The Role and Rights of Women in Buddhism

The rights of women can be summarised as the freedom from discrimination and equal opportunities with men.  In India, during the time of the Buddha, women were treated as inferior to men; a son was more preferable than a daughter. Despite such social conventions, the Buddha regarded women as equal to men. When Ven. Ananda asked whether women have the potential to attain enlightenment, the Buddha said yes – just like their male counterparts. Thus over 2600 years ago, the Buddha gave women permission to enter the Holy Order. Since then many female monks achieved enlightenment. Two of them were appointed female chief disciples of the Buddha alongside his two male chief disciples. The Buddha also suggested some etiquette rules for a husband: he should honour, respect and be faithful to his wife, allow her to superintend the household affairs, and provide her with ornaments. In return, the wife should do her duty well, look after his relatives, be faithful, take care of what he brings home and be diligent in all her duties. It is clear that Buddhism promotes women’s rights and equality.

To many, the term ‘equal rights’ denotes discrimination that needs to be put right. Our interpretation of equal rights in this sense is somehow restricted to worldly gains and external freedom. If we get an equal pay or better salary, for example, we will be happy. But once we get it, the mind will move the goal posts further. The yearning continues and we will never be truly satisfied because we are forever waiting for the next better things. We live in the future, for the future, full of worries and forget to be happy in the here and now.

Inasmuch as we want to put external freedom right, we must not lose our way or neglect our freedom within. For this type of freedom, we don’t need others to hand it to us. Nor do we need to change others to our way of thinking, but we can change our attitudes towards them so that we can be at peace regardless. We need to look deeper beyond worldly and external freedom. As long as there’s greed, anger and delusion in the world, bias and inequality will remain. If each and every one develops peace within there will be no hurting, harming or taking advantage of one another.

There’s a Buddhist proverb: natthi santi paramam sukham, meaning there is no greater happiness in the world than that which comes from a peaceful mind.  For the mind to be at peace it needs to understand things as they are. This requires that we look closely into the nature of things around us and at the body that we regard as self. If this body belongs to us then we should be able to stop it from growing, ageing, getting sick and dying. But we can’t go against the force of nature. Sooner or later the body will return to the earth. We simply acknowledge what is going on without identifying with it or putting ourselves in it. If we hear something unpleasant, it’s just hearing. We don’t add ‘I’ to it.  After all, it’s just a sound coming into contact with our ears.  When a thought is bothering us, we also acknowledge it as thinking, thinking, thinking. When we acknowledge it as such, studies showed that the information will be sent to the frontal brain, the analytical brain, the reasoning brain rather than going to the amygdala – the brain emotional centre. As a result, we will be less stressed.

When we continue to see things as they are, the mind will be able to let go. We don’t yearn to be someone going somewhere. No void needs to be filled. We simply enjoy being!  At that moment, our mind is totally at peace.  It’s only when there is ‘me,’ this ‘me’ needs to be someone, to be on par with others or even better – to feel good. We start hoarding things, our dissatisfaction with the world grows.  Our subjective way of looking at the world brings nothing but unnecessarily stress.

In conclusion, the rights to happiness for women in Buddhism are equal to men. The definition of worldly rights is too narrow a definition. We need to look beyond that, and deep within.  And for that matter, women can enjoy the role and freedom they have – freedom of the mind that is priceless beyond any form of conventional rights and equality.

Kamontip Evans is a stress management consultant and author of Taming the Truant Mind. She also writes blogs on mindfulness meditation for the Huffington Post

RETREAT

 RETREAT RULES AND PRACTICES
 THE BUDDHAPADIPA TEMPLE, LONDON


‘Harmonious Practices towards a Noble Community Living’

Welcome

 The Buddhapadipa Temple London and its retreat organizers gladly welcome all meditators to the Residential Meditation retreat. We hope this retreat will provide a good opportunity for meditators to develop mindfulness necessary for spiritual insights that lead to enlightenment.

Although this retreat is ideal for experienced meditators, however on the first day of the retreat, meditation teachers will give instructions to all meditators including beginners on sitting meditation, walking meditation as well as observing other daily activities.  During the retreat the meditation teacher will advise meditators on how to develop progressive insights according to meditator’s report during the interview.

 Accommodation

This is a residential retreat; all meditators are required to stay overnight at the Temple. The Temple will provide mattresses, blanket, pillow and sleeping bag, but if you like, you can bring yours. Each meditator will stay in a separated room unless one would like to share their room with others.

