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Mothers, Sisters, Seekers, Friends: Stories of Struggle and Transformation

Residential Program
Dates: Aug 03, 2023 - Aug 06, 2023
Days: Thursday - Sunday
Number of Nights: 3 nights

Instructor(s): Wendy Garling, Charles Hallisey, Georgia Kashnig, Janet Surrey

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Program Description:

“What does being a woman have to do with it?” The nun Soma, one of the first Buddhist women, asked this question in response to a challenge by a male seeking to control her with the words, “It is hard to get to the place that sages want to reach, it’s not possible for a woman” (Therigāthā vs 60-61).  

Unfortunately, Soma’s question–or perhaps a more contemporary version focused on gender–still needs to be asked today. Ironically, fresh answers to Soma’s question can be found in some of the very earliest Buddhist texts. Numerous stories of women during the Buddha’s era tell us of their agency, accomplishment, and leadership as the Buddha founded his ministry. Reading, discussing, and learning from these women’s stories helps them to speak to us, opening up new depths in the Buddha’s teachings and presenting unfamiliar angles of vision on our own practice and lives, whatever our gender. These stories of women in the Buddha’s life are resources for reflection and insight and are particularly relevant to our troubled world.

In this program, we will take an immersive approach to reading a selection of these women’s stories through creative and collaborative practices of reading and contemplation. Together, we will encounter the spiritual power of the first Buddhist women in their lives as mothers, sisters, wives, seekers, and friends, as well as both lay and monastic practitioners.

Exploring their stories–chosen from multiple Buddhist traditions–will enable us to recover, highlight, and learn from the possibility and power of human relationships and community that grounded and shaped the Buddha’s life and ministry.

Watch an invitation from Georgia Kashnig on YouTube.

Noble Silence:
Noble silence will be observed following each evening session through breakfast the following morning. Additional silent practice periods will be scheduled throughout the program.

Experience Level:
Suitable for beginning and experienced practitioners.
    About the Instructor(s):
  • Wendy Garling has a BA from Wellesley College and MA specializing in Sanskrit language and literature from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a vajrayana practitioner and dharma teacher in the Gelug Lam Rim tradition; her root teacher was Venerable Geshe Acharya Thubten Loden. In 1976, she took refuge with His Holiness the 16th Karmapa and in 1979 after a first meeting in Dharamsala began lifelong teachings with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She is the author of two books: the award-winning "The Woman Who Raised the Buddha: The Extraordinary Life of Mahaprajapati," with the foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Shambhala Publications, 2021) and  "Stars at Dawn: Forgotten Stories of Women in the Buddha’s Life" (Shambhala Publications, 2016). Wendy lives in Concord, Massachusetts and can be contacted at wendy.garling@yahoo.com.

  • Charles Hallisey is Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures at Harvard Divinity School where he teaches about Buddhist scriptures and Buddhist ethics as well as Pali language and literature. His translation of the Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women was published in the Murty Classical Library of India in 2015.

  • Georgia Kashnig is a Zen practitioner, a dancer, and a facilitator of sacred reading spaces. They received an MTS in Buddhist Studies from Harvard Divinity School, an MA in the Regional Studies, East Asia Department at Harvard University, and they are currently a doctoral student in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Georgetown University. Their research focuses on religion and literature, interfaith inquiry, and developing contemplative methods of reading that foster reflection, connection and liberation.

  • Janet Surrey, PhD is an Insight Dialogue Teacher. She teaches Insight Dialogue retreats worldwide and leads a longstanding practice group in the Boston area. She has practiced in the Insight tradition  for over 30 years, and trained as a Community Dharma Leader at Spirit Rock. Since 2007, Jan has worked intensively with Gregory Kramer and is currently serving on the Teachers Council of the Insight Dialogue Community. Jan is a practicing clinical psychologist and founding scholar of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She is on the faculty and board of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy. She is the author of The Buddha’s Wife: The Path of Awakening Together.