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Buddhadharma : Spring 2018
114 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY she was shunned by “serious scholars” for writing her dissertation on women’s stud ies in religion. Her life’s work was sub sequently dedicated to articulating two major arguments: 1) that feminism should be defined as a commitment to freedom from the prison of gender roles; and 2) that Buddhism, as a religion, denies core teach ings of the Buddha that posit equality of the sexes, thus requiring a feminist recon struction. Her book, Buddhism After Patri- archy, published in 1993, sharply reveals the entrenched misogyny within Buddhist communities across the globe with bold calls to reclaim a truly awakened stance. She famously likened combining feminism with Buddhism to pouring “water into water” and argued that any true Buddhist should necessarily be a feminist. Yet Gross did not fit neatly into any of the circles in which she frequented, simultaneously inspiring and challenging what was expected of a religion scholar, a teacher, a student, and a feminist. An early student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Gross could ultimately not stomach the sexism she encountered in the early days of Shambhala, prompting her to seek a female guru–student relationship. She found this in Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, a rare female lineage holder of the Mindrol ing school. Gross, who was authorized as a lopen (senior teacher) in 2005, longed to realize what she termed “androgynous Buddhism,” in which men and women would form a Buddhist community com mitted to freeing themselves from the prison of gender roles. Buddhism beyond Gender articulates Gross’s objectives as a Buddhist teacher and also more sharply and directly issues a call that will be controversial, particularly among feminists coming of age in this generation, to realize that clinging to gender identity subverts enlightenment. On the very first page of the book, Gross anticipates the critiques she knows will be awaiting her in the wings. She tackles her wouldbe interlocutors, instructing them that the “operative word is ‘clinging’ not ‘gender.’” She evokes the words of Zen master Dogen that “to study the buddha way is to study the self, and that to study the self is to forget the self.” Gender, as a deeply entrenched aspect of identity (and erroneously assumed to be wholly natu ral and conflated with biological sex) then becomes a logical frame to understand how we cling to ego. Herein lies the problem. When students encounter this line of thinking, they woe fully misunderstand it to mean that we should forget about gender. Indeed, the book is filled with examples of men and some women teachers lamenting students’ obsession with gender—an empty cat egory—and exhorting them to “get over it, already.” This is not what Gross advo cates. Rather, she argues that understand ing shunyata and teachings on anatta (no self doctrine) can be done only through our lived reality. With the undeniable imbal ance of harm based on gender across the globe, we are faced with understanding a phenomenon that is deeply real, yet still illusory. That investigation, Gross argues, is the path of dharma. As in past writings, Gross remains com mitted to persuading practitioners that feminism is compatible with the dharma. In a chapter titled “Indigenous Buddhist Feminism,” Gross offers evidence that feminism is not a Western construct but indigenous to early Buddhist traditions