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Buddhadharma : Winter 2010
49 winter 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Consider how many sentences you could write containing the words “dharma” and “women.” When I put them together, the next word that wants to come into the sentence is “potential.” My thoughts on this are inspired by Irshad Manji’s comment that some Muslim women are exploring not just what there is to learn, absorb, and follow in their tradition, but what there is to love about it. A couple of provisos: Here I’m speaking largely from the experience of what have been called Western converts— women who have chosen Buddhism rather than been born into it. Since we represent a tiny fraction of the world’s female Buddhists, this is meant as a small offering to a large, ongo- ing conversation. Second, I make a distinction between Bud- dhism and the dharma. By Buddhism I mean the institutions and orthodoxies that have developed over the last 2,500 years. Even that’s tricky, because, as many have commented, we should probably be talking about a constellation of Bud- dhisms rather than something monolithic. By the dharma I mean the fundamental teachings of the tradition, and the ways the expressions of those teachings have evolved over genera- tions and geography. That’s really tricky, because people tend to define dharma based on what room in the mansion of Bud- dhism they’re standing in. Here I’m looking at dharma from the still-under-construction, cooking-while-we’re-building kitchen of Western convert experience. The fact that we’re making a home in this lively, some- times chaotic kitchen, whose blueprint is covered with sticky notes, is where the potential for women comes in. We can eat; we can cook; we can revise the architectural plans. In other words, as practitioners we can apply the insights and practices refined over millennia to our contemporary lives in what a Chan teacher called “wise digestion”; we can serve the tradi- tion and our companions on the Way as leaders and teachers; and we can offer unprecedented and innovative expressions of the tradition, in everything from how we organize as com- munities to how we teach the teachings. There is nothing in the dharma—as opposed to some of the institutions of Bud- dhism—that limits women’s participation. On the contrary, as Rita Gross has pointed out, Buddhist institutions are being challenged to live up to the highest ideals and truest meanings of the dharma upon which they were founded. For many, it is deeply meaningful to be part of a process in which the real- ization of individual women and the realization of the fuller potential of a great tradition are so intimately linked. We live in a world that needs our hands, our hearts, and our minds. We live in a world that looks like it could use a bit more of what the dharma offers. It is here, in our more fully realized ability to be genuinely helpful as individuals and communities, that the true meal will be served out of our kitchen. As this unfolds, each of us will find her own place on the eat–cook–revise-the-plans continuum. Here are a few Joan Sutherland, roShi is a Zen koan teacher and the founder of awakened life in Santa Fe, new Mexico. authorportraitJean-paulboudier