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Blossoms of the Dharma: Living as a Buddhist Nun [Paperback]

Sylvia Boorstein , Thubten Chodran
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 28 1999
In recent years Buddhist nuns from Asia and the West have met together to become more active in improving their status in the female sangha. At "Life As A Buddhist Nun," the 1996 conference in Dharamsala, His Holiness the Dalai Lama supported this effort of Buddhist nuns to clarify their purpose in taking vows, widening their context, broadening community beyond their own abbeys, and supporting one another on their quest to achieve greater equality. This book gathers some of the presentations and teaching at this conference. Coming from many different countries and backgrounds, these women show ways they have found to embrace group practice in an era when most societies extol individualism. Their passion for earned wisdom should inspire lay practitioners and other nuns seeking the essence of Buddhist practice.

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"What shines through in these pages is the power and force of an ordained life, the fact that despite the difficulties--and for this pioneer generation of Western Buddhist nuns, there are many--the life they have chosen offers a clear and meaningful path of full-time commitment to spiritual endeavor."
-Elizabeth Napper, Director, Tibetan Nuns Project

"Readers are sure to be touched by the experiences and insights of these women who have dedicated their lives to following a spiritual path and making their lives beneficial for others."
-Kathleen McDonald, author of How to Meditate, Dharma teacher at Amitaba Buddhist Center

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A THOROUGH DISCUSSION OF THE TRANSMISSION OF BUDDHIST MONASTICISM AND ITS ADAPTATION IN WESTERN CULTURES WOULD TAKE VOLUMES. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Some Interesting Essays Jan. 29 2001
By Paul
Format:Paperback
This book was the fruit of a conference of female ordained Buddhist monastics. Like all essay collections, this is a mixed bag, but contains at least three or four very interesting chapters. The book is organized into two main sections. The first is a series of essays by Buddhist nuns from different monastic traditions--Zen, Theravadin, Tibetan Kagyu, etc. They describe the routine in their monasteries, the rhythm of collective life. This section begins with an excellent article by Professor Chatsumarn Kabilsingh of Bangkok on "The History of the Bhikkhuni Sangha." She raises some interesting points concerning the historical Buddha's efforts to improve the status of the nuns (bikshunis) in relation to the monks (bikshus). The second section consists of brief dharma teachings by some of the nuns. Most notable is an essay by Khandro Rinpoche, a female Tibetan tulku and daughter of the head of the Mindrolling lineage. Another very good essay is about "How to Rely On A Spiritual Teacher" by Bhikshuni Jampa Chokyi, from Spain.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A complete eye-opener Feb. 20 2000
Format:Paperback
These essays shine with intelligence and compassion. They also fill in so many little details about nuns' lives, dreams, obstacles and the work ahead. I was stunned by the book's vivid descriptions and its practical approach to everyday problems. Buddhist nuns are regular people, of course, but have focused their energy on the monastic discipline which supports a solid spiritual way of life. The essays break these things down, giving them a human face, a view of spiritual matters in perspective. Most of all, the book imparts a precious gift - an opportunity to imagine what it would be like. We can all rejoice.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complete eye-opener Feb. 20 2000
By Nona Black - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
These essays shine with intelligence and compassion. They also fill in so many little details about nuns' lives, dreams, obstacles and the work ahead. I was stunned by the book's vivid descriptions and its practical approach to everyday problems. Buddhist nuns are regular people, of course, but have focused their energy on the monastic discipline which supports a solid spiritual way of life. The essays break these things down, giving them a human face, a view of spiritual matters in perspective. Most of all, the book imparts a precious gift - an opportunity to imagine what it would be like. We can all rejoice.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some Interesting Essays Jan. 29 2001
By Paul - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book was the fruit of a conference of female ordained Buddhist monastics. Like all essay collections, this is a mixed bag, but contains at least three or four very interesting chapters. The book is organized into two main sections. The first is a series of essays by Buddhist nuns from different monastic traditions--Zen, Theravadin, Tibetan Kagyu, etc. They describe the routine in their monasteries, the rhythm of collective life. This section begins with an excellent article by Professor Chatsumarn Kabilsingh of Bangkok on "The History of the Bhikkhuni Sangha." She raises some interesting points concerning the historical Buddha's efforts to improve the status of the nuns (bikshunis) in relation to the monks (bikshus). The second section consists of brief dharma teachings by some of the nuns. Most notable is an essay by Khandro Rinpoche, a female Tibetan tulku and daughter of the head of the Mindrolling lineage. Another very good essay is about "How to Rely On A Spiritual Teacher" by Bhikshuni Jampa Chokyi, from Spain.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Monastic & cultural differences, adaptations, & experiences May 19 2005
By Neal J. Pollock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This insightful book has 14 chapters based on "Life as a Buddhist Nun," a 3 week educational program for nuns @ Bodhgaya, India, Feb. 1996. The authors are from numerous countries, mostly European. Major sections include: history & monastic discipline, living as a Buddhist nun, nun's teachings, and a poignant appendix: p. 187: Bhikshuni Tenzin Palmo (England) "The Situation of Western Monastics," which made the Dalai Lama weep and an interview with the him in which he stated, pp. 192-3: "I think the rights of women practitioners in the Tibetan Buddhist community have been neglected."

