India Dhamma Trust:

Women & Men's Ordination Teams in India: is there a difference?

On Sat, 29 March, 2014 - 15:48
vajratara's picture
A number of our donors have asked us why the Women’s Ordination Team is smaller than the Men’s. A good question which demands a considered response which Subhuti has provided…

India today is in a process of astonishing social transformation across a wide spectrum of developmental stages: a few tribal people in the Andoman Islands still live more or less in the Stone Age and quite a number in the big ‘Metros’, like Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, or Chennai, are as post modern as can be found anywhere - and every stage between is represented somewhere in this vast and diverse country. We see ourselves as trying to influence that transformation in as positive a direction as possible, through the power of the Dhamma.

Caste of course is a major force that needs to be transformed - largely in the sense of ceasing to be a significant factor in social life. But perhaps an even bigger and more intractable issue is the relation between the sexes. Women in India are still, on the whole, very much disadvantaged relative to men. They are often subject to violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, discrimination and exclusion from effective power and initiative: the facts are now widely known, even in India, and need no detailing. In the Triratna Community, both in India and worldwide, we are committed to transforming in whatever way we can this shameful and immoral feature of traditional Indian society. We do so under the inspiration of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, who clearly and unambiguously espoused this cause, and of our teacher, Urgyen Sangharakshita, who created a new Buddhist Order in which women and men enjoyed the same status, ‘a no-status’, this being very much a new departure in the Buddhist world.

Of course, men and women in our movement in India have come from the old traditional society and are often still influenced by its attitudes. We find ourselves having to work against these acquired habits of superiority/inferiority in our community - that is, in our minds. Many men will still unthinkingly assume their right to superiority; many women will lack the confidence and the opportunity to stand up as equals. But slowly we are transforming these habits amongst us and they are changing too with new generations entering the Order who have grown up with much freer attitudes in this and other respects.

Our principal strategy in this respect is to give women the encouragement, training, and opportunity to take their rightful place in our Triratna Order and Community - and indeed in society more widely. Men do need to look at themselves and change their attitudes, and a necessary and growing part of our ordination training for men is the examination of habitual patterns of thought and behaviour in relation to the sexes, sex, and family. But it will be hard for men to make real changes until women can no longer be ignored or patronised, because they have developed an individuality that it is impossible to overlook. This is the work of our ordination training for women. And it is a key tactic of that strategy that the encouragement and training should largely be done by women: otherwise the old patterns are unwittingly reinforced, albeit in the name of overcoming them. Men’s job, as Sangharakshita has said, is to get out of women’s way. Indeed, it is this tactic that has given us the strong women’s wing that we now have in the UK and elsewhere in the West.

The women’s wing of the movement in India is at an earlier stage of development than the men’s, because of prevailing social attitudes, of course, but also because of this tactic of insisting that the women’s wing is developed by women. Fewer Dhammacharinis than Dhammacharis from the West were able to give the intitial impetus needed, and it was harder for Indian women to give themselves full time to the work because of family responsibilities and other such socially-conditioned constraints. In addition, the older generation of women tended to be much less educated and self-confident, for obvious reasons. There have therefore been, and still are, fewer women available with the right experience and qualification to take on the leading work of kalyana mitrata in the ordination process.

That means that for the time being IDT is not able to allocate resources to women in amounts equal to those given to men, because there are not yet the right candidates to whom they can be allocated. It is not lack of resources that holds us back or unawareness of the situation. We are committed to sharing resources equally between women and men - and indeed, recognise that for some time we may need to give more to women than men, because of the historical disadvantage women have been under. We are very confident that over the next four or five years a women’s ordination team that is at least equally as strong and large as the men’s, will emerge. There has been relatively rapid, and accelerating, progress over the last few years. They are on their way! And IDT will be ready to give them the resources they need as they emerge.

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lokabandhu's picture
that’s very well stated, thank you…