Last week Karma Lekshe Tsomo was at a breakfast with the Dalai Lama in Australia. Then she was off to an international conference on Buddhist women in Vietnam. A specialist in Buddhist studies, the University of San Diego associate professor in Theology and Religious Studies was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholar grant for the 2009-2010 academic year.
The Fulbright program, named in honor of the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, is the country’s flagship international exchange program. It provides students, scholars and teachers the opportunity to observe and study the political, economic, educational and cultural systems of more than 155 countries around the world. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.
Tsomo’s $25,000 grant is giving her the opportunity to travel as she researches Buddhist ethics and society from the perspective of South Asian women. Her research will focus on the ways in which Buddhist values inform the decision-making of women in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Tsomo, a Buddhist nun, is studying at Tribhuvan University in Nepal and Chittagong University in Bangladesh.
“Creating dialogue with Buddhist women from very different communities in Nepal and Bangladesh has been an amazing experience,” said Tsomo, who is focusing her work on the women’s perspectives on procreative and end-of-life issues. “I feel very privileged to learn more about these women’s lives and views of the world. Amidst many challenges — poverty, discrimination, rapid social change and political unrest — women struggle to learn, work and raise their families with love and awareness.”
One highlight of the year has been speaking with young women from developing countries who are studying at the new Asian University for Women in Chittagong. “Buddhist women’s religious life and reflections on matters of ethical concern have largely been confined to the private sphere,” she said. But “gradually, the tools of critical thinking that are a hallmark of Buddhist traditions are being applied to reveal gender discrimination in these communities and argue against it.”
Tsomo “is a productive scholar whose work on the experience of women in the Buddhist tradition is highly regarded,” said Lance Nelson, USD professor and chair of the Theology and Religious Studies Department. ”It is not surprising to me that the Fulbright program recognized the importance of her research.” Nelson added that Tsomo also is recognized internationally “as a leader of the contemporary Buddhist women’s movement.”
Tsomo’s work will be included in a book on women’s perspectives on Buddhist ethics that she hopes will also provide significant information for public policy makers, health care providers, families and caregivers.
— Liz Harman