Abstract: Vicissitudes in the Order of Buddhist Nuns during Chosŏn Korea
by Dr. Hyangsoon Yi
University of Georgia
Chosŏn (1392-1910) was the last dynasty of pre-modern Korea. The military elites who toppled down the Buddhist state of Koryŏ (918-1391) and founded Chosŏn were ideologically armed with Confucianism, and so they condemned Buddhism from the outset of the new dynasty. As the Chosŏn court officially adopted Confucianism as the state religion and ideology, Buddhist monks and nuns were relegated to the lowest social class, along with butchers, courtesans, itinerant entertainers, and government slaves. Monks were banned from entering the capital, and many Buddhist temples were displaced from towns to mountains. Although these measures were implemented with varying degrees of severity by different kings, the anti-Buddhist policy remained unchanged in its core for nearly five hundred years until the end of Chosŏn.
My paper addresses the devastating impact of the anti-Buddhist policy on various aspects of the bhikshuni sangha of Chosŏn. While my main concern lies in the disruption of nuns’ ordination lineage during this period, the paper also aims at demonstrating the remarkable resilience of Chosŏn nuns under the harsh government control over their monastic practice tradition.
Buddhist nuns are virtually invisible in public records from this period. Snippets of information on their lives and practice are scattered in sundry places outside the official history of Korean Buddhism. Given the deplorable paucity of historical records on Chosŏn nuns, my article makes an extensive use of private journals, literary works, monastic lore and legends, and folk history. Some of the major issues that I attempt to discuss in my paper include: specifics of the anti-Buddhist policy that were pertinent to nuns and their community; possible ordination procedures for women in the increasingly hostile Confucian social milieu; and the emergence and consolidation of “monastic families” for nuns. These families were based on a bhikshuni tutelage system rather than a dharma lineage. A bhikshuni teacher (ŭnsa) and her disciple (sangjwa) formed a kind of filial relationship akin to a mother and her daughter, and this tradition has been passed down to today’s bhikshuni sangha.
Buddhist nuns of Chosŏn Korea remain an uncharted area of research. My article will show how their extraordinary struggle contributed to preserving not only the bhikshuni lineage but also the historical continuity of the Korean Buddhist tradition itself. In doing so, the article will also clarify the broad historical backgrounds of the official reinstitution of a dual ordination for nuns in Korea in 1982.
5 Polarity between Tradition and Requirements of Modern Times, Part I
10.40 – 11.40 a.m.
- Prof. Dr. Jens-Uwe Hartmann: The Vinaya Between History and Modernity: Some General Reflections
- Bhikkhu Bodhi: Prospects for Reviving Bhikkhuni Ordination in the Theravada Tradition
- Prof. Hae-ju Jeon Sunim (Ph.D): Dual Ordination in the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism And the Dharmagupta Vinaya
Moderator: Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron
Lunch Break 80 min.: 11.40 a.m. – 13.00 p.m. (university canteen 5 min. walk)
Polarity between Tradition and Requirements of Modern Times
Part II, Lecture Hall A
- Bhiksuni Tenzin Palmo: A brief overview of the situation for nuns in the Tibetan Tradition
- Prof. Dr. Janet Gyatso: Future Perspectives and Necessities of Bhikshuni Ordination
- Bhiksuni Wu-yin: The Noble Task for the Tibetan Buddhist Community: To Establish Its Bhikkhuni Lineage
