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Lions Roar : November 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2012 58 “We’re not genderizing the dharma. We’re un-genderizing it. The dharma was genderized thousands of years ago when women were first put in a separate class.” The Buddha praised his female students for their wisdom and founded an order of nuns. Yet after his death, when a council of five hundred arhats (perfected saints) gathered to establish the Buddhist canon, not one arhati (female arhat) was among them. Over the millennia there have been women teachers, but seeking them out is like seeking scraps. While Buddhism’s male ancestors fill lists, in each tradition there are only a handful of known female ancestors. Buddhist culture, however, is not static. It changes with each culture it encounters. India, China, Tibet, Vietnam—the role of Buddhist women has shifted according to place and time, and it has shifted again while taking root in the West. When Buddhism came to America in the 1960s and ’70s, it encountered the bur- geoning movement of second-wave feminism. People—both women and men, both Western and Asian—began questioning power dynamics within sanghas. They began working to make chants and liturgy gender neutral, to call for female ordinations where they had previously been denied, and to encourage women to assume leadership roles. Today in the West one of the most celebrated Buddhist teachers is a woman—Pema Chödrön—and there are a host of others who are likewise making a significant contribution to the dharma. Among them are Trudy Goodman, Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, and Lama Palden Drolma. Trudy Goodman’s heart teacher was Maurine Stu- art, one of the first female Zen masters in the United States and also a mother of three, a concert pianist, and a piano teacher. “Maurine had a full, balanced life,” says Goodman. “She modeled that it’s possible to do intensive spiritual practice while living as a laywoman and still do your hair and joke about new lipstick. I loved her and did very deep practice with her.” It was important to Goodman to have a woman teacher because, although she’d been immediately drawn to Buddhism and what she believed was its profound vitality and clarity, she had nonetheless felt that the teachings she’d been receiving from men didn’t relate enough to the things that ordinary women like her really cared about. Things, says Goodman, like “our work in the domestic sphere, our relationships, our family lives, how to balance work and family.” Goodman found the teachings that sprang up after the time of the Buddha to be the most problematic. For instance, medita- tion instructions for working with desire became misogynistic over the centuries. The Buddha taught us to imagine what we’d find if we peeled off our skin—to imagine the red mess of our blood, liver, kidneys. The idea was that if we mentally dissect our body, we will cut through our attachment to our own physi- cal form and by extension to the physical form of others. Later teachers, however, sometimes gave instructions to imagine the body of a woman stripped of skin, so it was her disgusting guts revealed, not the male meditator’s. The view of women as sin- La Bienveillance A teaching by Trudy Goodman. BIENVEILLANCE is the French word for metta, often translated as loving-kindness. In the foothills of the Alps, in the tiny village of Fontaine-Vive where my parents lived for thirty-five years, the word exudes the warm fragrance of feathery purple clouds of summer lavender, growing in abundance in every French garden. Bienveillance: watching over, with kindness; like sur- veillance with friendly, benevolent intention. Visiting sacred places, doing pilgrimage, can inspire us on our journey. To go back to a place, to a time of life, and feel how it has been transformed is a pilgrimage— diving into the river of change to enter the stream of this inexorable reality, awakening to the truth of our tran- sience. Only a section of my mother’s garden remains; her hollyhocks, dahlias, begonias, sweet peas, and corn are gone. The raspberries don’t taste as sweet, and the old 1788 farmhouse is less rustic, more elegant—enlarged and renovated to fit the family that lives there now. The Buddha taught that while our lives are ephemeral, how we live and what we do matters and lives on beyond us. Tears come as I experience the utter gone-ness of my parents and that time of my life, vanished yet still here in the timeless realm of my memory and the memories of their friends and neighbors in the village. Although they left fifteen years ago, the way my parents were present remains. The villagers who remember them still joke with me about their expansive American openness, curiosity, and laughter. They still appreciate my parents’ great love for one another and for Fontaine-Vive. Just as we are drawn to the timeless teachings of the dharma, my parents wanted to live a balanced and joyful life, drawn to the ancient wisdom of the farming coun- tryside, to the old ways that call to us in the midst of our modernity. Going back, I discover a place in the heart where la bienveillance is fully alive, flowing still, down the ever-changing stream of anicca, impermanence. ♦ PHOTOBYMASHUK/ISTOCK