Charge & Fee

There is a charge of £70 for attending this retreat. This amount of money will be mainly for preparing foods and drinks (vegetarian). We accept cash or cheque (please make it payable to ‘the Buddhapadipa Temple Trust’).

Things to Bring and Not to Bring

You will need to bring:

  1. sufficient clothing for the retreat as no washing of clothes is allowed for retreat. White clothes are ideal; however, polite colours are also acceptable.
  2. a torch/flashlight, personal toiletries, alarm clock, personal medication, water tumbler etc. You are welcome to bring your own meditation cushion, bench or meditation mat if you wish.

Please do not

  1. bring a laptop or use any emailing or other social medias such Facebook, Instagram/twitter ect.
  2. use mobile phone except in cases of emergency.
  3. bring valuable items to the retreat.
  4. set your alarm clock earlier than the wake up time ie 5.00 A.M.
  5. use beeping watches in the Meditation room.
  6. wear shoes in the Meditation room. Slippers are allowed.

Most importantly, meditators should not be fussy and ought to behave in a dignified manner.

Smoking and Fires

Smoking or fires of any kind, including candles, are prohibited due to the risk of fire. Do not forget to switch off the light and unplug any electric lead & cable every time before leaving the room.

Arrival

Upon arrival, make sure to confirm your registration, pay the fee to the coordinator, collect the room’s key and sleeping items at the house. Please park your car in the car park.

Ending

All participants are expected to stay for the entire period of the retreat except in the case of illness or emergency of compassionate nature and with permission from the teachers.

Others

  1. The organizers reserve the right to amend or to add any rules and regulations which they deem necessary for the smooth running of the retreat.
  2. The number of participants for this retreat is limited due to space constraints and other considerations.
  3. Acceptance of participants is at the discretion of the organizers. All decisions by the organizers are final. The organizers are not obliged to offer any reasons for not accepting any applicant.

Retreat Orientation: Basic Rules and Regulations

In order to make spiritual progress during the retreat, meditators need to have faith, effort and perseverance. Faith in the teacher and in the method, will inspire meditators to practise. Faith alone is not sufficient, however, meditators also need effort and perseverance to progress along the spiritual path leading to enlightenment and emancipation. Therefore, faith, effort, and perseverance are indispensable qualities for meditators during the retreat. For the retreat to be smooth and fruitful, all meditators are requested to observe all the retreat rules. The rules may seem demanding but they are created for the benefits of all the meditators who are ready to practise wholeheartedly. They are as follows:

  1. Practise seriously. During the retreat, upon seeing meditators not mindfully focusing on their practice, the meditation teacher(s) or the retreat coordinator(s) will remind them so.
  2. All participants are to observe the 8 precepts. Those with permission from the meditation teacher due to physical sickness may be exempted from observing the sixth precept.

The 8 precepts are:

  • 1st: Abstaining from killing any living being.
  • 2nd: Abstaining from taking what is not given.
  • 3rd: Abstaining from sexual activity.
  • 4th: Abstaining from wrong speech—lying, gossiping, divisive, or harsh speech.
  • 5th: Abstaining from intoxicants.
  • 6th: Abstaining from eating after noon (i.e. drinking milk, soy milk, milo, 3 in 1 coffee, etc.)
  • 7th: Abstaining from dancing, singing, listening to music, watching movies, or adorning oneself with garlands and perfumes.
  • 8th: Abstaining from using high or luxurious seats & beds.

 

  1. Keep noble silenceall the time, talk only when really necessary such as during the interview or during the question-and-answer session.
  2. Bow before and after each sitting meditation, each Dhamma talk, and each interview to display gratitude and humility. Please do not take bowing as a behaviour of lower social status.
  3. Meditators must do all activities mindfully in slow motion. However, when lining up for taking foods, resume normal pace with mindfulness to have time to finish meal by noon. Look down while walking, standing, eating and during interview reporting.
  4. Avoid greeting each other, smoking, making calls, listening to electronic devices, reading books and materials not related to the practice, and wandering.
  5. Avoid stretching legs toward the Buddha shrine to show respect.
  6. Show respect toward meditation teachers by waiting for them to exit the meditation hall first after every sitting meditation or Dhamma talks except when they remain for further meditation.
  7. Refrain from seeing meditation teachers besides the scheduled interview time and the question-and-answer session.
  8. After one full day of practice, meditators are scheduled forinterview every day between 4-5 P.M.
  9. Come to the meditation room on time to avoid disturbing other meditators.
  10. Open and close the doors gently, slowly and mindfully to minimize noises.
  11. Meditators should arrive at the meditation room at least five minutes before the daily chanting and Dhamma talk at 6.30 A.M. and 6 P.M.
  12. Meditators are encouraged to suffuse loving-kindness (mettā) each time at the end of their sitting meditation.
  13. If communication is needed, please talk to the teachers directly.