- Bhikkhuni Dhammananda (Prof. Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh): The Need to look at the popular interpretations of the Tripitaka (Theravada context)
- Bhikkhu Kirama Wimalajothi Thera: The Current Cultural Re-awakening and Its Impact on the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka
- Geshe Rinchen Ngodup
- Dr. Martin Seeger / Prof. Barend Jan Terwiel: The Revival of the Theravada Nun Order in Thailand: Scriptual Authority and Cultural Resistance
- Thich Quang Ba, Australia: Bhikkhuni Sangha in Vietnam and Australia: An Overview on its History and Contemporary Developments
Moderator: Dr. Alexander Berzin
Part III: Theravada: Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Bangladesh, Lecture Hall C
- Prof. Dhammavihari Thera, Sri Lanka: Recovery and Restoration of an Order of Theravada Bhikkhunis
- Bhikkhuni Ayya Gunasari: Building Bridges for Theravadin Bhikkhuni Sangha in diverse worlds
- Dr. Tomomi Ito: Bhikkhuni restoration in Theravada Buddhism: grounds of authenticity for newly ordained bhikkhunis
- Dr. Barbara Kameniar: Rurality, Ordination Debates and Thai Mae Chi
- Bhikkhuni Ayya Tathaaloka: Mining for Gold: A Bright Vision and Exploration Into the Essential Nature and Purpose of the Bhikkhuni Sangha
- Dr. Emma Tomalin: The Thai bhikkhuni movement and women’s empowerment
- Prajna Bangsha Bhikshu (Mahathero) , Bangladesh: Key Issues Related to the Establishment of Restoration of Lineage in Tradition where it Does Not Currently Exist
Moderator: Dr. Heike Löschmann
Part IV: Mahayana: China, Vietnam, Korea, Tibet, Thailand, Lecture Hall M
- Dr. Christie Chang: From Anila to Gelongma — Naming, Language, and Gender Equality
- Stefania Travagnin: Life and Mission of Elder Gongga (1903-1997). Bridging Dharma Traditions and beyond Gender Discrimination.
- Bhikkhuni Thich Nu Hue Huong: The Role of the Women in Buddhist Sangha (PDF, 175 KB)
- Thich Nu Hanh Tri (Dr. Lani Hunter): Buddhist Nun Ordination and Charity Work
- Lobsang Dechen: Tibetan Nuns and Bhikshuni Ordination
- Dr. Kim Gutschow and Skalzang Lhamo: How Ordination Relates to Status in the Buddhist Himalayas
- Master Shi Kuang Seng: Implication of Mother's Virtues Towards Buddhist Society
Moderator: PD Dr. Klaus-Dieter Mathes
Refreshments 20 min.: 15.00 – 15.20 p.m.
6 Examples for the Revival of the Dual ordination and Vinaya training
Lecture Hall A, 15.20 – 18.00 p.m.
- Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron: A Tibetan Precedent for Multi-tradition Ordination: Support for Giving Bhikshuni Ordination with a Dual Sangha of Mulasarvastivada Bhikshus and Dharmaguptaka Bhikshunis
- Bhikshuni Myoom Sunim, Abbess of Pongnyongsa, Rector of the Diamond Vinaya Institute, and President of the Pongnyongsa Monastic Seminary for Nuns: The Structure and Curriculum of the Bhiksuni Vinaya Institute of Pongnyŏngsa Monastery in Korea
- Heng Sure, Ph.D: Empowerment of Buddhist Nuns in North America: Master Hsuan Hua's Vision of Bhikshuni Sangha Organization and Implementation
- Bhikkhuni Dr. Karuna Dharma, D.Dh: Experiences with Ordaining Bhikshunis in Los Angeles from 1994 to 2004
- Bhikkhuni Dr. Kusuma Devendra: Theravada Bhikkhunis
- Bhiksuni Chuehmen: The Right to be Ordained as Bhiksunis
- Lama Choedak Rinpoche: Experience of being the Tibetan Buddhist Teacher to Convene and Sponsor the First Tibetan Initiated Bhikshuni Ordination Ceremony held in Canberra, Australia in October 2003
Moderator: Prof. Dr. Karma Lekshe Tsomo
Dinner/Tea break 60 min.: 18.00 – 19.00 p.m. (university canteen 5 minutes walk)
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takes place in co-operation with the
Asia-Africa-Institute of the University of Hamburg.
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