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华严论坛:佛教、佛教文化、与当前人类核心价值:当西方学人遇上东方传统——张玉玲

2010年09月21日 15:44:00 点击:0
 


佛教、佛教文化、与当前人类核心价值:

当西方学人遇上东方传统

 

张玉玲

美国国际教育交流协会/ Sakyadhita国际佛教善女人会

 

 

[论文摘要]

 

佛陀的教法延续了2500多年,流传到世界各地,成功了许多当地的传统与习俗。然而,在赞叹佛的博大精深与兼容并蓄,并欣赏各地多彩多姿的佛教文化之际,我们却也发现当今佛教世界仍存在着少数与当前人类核心价值似乎不太同步的现象,例如 “平等”的概念。

笔者由于从事国际学术交流工作,常接触对东方佛教传统产生兴趣的西方学人(包括许多学术界的先进与来台留学的美国大学生),而笔者也常带着这些学人参访不同的佛教寺院及团体。其间,除了常被西方学人们的热诚学习态度感动之外,他们的观察与发问不但常带给笔者新的思维角度,偶尔也有让笔者措手不及之处-- 尤其是碰到僧俗平等与性别平等的问题。刚开始时,其实笔者并不太能理解这为什么会是个问题,直到笔者终于有经验“出家”(离开熟悉的台湾)到另一个佛教文化世界时,才发现笔者也开始问同样的问题。

本文从笔者自身的工作与旅游经验出发,辅以人类语言学田野调查之训练,探讨佛教佛教文化、与当前处于人类核心的“平等”价值之间的关系及潜在或表像上之冲突,最后本文将回归佛法,试图寻求并分享因应之道。


Buddhism, Buddhist Culture, and Contemporary Human Core Values: When Western Scholars encounter Eastern Traditions

 

Christie Yu-Ling Chang

Council on International Educational Exchange (www.ciee.org)

Sakyadhita: International Association of Buddhist Women (www.sakyadhita.org)

Program in Teaching Chinese as A Second Language, National Chengchi University

 

[Abstract]

 

       The Buddha Dharma has lasted over 2500 years and it has spread to different parts of the world and successfully integrates with various local traditions and customs. While we praise the profoundness and flexibility of Buddhism, and while we appreciate the very colorful Buddhist cultures around the world, we also notice that there exist phenomena in the Buddhist world that are not compatible with many contemporary human core values, such as the concept of “equality”.

       As a professional in the field of international educational exchange, I have encountered many westerners who are greatly interested in Asian Buddhist traditions (including many renowned scholars as well as American college students who study abroad in Taiwan). I have also had many opportunities to lead site visits at various local Buddhist monasteries and communities in Taiwan. In addition to being touched by the sincere and enthusiastic learning attitude of many western visitors, I find myself constantly fascinated and surprised by many interesting observations and questions of theirs. Not only have they given me new perspectives on my own culture, but they have occasionally shocked me with questions I could not handle all at once—especially when it comes to “equality” between sangha and lay as well as between two genders. I remained perplexed at such questions until I found myself asking similar questions when I had a chance to “leave home” and experience other, less familiar Buddhist culture outside of Taiwan….

       Starting from personal work and travel experiences and supplemented by anthropological and linguistic training in fieldwork, this paper explores the relations and apparent conflicts among Buddhism, Buddhist culture, and the value of “equality” in contemporary human society. In the end, we hope to return to the Buddha Dharma and explore methods in coping with such conflicts.

 

Story I: Professor, I am confused…. The nun is a “he”?

      

       Before I start, I would like to share two stories, both personally encountered. The first story occurred when I led a group of American college students to visit a famous Buddhist group in Taiwan, one that is world famous for its charity works. The founder, as I told my student before going for this fieldtrip, is a wonderful nun, a filial daughter, and a great leader. As soon as we arrived that day, we were shown a documentary as an introduction to the foundation. In this documentary, the pronoun of the leader consistently appeared as “he” in its English subtitle. I started to notice a few heads turning towards my direction, showing puzzled eyesight. Eventually, one of the students could not help but ask me: “Professor, I am confused. Did you say the founder is a nun? And it’s a ‘he’?”

       As it turns out, this is not just a language problem; it was not a result of the typical confusion between the English third-person pronouns for Chinese language speakers that did not distinguish between “he” and “she” in their language. It was an intentional reference of “he” for the founding nun, because all those ordained are regarded “genderless”, and a respected nun like the one we were learning about, especially, is regarded as manifesting the appearance of “Da Zhang Fu[i], literally “big man/husband”, a term of address to show “respect” for nuns in the Chinese Buddhist culture and yet an explanation that was bound to puzzle my American students even more….

