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Buddhadharma : Winter 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 10 50 teachings up to our experiences and see how they illuminate each other. Because it’s non-dogmatic, the dharma is a way of looking that doesn’t presuppose what we’ll see. It’s not trying to impose a worldview but offers tools to relate to the world more realistically, with curiosity and flexibility. We can inhabit rooms in the mansion of Buddhism that are religious, rooms that have no religion in them at all, and rooms that allow us to have religious beliefs in traditions other than Buddhism. It’s up to each of us to find our place. In any case, there is no infallible, unchanging Word of God. We have an evolving tradition with a tremendously rich body of philosophy and literature whose insights are proven anew by each practitioner, and the tradition’s founder was a person whose awakening is available to us all. The dharma’s lack of dogmatism, which is not always per- fectly realized by Buddhism, is a crucial part of any offering we can make to public life. We so clearly see what happens when unbridled passions and tightly held beliefs are reified and sent into contention with each other, in seemingly end- less chains of reactions to reactions. An example of what the dharma offers in both our personal and public lives is the ability to differentiate between reaction and response. Reac- tion is self-centered—its primary interest is what something means to the self. It replaces what’s actually happening with how we feel and think about what’s happening. We’ve stepped out of the first order of experience—what’s happening—and into a second order—how we react to it—instead of realizing that our reaction is part of the experience itself, but only one part, no more or less important than anything else. This is, of course, magnified exponentially in groups of people. With the practices of meditation and inquiry we’re more able to stay in the first order of experience, so that we can respond to circumstances in all their complexity rather than to fixate on our reactions. The inner and outer worlds become less divided, less contentious, even in difficult circumstances. examples of why all this matters, why there is such potential at the intersection of women and the dharma. When I meet with a group of women for tea to talk about this, we begin with the comment that the teachings and prac- tices of the dharma are a touchstone, a way of making sense of the world and one’s existence in it. That theme—how the dharma can illuminate and knit together our inner lives and our lives in the world—threads through the conversation. How are we keeping our balance when the ground beneath our feet feels so unstable? How does that balance help us act on our commitment to the other beings with whom we share this planet and to the generations that will follow us? As bell hooks expresses it in an essay in Women Practicing Buddhism: “Thinking outside the box of dualism and living a practice of equanimity gives my life balance. But more than that, spiritual practice is the circle surrounding [my] work, the force empowering me to open my heart, to be Buddha, to have a practice of compassion that joins rather than separates, that takes the broken bits and pieces of our damaged self and world, bringing them together.” The women having tea together express what so many oth- ers do: Loving the world-as-it-is is both our deepest aspiration and our greatest challenge. There are so many reasons not to. We feel the sorrow and pain deeply but don’t know how to respond in a way that would matter. Or we’re overwhelmed with just trying to survive in the midst of trouble. Or we’re afraid we’ll lose the fragile gains in self-determination we’ve worked so hard for. There’s no magic wand in any wisdom tradition to instantly “solve” these dilemmas, because we have to live our way into and through them. These aren’t problems to be fixed; they are life itself. How can the dharma be help- ful in living our way into reconciling our aspiration and our challenge? The dharma is a path made of inquiry rather than dogma. From the very beginning, the invitation has been to hold the It is deeply meaningful to be part of a process in which the realization of individual women and the realization of the fuller potential of a great tradition are so intimately linked.