Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shakyamuni Buddha was a Feminist & the Buddha is your Mom: Patriarchy, Materialism, Capitalism versus What the Buddha Taught (I)

Yes, Shakyamuni Buddha was a feminist. Even though he probably didn't know because of the biases of his society.  I assume that Shakyamuni didn't know since he initially excluded women from his sangha.

Why do I say that Shakyamuni was a feminist when the word 'feminist' and the feminist movement didn't exist in his time? According to Wikipedia feminism is "a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women." Logically sentient beings of the female gender comprise half of the total. It's that simple.
It's sad that ~ 2500 years and many generations later sexist biases* linger even among those affirming what the Buddha taught. Sexist biases exist in the internalized conditioning and rationalizations of both men and women. In fact, recent trends suggest that sexist behaviors and biases are on the rise, whether as a result of increased economic stressors, as a backlash against the effects of the first waves of feminism on the psyches of both men and women, or as a result of a media and entertainment industry that caters to competition and greed.  That the same is true for racism and classism is not cause for complacency though it can be a source of compassion.

One reason anti-feminist and sexist biases still exist within "Buddhist" communities and sanghas may be that what the Buddha taught has been passed through the generations via patriarchy -- a patriarchy every bit as stuck in the biases of it's various societies as Shakyamuni was. Women have been the oft silent and/or silenced in all branches of the tradition.** Nonetheless,  the path out of suffering Shakyamuni recommended included the eight-fold path and the immeasurables of loving-kindness (benevolence), compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity -- maternal qualities, qualities that through a combination of genetics and cultural conditioning are more often expressed by those of the feminine gender though admittedly in imperfect fashion. From the Metta Sutta:

"Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings..."

One of the reasons I've been reticent to identify with feminism in my life is my own bias against militant and/or confrontational approaches it's been associated with in the past. A militant confrontational approach seems to be the very antithesis of what the Buddha taught and more often than not closes the doors of communication, as well as conflicting with the kindness and nurturing I'd like to see more of for all beings. I, like I assume many women in my generation, typically considered advocating for feminist causes as risking losing the very qualities I treasure, whether in myself or others. Thankfully the current generation of feminists recognize this aspect of the conflict and the fact that it is played out in the oft confused aspirations and expectations of both genders. ***

In contrast, I've been willing to identify with what the Buddha taught precisely because it fosters qualities of nurturing, kindness, relationship, non-violent communication, cooperation and collaboration over the greed, materialism, competition and capitialism that are so abundant in our society. However, a 'Buddhism' that uses the emptiness of phenomena and no-self to justify inaction and ignorance at the expense of the above qualities is a selfish 'Buddhism'.

It wouldn't be accurate to say that the only time women are mentioned in the Buddhist tradition is when they are mentioned in relation to the numbers of ordained Buddhist women and scandals of abuse.**** On the other hand, given that the relationship between men and women is so immediate to our daily experience I'm surprised that it hasn't been the subject of more discussion in  'Buddhist' communities and sanghas I've belonged to since it is rich fodder for examining the subtle and more explicit ways our biases and ignorance contribute to and maintain inequality -- whether it be the inequality of sexism, racism, or classism. We hear so much about injustice, tragedies, disasters and war, but we prefer to remain superficial and ignorant about the injustices that occur on a daily basis in our homes, backyards, communities and work. Not just mothers are suffering -- everyone on the planet and even the planet itself are.

* Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates; Why So Slow: The Advancement of Women, Virginia Valian

** The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women,

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Excerpts from “The Heart of Compassion: The Thirty-seven Verses on thePractice of a Bodhisattva"

If all the mothers who have loved me since beginningless time are suffering,
What is the use of my own happiness?