 

Story II: “I don’t get this. Why was I asked to proceed after men?”

 

       An American girl and an enthusiastic young Buddhist practitioner, who has just completed her Master’s degree from a renowned university in the United States, decided to come to Taiwan to search for ultimate truth in her life. She had read a lot about the current flourishing of Buddhism in Taiwan and was determined to spend a few years in order to devote to the teachings and practice of Buddha Dharma. Nevertheless, after having attended several teachings and retreats in various Buddhist groups, she became rather upset at what she had found. She was constantly asked to proceed after men. Sometimes even, she was asked to hold her questions until there were no questions from men. She could not help feeling humiliated and wondering how this happened in a Buddhist community. She became so upset that she started to search for answers so that she could remain a Buddhist. What troubled her even more was being told by a venerable: “You know, you could never become a Buddha if you ask such questions.” “But I did not ask my questions for egotistic reasons. The selfless Bodhisattva path is my goal and I only ask questions because I need to understand why the Buddhists talk about equality in all beings and yet there is no equality between two genders, human beings, in the Buddhist community???” she said, and I could see tears lingering in her eyes.

 

       I found myself speechless. I was speechless because I was so used to hearing these sorts of discrimination remarks in my own culture that I no longer really noticed them. I was speechless because I did remember I had doubts about why I should let boys walk in front of me when I was a little girl. I was speechless because I did let men walk in front of me. I was speechless because I realized that I no longer noticed these inequalities and had become immune to the irony of male dominance in a culture that superficially at least, advocates “ladies first.” I was speechless because I did not know how to answer her questions or how to adequately address my students’ concerns.

 

My Wake-Up Experience in Thailand

 

       As sympathetic as I was when listening to the questions or situations above, I did not realize how much impact it has brought to people encountering such inequalities in a different culture until I myself had an experience of visiting a new culture and observing disparities in the treatment of male and female sangha members outside of Taiwan. Buddhists in Taiwan, where we are used to the presence of Bhiksunis everywhere, may find ourselves missing them in another Buddhist community, such as Thailand. My first trip to Thailand was such an eye-and-mind-opening experience.

 

       Through the arrangement of a kind Buddhist friend of mine, I got to stay in a renowned Buddhist monastery, where one of the greatest Sanghadana events was to take place. Following the local custom, I waited aside the food we spent quite some time arranged together with all the hard-working Buddhist laywomen in the monastery. As the Sanghadana started, we saw lines of venerable monks coming one after another, and we offered food to their bowls with great respect and joy. “But, where are the nuns?” I could not help asking. Nobody answered me. I did remember meeting the white-robed Thai nuns in two previous Sakyadhita conferences I attended. But where are they?

 

       My search for nuns continued. In the lunch offering the following day at the same monastery, together with all the laywomen on our knees, we formally and properly offered food to the venerable monks who sat at high tables, including the youngest novice monks who had taken short-term ordinations. Again, I found no nuns. After the offering, it was our turn to go to the cafeteria for lunch. People lined up to get their food out of a big pot. Long lines. All of a sudden, I caught sight of a white-robed nun. There she was. Waiting in a long line, nobody paid any attention to her, not to mention letting her go first for food. I kept my eyes on her all the way, until she finally got her food, quietly sat down in a deserted corner, and there she humbly started her own prayer and ate. Hm.

 

Buddhist Teachings and Contemporary Core Human Values

 

The Buddha modeled egalitarianism by admitting women and lower caste people to the Sangha. This is one of the many statements that distinguish Buddhism from other world religions today and one that is found compatible to contemporary core human values. Many humanitarians are attracted to Buddhism because of the apparent egalitarianism of the Buddha’s approach. This is true of many western students and scholar who travel to distant countries to learn Buddhism, as the two stories I have shared above. But current practices in many Asian Buddhist communities, as also described above, seem to have betrayed the Buddha’s teachings. How do we explain for such gap between theory and practice? How do we resolve such conflicts? Or why should we resolve such conflicts in the first place?

 

Gender Equity as Universal Value and Crucial for the Future of Buddhists

 

Many may regard gender issues as irrelevant to Buddhist practice or even see such questioning as an “American thing”. Nevertheless, not only is this far from being just an “American thing” but it is also a crucial issue that will affect the global future of the Buddhadharma. Why? Let me share two more stories.

