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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
fall 2017 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 77 buddhism in the West Are We Equal Yet? by Rita Gross 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 abandoning 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 enlightenment, or question their relevance to Buddhist practice, but without their large-scale acceptance in our society, I doubt that Western Buddhism would have flourished the way that it has. Had Asian Buddhist teachers first brought Buddhism 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 prepared 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 slogans: “Women are human beings.” If we do not now lose, through waves of backlash and complacency, what we have only recently gained, we may live to see the day when women not only teach dharma but are 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 perpetuating the current contradiction between gender-free and gender-neutral teachings and the institutions that favor men over women. Winter 2007