Saturday, 23 January 2010

Bhikshuni Island

As a 10 and 11 year old girl, I used to love watching 'Wonder Woman'.

In one of my favourite episodes, Wonder Woman's sister came to ask her to return to the island where their mother, the Queen of the Amazons, lived. This island was a tropical paradise, with hundreds of, wonder-women-in-waiting.
It was an island where these amazonian women could follow Pythagorian pursuits, with a strong focus on their spiritual life, training to save the world.

This fantasy of such a land could easily have been inspired by real life events in Taiwan - especially from this last week:

On Tuesday, through some connection with another Rigpa sangha member, I had a brief audience with Bhikshuni Master Cheng Yen, the founder of Tzu Chi, and 5 time Nobel Peace prize candidate. (Sogyal Rinpoche has taught at one of her 6 hospitals on one of his previous visits to Taiwan). Between her conference calls with members of her organisation who were in the Dominican Republic, on standby for relief work in Haiti, I offered Master Cheng Yen, the updated Chinese edition of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and asked for her blessing for our work in Rigpa. I had heard so much about Master Cheng Yen, from a close friend who is her student, and also at the recent conference that I attended in Vietnam on "Eminent Buddhist Women", where she was certainly presented as one of the most popular and significant Buddhist nun figures of this day. Yet, all the stories I had heard about her had not conveyed any of the qualities of elemental strength that I felt she had.

Master Cheng Yen appears to be a very elegant and regal woman - displaying a real grace, but when you're with her, she has the force of a large, rock, so large in fact that she dwarfs the stones on our planet - as though she were their mother! There's a sense that she magnetizes everything to her which is needed to accomplish her vast vision - enabling her to be effective anywhere, anytime.

Bhikshuni Master Cheng Yen
After our meeting, I was taken on a tour of one of her centres in Taiwan, which included a recycling station (one of 4,500 set up in Taiwan and serviced by volunteers of all ranks and backgrounds in the Tzu Chi organisation), a couple of books shops, and the DaAi TV station, (with it's own satelite in orbit, so Tzu Chi members, with a special dish can receive 24 hour DaAi TV wherever they are in the world!). It was incredibly impressive!

On Wednesday, I visited Bhikshuni Prof Cheng-Ying, who was very generous in her time and spirit when she welcomed me into her home in Taipei. We spent a lot of time together looking through the View magazines that I had brought from Lerab Ling, and then started to discuss the possibilities of Shikshama ordination for some of the nuns in Lerab Ling who wish to take Bhikshuni ordination in the future. (dear sisters in Lerab Ling - I have a lot to share with you, once I'm back in France!) Bhikshuni Cheng-Yeng has been a fully ordained nun since 1975. Her ease, confidence, simplicity and humility were tremendously inspiring, and her open manner made it very easy to talk frankly about many elements of the path.

The following day, my friend, Min Hsin and I travelled by high speed train to meet with Bhikshuni Master Wu-Yin of the Luminary Temple - many of us know of her incredible knowledge of the Vinaya through the book Choosing Simplicity. She is the senior most Bhikshuni in Taiwan, and has made an incredible contribution in "establishing Buddhist institutes and temples to train nuns so that they have the necessary skills and knowledge to transmit the Dharma to the greater society" (from Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron's introduction to Choosing Simplicity).
Choosing Simplicity - Commentary on the Bhikshuni Pratimoksha by Bhikshuni Master Wu-Yin

Bhikshuni Master Wu-Yin is also an incredible force. Very strong indeed! For close to three hours, she "processed" me - in a way that I have only felt my own teacher do to me. She challenged me, she encouraged me, she turned my opinions in on themselves, she opened my opinions out into the fullness of the history of the Bhikshuni lineage... I was brought to tears, I was puzzled, I was educated and I was inspired. And at the end of the time with her, I found a new courage in myself. I videoed this meeting, and her advice will be really useful for our 'Rigpa Vihara' monastic community! At the end of our time together, she repeatedly said "you can, you can, you can you can..."

After these three days, I see how Wonder Womans' island pales in comparison. Where else in the world would such great Bhiskhuni Masters be found in one place? Taiwan is very special in this regard!


  1. So inspiring. Thank you so much~

  2. Ven. sister you did a great job for encouraging not only your 'Rigpa monastic community' but also to those who cannot reach these legends.
    Thank you

  3. Dear Venerable, Thank you for your comment! Meeting with these great bhikshunis, an enthusiastic urge comes to share, so I'm very happy to hear this appreciation. You must have seen this short clip from Bhikshuni Heng-Ching:
    I also plan to edit part of my interview with Master Wu-Yin, so stay posted! With love, Damchö

  4. I think I see my confusion, Damcho. I thought this was just YOUR blog. And so I decided you somehow have TWO NAMES -- Tenpa Rabgye AND Ane Damcho. Oops -- so sorry!