Gender, Ordination and Socially Engaged Buddhism in Australia

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:30 PM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Anna HALAFOFF , Deakin University, Australia
While women have played a prominent role in Buddhism in Australia, at least since the 1880s, they have received relatively little scholarly or public attention. These women include prominent nuns, teachers, community leaders, scholars and activists engaged in environmental and human rights issues, such as Marie Byles, Natasha Jackson, Venerable Robina Courtin and Judith Snodgrass. Courtin, has frequently featured in the Australian press and been referred to as ‘unconventional’, given her forthrightness and dynamism. On October 22, 2009, four women received Theravada Bhikkhuni Ordination in Perth, in the Thai-Forest Tradition, which also generated a considerable amount of controversy. Members of the Australian Sangha Association, including prominent nuns and monks such as Rev. Chi Kwang Sunim, Ajahn Brahm and Bhante Sujato have been, and continue to be, at the forefront of promoting gender equity in Buddhism in Australia. This paper examines the contribution of Buddhist women and men, and also Buddhist organisations, in addressing gender disparities in Australia. It argues that stereotyping Buddhists, and Buddhism more generally, as passive and pensive, negates Buddhists’ commitment to the Bodhisattva ideal, social justice and social engagement, evident in both traditional and contemporary Buddhism.