Surrounded by Buddhist Women

The fourteenth Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women is well underway, with approximately a thousand people here to celebrate women in Buddhism. There are 475 from Indonesia and 520 from forty different countries attending! In the opening ceremony there were two hundred Buddhist nuns. All of their different color robes speak of the diversity of Buddhism. Each day there are scholarly presentations, workshops, shared meals, dharma talks and other activities happening. The conference is meeting this year in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Its quite green, the landscape is very lush and the weather is hot and humid. The panels are held outside at a beautiful resort, not too far from a volcano that erupts every four years.

The first day of the conference was quite inspiring. The official opening of the conference began with chanting led by ordained women from the Buddhist traditions of Japan, Vietnam, China, Indonesia and Tibet. It was beautiful to hear the differences in cadence and melodies and see all the different colors of robes from each of the lineages.

Here is a photo of us at the start of the conference. It shows me, Pema Khandro, with my two students, Aruna and Satya who are the directors of our non-profit organization.

PemaKhandro_Aruna_Satya_SakyadhitaConference_www.PemaKhandro.org_-989x1024Later in the day we all  we travelled to the palace in Yogyakarta. Yes – that’s right – a thousand people traveling in buses. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, who is the current president of Sakyadhita, gave a moving opening speech in the afternoon. My favorite part was when she said that there was only one yana present at the gathering – the Buddhayana. The “yanas” are the different paths practiced by Buddhists all around the world, so say there is only one yana here today is a way of recognizing that even though there are many kinds of Buddhists, we are all equally Buddhists and united by that. It is one of the inspiring elements of the conference, the distinct experience of non-sectarianism. Buddhists from many different traditions all gathering together is important, and this is a rare wonderful occasion. In this spirit, one of the nuns said during her presentation, “I decided to ordain in Mahayana, not because that is the best path but because that was the most suitable path for me.”

Here is a photo of Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo after her key note address on the first day of the conference. It was a mob of people pushing forward to take photos with her, like a rock star! (Jetsunma is the nun in maroon Tibetan robes on the left).


In the sea of ordained sangha, I think I was the only ordained one there with hair! In the ngakpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhist yogis, our vows require keeping our hair as a symbol of the purity of the whole phenomenal world. But, I was delighted when another one of the conference attendees immediately recognized my robes and said, “Oh you are female Ngakpa, a Vajrayana practitioner!” I have often said that I dream of the day Tibetan yogis robes are as familiar to people as Tibetan monks and nuns robes, so for the moment it was a slice of that dream come true. But that is the general tone of the event – a group of serious Buddhist practitioners who are aware of the diversity and power of the various Buddhist lineages. It is beneficial for more people know about the tradition of Buddhist Yogis of Tibet because it offers a path for serious Buddhists who still have jobs, families and marriages, and also because of the wonderful Buddha-nature teachings it contains. This is what is beautiful about Buddhism, there is a saying in Tibetan Buddhism that the Buddha gave 84,000 different kinds of teachings for the 84,000 kinds of people. So, it is nice to be in an environment where there is awareness of the rich diversity of Buddhist forms from different countries.

In Buddhism we all share the idea of “bodhichitta.” This is a sanskrit word, it refers to enlightened intent, the wish for oneself and others to awaken and be free from suffering. Being at the conference gives me the palpable feeling of being surrounded by bodhichitta, positive intentions and altruistic aspirations. Its especially joyous to see so many ordained women and committed practitioners. One after another the presenters talk about how Buddhist values can help heal this world, they express appreciations of diversity and talk of the contributions of women to Buddhism.

This month 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.

You can read about my conference presentation and read the many other interesting presentations here:

You can read about Sakyadhita’s mission here: Sakyadhita’s objectives

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:
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