Triratna women speak out at the UN Day of Vesak Conference 2014
On Fri, 27 June, 2014 - 15:12
Amoghamati, Karunamati and Vajrapushpa write about their recent visit to Vietnam, where they gave papers at the 11th United Nations Day of Vesak Conference. (Vesak, or Wesak, is the south Asian term for the festival now more usually known as Buddha Day in Triratna.)
“Held in the beautiful new Bai Dinh temple, south of Hanoi, this year’s conference looked at the Buddhist world’s contribution to achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.
Karunamati presented research from the work of the Green Tara Trust in Nepal, showing the effectiveness of community-based health promotion in improving the health of mothers and their newborn babies, and in increasing women’s empowerment. She called for Buddhist organisations to work together, sharing skills and monitoring and evaluating their work more effectively.
Vajrapushpa, chair of the Karuna Trust, presented a paper on Karuna’s work in India, focusing on women’s rights and education. She particularly explored the ‘triple marginalisation’ of being poor, low-caste and female.
Amoghamati is chair of Karuna Germany. She discussed the contribution of meat-eating to climate change, from environmentalist and Buddhist perspectives. She urged that future UN Vesak celebrations be meat-free.
Around 10,000 people attended the first part of this largely Thai-funded event (usually held in Bangkok) a celebration of Buddhism consisting mostly of speeches by Buddhist patriarchs and heads of organisations (all male), as well as much entertainment: dancing, singing and light shows from various Asian cultures.
The academic part of the conference saw about 75 papers presented, including very few by women. As far as we are aware, Triratna was the only tradition presenting as many as three papers.
We found the event somewhat disappointing: there was very little opportunity for dialogue and workshops with other participants, usually the highlight of such meetings, which would have enabled Buddhists from all over the world, working in development, activism and Buddhist education, to meet each other. Ajahn Brahm, controversial for unilaterally restarting the full ordination of women in the Thai Forest Tradition in Australia, was banned from delivering his paper yet managed to deliver his message in various forums.
In one comic moment, Vajrapushpa’s panel on women and development was rudely interrupted by the arrival of the ‘King of Toro’ (Toro is a tiny area of Uganda) who wants to bring Buddhism (and, secondarily, development and infrastructure) to his people. His male party’s unhesitating interruption of a female presenter somewhat undermined his claim to take women’s empowerment seriously! The Vietnam Buddhist University awarded him an honorary doctorate.
It is hard to know what effect we have by our attendance at such events, but by speaking we remind the Buddhist world that the Triratna Buddhist Community is alive and well.
This is the second time the conference has happened in Vietnam, and reports suggest the last conference there in 2008 gave Buddhism a huge boost. Very few western Buddhists attend this conference, and we think it speaks volumes to Asian Buddhist women to see competent Buddhist women speaking to large audiences. We hope this will encourage them in speaking out on issues that concern them, such as the full ordination of women.
We also hope that our presence reminds the Buddhist patriarchy that women exist, are strong and competent practitioners and that not all of us buy into feelings of inferiority to male practitioners.
You and the future of this conference We’re considering how to develop the next conference with smaller workshops and networking events. If you would like to contribute, please consider attending. The theme is different each year. If your paper is accepted, your flight and accommodation are paid for by the conference.