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Thursday, September 8, 2011
7 Most Influential Buddhist Nuns
1 Sister Chan Khong - Born in 1938, she is a lifelong friend and devotee of Thich Nhat Hanh. Sister Chan Khong wrote a fascinating spiritual biography called Learning True Love. She lives in Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's famous retreat in France.
2 Sister Annabel Laity - A quiet and scholarly presence, Sister Annabel was born in England and was ordained a nun at Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village. She is an accomplished translator and Buddhist scholar.
3 Pema Chodron - Prolific author and Buddhist superstar, Pema Chodron is an American woman ordained in the Tibetan tradition. Resident teacher at Gampo Abbey, a Tibetan Buddhist institute in Nova Scotia intended to train Westerners in the Tibetan monastic tradition.
4 Dhammananda Bhikkhuni - Probably the woman facing the most serious hurdles on this list, Dhammananda is a Thai academic who agitates for the recognition of full monastic vows for women in the Theravadin Buddhist tradition. She runs a centre for women monastics (Wat Songdhammakalyani) in Thailand, though their ordinations are not recognised legally, socially or by the male Buddhist hierarchy.
5 Tenzin Palmo - Became famous after the publication of Cave in the Snow, which detailed her long solitary retreat in the Himalayas. Tenzin Palmo has been charged by the Dalai Lama with establishing full monastic ordination for women in the Tibetan tradition. She was born in London, and is ordained in the Drukpa lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.
6 Robina Courtin - An Australian, Courtin was the subject of a popular documentary which brought her to great prominence in the Buddhist world. Laid-back and forthright, Courtin is a popular teacher whose special work is with prisoners. She has been a Buddhist nun for 30 years, but was raised a Catholic in Queensland.
7 Thubten Chodron - Another reasonably prolific author, her popular teachings embrace themes of ecology and social justice. Born in 1950, she is Abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Washington.
8 Dharma Master Cheng Yen - A slight and quiet Buddhist nun who only speaks Taiwanese dialect and is frequently in ill health, Cheng Yen is one of the most powerful and influential Buddhist leaders in the sinosphere, and is the spiritual head of the Tzu Chi welfare organisation that has a presence in diasporic Chinese communities across the world.
This list is incomplete and arbitrary - the world is full of incredible ordained women running institutions and working to spread their religion.
I am aware that there are gaps, and would be interested in suggestions for extending the list. The women on this list are all here because they are prominent in the anglosphere. I know there must be women in other traditions who are well known to, for example, Chinese or Korean speakers, that I have not included. Please tell us about them in the comments!
I also want you to know that the list is of ordained, celibate religious, which is why it doesn't include many of the prominent Zen and Insight Meditation teachers.