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Buddhadharma : Winter 2010
43 winter 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly teachers. Do you see this problem as part of a cultural phe- nomenon of an Asian Buddhist tradition coming to the West, or is this also a Western indigenous problem? rita Gross: From what I know of Western Buddhism and the Tibetan tradition, there are plenty of male teachers—not nec- essarily highly authorized teachers, but teachers who have some authorization—who are perfectly eager and willing to sleep with female students. GraCe sChireson: Still this is not only a male problem; this is a woman’s problem as well. Women need to learn not to be confused by the exotic or foreign or new nature of Buddhist practice, and to understand what their tendencies are. We will not solve this problem if we just focus on the male side of it. rita Gross: I completely agree. Women need to learn how to know what they want and how to take control of their lives. Another area where we are still stuck, I think, is that when we look at who’s teaching in the West, about half of the people teaching at some level of authorization are women, but when you look at the popular teach- ers or the ones that are frequently leading retreats, especially in the Tibetan tradition and to some extent also in Zen, they are about 80 to 90 percent men. I once did a survey of several issues of the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma in which I counted the ads for retreats, looking at who was offering them, and it came up astonishingly high for male teachers. In the Tibetan tradition, it’s still much more difficult for women than men to be senior-ranked teachers, more so than in the other traditions. It seems to me that one of the key problems is that Vajrayana in the West is still pretty much controlled by Tibetans. I don’t know how to work with that. It’s a difficult issue. GraCe sChireson: Even in the Zen tradition, where women have equal empowerments, there isn’t equality in terms of leading large training monasteries and institutions. Women tend to have the smaller places. Also, in my tradition, the Zen master is associated with the strong, silent type, and we don’t have an image of how women inhabit the role of leader. I hear senior women ques- tioning whether any of the women are as excellent as the men, because their image of a leader is the strong, silent male. The other thing that I’ve heard many women teachers talk about is the lack of support of women by women. I think it’s a big issue, and it has been an issue for nuns from the very begin- ning. Women tend to gravitate to male leadership rather than support other women, and the women teachers I’ve talked to about this say they find this very painful—more painful than men not supporting them. rita Gross: This is one of the areas of gender where we’re stuck—women by and large tend to think men are better teachers. There’s that lingering inferiority that’s so hard to overcome. Lama PaLden droLma: I notice as a woman teacher that most men will only go to male teachers. For example in my center, it’s completely open and we have some great men who come, but it’s 80 percent women. Buddhadharma: I want to go back to Grace’s comment about women not supporting women as teachers. I recently read several accounts from women who attended the bhikkhuni ordinations in California and their stories were heartening. It seemed that women were very supportive of the women who took bhikkhuni ordina- tion. Christina, do you feel that women are now supporting other women who want to become either bhikkhunis or senior women teachers? Christina FeLdman: In the Theravada tradition, we’ve sorely felt the lack of ordained bhikkhunis in the West, and now that these ordinations are beginning, they are being greeted with tremendous support and delight and celebration by women who are practicing. Also, I started teaching women’s retreats twenty-five years ago, and a community of women has built up who feel strong in their practice and in their lineage, and who only practice with other women. There’s something about having retreats led by women that models a kind of strength and uprightness. GraCe sChireson: I’ve also been behind women’s retreats for a long time, teaching as part of a team of women teachers. When women see other women teach, one of the things they begin to awaken to is that they do prefer men. As a psycholo- gist, I think there’s something about daddy’s distance—in other words, children grow up taking mother for granted. Susan Faludi recently wrote about this in Harper’s magazine, looking at the mother complex and how it’s easy to push mom aside and glorify dad. I think women’s retreats help to awaken women to this tendency. Regarding the reinstatement of the bhikkhuni order, I think women are enthusiastic and moved by it, but it remains to be There are many women who feel strong in their practice and in their lineage, and who only practice with other women. There’s something about having retreats led by women that models a kind of strength and uprightness. —Christina Feldman