Buddhist Women’s Conference – Mutual Appreciation and Non Sectarianism

The Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women

The Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women met for one week in beautiful, humid, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Over a thousand people, from different countries and different Buddhist traditions, gathered to discuss the history, concerns and achievements of women in Buddhism. Approximately half of the attendees were from Indonesia and the other half were from around the world. Each day there were academic presentations, workshops, shared meals, dharma talks and other activities happening.

Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women was founded in 1987. Sakyadhita, means “Daughter of the Buddha.”

“The organization aims to unite Buddhist women of various countries and traditions, to promote their welfare, and to facilitate their work for the benefit of humanity. Sakyadhita now has nearly 2,000 members in 45 countries around the world.” (1)


Here, below,  is a photo with Karma Lekshe Tsomo, founder of Sakyadhita. She is very kind and seems to be an immensely skillful leader.

PemaKhandro_KarmaLaksheTsomo_BuddhistWomensConference-copy1-258x300 (1)

Non-sectarianism was an implicit theme of the conference, in addition to the explicit theme of “Compassion and Social Justice.” Since all the attendees were admiring one another, the atmosphere of non-sectarianism was in the air as a palpable constant ambience of mutual appreciation. Women from different countries walked around wearing each of their different colors of robes, representing the practices of Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Zen and more! People wearing different robes frequently stopped one another in order to take pictures, because we all wanted to have photos of all the different kinds of ordained traditions. Here are some photos of myself, (Pema Khandro), with my students, Satya and Aruna and ordained sangha from Korea, Tibet, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, North America, Vietnam and more.


When we first arrived there I had thought I might be the only one from an ordained lineage that keeps long hair. Part of the Buddhist Yogi’s tradition of Tibetan Buddhism is to keep the hair, and sometimes you can see yogis who have extremely long hair. This is an expression of our belief that the whole phenomenal world is pure and sacred, that it has Buddha nature and our body also has Buddha nature. Thus, as I mentioned in my previous post during the procession of the ordained, I had the thought that I was the only ordained there with hair! However, I was wrong! I was happy to discover that the Japanese Zen nuns also keep their hair and that they also marry. This is one of the most joyous and important things about the Buddhist Yogi’s tradition (aka the ngakpas, and naljorpas). In both these lineages, the ordained sangha may marry. Here we are.


On the final days of the conference there were tours to local Buddhist temples which had been around since the 8th century. We had the good fortune of sitting to meditate at sunrise with Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and a small group from the conference. When we first sat down for meditation, everyone was milling around. Later, after we finished, we stood up to leave. Suddenly I noticed that as far as we could see people were also sitting. Tourists who had come there had joined in and sat meditating with us. It was a beautiful sight.

Here is a picture of me (Pema Khandro) with Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo at sunrise.


Thank you to everyone who organized the conference.

This month (June) I have travelled to Indonesia to the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women’s Conference, where I will be presenting on Women’s Leadership in Tibetan Buddhism’s History. Buddhist women and scholars from all of the world are gathering at this conference and I am joyfully bringing two of my female students with me. In celebration of that inspiring event, this months’ postings are all about Buddhist women in history and in July I will teach an online course on the life and teachings of the Female Buddha of Tibet.


1) http://sakyadhita.org/home/ourhistory.html

Pema Khandro is a Tibetan Buddhist scholar, humanitarian, and teacher in the rare lineage of Tibet’s Buddhist Yogis. Raised in the west, ordained in the Nyingma lineage, enthroned as a tulku and trained as an academic, Pema Khandro presents both a traditional perspective and a modern voice. Read more at: https://pemakhandro.org/pema-khandro-extended-biography/
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