The candlelight procession of the opening ceremony, Sakyadhita International Conference, Hong Kong, June 2017.

In June 2017, Drolkar McCallum, regional coordinator for FPMT North America and member services coordinator for the International Mahayana Institute—FPMT’s international community of nuns and monks—visited Hong Kong to attend the Sakyadhita International Conference. Drolkar, who additionally serves as acting president of Sakyadhita Canada, shared experiences from the six-day event:

The fifteenth conference of the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women, held at the University of Hong Kong from June 22 to 28, was attended by over 800 Buddhist nuns and laywomen from thirty-one countries!

The name Sakyadhita means “Daughter of Shakya,” harkening back to the clan name of the historical Buddha. Sakyadhita International is an alliance of women and men whose goal it is to empower the world’s 300 million Buddhist women to work for peace and social justice and to advance their spiritual and secular lives.

They hold an international conference every two years, the first of which was held in Bodhgaya, India, in 1987. This year celebrated Sakyadhita’s thirty-year anniversary with the theme, “Contemporary Buddhist Women: Contemplation, Cultural Exchange & Social Action.”

Batik Making Workshop at the Sakyadhita International Conference in Hong Kong.

Batik Making Workshop at the Sakyadhita International Conference in Hong Kong. Photo by Drolkar McCallum.

For one week laywomen, nuns, laymen, and monks from many different nations and backgrounds gathered in harmony to share their ideas and experiences. The program included a rich mixture of panel presentations, workshops, Dharma talks, meditations, chanting, and cultural performances. At the end, there was a two-day tour of several Buddhist sites around Hong Kong.

The conferences, held in different, usually Buddhist, countries aim to bring together scholars, monastics, and members of the public to forge pathways forward for the interests and needs of Buddhist women around the world. Its primary purpose is to promote world peace through the practice of the Buddha’s teachings.

In the opening ceremony on the first day, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, who is president of Sakyadhita International, and Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, who is co-founder and the event organizer, gave short but inspiring welcoming speeches in the vast Grand Hall of the university.

Jetsunma emphasized that the conference aims to empower laywomen and monastics around the world and to bridge scholars and practitioners. It also shares practices such as loving kindness, thereby helping to bring peace and wisdom into the world.

She also expressed the hope that this year’s meeting could serve as a bridge, strengthening the connection between East and West. She emphasized that the conference celebrates the achievements of both monastic and lay Buddhist women, but also stressed that even though the conference was about women, it is certainly not anti-men, and that all the lay and monastic men present were most welcome!

Sakyadhita Tibetan Nuns

Nuns from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition at the conference, including Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo. FPMT IMI nuns are Vens. Lozang Drolkar from Australia and Tenzin Lekdron from Sri Lanka. Missing from the photo is Ven. Lozang Tseten also from Australia. Photo by Drolkar McCallum.

The last day started with more than twenty focus groups on such topics as social engagement, justice, the future of Sakyadhita International, science and Buddhism, and monastic training in East and West. Most of the Western nuns joined the focus group on monastic training. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo shared about the difficulties of Western nuns, particularly the lack of financial support from their Tibetan teachers and from lay people. She brought up examples of monastics who have not been treated well or lived under difficult circumstances although contributing greatly to the developments of Buddhist centers.

Ven. Jampa from Sravasti Abbey in the United States mentioned: “This topic of support for nuns came up throughout the conference. I learned quite a bit, especially during the discussions and sharing, not just about the lack of support for Western Buddhist nuns in the Tibetan tradition, but also about the cultural gap between East and West in that regard. Westerners still tend to support their spiritual Tibetan teachers and Tibetan monastics in exile more than the Western monastics of the Tibetan traditions, even though the nuns help their Buddhist centers, teachers, and many students. Few Western monastics who either live in Asia, work in Western Dharma centers, or who have supported their Tibetan teachers receive financial support in return.”

During the breaks and meal times, I participated in valuable discussions with nuns and laywomen from all over the world and all traditions. We discussed a wide range of topics from reviving full ordination for nuns, building monasteries, support and training for Westerners, and even FPMT International Sangha Day!

It was indeed a unique and rich celebration of all Buddhist traditions coming together to better understand, help support, and appreciate each other.

Read more about the work of Sakyadhita International and find a review of the Hong Kong conference:

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