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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
SUMMER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 7 Shambhala Sun Foundation An independent, nonprofit corporation. Publishers of the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly. Sometimes I am accused of “genderizing the dharma.” It is true that I have taught and written extensively about Buddhism and gender, including in my book Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analy sis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism. But why leap to the claim that I’m genderizing the dharma in that work? How could anyone possibly genderize the dharma if the dharma were gender neutral and gender free, if there were no gender biases and hierarchies in its institutional and doctrinal expressions? That charge reveals a lack of awareness about how extensively the dharma was gen- derized historically. Many Western Buddhists don’t know that traditionally it was taught that the best a woman could hope for was rebirth as a man, in which form enlighten- ment would become possible. There is sig- nificant resistance to such information about Buddhism’s less than stellar record on gender equity and equality. Many ignore how sexist and patriarchal Buddhism has been in most of its historical manifestations. The charge that I am the one who is gen- derizing the dharma also reveals peoples’ keen discomfort with the possibility that Buddhism may well not have treated women and sexual minorities any better than any other major religion. Because acknowledging such history can be painful, many people prefer to keep it at bay. In that effort, they are aided by Buddhist teachers who counsel their students that because “enlightened mind is beyond gender, neither male nor female,” gender discrimi- nation in Buddhist institutions and denun- ciations of women in Buddhist texts don’t matter. Buddhist teachers may also have blind spots about other contemporary social issues that Buddhists do not deal with well at pres- ent. But they are completely cognizant about the traditional gender discrimination and misogyny. Nevertheless, they recommend that students who are troubled by this historical record pretend that such teachings and prac- tices don’t exist. This is very strange logic. Rarely, if ever, do Buddhist teachers recom mend ignoring an issue rather than using awareness and analysis. Since I refuse to let people continue to ignore such teachings, reactions to what I present turn out to be some variant of “Kill the messenger! I don’t like the message.” The subtext behind that reaction is: “If you didn’t bring these unpleasant facts to light, I wouldn’t know about them, and I definitely preferred my state of mind when I was more ignorant.” Sadly, the reaction against those who point out painful information is often aggression. I have been shocked by how vehemently people have reacted to straight- forward presentations about Buddhist male dominance. It seems it’s more appealing to complain that people like me are genderizing COMMENTARY Don’t Blame the Messenger BY RITA M. GROSS Rita M. Gross is the author of Buddhism After Patriarchy and A Garland of Feminist Reflections. She is professor emerita of comparative studies in religion at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. LINDAFISHER