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Amazing Women in Buddhism

Dipa Ma

Like many religions, both Eastern and Western, Buddhism has traditionally failed to give women equal status with men. Buddhists over the centuries more or less mimicked the attitudes of their respective cultures, where women have traditionally been regarded as inferior and subservient. The historical record does show that, despite the rampant sexism of the times, certain women emerged as accomplished yogi is - female practitioners of yoga - and masters.

Today we will talk about Dipa Ma - an Indian meditation teacher. Nani Barua (1911–1989) was her given name, but in accordance with Indian custom, she was known and addressed as Dipa Ma—“Dipa’s Mother”—or even more simply as “Ma.”

Dipa Ma was without any of the outward trappings or symbols of recognized Buddhist teachers—no ashram or center, no titles or ordinations, and no degrees, monastic vows, or attendants.

She was reaching Dharma all day, every day, for anyone who wanted to come by and talk about dharma.

Dipa Ma herself was by far the most remarkable. She was a woman in a setting where teachers were men. She was a layperson teaching in a monastic tradition. She was a widow and single mother active in the world, without the protection of family, in a world where women, especially widows, remained at home.

Dipa Ma was a woman of extraordinary wisdom, concentration, and lovingkindness. She was a rare example of a mother and grandmother who became a realized Buddhist Master through her unwavering determination and heart. Dipa Ma taught many of the Vipassana Buddhist teachers in the West, and the stories about her continue to inspire Buddhists and spiritual seekers today.

According to tradition, the Buddha created the female monastic order at the request of Mahaprajapati Gautami, his foster mother, and his disciple Ananda. But the full monastic ordination for women died out on the Indian subcontinent.

It has survived only in certain Mahayana countries (including China, Korea and Vietnam). Instead, women in Theravada Tradition like that of Myanmar who seek to practice as nuns receive ten precepts, as well as numerous other more informal regulations.

In recent decades, however, Western women Buddhists of every persuasion have strongly criticized the institutional sexism and required their teachers and communities to recognize their full equality. The result has been the rapid emergence of women as powerful practitioners, scholars and teachers. Clearly, Western Buddhists, like their Eastern ancestors, are adaptions to the culture of their times.


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