To Be A Buddhist Nun
In enlightened thought there is no male or female.
In enlightened speech there is no near and far.
- Tibetan proverb
In the Shadow of Buddha, a compelling and exquisitely shot film by Heather Kessinger, takes us to the seldom seen world of Tibetan Buddhist nuns and refugees in Ladakh, a region in northernmost India.
These women challenge thousands of years of history by believing that a woman can be educated and that being born a female is not a punishment of past deeds. Through their voices - humorous, wistful, insightful - we explore the paradox of being a woman within Tibetan Buddhism: a fundamental spiritual equality does not
There will be a pre-program tour on Female Emanations with RMA Guide Juliet Gumbs beginning at 6:00pm.
With a post-screening discussion with the filmmaker and Prof. Kim Gutschow, author of Being a Buddhist Nun: The Struggle for Enlightenment in the Himalayas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004. Winner: Sharon Stephens Book Prize, American Ethnological Society.
Kim Gutschow is Professor, Institute of Anthropology and Center for Modern Indian Studies, at Göttingen University& Lecturer in Religion and Anthropology/Sociology, Williams College.
Click here to visit: www.shadowofbuddha.com (official website)
Most nuns in the film proclaim themselves "weak" and "stupid," professing their wish to be reborn as males. Young girls in this part of the world grow up believing that they have done something wrong in their previous lives to be burdened with the body of a woman. The word for "woman" in Tibetan translates to "lower birth." The intimate stories of these nuns, told in their own voice without narration, articulate the inherent contradiction between cultural assumptions emphasizing that incarnation in a male body is necessary to attain enlightenment, and the underlying Buddhist belief that truth is ultimately empty, free of concept or category, and genderless.
In a culture that still believes it is bad luck to have a daughter, the opportunities and self- respect of women, both lay and monastic, are increasing. In the Shadow of Buddha is a human story, a feminist story, and a story of equality shown through the unexpected lens of Buddhist nuns.
Heather Kessinger (director) brings her photographer's eye to the cinematic art form in this, her second film. A series of her portraits were included in the "Reflecting Buddha" collection at the Pasadena Museum for California Art.
Filmmaker and international relief worker, Ellen Bruno (writer/editor), has spent much of the last 20 years in southeast Asia. Her first film Samsara, her Masters thesis at Stanford, documents Cambodian life in the aftermath of Pol Pot's killing fields. Satya: A Prayer for the Enemy is based on the experiences of young Tibetan Buddhist nuns who have been imprisoned and tortured for their nonviolent protests of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Sacrifice is the final installment in her Asian trilogy. All three films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Her short film Sky Burial has been screened at the museum's Lunch Matters series.
On June 1, 2011 Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and Gloria Steinem discussed the role of women in a monastic hierarchy, during our The Road That Teaches conversation series. Click below to download our podcast of the event.