“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 retreat, 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.