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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
buddhadharma| 37 |winter 2007 not have much of a case (and I, for one, would not be a Buddhist). However, the gender-free and gender-neutral teachings have always been part of Buddhism, even though they have not made a sig- nificant impact on Buddhist practices surrounding gender in the past. So something in addition to Buddhism’s gender-neutral and gender-free teach- ings must be contributing to the current changing situation. Western Buddhists have tended not to explore the impact that their Western heritage may have had on how they practice Buddhism. But I would suggest that aspects of our Western heritage are extremely valuable to our Buddhist practice and that we discard or denigrate our Western roots at our peril. Would we feel so comfortable abandon- ing the religions of our parents and families without Western concepts of individual choice and freedom of religion? For most of human history, in most parts of the world, such conduct would have been unthinkable and nearly impossible. We Western Buddhists sometimes decry individualism, human rights, and other ideas of the European enlighten- ment, or question their relevance to Buddhist prac- tice, but without their large-scale acceptance in our society, I doubt that Western Buddhism would have flourished the way that it has. The major thinkers of the European enlighten- ment did not necessarily extend their proclama- tions of individual liberty and dignity to women, but women quickly picked up on the cues and made the logical implications themselves. Famous early female heroes who made the case for women’s equity and equality include Mary Wollstonecraft, Ann Hutchinson, and Abigail Adams. When it was originally drafted, the United States Constitution did not consider women to be citizens, and it did not grant us the right to vote. But again, women quickly drew the logical conclusions. By the mid- nineteenth century, the Grimke sisters, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others led the struggle for women to be recognized as human beings by granting them the same rights that were granted men, including the right to vote. Finally, less than one hundred years ago, in 1920, the U.S. Constitution was amended to grant women the right to vote. Concern about gender equity and equality less- ened after this victory and became completely dor- mant during the 1950s, when women had been dismissed from their vital factory jobs following the war and sent home to have babies. The 1950s perhaps represent a nadir in awareness that women might want to have lives not bounded by the gen- der roles assigned to them by a patriarchal culture. As someone socialized in the 1950s, I often suggest that those of us who remember how horrible things were back then need to explain to others why the second wave of feminism arose in the first place. By the late 1960s, both women and men were again fully aware of just how much the conven- tional gender arrangements crippled women, and they were advocating more equitable gender arrangements. This is the environment in which Buddhist teachings first became available on a large scale to North Americans of non-Asian descent. Though often they will not acknowledge their debts to the second wave of feminism, I would argue that most of the current leading female teachers of Buddhism owe at least part of their success to that movement. Whether or not they are personally poised to acknowledge that influ- ence, most highly regarded contemporary North American women teachers benefited greatly from the feminist insistence that if men deserved human rights, so too did women. Had Asian Buddhist teachers first brought Bud- dhism to the West in a large-scale way during the 1950s, when the cult of domesticity was at its height and conventional gender roles were rigidly enforced, women would have been staging bake sales rather than meditating and studying side by side with men, preparing to become teachers. Thus without the milieu produced by feminism, it is unlikely that many of the most noted North American female teachers would have been pre- pared to teach, and even more unlikely that they would have been accepted as teachers. Therefore, I suggest that at least some of the inspiration and motivation for changes in the contemporary acceptance and elevation of some Western women teachers of the dharma is the result of the second wave of feminism, which has changed everything about our lives for the better, forever. We would do well to delight in the auspicious coincidence that brought Buddhist teachers and feminist consciousness together at the same time. And when we trace our ancestry as practitioners, it would be accurate to thank not only our overt lineage ancestors—those whose connections we chant every day—and not only the more obscure female Buddhist ancestors, whom we painstakingly research and discover, but also the generations of women and men who taught us the practical, everyday, institutional meaning of that simplest, most radical, and most accurate of feminist slo- gans: “Women are human beings.” If we do not now lose, through waves of back- lash and complacency, what we have only recently gained, we may live to see the day when not only will women teach dharma, but they will be just as likely as men to be honored lineage holders. When that happens, Buddhism will finally be actualizing its teachings and its vision, rather than perpetuat- ing the current contradiction between gender-free and gender-neutral teachings and the institutions that favor men over women. The acceptance and elevation of some Western women dharma teachers is in part the result of the second wave of feminism, which has changed everything about our lives for the better. stanleysaGoV/insiGhtMeditationsocietykatecuMMinGs