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Buddhadharma : Winter 2010
35 winter 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Chiara’s death, I felt a deep need for the stories of women in my tradition. I needed to know their lives. The biographies of men weren’t helping me. I couldn’t find any stories of women, and in the few refer- ences to women in The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa I read things like, “Because of my sinful karma, I was given this inferior female body.” I didn’t believe that. In 1981, I traveled to India and Nepal looking for the biographies of great women practitioners from Tibet. This research led to my first book, Women of Wisdom. While writ- ing the book, I journeyed through India and Nepal asking for stories of enlightened women. After I got a blank stare from one monk when I made this request, I further explained what I was looking for and he said, “Oh now I understand. You are not looking for women’s stories, you mean dakinis’ biographies.” I then realized that when- ever a woman became enlightened, it was assumed that she had to have been a special dakini (female embodiment of wisdom) and not an ordinary woman. An ordinary woman would never get enlightened. In fact, the Tibetan word for woman means “lower birth.” The stories that I finally found gave me strength and inspiration, and the research awakened me to a broader awareness of women and women’s issues around the world. The rebalancing of genders currently under way may be the greatest achievement of this century. It has been very moving to me to watch this movement going forward in various forms all over the planet. In some coun- tries, old forms are being revolutionized, but in others we can see resulting reactionary repression. The rights of women, their freedom, safety, and protec- tion, are essential to the survival of the human species. How can any of us thrive if the voices of half the population are not heard and valued? These are the voices of women, who have historically spoken overwhelmingly on the side of non- violence, peace, and protection of the earth. And although many countries have put into place national policies for women’s rights and protection that are consistent with steps taken at the international level, it is obvious that there are still obstacles to the elimination of discrimination and vio- lence against women and to achieving gender equality. Recent statistics show that two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women, and downward trends have deepened during the recent global economic and social crisis. However, in recent years there has been a movement toward gender equality within Buddhism. The Dalai Lama has been speaking more and more about the importance of having women in government leadership positions in order for peace to be possible on the earth. The Seventeenth Karmapa has promised to do what he can to reinstate the full ordination of women in Vajrayana Buddhism. In the Theravada tradition, full ordination has returned. At a recent conference with the Dalai Lama for Western teachers of Buddhism, women teachers filled more than half the room. As we look around the world, we can now see a greater presence of women in leadership positions in Buddhism than ever before, but there is still a long way to go. On July 22 of this year, I suddenly lost my husband of twenty-two years, David Petit. He had a special death with auspicious signs, but it was a shock for him to pass away at fifty-four with no warning. In my grief, I wondered if I could write this piece, but in thinking about it I realized it was important to express the deep gratitude and appreciation I feel for the masculine within the struggle for gender equality in Buddhism. David was an embodiment of a powerful masculine force that actualized everything at Tara Mandala over the last seventeen years— from the first yurts and tents, to our com- munity building, the residence hall, and finally the beautiful three-story mandala Tara Temple. He also stood by me through thick and thin, through the challenges of starting a center and through attacks on me for being “too feminist,” and therefore “not understanding non-duality.” He supported me in my stand against sexual exploitation of women by male teachers, and protected the women who came to Tara Mandala. In the wake of his passing I am acutely aware of the role that the positive masculine plays in the balancing of our world and how important deeply respectful partnership is in estab- lishing Buddhism in the West. This is true not only between partners in a couple, but in our relationships with friends, families, teachers, students, and within the sangha. I feel it is important to acknowledge and value the great men who are actively engaged in bringing wholeness and equality to the Buddhist world, as well as to honor the many women who have struggled and sacrificed to this end. The absolute truth of the emptiness of gender and the rela- tive truth of a real historical misogynist attitude in Buddhism lay side by side in Tara’s story. Her final vow to always return as a woman and to reach enlightenment as a woman shows both her understanding of absolute reality and the relative need for women to be valued and treated equally in Buddhism. Lama Tsultrim with husband David Petit, 2007 LauriepearcebauercourtesytaramandaLa