Therefore, to really exchange
My own happiness for the suffering of others is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Though I may be famous, and revered by many,
And as rich as the God of Wealth himself,
To see that the wealth and glory of the world are without essence,
And to be free of arrogance, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

For a bodhisattva who desires the joys of virtue,
All who harm him (her) are like a precious treasure.
Therefore, to cultivate patience toward all,
Without resentment, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Merely for their own sake, even shravakas and pratyekabuddhas
Make efforts like someone whose hair is on fire trying to put it out:
Seeing this, for the sake of all beings,
To practice diligence, the source of excellent qualities, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Knowing that through profound insight thoroughly grounded in sustained calm
The disturbing emotions are completely conquered,
To practice the concentration which utterly transcends
The four formless states* is the practice of a bodhisattva.

To be continually mindful and alert,
Asking, “What is the state of my mind?”
And accomplishing the good of others is the practice of a bodhisattva.

For his own benefit and that of others, Thogme, a teacher of scripture and logic, composed this text at Rinchen Phug, in Ngulchu.

* The four formless states, or absorptions: (1) the sphere of infinite space, (2) the sphere of infinite consciousness, (3) the sphere of nothing at all, and (4) the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception. They correspond to the states experienced by the gods of the four formless realms, which are the result of sustained absorption in samadhi without profound insight.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ryokan's Kind Words

        Were there someone
        in the world
        who feels as I feel,
        we would talk all night
        in this grass hut.

(From Tanahashi's translation of Ryokan poems Sky Above, Great Wind. Another verse follows below.)

Genju recently posted a review of this wonderful book along with some of her own brush work reminding me of this poem. It's reminiscent of much of the poetry I love in that it calls out to our wish to share in wonder an appreciation of life and of each other. 

In actuality though, what would such a conversation involve? Most likely an exchange of trivialities that falls short of the wonder we wish to share our experience of. Silence and sitting tend to be more effective ways of experiencing and sharing that sense of wonder, as well as increasing our experience of wonder in every day life.

(Photo of a portion of Soyoung L Kim's 100 Cups of Tea. More of her work can be found at saatchionline.)

        I don’t regard my life
        as insufficient.
        Inside the brushwood gate
        there is a moon;
        there are flowers.

I'm grateful to have this blog in which to share some of that sense of wonder with any person who wanders by.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Reflections: Radiance and my own version of the Moro Reflex

Someone crossed my boundaries in a big way today. I'm still reeling in the reaction of none other than my very own conditioned version of the 'Moro' reflex. I've been doing a fair amount of pacing trying to organize my thoughts and not being very successful. (And yes I've also tried some not very successful sitting.)

My version of the 'Moro reflex' was conditioned by witnessing and indirectly suffering the effects of infidelity in my family, in more than one Christian community in my teens, and later in my academic career. As a result I've stood on the conservative side of social behaviors ranging from flirtation to sexual misconduct even while making an effort to be non-judgmental.

In what ways has my own version of the 'Moro' reflex distorted the 'lens' through which I see things and affected my actions in negative ways? For one, early in my on-line presence it caused me to generate an alternate persona with which I sought to determine someone's intentions. In another case, I may have been caused to be prematurely judgmental. And finally, it caused a prolonged state of shock and denial when life went awry. I've been unable to determine the motivations behind the behaviors of various individuals ever since.

Over the last year or so, as I've begun to suspect that my trust in various on-line friendships has been misplaced, I've made an agreement with myself to allow myself to be a virtual guinea pig or lab rat because it seems that my entire life prior to this was lived to play this role. I can't say that my altruistic attitude is unbiased, however, because I still care about those people very much. Moreover, I care about the on-line Sangha. I hate to admit that, to the extent that I've dared and been able, following the on-line discussions has eroded my internal defenses rather than helped build them up and I've gradually become increasingly sensitive, reactive, repressed and isolated. I often don't know whether my actions are being commented on or those of others.

