This is the published version: Available from Deakin Research - DRO

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    This is the published version:     Halafoff, Anna 2013, Women in Buddhism at the grass roots in Australia, in 2013 : Buddhism at the grassro...

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    This is the published version:     Halafoff, Anna 2013, Women in Buddhism at the grass roots in Australia, in 2013 : Buddhism at the grassroots : Proceedings of the 2013 Sakyadhita international conference on Buddhist women, Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women, Kailua, Hawaii, pp. 51‐56.

Available from Deakin Research Online: Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright owner. Copyright : 2013, Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women


Edited by: Karma Lekshe Tsomo


io' Oopyrl0hl

Sakyadhlta 2013 Âll tlghta roserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means now known or lo bs lnvented, electronic or mechanical, including ptotocopying, recording or by any information slorage or retrleval system without written permissions from the respected authors.

Buddhism at the Grassroots 13th Sakyadhita lnternational Conference on Buddhist Women Vashali, lndia. Published by:

Sakyadhita lnternational Association of Buddhist Women 923 Mokapu Blvd. Kailua, H196734 U.S.A. e-mail : vaishali20l [email protected]

Printed at New Delhi by: Norbu Graphics


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\ilomen in Buddhism at the Grassroots in Australia Anna


This paper seeks to highlight women at the grassroots of Buddhism in Australia, recognizing their important role in the establishment and growth of this religion in a new context. V/hile women have played a prominent role in Buddhism in Australia, at least since the 1880s, they have received relatively little scholarly or public attention.r As Bouma and Brace-Govan have stated "women [including Buddhist women] have played an undersung role in processes of religious settlement, the negotiation of religious and cultural diversity and in the emergence of multicultural Australia."2 Paul Croucher's 1989 study, A History of Buddhism in Australia, provides a comprehensive description of Buddhism in Australian society up until the late 1980s.3 It covers both so-called ethnic and convert Buddhist communities, and women's and men's leadership roles. Croucher's studyremains the def,rnitive text on the subject, and many subsequent publications, including this one, draw primarily on his research. As scholars have mentioned, this is somewhat problematic, given that his impressive monograph is more than twenty years old and that it was based on his Bachelor of Arts Honors thesis. Enid Adam published a very short article on "Buddhist'Women in Australia," in the Journal of Global Buddhism, with few citations other than Croucher's text.4 More recently, Rocha and Barker's edited collected volume on Buddhism in Australia: Traditions in Change included several chapters pertaining to issues of gender and Buddhism.5 This paper draws on the above publications, arguing that a more comprehensive inquiry needs to be conducted on women in Buddhism in Australia, in order that their contributions to Buddhism, and to Australian society more broadl¡ be more widelyrecognised.

The First Buddhists and Buddhist Organisations in Australia (1840s-1960s) Although Adam states that the f,rst records of Buddhist women in Australiadate back to V/orld'War II, Croucher's account both suggests and then provides evidence of much earlier encounters. Despite tales of possible contact between Indigenous Australians and Buddhist seamen dating as far back as 75 CE, Buddhists are commonly believed to have f,rrst arrived in Australia from China in the 1840s. Except for a brief mention of a statue of Kuan Yin, in a South Melbourne temple dating back to 1883, women do not feature in Croucher's descriptions of Chinese communities on the goldfields. Nor do we find mention of Singhalese Buddhist women employed in the Queensland sugar-cane industry, or Japanese and Sinhalese Buddhist women immigrants in the northern Australian pearling industry in the mid- to late-19th century. More research needs to be conducted in order to uncover the detailed stories of the f,rrst Buddhist women in Australia. Perhaps this information will be uncovered in other literature, such as Australian or Asian studies. Australian Spiritualists f,rrst began to publicize Buddhism in the 1880s, paving the way for Theosophists and thus for convert Buddhism. The ground for Buddhism in Australia seems to have been prepared bypioneers like Emma Harding Britten, an American Theosophist who toured Australia in 1878. In 1889, the first branch of the Theosophical Society (TS) in Australia was established in Tasmania and the second branch was founded in Melbourne in 1890 byElise Pickett. Pickett, a Russian immigrant from New Zealand, was described as the first "'White


Steel Olcott, the Buddhist', to have set foot on Australian shores." The second, Coloncl Hcnry 1891 and again in TS,s co-founder, toured Australia lecturing on "Theosophy and Buddhisn" in irl a refuge ceremony 1g97. Both Olcott and TS co-founder Madame H.P. Blavatsky participatcd described them in Sri Lanka in 1gg0, becoming "Buddhists in the formal sense." croucher also ,.great trall-blazers for Buddhism," statin gthat"it is only in the context of their efforts that the as Restriction histõry of Buddhism in Austr alia canbe understood." As a result of the Immigration Buddhism Australia' Act 1901, and a consequent decline in the number of ethnic Buddhists in for much of the 20'h was kept alive by Spiritualists, Theosophists, and other convert Buddhists in this period of century. According to croucher's account, women played a significant role and in introducing history. This brief account illustrates the central role of women in Theosophy

