A Chat with Ven. Dipananda
Ven. Dipananda always has a smile on his face and a warm chuckle just waiting to break out if given the chance. He is a personal friend of mine whom I have come to know well, helping me with rudimentary Bangla before my trip to Bangladesh. After graduating with a Master of Buddhist Studies at the Centre of Buddhist Studies, he is currently enrolled as an M. Phil. student.
Ven. Dipananda comes from a small village called Laksmanerkhill (Lakshma’s Field in English) about 60 km. from Chittagong in Bangladesh. Ven. Dipananda always had a strong proclivity to the spiritual life and it took a lot of effort to win his mother’s permission. As a young boy Ven. Dipananda felt a deep inner devotion and enthusiasm to become a monk. His perseverance finally won the day and after completing secondary school he became a novice at 15. He first wanted to follow the forest monk tradition but changed his mind to follow an academic path. After achieving the highest academic level in Bangladesh he went for further studies in India.
He obtained his first degree at the University of Calcutta and his first Master degree from Pune University in Pali Language and Literature before coming to Hong Kong for his second Master degree at the Centre of Buddhist Studies.
After spending five years in India Ven. Dipananda wanted to strengthen his academic base by further studies in other countries. One of his Pune University professors, a former CBS student, suggested Hong Kong as a possible choice. Ven. Dhammajoti, a lecturer at the Centre of Buddhist Studies, also gave assistance to Ven. Dipananda in his application and the awarding of a scholarship.
Ven. Dipananda fondly remembers four courses: Early Buddhism, Sanskrit, Indian Buddhism, and Mahayana (which deepened his awareness of the breadth of Buddhism in another tradition). He also took some courses from the Graduate School to help him prepare for his M. Phil. studies: one on research methodology and one on academic writing.
Ven. Dipananda experienced some misgiving at the beginning of his sojourn in Hong Kong. As a foreigner from Bangladesh he experienced difficulty in adjusting to Hong Kong culture and society but has managed to make the transition. Still, as a Theravada monk he sometimes feels pressure that people may “blame” him if his conduct differs from Mahayana norms. This mostly applies to meat eating which is allowed in the Theravada tradition but Ven. Dipananda maintains a strict vegetarian diet in temples, indulging in meat in private apartments or if the environment allows it. He counters dietary questions by simply explaining the differences in Bengali and Hong Kong culture.
He attended the 14th International Sakyadittha Conference in Indonesia in June. The conference was well organised with 44 countries sending delegates, mostly nuns. A few monks attended but only for a few sessions before returning home. Ven. Dipananda stayed for the whole conference. “I appreciate them [nuns] for their practice, courage, and motivation to develop the empowerment of women.”
This brings us to the thorny issue of female ordination in Theravada countries which Ven. Dipananda supports in his encouragement and writing. It was only after 2 years that he discovered this issue in Bangladesh and set out to discover “Why?” He told me, “It is my personal decision to help them. Buddha himself personally gave ordination. Women have the capacity to be a nun.” Women, like men, should be given the autonomy to decide to follow the religious life.
He has received pressure from the Bangladeshi Sangha for his support of female ordination. They asked his Master to tell him to stop writing articles on this issue but Ven. Dipananda simply reiterated women’s right to the spiritual life. Not only as a monk but also as a man he will continue to give women encouragement, spiritual support, and help them to attend conferences as he did with the Indonesian conference. “It is my personal decision to help them.”