One of the reasons I felt I could afford to be a virtual lab rat is because I'm not a teacher, I have no product to sell, no business to advertise and no artificial facade to wear, so the thoughts, feelings and conclusions I've been self-reporting are real to the extent I've dared report them. I know of others who can't afford to be so flexible. I've watched other people get hurt in similar ways although usually on a more minor scale because they've other support systems in place, whereas my supports have been knocked out from under one-by-one with time as I've tried to respond with integrity and dignity to the situation as I saw it. It's affected my enjoyment of various things I've invested my energy in, like writing and sharing poetry and my Shobogenzo posts. These events also motivated my divorce, threatened and prematurely terminated a very good friendship and caused resentment towards the various ways my family has both historically and in a more immediate sense affected my reactions. (Another prescription of tonglen whenever my sitting improves I guess.) Personally speaking a lot has been a stake.

What is emptiness? What is spirituality? What is that radiance that is the source of our individual compassion and generosity? Whatever the source of that energy is, I have to say that I never imagined that that energy could be as seriously compromised as I'm personally feeling it has been over the last few months. I also know that's not only true for myself, but also true for the on-line community as it attempts to reorganize, learn from and recover from the various traumas of this last year.

I've never read anything written by Bankei, but I recently heard a story about how Bankei kept letting a thief steal from the Sangha and the Sangha's incredulity. His response was something along the lines of allowing the thief so that the thief would eventually learn better. Whether it's food out of the Sangha's kitchen or our own individual radiance it's difficult for each of us to know where to draw the line, especially when the line is violated by people that are close to us and that we care about, people who we admire or people in positions of authority.

Personally I can say I've lost another day to the thralls of being caught in reaction when I should be finishing things at work in preparation for retirement -- a deadline which is looming ever closer.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Reflections: Have App, Will Travel... Or that Moment when Life Passed By

In a little over a month I'll be retiring with very little idea of what I'll be doing next. Right now it doesn't feel like freedom, but rather life with a different set of rules, a life that will demand an increase in flexibility and ingenuity.

It feels strange and scary not having a direction, a plan, a purpose, much of an idea about what to do or much of an answer as to why bother. On the other hand, my life for the last few years hasn't provided answers to those questions either. Given my isolation and the fact that I only have this one life, staying in my position just to keep myself in lattes and the latest iPhones seems like a copout and lazy even though it might be the easiest solution to security.

In spite of the trepidation I've been comparing my decision to retire (at least temporairly) to sitting or a longer retreat in which at the beginning there's a little trepidation. From sitting I know the best response is to relax and trust awareness.

Although I've said I have very little idea what I'll be doing next I mean in the longer term. My immediate plans are to spend the Christmas holiday with a girlfriend, visit relatives I haven't seen since I was thirteen and then spend some time traveling to let my mind unwind. I'll investigate my options and probably send in applications to some volunteer programs. But the vacation is a vacation I can use and it's a vacation I should have taken when I graduated from undergrad but cancelled in order to do research before going on to grad school. My companion is going to be an iPhone-iPad watercolor app called Auryn Ink (I have a few other apps as well if I get tired of that one). It's been since the 80's that I've spent any time on watercolors and I've had no training as an artist, but I feel like it will be a fun way to keep track in addition to taking pictures and any poetry or haiku I might be tempted to write.

In spite of the fact that it's always accessible and has unlimited paper and paint, Auryn Ink has some limitations. For example, it's limited to a uniform bleed-width for each line and doesn't allow the swirl and blending of color that, along with their translucency, often give watercolors their mysterious appearance. In spite of those frustrations, I've kept at it and am starting to learn to work within those limits. I'm pretty convinced what happens next in my life will be similar.


Four years ago I ripped my life apart at the seams on the basis of what I saw on the Internet. However foolish (or wise, based on the conditions of my life at the time) that decision might have been, since then my life has increasingly become a vacuum because, for a number of reasons including very real ones, I haven't created anything of sufficient substance to hold my attention. The fact that anything I glean from the empty fields of sitting has only been applied to the shadow-boxing and reflection-casting arena of this internet environment is a kind of non-existence. It's not a surprise that I've been increasingly buffeted by your various energies as I've increasingly become a psychic sponge for those energies -- however wonderful, helpful, seductive and/or frightening those energies are. That won't change until I start creating and living something with greater substance in reality -- even though what I create or whatever happens as a result of what I create will undoubtedly be impermanent. That's how all things are.

