Working locally, Sakyadhita provides an international network among Buddhist women, promoting research and publications and striving to create equal opportunities for women in all Buddhist traditions.

This international conference is held every two years. The 19th International Sakyadhita Conference is scheduled to be held in Sarawak, Malaysia in 2025.

This dossier will be followed by a series of articles based on the experiences and participants in the debates summarized here.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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