There are many references to cultural differences between East and West and the need to adapt:

p. ix: Dalai Lama: "Wherever Buddhism has taken root in a new land, there has always been a certain variation in the style in which it is observed.

p. xxxiv: editor Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron (USA): "Western monastics must determine how to keep some of the precepts according to the society and situation in which they find themselves. When Buddhism spread from India to Tibet, China, and other countries, the way of keeping the precepts was also adjusted to fit the mentality of the society as well as the geography, climate, economics, and so on of the country. This process is only beginning in the West now."

pp. 7-8: Bhikshuni Lekshe Tsomo (Hawaii), "Buddhist Monasticism & its Western Adaptation"--"Differences in social conditions now and at the time of the Buddha require thoughtful adaptation of the precepts in the present day."

p. 19-21: Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh (Thailand) "The History of the Bhikkhuni Sangha"--"The Buddha always made exceptions after the general rule was established...Questioning the authority of certain passages in the Buddhist scriptures is a delicate issue, and we have to be very careful. How can we prove that everything was passed down exactly as the Buddha spoke it? On the other hand, isn't there a danger in saying that certain passages are later interpolations? I become suspicious only when a passage does not correspond with the spirit of the main core of the Buddha's teachings."

p. 31: Kabilsingh: "Certain ancient Indian social values were taken into Buddhism, because the Buddhist community was not separate from the general Indian society at the time."

p. 117: Chi-Kwang Sunim (Australia), "A Strong Tradition Adapting to Change: The Nuns in Korea"--""Westernization and technology are not the problem; what we do with them is."

pp. 141-2: Thubten Chodron "Finding Your Way"--"What is the essence of the Buddha's teachings that we must practice, bring back to our Western countries, and teach others? What is cultural form that we need not bring to the West? ...I had to confront the fact that copying a cultural form and others' external behavior was not necessarily practicing the Dharma...Because most of us Western monastics are operating cross-culturally, we would benefit from adapting the positive aspects and values of all culture we contact, while leaving behind whatever prejudice and preconceptions we may encounter."

pp. 167-8: Bhikshuni Wendy Finster (Australia) "We should be careful to distinguish between the Buddhadharma & the cultural context within which it has developed & be sure that we grasp the essence of the Dharma without getting caught up in the paraphernalia appropriate to its Asian cultural context. We must make an effort through our own individual practice to separate the grain from the chaff."

Of particular note: Bhikshuni Ngawang Chodron's (England) cogent arguments for full (Bhikshuni) ordination for nuns: p. 91: Under King Langdarma most Tibetan "monks were killed or forcefully disrobed, but 3 who survived fled to Kham, Eastern Tibet. There they met 2 Chinese monks who completed the required quorum of five monks to give ordination. If Tibetan monks could enlist the aid of Chinese monks, I feel that nuns in the Tibetan tradition should be able to enlist the help of Chinese monks & nuns who now give the Bhikshuni ordination...A central land is defined in the scriptures as a place which has the 4 classes of Buddhist disciples: bhikshus, bhikshunis, & lay practitioners of both sexes. If a place has no bhikshunis, it is not a central land...Why should a 70 year old nun still be a novice?"

Further, there were some very interesting psychological observations and comments:

p. 144: Thubten Chodron: "Feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy are prevalent in Westerners...Tibetans do not have words in their language for low self-esteem or guilt, so Westerners' problems with these feelings are not readily comprehensible to them. His Holiness had difficulty understanding how someone could not like himself. He looked around this room of educated, successful people and asked, `Who feels low self-esteem?' Everyone looked at each other and replied, `We all do.' His Holiness was shocked."

p. 158: Finster (a clinical psychologist and nun): "Only enlightened persons are totally mentally healthy." Her powerful & provocative chapter speaks to sangha dangers, responsibilities, & cultural differences.

p. 166: [not meeting one's expectations] "causes us to judge ourselves harshly and feel guilty, and as a result our self-esteem plummets. This surprises our Asian teachers; they do not realize the level of self-criticism and self-hatred that can arise in individuals raised in our culture."

p. 169: "If we find that we are not happier in our daily life, then we are not practicing the Dharma correctly." She also contrasts "spiritual materialism" vs. "kitchen sink reality."

But, perhaps the heart of the book lies in the descriptions of modern monastic life as actually experienced today, such as "Life in Gampo Abbey" by Bhikshuni Tsultrim Palmo, including rituals and daily routines. After all, the main point of a nun's life is to practice the Dharma. As the editor points out, p. xxxiii: "If we were able to keep the precepts perfectly, we would not need to take them." This is a fine book.
4.0 out of 5 stars It's good for introduction Feb. 23 2014
By Ven. Hong Yang - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have heard of one place using this as it's training manual and I'd say not to rely on it too much. I think it's a well written account but it was discouraging to read how she could not participate during the crucial training period just before ordination and needed a private room, not participating in some training session due to their strenuousness. That was discouraging as she went on to become very famous. One of the things that binds you in training with other women during ordination training is not dependent on language but the willingness to embrace the difficult parts daily, enduring inspite of the pain in your back or legs, the bad food (which was not that bad at all! they were modest about that. The willingness to endure binds you as a group because everyone is suffering along with you but that suffering in not really important, but the bonding of living together in one large room in rows of 20 women on bench style beds, having to deal with that on top of classes, practices, repentance services, and sharing it all without knowing each other. That creates the invisible bond that supports you during your monastic life, it's precious so precious. I was ordained at that same temple she said she was at Yuan Heng Monastery in Gaoshiung, Taiwan many years later so I know the situation she was in years before. She went on to grow a Bhikshuni Sangha who was trained and ordained in Taiwan as well, to their credit they refer to their sense of being supported by an invisible Bhikshuni Sangha (referring to this bond I mentioned). look the up, it's quite remarkable testament to this wonderful Bhikshuni who managed on her own, to establish Sravasti Abbey and a Bhikshuni community.
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