The only death in life any of us has a chance of avoiding is the death associated with the fear of impermanence, i.e. avoiding life because of a fear of loss. It's only because of a lot of losses in my life that a unique gap in my life exists. A few of you might even be envious of the opportunity I've got. It's time I took advantage of it. That's how I can help you all the most.

Don't worry, I'll keep you all updated on my adventures. Thank you for your friendship.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Word about my Shobogenzo Posts

I started reading Dogen after having been introduced to his work by Each Moment is the Universe by Dainin Katagiri. I was particularly intrigued by the notion "the way of being time" and decided to read Dogen directly rather than relying on someone else's interpretation.

Recent times have seen little progress in my Shobogenzo posts because I have questioned whether I should continue. First and foremost, in contrast to many individuals like Katagiri and Okumura who have spent substantial portions of their lives studying Dogen, I'm neither an expert in Dogen or historical perspectives of Zen. But neither am I, by writing the Shobogenzo posts, trying to pass myself off as an expert or a teacher.

In reading and writing about the Shobogenzo I'm not concerning myself overly much about being right even though I often spend weeks or months off-and-on contemplating what inspires me most about each chapter. I approach the chapters in the way we're encouraged to listen to Teishos absorbing what I can. Even though I enjoy hearing Dogen's take on what the Buddha taught it's not my intention at this time to become a Dogen scholar, especially having been limited by academia most of my life. I'm not choosing to read and write about the Shobogenzo in lieu of other possibilities in life. If anything I'm choosing to read and write about the Shobogenzo to inspire my sense of creativity in living.

Having brought up being right, I have to question whether I'm risking doing wrong by writing these posts. Am I running the risk of misleading people? Hopefully not, given my statement in the sidebar of the blog. As I've said before, my interpretations aren’t meant to be definitive, rather they’re intended to be appreciative of Dogen's poetic sensibility and as encouragement and motivation for folks to read the Shobogenzo for themselves. To the extent that I've compared different translations, the Nishijima and Cross translation is the best at maintaining the sense of poetics and prosody that I appreciate in Dogen's writing. Speaking for myself, poetics and prosody convey meaning beyond words.

However, another way I might be doing wrong is by offending those who've invested a considerable portion of their lives studying Dogen to definitively determine his take on central concepts in historical context. I hope that's not the case, but I didn't start writing these posts to garner favor or win approval. When I look back I get the impression that I've allowed myself to be needlessly distracted by these kinds of concerns. Kind of like getting overly concerned about right posture. 

At this time I'm not sure how many more posts on the Shobogenzo I'll write since my life will be changing pretty dramatically in the near future. But writing these posts motivates me, not only to read, but also to clarify my own thinking to a greater extent than I would if I weren't intending to write.

P.S. When I refer to poetics and prosody, I'm not referring to my own recent poem which was written out of a sense of disgust at some of what I was seeing in the blogosphere and on Twitter.

P.S.S. The sculpture is from a courtyard at work. The signature, though I can't make it out, follows below:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Memory of 911

Breathing in, I remember:

an impact transmitted through the floor through my feet.

being in a smoke-filled stairwell not knowing whether to head to the ground floor or to the roof.

rushing along a rubble-filled street to assist a man fallen and covered in gray dust.

anxiously trying to call my husband to see if he made it out alright and not being able to get through.

sitting on an airplane wondering if I would ever see my family again.

standing within a crowd collectively holding it's breath as the seemingly endless instant replay etched shock into our systems, and the gradually unfolding reports throughout the day in which the news kept getting worse.


I can think of a multitude of causes, but what long term goals & agendas motivated those who planned this day?

Have any of those goals & agendas been fulfilled?

Or have the events of this day primarily served as an excuse to invade the rights of any and all individuals, regardless of country or religious and political affiliation?

What constitutes an emergency?