 

Guideline for Reporting during Interview (short version)

Your observation of body and mind should be reported according to the following three-step procedure:

  • What object you note i.e. the rising and falling movement of the abdomen or any other object becoming most prominent at the present moment.
  • How you note it i.e. how you become aware of it with or without labelling.
  • What experience you have of it or what happens to the object when noted i.e. you are aware of its shape, manner or characteristics (individual characteristics or common characteristics).


Primary Object

Meditators are supposed to start the report with their experience of the primary object of rising and falling movement of the abdomen according to the above-mentioned procedure.

Example:

(a) I watch the abdomen rises (or falls)

(b) I label it as “rising, rising” (or “falling, falling”)

(c) I become aware of stretching, pressure, stiffness, tension etc. I felt pressure increased gradually (when falling, I felt relief or pressure decreased.)

It is very important to describe your primary object in clear, simple and precise terms with all the accurate details you have observed. Only after that should you continue to report on the secondary objects.

Secondary Object

 The secondary objects are as detailed but not limited to:

(a) bodily sensations: pain, itch, etc.

(b) Thoughts: ideas, planning, remembering, thinking, etc.

(c) Emotions: anger, pride, joy, happiness, etc.

(d) Noises (hearing), images (seeing), etc.

While mindfully following the primary object, if any of the above secondary objects become prominent (more than the primary object), meditators turn the mind toward that object and mindfully observe it. During the interview, after the reporting on the primary object, meditators also report the experience of the secondary objects according to the above three-step procedure.

 Examples:

  1. Body sensation is the most prominent secondary object:
  • (a) I felt painful on the knee or pain arose in my knee.
  • (b) I noted it as “pain, pain.”
  • (c) I found it changed from stabbing pain to hard pain.
  • (d) I noted as “hard, hard.”
  • (e) I felt it as slow pulsating hardness, later found it decreased, and after a few minutes disappeared.
  • (f) Then, I went back to the primary object which is the rising and falling movement of the abdomen.

 

  1. Thoughts and emotions as the most prominent secondary objects:

When reporting different kinds of thoughts such as planning, imagining, judging, daydreaming, etc, or emotions such as anger, frustration, happiness, etc, meditators should report them objectively without mentioning whom or what they are thinking about or who or what makes them angry, etc.

  • (a) I found myself deep in thoughts.
  • (b) I noted as “thinking, thinking” (in general) or “planning, planning” or “remembering, remembering (in specific).”
  • (c) I felt myself angry.
  • (d) I noted “anger, anger.”
  • (e) I found it disappeared after a while.
  • (f) Then, I went back to the primary object which is the rising and falling movement of the abdomen.

 A Sample of a Comprehensive Report

I note the rising and falling movement of the abdomen as a primary object of meditation. When I note the rising, I experience tension and heaviness. I then noted the falling as “falling, falling,” my experience of falling was not clear. I found my mind wandered and noted it as “wandering, wandering,” and after a while it stopped. I then went back to the primary object of rising and falling movement of the abdomen.

And then, a pain arose in my knee, I noted it as “pain, pain” but it intensified and began to throb. I noted “throbbing, throbbing” then it lessened and finally disappeared. I then returned to the rising and falling movement of the abdomen.

Suddenly, a sound occurred. I noted “hearing, hearing” and meanwhile an itch took place in the face. I noted it as “itching, itching.” After a while, the itch disappeared and I then returned to the primary object of the rising and falling movement of the abdomen.”

An Advice to Meditators

  • Report your own experience, not imaginary images or made-up stories.
  • Keep your interview short and to the point by following the above-mentioned procedure and reporting examples.
  • Labelling or noting must go concurrently along with precise awareness of the object. Otherwise, it will bring no result.
  • Help the meditation teacher to help you develop insights by practising diligently as instructed and by reporting your practice experience properly as suggested.

