The latest from Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project

Newsletter 3, Sept. 2016

Dear Friends,

While Venerable Candā has been away on Vassa in Jhana Grove (Perth, Australia), the Anukampa elves have been busy at work and we wanted to share a round-up of our summer news as we start to look ahead to Ajahn Brahm's UK visit next month. As you can read below, our team has grown, we've been deeply touched by volunteers stepping forward to offer various kinds of help and have likewise been heartened by the great response to the events we've organised.

Dr. Caroline Starkey becomes trustee chair

Dr. Caroline Starkey
In July 2016, Venerable Candā asked me to take on the role of Chair of the Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project. I became involved with Anukampa after going to see her at Manchester Centre for Buddhist Meditation in June 2016, but my interest in roles for women in Buddhism has been long-standing.

I spent most of my childhood in South East Asia, but returned to the UK as an adult and found (after a career in social work) I wanted to continue academic study with a PhD. I initially hoped to look at the aspects of social work being undertaken by Cambodian don chee (nuns), but before the ink could dry on my research proposal, I had a chance encounter with a British Buddhist nun in a café and subsequently became more interested in what might be happening closer to home.

I completed my PhD, 'In the Stream of Blessings: Ordained Buddhist Women in Britain', at the end of 2014 and I’m now working to turn my study into a book. The research involved interviewing and spending time with twenty-five ordained (or formerly ordained) Buddhist women from seven different Buddhist groups across the British Isles. All of my research participants were British nationals, or those who had spent a significant amount of time in Britain as ordained women, and whilst the term ‘ordination’ means different things within different Buddhist traditions, my aim was to navigate these differences to provide the first multiple-tradition study of what it is like to be an ‘ordained Buddhist women’ in contemporary Britain. 

We covered a great deal of ground in the interviews, including women’s attitudes to wearing Buddhist robes in British towns and cities, and their perspectives on gender equality and feminism. However, perhaps my favourite element of the research was talking about the journeys that women had taken first to get involved with Buddhism and their various paths to ordination.  We also dealt with some of the more tricky issues that affect some ordained women more than others, including the difficulty in getting on-going support and having to live alone outside a monastic environment whilst also trying to uphold the discipline. I tried to do justice to the range of views held by ordained women, particularly in relation to gender equality, and I hope that my study reflects a sensitive and nuanced approach to a complex topic.

My interest in Buddhism in Britain has continued after my PhD, and I am now employed as a Research Fellow at the Centre for Religion and Public Life at the University of Leeds. More recently, with Professor Emma Tomalin (and funded by Historic England) I conducted the first national survey of Buddhist buildings in England, the results of which are written about here and on our blog.

Whilst my research engages in academic analysis, my writing is consciously filled with the words of my participants (who put things far better than I do, anyway!). I wanted to leave the final word to one of my inspirational research participants who spoke to me about her commitment to the dhamma and her decision to ask for ordination. She said:

I thought to myself, if I really applied myself to this, it doesn’t matter what happens in my life, the most horrible thing could happen or the most wonderful and I would be able to cope with it. Is there anything that could happen that this path doesn’t show a way through? And I couldn’t think of anything.

I hope that my knowledge, drawing on the experiences so kindly offered to me, helps the Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project come to fruition.

Celebrating the bhikkhuni Sangha

Image: Luc Viatour / CC BY
In our first newsletter Venerable Candā mentioned that this year would usher in the 2600th anniversary of the bhikkhuni Sangha as recorded by the Sri Lankan Theravada Sangha. Tonight's (Friday 16th September) full moon marks the start of a period of worldwide commemorations running until the full moon of September 2017.

In articles and talks, Ayya Tathaloka has been leading the way in highlighting what a special chance this is to celebrate the inestimable value of the work to develop a well established bhikkhuni community as part of the Buddha's Fourfold Assembly. She notes that the assembly's "main function is to offer the very best opportunity and support to each and every person who would take this Dhamma medicine, heal themselves, and share that medicine with our world." As the Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project takes its first steps towards bring a bhikkhuni presence to the UK, it has the aim of helping to fulfil this vital function at heart.    

Anukampa is shown much love

Over the summer, in addition to being moved by the donations we have received so far, we've been very touched by a number of messages from people offering all kinds of help including book collection, technical and other event support, as well as administrative assistance and we would like to send deep thanks to all!

We've further been delighted to see that the project has attracted the interest of the Buddhistdoor Global who featured an article on us in August, as well as Sakyadhita who will include us in an upcoming post looking at three Theravada Bhikkhuni projects on their Awakening Buddhist Women blog. 

Ajahn Brahm's UK tour

It is hard to believe that Ajahn Brahm's UK tour will get underway in just over a month (wherever does the time go?)! After all the hard work that has gone in to organising the events, it's been hugely rewarding to see such a warm response, with all but one of the registering events now fully booked. If you would like to take part in this special series of talks and retreats there are still some spaces available for our main fundraising event. There are also, two dana-based talks are being offered in London and Cambridge which do not require any registration - just show up on the day!

We gleefully anticipate much wholesome, autumn fun which we hope you can share and rejoice in whether with us in person or from afar.

Warm regards,
Anukampa Team

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