“There were certainly many great female practitioners in Tibet,” British nun and abbess Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo writes in her book “Reflections on a Mountain Lake.” “But because they lacked a background of philosophical training, they could not aspire to write books, gather disciples, go on Dharma tours, and give talks. When we read the histories, we will notice that nuns are distinguished by their absence. But this doesn’t mean they weren’t there.” To this day nunneries in Asia usually lack the resources the monasteries get, and full ordination for women is currently not a possibility in the Tibetan tradition, though many monks and nuns, including the Dalai Lama, are working towards a change.
The Dalai Lama has spoken out many times about the need for resolving the issue. “Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Buddha was preaching in a male-dominated society,” he stated in an interview. “If he stressed feminist viewpoints, nobody would have listened to him. The important thing is that now, for the past thirty years, we have worked to change that.”
This is a challenge all religions in the 21st century face in one form or another. Watching the change in the Vatican, many hope that the new pope will be a little more inclusive, especially when it comes to women’s issues and questions concerning sexuality and contraception. More than 70 percent of American Catholics want the next pope to ordain women, approve the use of contraception, and let priests get married. But we know Catholics won’t get a female pope or female priests any time soon. Women are the only group categorically excluded, and Pope Francis has not made encouraging statements in the past. But any organization that excludes 50 percent of their brightest and most capable members from leadership won’t be able to escape change forever. The papacy won’t be a mamacy any time soon, but at least we know that Her Holiness is an option.
Michaela Haas, PhD, is an international reporter, lecturer, and consultant. She is the author of “Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Changing the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West,” which will be published by Snow Lion/Shambhala this April. With a Ph.D. in Asian Studies, she is currently a visiting scholar in Religious Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. She has been studying and practicing Buddhism for almost twenty years. She is the founding owner of HAAS live!, an international coaching company which combines her experience in media with mindfulness training. Since the age of sixteen, she has worked as a writer and interviewer for major nationwide German newspapers, magazines and TV stations.