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导读:Compassion and Justice—Meeting Venerable Chao Hwei慈悲与正义--与昭慧法师晤谈  By Rebecca Li  美国纽泽西大学社会学副教授  陈悦萱 中译...

  Compassion and Justice—Meeting Venerable Chao Hwei


  By Rebecca Li


  陈悦萱 中译


  July 2, 2006

  Recently, it was my privilege to participate in the Women Faith Leaders Retreat held at Dharma Drum Mountain, Taiwan, on June 20-22. The theme of the retreat was “Compassionate Mind, Compassionate World.” I was there primarily to translate for Shifu in his closing address, but prior to that I had the good fortune to participate in the discussion and meet some amazing women, one of whom was Venerable Chao Hwei.


  Venerable Chao Hwei is professor of Religion and director of the Research Center of Applied Ethics at Hsuan Chuang University, a Buddhist university in Taiwan. She studied under Venerable Master Yin Shun, author of The Way to Buddhahood, and is a prolific scholar and author. She writes for newspapers to share the Buddhist perspective on issues as wide-ranging as animal rights and the legalization of gambling in Taiwan.


  On the first day of the retreat, Venerable Chao Hwei brought up the issue of compassion and justice, arguing that there is no true compassion if we do not face the issue of justice.? I was intrigued by her lucid and forceful argument; this was the first time I had seen a Chinese bhikshuni articulate her moral and intellectual position in such a forthright manner. I was fascinated also because we were discussing compassion, a topic that usually evokes an image of gentle, smiling people helping each other and getting along. This is hardly what comes to mind in debates over issues of injustice, such as the unequal treatment of men and women.


  In the open discussion and the subsequent conversations I had with her, Venerable Chao Hwei shared her experience advocating the abolition of the “eight deferential practices,” a set of additional precepts taken by fully ordained bhikshunis prescribing deferential manners to be used by bhikshunis (nuns) when interacting with bhikshus (monks). One such precept requires a bhikshuni, even though she is fully ordained with seniority, to bow deferentially to a novice monk. Within the monastic sangha of Dharma Drum Mountain, I was told, while these eight precepts are included in the full precepts taken by bhikshunis, Master Sheng Yen does not require that bhikshunis follow them in their interactions with bhikshus.


  However, in many instances, according to Venerable Chao Hwei, the existence of these eight precepts continues to damage the monastic sangha both by instilling a sense of pride, entitlement and superiority in some bhikshus, and a sense of inferiority, shame and a lack of confidence in some bhikshunis. These eight precepts perpetuate the inequality of men and women. In this system, everyone loses. Those in subordinate positions suffer from unfair treatment, while those in dominant positions give rise to pride and arrogance. Venerable Chao Hwei argued that allowing this injustice to continue is uncompassionate as we are not doing anything to help these beings alleviate their suffering.


  Venerable Chao Hwei cautioned against glossing over injustice in the name of maintaining harmony and practicing compassion. She pointed out that in Buddhism, we give such premium to the need to harmonize with everyone that we shy away from speaking out against injustice. Unfortunately, this silence in the face of unjust practices is often interpreted as endorsement of these practices, and we are therefore as guilty as those who defend such injustice. Complicity in injustice is certainly not in accordance with compassion, since we fail to take action to stop a system from inflicting suffering.? In the name of maintaining a community’s harmony, we often fail to speak up against injustice because we do not want to cause open divisions within the community. But Venerable Chao Hwei argues that true compassion prompts us to speak out against injustice. Not only does the effort to end injustice help save the victims from suffering, it also helps the perpetrators, by stopping them from causing suffering, and thus from creating unwholesome karma.


  Venerable Chao Hwei pointed out that the practice of compassion requires constant reflection and courage. One needs to reflect critically on why a certain practice is followed. Is it in accordance with wisdom and compassion, or is it merely in compliance with tradition passed down from a different era that may no longer be relevant? It takes courage, as critical examination challenges those in power and those benefiting from the status quo. Speaking out risks being accused of causing conflict within the Buddhist community, of being egotistical, of being uncompassionate, in other words, of being un-Buddhist. Venerable Chao Hwei contends that it is precisely out of great compassion that she challenges unjust practices, of which gender discrimination is one.


  I suggested to Venerable Chao Hwei that tolerating injustice not only prolongs the suffering of the victims, it is also very damaging to Buddhism’s reputation in the West.? Justice is a very important value in the West, and it is difficult for people in the West to accept a religious tradition that condones unjust practices. Venerable Chao Hwei urged everyone to keep in mind that the Buddha taught that the purpose of the precepts was to preserve the proper Dharma, not to be an end in themselves. Since the equality of sentient beings is at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings, keeping silent about unjust practices is complicity, and is equivalent to slandering the Buddha’s teachings. It is thus the responsibility of every Buddhist practitioner, monastic or lay, to speak out and act against injustice?


  Some worry about a schism if some in the Buddhist community push hard for changes while others insist on preserving the tradition. I think this is an excellent opportunity for the Buddhist community to put the Dharma into practice collectively. It is easy to be calm and compassionate when everyone is in agreement. The challenge is to engage in a dialogue and to examine the issues critically, stimulating each other’s thinking, learning the other side’s perspective without being dismissive, and working together to find a satisfactory solution without allowing our self-centered attachments to get in the way. This is not easy.


  But I believe that if we all put the Dharma into practice while engaging in this debate, applying the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion, this dialogue will help the entire Buddhist community move forward into the 21st century. The process will bring hope to the world as it will illustrate that it is possible to engage in a debate over difficult and controversial issues and to find satisfactory solutions by applying compassion and wisdom. Thus everyone, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, may benefit from this compassionate action.


  (published in the Autumn 2006 issue of Chan Magazine, page 23 to 25)