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Buddhadharma : Winter 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 10 46 gender arrangements being different than they are. It’s such a paradox. Christina FeLdman: It’s easy for timeless habits of aversion and fear to hide behind such spiritual generalizations. But it doesn’t actually address the reality of people’s lives. The Bud- dha taught that we can find liberation within this body, this gender, this form. So when I hear those kinds of statements, to me it doesn’t have any real meaning. Buddhadharma: Yet it does seem to stop discussions short sometimes. Christina FeLdman: Only if we let it stop discussions short. Women also need to understand that disagreeing is not the same as being defensive; disagreeing can come from an edu- cated place. The question of ethics in this issue is huge. Gender discrimi- nation is outside of the ethical guidelines and boundaries. It is doing harm. I think in the Buddhist community, the investiga- tion of what an ethical life looks like has to go beyond the training guidelines. It’s where we set in our minds a position that is higher. Gender inequality in Buddhism, or in any reli- gion, is set on really shaky foundations, and I question how ethical they are. Lama PaLden droLma: I agree, Christina, and that’s why one of the fourteen root tantric vows is not to disparage women, even though that hasn’t necessarily stopped it. GraCe sChireson: This “not disparaging women” is compli- cated, because there’s a “not disparaging women” that means “don’t beat them up. As long as they stay in their place, let’s not be cruel to them.” But as soon as we start to speak up and say this isn’t quite right, the “B” word comes up. That can be very hard for women. I teach women that the most important thing when speaking up on behalf of gender issues is not to come from a wounded place. You will not be able to make your case if you are feeling the pain and the long history and weight of this wound. You need to speak clearly and in the moment. rita Gross: This is a very important point, and I’ve written about it for thirty years: how we speak about gender issues is critically important, and if we are speaking out of emotional GraCe sChireson: The point I make is that this isn’t something we’re mak- ing up. We’re not being grumpy femi- nists. We want to show them what has happened in the history of Buddhism and the position that women are in with regard to the chanting of the ancestors’ names—the fact that women have been erased. We want to show them that there are parts of the scriptures that talk about women hatefully, and that women, because of the eight special rules, have been in a submissive position. It’s very important for women to see this, because it’s glossed over. rita Gross: It’s very important that men see that, too. GraCe sChireson: And we don’t want to see it. We converted to Buddhism because we thought it was a superior practice and religion, and we don’t like seeing that it has the same flaws as other religions. We tend to want to idealize it. In Zen, there’s this idea that to call out gender is to somehow be attached to form and that we should stay on the emptiness side, the equality side, which is to ignore the Heart Sutra, which says form is emptiness, emptiness is form. rita Gross: Yes, the men who say, “Let’s not talk about gender because gender isn’t real,” don’t actually take that seriously at all. They don’t apply it to themselves. GraCe sChireson: No, they don’t go to the ladies’ room, they go to the men’s room. rita Gross: It’s so comical and yet so tragic to see people who are very clear intellectually about emptiness, but who still cling to gender markers—somehow they can’t imagine One of the shadow sides of Western Buddhism’s intersection with the Asian tradition is that because of the cultural overlay, people can be fooled and not see a sexual relationship between a teacher and student as an ethical breach. — Grace Schireson photo: genine lentine