Buddhism to Australia. II years' An interest in and openness to Buddhism flourished following the World War in Australia, Several pioneering women were instrumental in the development of Buddhism a becoming to the way including Marie Byles, who, according to Croucher, "was well on in law in New South legendar! frgure" in her own right. Byles was "the first woman to graduate and Buddhist" feminist pacifist, Wãtes...-u pion"., conservationist, mountaineer, bushwalker, people in with ,,Theravadin leanings." In 195 1 , Byles co-ordinated a 'silent Retreat' for eight Her Australians' non-Asian Sydney, which was the first recorded commemoration of Vesak for to efforts caught the attention of Leo Berkeley, who had migrated frorn Holland Bhikkhu the "nt..piiring and was introduced to Buddhism by Sri Lankan minister of Justice' Australia in Sydney' Nerada Thera. Nerada had suggested that Berkeley establish a Buddhist Society Society Buddhist the Berkeley contacted Byles und in 1951 they collaborated with others to form in Australia' of New South Wales in Sydney, signifying the beginning of "organizedBuddhism" Sister Irt lg52,Sister DhammadiÍrrta, asomewhat controversial figure visited Australia. who was Dhammadinna had a profound influence on Natasha Jackson, a Russian immigrant was to become "the brought to Australiu in tqOg by her "radical, anti-Tsarist mother." Jackson and elevating dominant voice in Australian Buddhism from 1955 to lgTl,"rewiting history Buddhism."'The Sister Dhammadinna "to the undeserved status of 'Founder of Australian this paper' Byles and fascinating story of Dhammadinna's chequered past is beyond the scope of Dhammadinna Berkeley were not impressed with her behavior or scholarship, but Sister including Lummechien Berkeley (wife of Leo -unug.â to gather a small group of students soon to have Berkeley), Giaeme Lyall, utta t-ytt and Eric Penrose. Lyall however was also ,,enough of her autocratic *uyr.;' Sister Dhammadinna left Australia in 1953, returning briefly in that she had "little real 1957 before she retired to Hawai'i in 1958, leading Croucher to conclude influence on the course of Australian Buddhism," despite Jackson's claims' of The newly formed Buddhist Society of New South Wales, under the leadership sessions and Berkeley and Byles, concentrated on hosting qualified teachers and meditation Metta' renamed later retreats. In 1953, the Society published the Buddhist News, which was life in northern Natasha Jackson, and Charle, f. fttigtrt who had previously led a hermetic as editors of Metta' I97l Buddhism between 1956 to eueensland, were at the helm of Australian the late 1950s and Jackson, as she put it, kept her "little raft of Dharma" barely afloat through 1959 suggesting that a 1960s with lectures and Metta articles. Knight visited Melbourne in held its first national Buddhist body be formed. In 1960 the Buddhist Federation of Australia national journal meeting in Sydney voting Knight as President, and Jackson editor of the now Thich Ntrat gahn first visited Australia in 1966 to plead for an end of the



Vietnamese war. Jackson and Knight marched in anti-war protests and also campaigned for Aboriginal land rights in the 1960s, reflecting their commitment to a socially engaged Buddhism. During this period, the influence of Buddhism was evident in the work of several Australian artists and poets including Ethel Canick Fox, Margaret Preston and Harold Stewart in the 1930s and 1940s. Croucher describes how both Preston and Stewart,

... were strongly affected by the "kingdom of nothingness," the cultural and spiritual void in Australia. They both considered that provincialism, the cult of materialism, and the very spirit of the place stifled artistic vision, and thus turned to Asia... where they found in Buddhism... the promise of a reintegration of man and nature... "Beat Zen" arrived in Australia in 1959 in the works of Jack Kerouac, D.T. Suzuki, and Alan Watts and also exerted a powerful influence on Australian artists and poets such as Judith Wright and Vicki Viidikas, while the conservative Buddhist Societies were largely horrified by what they perceived as the Beat misappropriation of Zento justify "bohemian indulgence."6 The Flourishing of Buddhism in Australia (1970s-2000s)

It wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s, after the end of the White Australia Policy in 1973, that a massive growth in immigration resulted in a dramatic increase of ethnic Buddhists in Australia. These diverse communities have erected temples and monasteries in Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Singhalese, Cambodian, Burmese, Laotian and Tibetan traditions in urban and regional centers. Adam described how up until the 1970s Buddhism in Australiahad depended largely upon lay people, thereby enabling women to play a central role. However, the rise in resident monks and the building of monasteries, introduced a "new time of male leadership" in Buddhism in Australia, although women continued to play a significant part in establishing and managing Buddhist centers. Vy'omen certainly played an important role in introducing Tibetan Buddhism to Australians. Dr. Nick Ribush and Marie Obst (now known as Yeshe Khadro) were amongthe first Australians to meet Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Nepal in 1972. Ribush and Obst, and their friends Katþ and Tom Vichta, donated 160 acres of land to establish Chenrezig lnstitute (CI), near Nambour, during LamaYeshe and Lama Zopa's Australian visit in I974.It was the first of Lama Yeshe's centers catering to thousands of Western students. Lama Yeshe's Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition opened centers in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Bendigo in the 1970s and 1980s and continues to be among the most popular schools of Buddhism among Australian converts. Although CI has a resident male Tibetan Geshe and a small monks' community, it is largely a center for nuns and laypeople. Ven. Yeshe Khadro, who formerlymanaged CI, has also directed Karuna Hospice in Brisbane providing end of life care since 1992. In I97l ElizabethBell, who had joined the Victorian Buddhist society (formed in 1953) in 1963, became Chairman of the Buddhist Federation of Australia. Jackson resigned from the Buddhist Society of New South'Wales when the organization was floundering in 1975. Bell became editor of Metta that same year and continued to build a strong relationship with the Sinhalese community and the Thai forest tradition, hosting legular visits by Phra Khantipalo, who was another highly influential figure contributing to the regeneration of Buddhism in


Australia the 1970s and 1980s. One of Phra Khantipalo's first students, German-born llse Lederman, donated substantial funds toward the purchase of land north of Sydney to establish V/at Buddha Dhamma, where Phra Khantipalo became a resident teacher. Iæderman was ordained in 1979 in Sri Lanka and, as the nun Ayya Khema, became a prominent teacher of Buddhism internationally. Australian Bhikkhuni Chi Kwang (formerly Debbie Cain), another one of Phra Khantþalo's students, spent seven years in a Korean Zen monastery from 1979 to 1986. As a well-respected teacher, she remains a prominent figure in Buddhism in Australia, serving as chair of the Australian Sanglia Association in 2009-2010. Prominent female Buddhist leaders in Australia include the former Abbess Man Chien, and current Abbess Man Shin, of the Taiwanese Buddhist Nan Tien Temple built in Wollongong, south of Sydney, in the 1990s. It is a temple run by Taiwanese nuns in the Fo Kuang Shan tradition, and the largest in the Southern hemisphere.In 1996, Subhana Baruaghi Roshi, became one of the first female Zenteachers in the Diamond Sangha, establishing the Sydney Zen Center in new South Wales. Ajatur Yayama, an Australian nun, became the abbess of Dhammasara, the first Theravada nuns community in Australia in 1998. In lggg,Elizabeth Bell was awarded the Order of Australia bythe Federal Government for her service to Buddhism in Australia and, by the turn of the 21" century, Buddhism was firmly established on Australian soil. As Halafoff, Fitzpatrick and Lam have noted a growing number of scholars have specialized or are currently specializing in studies of Buddhism in Australia in recent years.T The majority of them are women including Enid Adam, Michelle Barker (formerly Spuler), Sally McAra, Cristina Rocha, Patricia Sherwood, Judith Snodgrass, Shiva Vasi and Glenys Eddy. In addition to her research on Buddhism in Australia, Snodgrass is a world renowned scholar of Buddhist modernity, the president of the Australian Association of Buddhist Studies, and editor of the prestigious journal Japanese Studies. Rocha is also an expert on globalisation, religion, and transnationalism, particulariy focused on interactions between Japan, BraztI and Australia, and editor of the highly regarded Journal of Global Buddhism. A number of chapters in Rocha and Barker's collection examine issues pertaining to women andlor feminism and Buddhism in Australia. Among them are my chapter on the nun Robina Courtin, Ruth Fitzpatrick's research on Green Tarapractices,Barzaghi's chapter on her journey as lay female Zenteacher,ElizabethBowen's chapter on Soka Gakkai, and Nagasuri's chapter on ordaining women in Australia. The nun Robina Courtin has received a significant amount of media attention in recent years in Australia for her supposedly "unconventional" communication style and continues to draw large audiences of mostly women to her teachings in and beyond Australia. In October 2009, four women practicing in the Thai forest tradition received Theravada bhikkhuni ordination in Perth, which generated a great deal of controversy. It was the first Theravadabhikkhuni ordrnation in Australia and the first internationbhikkhuni ordination in the Thai forest tradition ever. As a result, Ajahn Brahm and the Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery were excoÍrmunicated, even though their actions were widely supported by those in favor of full female ordination.s Gender Inequality: A Global Issue Gender inequalities continue to persist in contemporary Buddhist institutions an

