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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
buddhadharma| 35 |winter 2007 reprimanded for even bringing up questions sur- rounding it. If gender is truly irrelevant, the only way to demonstrate that irrelevance is the skillful means of empowering women teachers. Of course, for women to be empowered as teachers, they must first be trained completely, which is difficult in an environment where women are defined as subordinate to any man, regardless of their relative accomplishments and seniority. The fifth way in which making it difficult for women to become dharma teachers harms women may be the most devastating of all. If there are few or no women teachers, the experiences and viewpoints of women are forever lost to history. And the women who do achieve high levels of realization, despite all obstacles, are obliterated in historical records. This difficulty intersects with the fourth difficulty, the lack of role models for women practitioners. The role models may well have existed, but they were not recognized and, therefore, not recorded. If women are not recognized as dharma teach- ers, their spiritual biographies will not be available to illuminate the path. Some Buddhist traditions rely heavily on the life stories of great teachers to provide inspiration and guidance for contempo- rary students. Stories of women dharma teachers are needed by men to counter their own cultur- ally based feelings of superiority, and women need these biographies for inspiration. What is the path for a woman who has been taught that her rebirth is less free and well favored than that of a man? For a woman who has few role models and who was probably discouraged from thinking of herself as a serious practitioner? Gender may be ultimately irrelevant, but that ultimate irrelevancy is situated in a relative and samsaric world. How does she come to realize the irrelevance of gender, and what does her experi- ence of conventional gender norms mean to her in her Buddhist path? A woman’s specific experiences as a female practitioner in a male-dominated world and a male-dominated religion will be different from those of a man, and they are worth recording as a guidepost for other practitioners, both women and men. But who records the experiences of an unrec- ognized teacher? Because she is not recognized and her experiences are not recorded, the example of her path to realization, those specific experiences, are lost, furthering the impression that women are indeed less free and well favored than men because so few of them are known to have achieved success on the path. Sometimes the fault for losing these stories and role models lies not with the Buddhists of a specific era but with those who keep the records. Women may be known in their own contexts as highly competent practitioners and teachers, but no one thinks to record their teachings as they would the teachings of a similar male teacher. Or, if the records are kept, they may not be remem- bered as frequently as the records of male teach- ers. For example, highly accomplished women were relatively common in Tibetan Buddhism, but the first teachers that Western students of Tibetan holGeRGRoss