Yours in the Dharma:  Essays from a Buddhist perspective by Sandy Garson

This blog, Yours in the Dharma by Sandy Garson, is an effort to navigate life between the fast track and the breakdown lane, on the Buddhist path. It tries to use a heritage of precious, ancient teachings to steer clear of today's pain and confusion to clear the path to what's truly happening.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Nasty women are Dharma in action

Last week I went to Vancouver, BC, to see my glorious teacher and met there a seasoned Dharma student from the SF Bay area, a woman who home-schooled her three now grown sons, doesn't color her long gray hair and is steadfastly vegetarian.  As we talked about our personal encounters with the Dharma, she said in passing: "I really do wish it had more for a feminist, but that's okay, I guess." 

My ears perked right up because I have heard this complaint so many times and don't get why all these women don't get why this is necessarily so. Dharma has of course adapted the traditional trappings of the cultures it conquered to make itself at home, and most of them were highly patriarchal. It's easy to see the everyday misogynistic result, particularly in the rigid Tibetan hierarchy with its blatant discrimination against nuns and yoginis. It's definitely harder not to take this cultural baggage as carry-on down the path.  A bit of work to not be blinded by it and see Dharma nakedly.

When I can, I see why Buddhism didn't explicitly reach out to women. I see the reason in the traditional Chinese pictorial symbol for "hen hao", which means "very good": a woman intertwined with her child. This goodness does not look different from what Catholics see in that sacred image of Mary intertwined with her child, Jesus: "Pieta," a word derived from pity and godliness to convey the infinite goodness and beauty of unquestioning love.  

I see the Buddha as perhaps the world's first public feminist. Shakyamuni Buddha welcomed women to his inner circle and did not have the problem some of his less enlightened companions did. Often, it seems, females were his best students--and teachers, particularly the exquisitely beautiful courtesan who flaunted her aging as a way to make his legions deal with impermanence. 

The Buddha recognized the debt he owed his mother and reminded everyone of us of our same debt. He did not denigrate the vital role of his own wife, especially in caring for their son. More to the point, while he wandered India searching for truth and harmony, he time and again came upon women peacefully nurturing babies, helping the elderly and sharing with each other. Bravely he recognized women as the inherently loving, selfless beings he was trying to learn how to be. He recognized they did not need him to teach them the selflessness of compassion.

Men however were clueless. And therein was the suffering. The Iron Age was upon them, putting all sorts of new weapons of crass destruction in their hands. The future of humanity--and all beings, lay in urgently countering these new arms by inculcating the concepts of no harm and kindness in males.  Survival depended on teaching men to cherish others like women automatically do. Making them nonjudgmental would make them less competitive, less hierarchical, less demanding and harsh. Thus Bodhicitta, the awakened, intertwined heart is the core essence of all his teachings. So is the endless emphasis on others. It seems to me Bodhicitta is supposed to make men behave like women.

Unfortunately, we live on the flip side, in a world whose primary question for the last century has been Henry Higgins': "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" Feminists went for it. They bailed from the practices of lovingkindness-- feeding, nurturing, tending, uniting-- and rushed to put on pant suits, carry briefcases and hire household help. More money. No more drudgery. No more hearth and home. It's wrong to totally blame them: what women represented, what they bring to the world was denied and denigrated. Men were replacing them with machines. 

The late Isak Dinesen warned against a world that did not honor the innate attributes of women and did not recognize the critical counterbalancing of male and female. She pointed out that men do but women are, alluding to the way people always described their fathers as "a doctor or a lawyer or a seaman" while they inevitably described their mothers as "lovely or caring and warm."

We all live now in the cold, cruel, competitive and literally careless world that is the dystopian result of  lopsidedness--or monopoly power. Call it Neoliberalism if you want, this me-first, winner-take-all, king of the jungle masculine ethos that's engulfed and depressed us. Since everyone wants to be a king of the jungle man, people have tilted to looking for love in all the wrong places: on Tinder and Facebook, in kennels and animal shelters, out of pills and smokes and snorts. So many videos of cat cuteness going viral. So many opportunities for Big Pharma as this cancer metastasizes. Everyone is openly hurting one way or another. Newspapers carry headlines about endemic loneliness, killer opioid epidemics, gun consumption and suicide spikes. Last week alone I had three clerks express relief and gratitude when I thanked them for trying to be helpful and sort my problems out because we live in cruel times destroying everyone and everything.

In Vancouver, when I asked my elderly guru what he wants us to do now in this dreadful world, what legacy for him can we create, he said without hesitation: "Bodhicitta!" Show it, spread it, share it. He was saying what the Buddha said almost 2600 years back: Show everyone love and respect, protect and cherish them like a mother does a child. Bring people together; touch their heart; bring them joy. Introduce them to goodness. Who doesn't want that?

Rinpoche was asking me to be full on female, doing what comes naturally. Wisdom in every language known to man is always feminine. For the Buddha it all starts with Prajnaparamita, the great mother, the great wisdom. The legions of monks and lamas and gurus who've come after are powerless without her just as they are all powerless until the female wisdom goddesses, the dakinis, bless them. Every morning, the monks in Rinpoche's monastery open the shrine hall with an hour of prayers to the great Arya Tara, asking the swift, fierce, all-knowing goddess for protection, guidance, confidence and love. How much more "feminist" can you get?

I told some of this to that woman in Vancouver. She smiled brightly and kept smiling as we parted. I felt better myself. Dharma is indeed a warm and welcoming refuge in these greed stricken, cruel-hearted masculine times. Something like a mother's hug. 

~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
http://www.sandygarson.com
http://yoursinthedharma.blogspot.com/

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