A British journalist’s account of her yearlong investigation into the lives and motivations of women who chose to become Buddhist nuns.
Throughout her more than 20-year career as a foreign correspondent, Toomey had always been drawn to writing about the courage and compassion of the many women she met. In 2011, she decided to focus her attention on women who sought ordination into the male-dominated world of monastic Buddhism. Her project began as a purely “journalistic endeavor.” However, the deaths of her father and mother soon infused the journey with a need for both “a deeper understanding and a wisdom that would heal.” Toomey started in Nepal, “the land where the Buddha was born,” and worked her way east to west through India, Burma, and Japan before heading west to the United States and Europe. The women she met came from a wide array of backgrounds. Some had fled poverty and violence while others, like the Tibetan princess Choying Khandro, had turned their backs on lives of privilege. Still others had left successful careers as policewomen, pilots, actresses, or writers or marriages and families to find the inner peace and fulfillment that had eluded them. Regardless of the particular Buddhist sect they joined, each of Toomey’s interviewees shared a common devotion to Buddhist teachings and to doing good in the world. Many of them also shared a desire to see women become fully integrated members of a religion that, for the most part, still considered them inferior and subservient to male monks. Intelligent and informative, Toomey’s book reveals the hidden lives of women who have been neglected by Buddhist discourse, and it brings to the fore the contributions that more high-profile nuns, such as Pema Chödrön, have made to the resurgent worldwide interest in Buddhist philosophy.
An inspiring and necessary addition to the body of work about modern-day Buddhism.