When Buddha was a woman – A radio talk with Sandy Boucher

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Buddha statue in Ladakh
The largest statue in Ladakh clearly depicts the feminine qualities of Buddha. Women’s  involvement in Buddhism goes back to the earliest days of Buddha’s teachings. Image: Nathan Choe Flickr

(WNN) OAKLAND, California, U.S.: 2600 years ago, the Buddha created an order of women nuns, but it disappeared after only 1,000 years. Today, Western women Buddhists are allying with Buddhist women in the East to struggle against prohibition on women’s ordination, in places such as Thailand. Kellia Ramares-Watson interviews feminist Buddhist author Sandy Boucher.

Sandy Boucher, writer/teacher/consultant, participated wholeheartedly in the Women’s Liberation and antinuclear movements. Twenty-five years ago she entered upon a Buddhist path and soon became a spokesperson for Buddhist women in America, as well as a teacher and meditation retreat leader. In 2006, she was named an “Outstanding Woman in Buddhism” at the United Nations in Bangkok, Thailand.

Author of eight books and recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in Literature, she earned a Masters degree in the History and Phenomenology of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. She has traveled widely in Asia, and spent a period as a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka. She has been pursuing her Vipassana meditation practice for 25 years, and has been teaching writing and meditation almost as long. She serves as a contributing editor to Persimmon Tree, an online literary magazine by women over sixty. Most recently, she published a book about the Theravada Buddhist pioneer teacher Ruth Denison, called Dancing in the Dharma.


WINGS – Women’s International News Gathering Service

Host/Producer: Kellia Ramares-Watson

Featured guest:  Sandy Boucher, author of “Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism,” and “Discovering Kwan Yin; Buddhist Goddess of Compassion.”

Series Producer: Frieda Werden / WINGS

Original Recording Date: 18 December, 2011

Length: 28:46


Buddhism has traditionally been a male-dominated religion. That characteristic extends both to most temples or centers in Asia and to those founded by Asian immigrants, which tend to be headed by male teachers.

Buddhist centers that cater mostly to Westerners are more open to women’s leadership. In Zen centers you will see women officiating as priests and giving dharma talks. In Vipashyana settings, many women have distinguished themselves as teachers. Tibetan Buddhism relies heavily upon the leadership of male lamas from Tibet. Now and then a female lama is recognized, but this is rare. Very often in Buddhist settings-as in other religious traditions and also secular institutions-women may be given responsibilities and earn leadership positions while the power to make decisions and guide the institution remains in the hands of men.

It may take you a while, in any particular Buddhist environment, to understand the dynamics of leadership. A seemingly egalitarian situation may turn out to be tightly controlled by men, with women participating only as underlings and enablers. On the other hand, an institution that may seem hierarchical and excluding of female input may in practice offer women greater opportunities.

(Sandy Boucher speaks in Shambala Sun magazine)


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