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Buddhadharma : Spring 2012
SPRING 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 47 of whether we’re healthy or not, how long we live, whether we’re educated or not. Reproduc- tive freedom is the way of undoing, starting the progression, going back the other way. Palmo: So then being nuns is excellent. Steinem: Being nuns is excellent. We need women to be able to choose whether to have one child or four children. And the amazing thing is that when you allow women to do that, the population rate comes out just a little above replacement level, which is where it’s supposed to be. Among the principles of the pre-patriarchal cultures was that there always had to be more adults than children, because otherwise children can’t be properly brought up, loved, cared for. If you think about this country and the world, the places that are the most violent and erratic and destructive are the places where there are many more children than grown-ups. So, yes, we ought to be able to choose to be nuns, and men ought to be able to choose to be priests. And women ought to be able to choose to have four children or six children. Do you see what you are doing as transforming, because you are daring to teach female human beings that they are human beings? And will that change Buddhism? Palmo: As I said, in Buddhism, as in most reli- gions, since the books were written by males predominantly, and since most of the authority figures are males, undoubtedly there’s a male voice. So what we are trying to do now is allow the feminine voice to also emerge, as you’re doing. And that comes through education and through practice and through the nuns’ sense of their own self-worth, which is the hardest thing. The education and the practice they can get very easily; the sense of their own self-worth is the harder one for them. But it’s happening, and in a very short time. The monks themselves are very keen for the nuns to become educated; they are the teachers, and they encourage the nuns a lot. I don’t want to give the impression we’re doing this in the face of tremendous resistance from the male side, because that’s not true. But there is resistance toward higher ordina- tion for nuns in the Tibetan tradition. At the moment, they can only take novice ordination. We’ve received surprising resistance from the monks over allowing nuns to receive the full higher ordination, even though this was granted to them by the Buddha himself. There is also resistance to giving the nuns—who have studied maybe twelve, fifteen, twenty years—any official acknowledgment or title. It’s like going to college and, at the end of it, not even getting an M.A. or a Ph.D. You just say, well, I studied. So we have a ways to go, but we’re going. Steinem: Here, too. Every time I’m at a gradua- tion, I think: What if the guys got a spinster of arts degree instead of a bachelor of arts degree? And a mistress of science? And worked really hard to get a sistership? I love language, so it’s fun to try to change consciousness with language. I think one of the ways we know that we’re on the right track is that laughter is okay. What are some of the signs you look for? Palmo: I think it’s very important for people to recognize that just as we ourselves wish for a sense of well-being and happiness and don’t want to be made miserable, so does everybody we meet. We’re actually very connected, includ- ing animals, in our wish for inner well-being and not to be hurt. What if people just thought about that, you know, just sitting in a theatre or on a subway? What if we were conscious that all the people around us, whatever they might look like, in their heart of hearts, really want to feel okay? What if your first thought for everybody you meet is not judgment but “May you be well and happy”? If we could manage that much, it would change the world, wouldn’t it? Steinem: Yes, empathy is the most revolutionary emotion, absolutely. I don’t know whether tradi- tions other than Christianity have a golden rule statement like “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”—probably everybody has that—but I often think that for women, we need to reverse it. We need to treat ourselves as well as we treat other people. Palmo: Absolutely. Steinem: Because, as you say, the young women you teach have been so invaded by the idea that they’re not as worthy as male human beings. Palmo: When the Buddha taught loving-kindness meditation, which is a very important meditation in Buddhism, he said you start by sending loving- kindness to yourself. You wish for yourself to be well and happy, peaceful, and at your ease. When you really feel a warmth and kindness toward yourself, then you send it out to those you love, to those you feel indifferent toward, and to those you have problems with. But you always have to start from where you are, because until we have it inside ourselves, how can we give it out?