An overseas Chinese woman was hoping to return to her roots and identity back in the Chinese and religious communities. Having been brought up in an English-speaking elite community, she felt the calling to return to the Chinese culture of her ancestors and learn more about Buddhism, which she used to somehow identify with since childhood. Nevertheless, this woman felt alienated in the Chinese communities she visited—not so much because of the language barrier but because she had a tremendously difficult time understanding why the Chinese culture and the Buddhist communities she went to were all so “backward”. “I am not at all a so-called feminist, but it’s really too hard to bear the scene when you see all the men sitting in the front, talking, and when women all staying in the back, working. I have no way to turn against my ethnic background, but I doubt whether I should keep identifying myself as a Buddhist…”.

       My story does not end here. It goes on and on. The questions asked by my American college students, American scholars, and overseas Chinese are symptomatic of enormous cultural differences that also reveal generational differences. The apparent gap between what is advocated in the Dharma and what is being practiced is observed by the younger generation in Taiwan, not only by females but also by males. Back in Taiwan, a young male university student once shared with me his bewilderment and sadness whenever a venerable Bhiksu, whom he actually personally respected a lot, kept teaching him to meditate on the “eighty-four ugly manners of all women”. “But my mother and sisters are not like that! Why did Shifu hate women so much? Should I hate all women to become a Buddhist?” In the end, this student stopped going to the Dharma talks given by this Bhiksu and sometimes I wonder whether he remains his pursuit in Buddhism because I never met this young man again in any of the Buddhist activities.

 

Concluding Remarks: Back to the Dharma

,

       So, what is the moral of the stories I have shared so far?

       Of course we can offer sensible explanations towards the western students or scholars who feel disappointed in the gap observed between the egalitarian ideal in Buddhism they are attracted to and the reality they have found in Asian Buddhist countries. We can explain to them that it is true that theoretically the Buddha did teach that all beings have equal potential for liberation or to attain Buddhahood, but that is from the level of the transcendental Dharma or the ultimate truth. On the level of conventional truth or worldly Dharma, however, we have to take into consideration all the different and complex causes and conditions in different cultural and historical contexts. We cannot expect to simply force the ideal to the realistic world. It takes time. Nevertheless, as Buddhists, we also know that if Buddhists truly hope the Buddha Dharma will thrive in this modern world, we can no longer turn away when questioned about the apparent conflicts between the Buddhist teachings on human equality and ignore the gender discrimination that we observe all around us, which is hurting not only Buddhist women but also men. It is time to make that change. Ahimsa. No more harm. Yes. We need to make that change now.

It is certainly easier to focus on the positive rather than the negative. For Buddhists, it is easier to talk about how principles in Buddhism can contribute to environmental protection in our world today because Buddhists are already actively engaged in this endeavor using Dharma principles. We feel proud of being Buddhists—we are way advanced indeed! When it comes to more subtle issues such as gender equity, however, Buddhists become silent, defensive, or even offended. Recall the response in one of the stories above: “if one continues to ask such a question, one can never attain Buddha-hood”…. Why? We need to look into that more closely. We need to be mindful of our intentions and motivations. We need to face ourselves more honestly if we truly wish the Dharma to continue thriving in the years to come.

As the Buddha has taught us such valuable truth of the equal potential in all sentient beings over 2500 years ago, I feel certain that the Buddha would have also openly advocated gender equity if he were here with us in this era. He would certainly take no offense to see women waking up. He would be delighted to see anyone or any being enlightened. If the Buddha had been here to listen to all the stories I have shared just now and if the Buddha had found out that there was no equity between genders in human beings and/or even among his own disciples, how could he remain silent? Remember how the Buddha used to immediately respond and act upon any accusations or complaints made against the sangha members in his time? If the Buddha were alive today, perhaps he would actively address the gender imbalance and discrimination. Meanwhile, it is our responsibility, as the Buddha’s disciples today, to make changes, to address social injustices, and make sure the Dharma continues to thrive. Wouldn’t the Buddha have instructed us to re-establish the Bhiksuni lineage for all traditions? Wouldn’t the Buddha have enjoyed seeing how we practice true gender equity and give opportunities to all in our communities? Wouldn’t the Buddha be proud of us for not being attached to our own particular Buddhist traditions? I think he would be proud of contemporary Buddhists for challenging interpretations of his teachings and practices that cause suffering to marginalized and neglected groups. I think he would be proud of contemporary Buddhists for honestly facing up to the inadequacies in our Buddhist communities and being willing to straightforwardly address the important questions raised by western scholars and the younger generation. In this way, Buddhists today can ensure that the teachings of the Buddha remain vibrant and relevant in contemporary society.

Thank you for your attention.



[i] xian dazhangfu xiang (现大丈夫相)

 

 

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