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Ms. Atasi Talukder, A Bangladesh Graduate of the Gakurin International Program, Working Toward Gender Equality in Bangladesh

A graduate of the Gakurin International Program is playing an active role in her home country. Ms. Atasi Talukder, who graduated in March 2023 is making efforts to realize a gender-equal society in her home country of Bangladesh based on her studies at the Gakurin Seminary.

In Bangladesh, most Buddhists follow Theravada Buddhism. Growing up in a Theravada Buddhist family, Ms. Atasi questioned the inequality in Buddhist society. The highest state of enlightenment that Theravada Buddhists aspire to, arhatship, is considered to be a state that only monks can attain, and furthermore, it is difficult for women to become arhats, and some say that women must even be reborn as men in order to become Buddhas. Discrimination against women can be seen in the prohibition against touching Buddhist statues and sitting near monks.

As a teenager, Atasi first encountered Rissho Kosei-kai, and was moved by the teaching in its scripture, the Lotus Sutra, that “everyone has the potential to become a Buddha,” and further explored the commonalities and differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism at Gakurin. For her specialized research, she undertook a project entitled “A Comparative Analysis of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism on the Status of Women in Bangladesh.

The study first enumerated the unequal realities of Buddhist society that Bangladeshi women face, including “lack of religious freedom,” “gender-based violence in society,” “gender inequality in girls’ education,” and “child marriage and early marriage. As background, she pointed out prejudice and discrimination against women arising from the lack of proper education by Buddhist leaders.

She then explained that both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism preach the practice of “compassion” to bring joy to people and liberate them from suffering, and that all men and women have the “Buddha nature” and everyone can become a Buddha. In conclusion, she emphasized that women have the same potential as men to gain the wisdom, insight, and compassion necessary for enlightenment.

After graduating, Atasi immediately had the opportunity to meet and interview Bhikkhuni Gautami (Runa Barua), the first female monk in Bangladesh. In the interview, the nun said, “Every living being has Buddha nature. Therefore, women can also become Buddhas. Women have the same rights as men,” she asserted. She further stated that proper Buddhist education and training are necessary for women Buddhists to lead free and happy lives and to contribute to societieties.

Inspired by Rev. Gautami, Ms. Atasi immediately began working with the Chittagong branch of Rissho Kosei-kai Bangladesh Dharma Center to implement TOT, Training of Trainers. The first step is to organize seminars on the Lotus Sutra and the teaching of equality in Buddhism. In the future, she plans to expand the program to the whole of Bangladesh, starting with Chittagong.

Ms. Atasi expressed her passion for the project as follows. I want to spread Buddha’s true teachings in Bangladesh in order to achieve gender equality so that we can change people’s minds and raise the awareness of equality in society. And I believe that we can overcome challenges and unleash women’s full potentials in Bangladesh.”

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