Closer to the Buddha’s Path as Women--Reflections Upon Participating in the 2008 Sakyadhita Conference in Mongolia
Shih, Chao-Hwei/ 释昭慧
Translated by Prof. Christie Chang/ 张玉玲教授英译
Sakyadhita并不像男性所主导的佛教国际组织，后者一般而言，因其核心成员多半为世界各国佛教领袖，因此往往拥有教会、教团或各寺院所支援的丰沛资源。Sakyadhita这个世界性佛教女性组织，鲜见强而有力的社经背景与物资奥援，主事者Tsomo法师又专事协助穷困的第三世界佛教女性，因此可想见它的运作，是何等艰难！然而这些令人敬佩的释迦女儿，还是在资源有限的情况下，充分发挥了“共用共荣”以及“无相布施”的精神！厥功至伟者，应属来自美国的Sakyadhita会长慧空法师(Rev. Lekshe Tsomo)。
Unlike most other male-dominated international Buddhist organizations, Sakyadhita does not have the support and rich resources from organized churches and strong Buddhist communities or monasteries. As an international Buddhist women’s organization, there is hardly support coming from the privileged socio-economic class and there is very few resources; especially when its leader, Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo who is particularly dedicated to assisting less privileged Buddhist women in the third world, we can imagine how tough a task it must have been for Sakyadhita to operate. Nevertheless, these respected daughters of the Buddha have achieved remarkably under such highly constraining conditions. They have been able to completely extend themselves and successfully demonstrated what it means to offer unconditionally and how to really honor and share with one another. Among all these achievements, of course, Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, the current President of Sakyadhita, deserves to take most of the credit.
For the past two decades, Ven. Tsomo has been selflessly and tirelessly devoted to the education of nuns in the Himalayas and traveling between the two continents of Asia and America. At our encountering during the 10th Sakyadhita conference in Ulaan Baatar this time, Ven. Tsomo’s gentle tones and bright laughter remained the same, but I could not help noticing traces of exhaust in her. What surprised me the most, however, is that her eyes seemed to have become even clearer and more spirited. Generally speaking, busy lives and exhausting chores in this mundane world usually speed up one’s old age, yet intuitively I feel that all such tiring experiences have transformed into the Bodhi asset in Ven. Tsomo instead.
What I also found to be very impressive at the Sakyadhita conference in Mongolia was that all the participants were able to break through the language barrier and communicated with not much difficulty! Despite the different parts of the world these Buddhist women came from, east or west, despite the different colors of their skin, their ethnic identifies or countries, they were all able to engage in genuine communications, exchanging their experiences as practitioners, researchers, or Dharma servers.
Having personally participated in many other international conferences, I have always observed that although most participants might be able to leave aside their bias or discrimination among races or nationalities, yet not many people have really shown genuine interest in communicating with those who do not speak fluent English. Most of the times, less fluent English speakers are either neglected or treated with much impatience, which seems to pronounce that “if you don’t speak English well, you are not qualified here”. The Asian participants who speak English better in those conferences are also found to be rather discriminating against those who do not speak English as well. Facing their fellow Asians who struggle over their English expressions, those more fluent English-speaking Asians may even look rather arrogant or even feel superior themselves, consciously or unconsciously, because they think they share the language of the Caucasians, and sometimes they may even very rudely interrupt any non-English expressions by other participants.
During the Sakyadhita conference in Mongolia, however, what I have found out is that despite the very limited resources, the committee has tried everything it could to help overcome the language barrier among all conference participants. Naturally, there are some who speak more or better English than others do among the participants from each country, and to ensure that no one is excluded as a result of the language barrier, the conference committee has tried to identify all the bilingual speakers among the conference participants and engage them in volunteer interpretation throughout the conference. This volunteer interpretation team has facilitated during the panel discussions as well as during the breaks or even over meals. Whatever is expressed will be simultaneously interpreted in all the different languages spoken by the conference participants. Consequently, despite all the different languages we use to communicate, we have been able to closely engage in the exchanges together and find ourselves touching each other’s heart and echoing the Dharma experienced in the lives of each other. The two university professors and Dharma friends from Taiwan, Christie Chang and Yuchen Li, have helped serve as the volunteer interpreters for Mandarin Chinese speakers. Even though none of them has received any professional training in simultaneous interpretation, but through years of practicing together over similar conferences, their outstanding performance and excellent partnership have indeed impressed us all.
Such considerate and thoughtful service is rarely found in other international conferences except for Sakyadhita. Generally speaking, even those who provide simultaneous interpretation are usually constrained by their resources and human power, and most likely they all end up providing simultaneous interpretation only between English and the host country language. Therefore, the fact that Sakyadhita has provided simultaneous interpretation service for all its participants shows its spirit of equity, respect, compassion for minorities, and its selfless devotion—all these thoughtful concerns are exactly qualities of women！
As a new member of Sakyadhita, I feel proud, and my faith is also strengthened: not only should women never fall as “the second sex” in the Buddhist community, but as women, we actually have been able to come closer to understand the Buddha’s teachings and practiced accordingly. Therefore, comparing to men, women are actually closer to the path to Buddhahood.
Midnight, Sept. 25, 2008 at Zunhui Lou