Tenzin Palmo has achieved many admirable things, but to me she will always be the woman who challenged the Dalai Lama. Like a boss.
I’m a Buddhism newbie. I’ve only been to one real Buddhist event, but I’m drawn to the deep beauty I see in the teachings. I adore the concepts I’m getting to know, and have often said that one of the five people alive or dead that I’d invite to dinner is the Dalai Lama. I hope to meet him in my lifetime.
We all want beauty, mindfulness and respect for all living things, right?
But after watching documentary “Cave in the Snow,” which follows the life of the Venerable Tenzin Palmo, who spent 12 years meditating in a Himalayan cave, I was shocked to learn this:
In the modern Buddhist tradition, up to this very moment, women have not been considered equal to men.
My response to this was deep sadness and a shattering of ideals. I realized I’d placed Buddhism on a shiny, lotus-shaped pedestal built of hopeful solutions to existential dilemmas, all of which came crashing down in one fell swoop. I found myself thinking: Sexism? Even in Buddhism? Is nothing sacred?
Thankfully, Tenzin Palmo is changing things. “Cave in the Snow” shows her progression from average English girl to the highest ranked ordained Buddhist nun in India, where she bravely exposes the unspoken inequality.
“Staying at a small monastery in Lahaul, I saw for myself that nuns, however intelligent and devoted, had no opportunity to study and no access to higher teachings. It made me so sad because the monks were given all the teachings and put into retreats, while all the nuns were overlooked and treated as servants.”
With the encouragement of her guru, she founded a nunnery to boost women to the educated status of monks. In an extraordinary meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, (shown in the film), she also bravely, humbly and firmly demands change from him.
It goes like this:
His Holiness suggests that there should be an international conference to discuss the issue of equality.
Tenzin Palmo’s badass answer?
Your Holiness, with all due respect, I was ordained in ’73. We are now nearly in 2003. What progress have we made? We’re still talking about it… In getting anyone to agree to anything, there’s always going to be objections. And it will never happen. We just have to do it.
His Holiness states that he is a simple Buddhist monk following the teachings.
She pulls out badass answer #2:
Honestly, Your Holiness, as you are not a female, you cannot imagine how much one has had this projection that one is impure, whereas (the men feel) “We are immaculate monks. We are not impure.”
Then His Holiness agrees and expresses his disappointment and his desire for equality, but says it is difficult to make changes happen.
Tenzin Palmo unleases badass response #3:
I know. Buddhas always talk about impermanence and change. But it seems that, like everybody else, they don’t like to change at all.
What a gal!
It all wraps up positively with His Holiness praising the work of Tenzin Palmo and ultimately supporting her ventures, but the battle has not yet been won.
My lesson from it is this: If your average London-raised girl can grow to have the courage to call bullshit on one of the world’s most enlightened beings and demand equal rights, I can certainly speak up for myself, my family, my community and my beliefs. And because of Tenzin Palmo, I will.
More information on Tenzin Palmo, her work and Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery can be found at www.tenzinpalmo.com.
Author: Crystal Davis
Editor: Evan Yerburgh