The F Word in Buddhism: 'Daughters of the Buddha' Discuss How Buddhist Women Can Achieve Equality
International Reporter, Consultant, and Scholar at UC Santa Barbara
Posted: 01/07/2013 12:09 pm
Patricia Zenn already had a religion when she grew up in Malibu: surfing. But as she was constantly teased by her classmates about her family name ("Are you Buddhist or what?"), curiosity led her to borrow a book about Buddhism when she was only 11 years old. To her surprise, she instantly realized "this was it!"
Fast forward to 1977, when she was in her early 30s, the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa ordained her in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and gave her the Tibetan name Karma Lekshe Tsomo. Very fittingly, "Lekshe" means "eloquent." Venerable Lekshe quickly realized that conditions for Buddhist nuns were dire. She single-handedly started a movement to give Himalayan nuns access to education. At the time, more than 30 years ago, this idea was, at best, treated as a waste of time, or even discouraged by the established monasteries.
"They're telling the nuns, 'Oh, you're so humble, you're not interested in gaining prestige and power like these Westerners,'" Lekshe says with a calm voice but a quizzical look. "Well, I just wonder why they are not telling the monks that. If women are perpetually disadvantaged, this is what you end up with. Surveys show that the nuns' health is by far the worst of any group. Their educational standards are by far the worst too. There is a lot of work to be done, and awareness raising, especially among women."