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Safeguarding Your Mind

The mind holds the key to our good health and happiness. We need to look after it well so that our mind will be at peace rather than unstable, closed-off or troubled, at risk of losing itself. The mind experiences emotions – positive, negative and neutral – from anger and sadness, to loss, joy, happiness, boredom, indifference, equanimity, and so on. As a surface of a still pond ripples when something falls into it, so too does an untrained mind when sight, sound, smell, taste, tactile sensation and arising thoughts come into contact with it. The ripples soon dissipate to stillness. However, interfere with the ripples and more waves will be created. For example, someone’s rude manner may infuriate us. Our instinctive reaction may be with aggression – verbally or physically. Or we may choose to suppress our anger. The former can leave us with regret and guilt afterwards, the latter with anxiety and, if prolonged, can lead to depression. Worse, anger can be stored in our memory bank, waiting to be triggered and re-experienced. We are, in effect, being imprisoned by our past memory, stuck, tormented, and unable to move on.

 

An angry mind

If you look at the anger, who is angry? Which part of the body is angry: our head, arms, hands or legs? None of those. Yet the body is working hard throughout the state of anger. The heart pumps faster and the lungs expand to let more air and oxygen in. Hence the shortness of breath. Stress hormones are released. Glucose and fatty acids increase in our blood stream to provide us with energy for fight or flight mode. Our muscles tighten. But the body itself is not getting angry. It knows nothing about anger; it only performs its duty to help us survive. The one part of us that gets angry is our mind. This angry mind can time-travel into the past, digging up some related or unrelated unpleasant incidents to get us more upset all over again. Or it can go into the future and worry about the negative effects of past anger, thus feeling anxious and unhappy in the present moment. It wants to fix the past so that the future will look securely happy. The fact that the past has been and gone and is unchangeable leaves us feeling sad and helpless about the future. This unnecessary confusion, helplessness and anxiety occurs because we don’t understand our own mind. Nor do we know how to safeguard it against negative thinking.

 

The nature of the mind

The mind, in its primal state, is radiant. Its function is to think, imagine, feel, remember. Left unguided, it can think itself to stress, anxiety, anger, and depression without realising it. There is a Thai proverb: When with friends, watch what you say; when alone, watch your thoughts! This is because, left to its own devices, the mind tends to dwell more on negativity. It never keeps still but proliferates. A busy mind is clouded, weighed down by cluttered thoughts, confused and unable to see the way out of the problem. Once the mind gets into the thinking mode, it adds more thoughts to it, gets lost in it and starts to believe in its own thought creation. As the Buddha said: no enemy can harm you as much as your thoughts unguarded.

 

Wimbledon Common path

The runaway mind

When the mind experiences stress, there’s a sense of urgency to get rid of it. The more we try to reject it, the more it gets stuck. Scientists found that emotional memory lasts longer than normal memory.  Most people turn to entertainment or some other activities to distract their attention from stress and emotional pain – only to find that they carry the unresolved issue with them everywhere. Even on holiday! The painful event ended an hour ago or a year ago but the mind keeps going back to it and nurturing it with repetitive thoughts. We need to understand this mind, tame it and train it to keep still so that it will not put us at risk of ill health – physically and mentally. Mindfulness is the key.

 

The mindful mind

In mindfulness training, we bring the mind to the present moment and acknowledge whatever is happening in the here and now without adding any further thought to it.  For example, when you are thinking, acknowledge that you are thinking. When you hear something you like or dislike, it’s just hearing; when you see something, it’s just seeing, seeing, seeing. If the mind proliferates, watch it and bring it back to the body, to the breath or to the rising and falling sensation of the abdomen. When anger arises, it’s just anger. If anger doesn’t go away, you can look at it from beginning to end. It starts off just like this, continues and eventually ceases naturally – without you trying to forgive someone or forget the upsetting event. Anger is not you. When you watch a tv programme many times over, you will come to know it so well and be able to predict its beginning, middle and end, as well as the conversations between the characters. You will get bored of it and won’t want to watch it again. Likewise, the mind will become adept at predicting the pattern of its own thoughts and emotions, able to let go of them through understanding.  This is empowering because you will know how to handle the painful past and the future worries when they arise in your mind. But understanding it is not enough; you need to work at it regularly by training the mind to be more mindful.

 

When the mind is still, there is concentration and clarity. We can think better. A mindful mind can stop troublesome thoughts and emotions in their tracks, safeguarding itself and us from miseries. For, it understands things as they are, not as the way we want things to be. It can let go, is at ease and is at peace with itself and the world.

 

Kamontip Evans is a stress management consultant and author of Taming of the Truant Mind. She also writes blogs on mindfulness meditaion for the Huffington Post.