Female Tibetan monk pushing for equality in her communityTenzin Palmo arrived at the interview in tears. She explained that she had cried after speaking to a female Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka and hearing about the suffering experienced by those of her kind in that country.
“Female monks in Sri Lanka cannot pursue a proper course of discipline,” she said. “It was only recently that the country saw the rise of female monks, who are trying hard to make strides against opposition from the government and male monks.
“You cannot compare it to the situation in Korea, where female Buddhist monks are quite established,” she continued. “In fact, in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and India, there’s no place for women disciples to go through training.”
The Venerable Palmo, 61, the first Western woman to become a monk in Tibet, is in Seoul this week to take part in the 8th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women being held at Joong- Ang Sangha University.
Born with the first name Diane, as a daughter of a fishmonger in London, she was greatly interested in divinity and meditation from her youth. When she turned 20, she left for India in search of the truth.
There, at age 33, the Venerable Palmo sequestered herself in a remote cave in the Himalayas. For 12 years, she never left the cave, after which she said she eventually reached a state of nirvana.
“A cave is actually a pretty good place for disciplining one’s self, where you can sincerely concentrate on your inner self,” she said. “People ask me whether I was afraid, but actually, no place is safer than a cave.”
In Tibetan Buddhism, which does not accept women as monks, the Venerable Palmo broke a long-held stigma.
On top of that, she also had to surmount a stereotype against dual nationality. It’s no wonder her latest project is to build a female Buddhist foundation by starting a school for 20 girls in northern India.
Asked how she overcame the stigma, Venerable Palmo offered this answer: “I forgot about what happened in my former life.”
Then she added, “Men surpass women in physical strength alone; and women, unlike men, are not arrogant about showing off.”
Her comments draw hearty laughter from the audience. “There can be no difference between genders when it comes to entering nirvana,” she added. “Every single human being is fair in this world. Everyone can be a Buddha.”
by Park Jeong-ho