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Buddhadharma : Spring 2006
buddhadharma| 77 |spring 2006 f eminism has had an impact on Buddhism, but it has been a slow, wrenching process. Yes, the Buddha proclaimed that women were capable of enlightenment; yes, Dogen, Dahui, and other great ancestral teachers declared that according to the dharma there was no dif ference between men and women. But at the same time, the movement that seeks to establish women’s equality has had to con front ancient Buddhist teachings that, as Osumi Kazuo explains, would have us believe that “because the nature of women is inherently evil, they cannot achieve sal vation without first being transformed into or reborn as men.” 1 And indeed, in actual practice, the world of differentiation always seems to trump the realm of sameness. During the late twentieth century, even while serving in the supportive ways that our Asian teachers considered appropri ate to our gender, women questioned and prodded – tactfully perhaps, yet insis tently. Why couldn’t a woman walk with the keisaku (“encouragement stick”)? Why couldn’t a woman be head monas tic, or lead retreats? It was hard to ask these questions because, after all, what was most important was true insight, true practice. Why, then, “create waves where there is no wind,” as the saying goes? Yet we had to. In the introduction to Women of the Way, Sallie Tisdale declares, “Dis crimination – by gender, race, class, in any way – is contrary to buddhadharma. To accept that women are equal to men – to really accept it, not just say it – is quite a radical notion; it requires action.” Women’s quiet yet radical questioning gradually resulted in a more egalitarian practice community. To the credit of our Asian teachers, who themselves were pro foundly changed by their experiences liv ing in what Nyogen Senzaki called “this strange land,” women have assumed lead ership roles in dharma centers and the number of American women authorized as dharma teachers has grown consider ably. This growth has also brought with it a substantive challenge to inherited forms of hierarchy. Nonetheless, in candid moments, women teachers still share pain ful experiences about our voices not being heard in mixed gatherings, or the equally painful recognition that we continue to question our own authority. As one teacher put it recently, “I have no problem when it’s the dharma speaking through me, but when I have to speak as an indi vidual, I tend to freeze up.” We may think that being American Buddhist teachers in the twentyfirst cen tury guarantees equality, but lurking in our hearts are the “five obstructions” – the five types of superior rebirth unattainable by women, including rebirth as a bud dha – and the “special rules,” including the one that says a nun, no matter how advanced in her practice, must always defer to a monk, no matter how junior. And then there’s the matter of histori cal role models. Over the years, many of us Zen practitioners searched the official lineages for women’s names, usually in vain.2 Of course, we realized that the countries in which Buddhism evolved were strongly patriarchal, and we knew that the histories were indeed “his sto ries.” Still, there were tantalizing sightings in the koan collections: Layman Pang’s daughter, Lingzhao, who was her father’s traveling companion throughout years of womeN of the way: discovering 2,500 years of Buddhist wisdom By sallie tisdale harpersanfrancisco, 2006 320 pages; $24.95 (hardcover) reviewed by roko sherry Chayat the Lost LiNeaGe 1 Osumi’s essay “A New Age of Research on Women and Buddhism” appears in Engendering Faith: Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan, edited by Barbara Ruch. 2 Andy Ferguson’s 2000 book Zen’s Chinese Heritage does include “Iron Grinder” Liu Tiemo (Jap., Ryu Tetsuma) and Moshan Liaoran (Massan Ryonen), “the primary remaining example of a prominent female teacher among the early records of the Zen school.”