Bhikshuni Changshen from Dharma Drum Mountain posted this report on the Living Vinaya in the West program for Dharma Drum Mountain’s Humanity Magazine. It has been translated from the original Mandarin and is reprinted here with permission. You can see the Chinese version here.
Dharma Drum Mountain Participates in the “Living Vinaya in the West” Program
Shih Changshen/ Reporting from Washington State
How do we live according to the precepts for Buddhist nuns established thousands of years ago, in the different time and cultural context of contemporary society? Director of the Chan Meditation Center New York Venerable Changhwa, Dharma Drum Mountain Massachusetts Buddhist Association Assistant Director Venerable Changxuan, and visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School Venerable Changshen went to Sravasti Abbey in Washington State from January 21 to February 8 to attend a three-week long “Living Vinaya in the West program.” The program saw Abbess of Luminary International Buddhist Society Venerable Master Wuyin, Vice-President of Luminary Buddhist Institute Venerable Jenkir, and Sravasti Abbey Abbess Venerable Thubten Chodron and others, working together to give teachings on the precepts. In total, there were about 50 nuns coming from the US, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, South America, Taiwan, and India studying the precepts together.
The main focus of the course was to study the skandhakas in the Vinaya; to establish the procedures essential to a sangha community: ordination, varsa, posadha, and regulations regarding medicine, lodgings, and so forth; and also to draw out the spirit behind these practices. Traveling a long way to teach the Vinaya in America, Venerable Master Wuyin, who is 77 this year, has a deep understanding of the current situation of Buddhism in many different countries, and has her eye on how to put the Vinaya into practice in modern life. Her explanation of how to observe the precepts was both flexible and practical. The sangha community was grateful and appreciative of the causes and conditions that came together, and seized the opportunity to seek advice from both Venerable Master Wuyin and Venerable Chodron.
During the course, nuns from the three Buddhist traditions of Tibetan, Chinese, and Theravada, had deep discussions revolving around the different customs and practices stemming from their Buddhist traditions and living situations in their countries. They had a rich exchange not only on ways to observe the precepts, but also on how to handle interpersonal relationships within the sangha community, and on the difficult situations and challenges they encountered, often sharing from their personal spiritual journeys. The course content even included using lively and humorous skits to present the participants’ various life experiences.
In addition, Sravasti Abbey invited Dharma Drum Mountain participants to share the Dharma on their well-received online program, the Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner, on January 31. Venerable Changxuan represented the group and shared on Venerable Master Shengyan’s analogy of “all glare tempered, all dust smoothed,” which shows how when warm peaceful light shines into space, it also illuminates dust motes within it, which coexist and mix in harmony with each other and the light. This symbolizes the spirit of harmony within the sangha, which is also the focus of the path to liberation. Through this analogy, she encouraged different Buddhist lineages to pool their strength, to give their best effort, and work together to build the bridge that enables the Buddhadharma to be transmitted to the West.
Photo caption: Nuns from the Chinese, Tibetan, and Theravada traditions experience the essence of Buddhist practice together at the Vinaya course. (Photo by Gen Heywood Photography)