increasingly being explored and contested by scholars in and beyond Australia. As Rita M. Gross has argued, until gender disparities are adequately addressed they need to be exposed and resolved before they canbe transcended. According to Gross,'the appearance of gender differences isn't questioned in Buddhism, what is disputed is that the female gender is often automatically assigned a lower status.r0 This is despite the fact that texts such as the Vimalakirtinirdesha Sutra make it clear that the female form "does not possess innate characteristics" and therefore "does not reallymean much." As Gross states,

... wilful ignoring... has nothing in common with transcendence and equanimity. Truly forgetting gender requires studying gender intensely rather than wilfully ignoring existing gender practices that cause suffering while claiming that gender does not matter. . .. [I]f gender is studied honestly and thoroughly, then, eventually, it can be forgotten.rr

At times there is a need to remove certain references, such as gendered language, and at others, there is a need to retain or include references to address these gender disparities. Gross provides an example where she is comforted when reading adjectives "male" and "female" before the wotd bodhisattvas in Tibetan Yajrayana liturgies, that make it "crystal clear" that she "is not being left out" in a world where she often fçels excluded. This short paper does not seek to elevate the role of Buddhist women above men, nor does it seek to draw any conclusions that might essentialize female characteristics and women's contribution to Buddhism on the basis of their gender. It seeks instead to make women at the grassroots in Buddhism in Australia more visible, to address these gender disparities. Conclusion The above accounts demonstrate the prevalence of women in leadership roles in Buddhism in Australia, as teachers and scholars, in organisations and in social engagement. It also indicates that at times female Buddhists, or practices involving women, have been deemed controversial in Australia and internationally. As Brooke Schedneck has argued Buddhist life stories can offer an important resource for understanding the characteristics of modern Buddhism, including gender equality.t2 This paper presents a brief sketch of the prominent role of women in Buddhism in Australia, a topic that is worthy of fuither investigation. A detailed historical and sociological study investigating memoirs, diaries, correspondences, and published material, alongside interviews with contemporary female leaders, could explore the issue of gender and also questions of tradition and modernity in Buddhism in Australia in more detail.

NOTES 1. Anna Halafoff, "Venerable Robina Courtin: An Unconventional Buddhist?" in Buddhism in Australia: Traditions in Change, ed. C. Rocha and M. Barker (New York: Routledge, 2011) pp.



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(Kenst in Australia' 1848-1988 Budd'hism Croucher, Paul 3. Press, 1989). 1(2000) 138-43' of Grobat Buddhism' ..Buddhist women in Austraria ," JoLtrnar 4. Enid Adam, change Austraria: Traditions in eds., Buddhism in Barker, and Michete 5. christina Rocha V*f.: Routledge' 2010)'


6.Crocher,BuddhisminAustralia,pp.64-65'85-88. ..Buddhism in Australia: An Emerging Field Lam, Kim Fitzpatricþ1d 7. Anna Halafoff, Ruth 9 -2s' Bud ih¡ s m 13 (20 12) of Study," t o,'n oi'ii"G¡;;å suiato's Brog: Buddhism for ..Ajahn Brfm.on why He was Excommunicated"' g. Aìahn Brahm, lWorld: Views and Opinions '" on-why-he g ô o I | | I 07 I aialn-brahmt t at"'* or http // suj Bhikkhuni "øã Tireravada "'¿o'å " ï;"ratã Bhikkhu Sujato, r"t " htrp://sujato **ul*å.î"øîôõs710/åi/il;australia%e oråinatiôn-haPPened/

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Nalini Bhushan' g.KarmaLeksheTsomo,..Grobalchange:w:*"lrl.TransmissionandTransformationof Translat'""'-li*tl"rmation'ed' r'!i;;;;t"n" Press' 2009)' p' 151' Buddhism, " i¡TransBuddhism: Jay Garfret


10.RitaM'Gross"'TlteDharrnaofGelrder"'ConternporaryBuddhism'5:1(2004)3-13' 11' Ibid.,


12. Brooke Schedneck,

S:1 (2007) 57-68, ..Buddhist Life Storie 5,,, Contemporary Buddhisrn,