Saturday, July 12, 2014

Shakyamuni Buddha was a Feminist & the Buddha is your Mom (III) - Ajahn Brahm and gender equality: a petition

I am not Theravadan. In fact, the first Sangha I belonged to was non-denominational. We studied writings from each of the three main traditions. Since then, over the last five years, my practice has been rooted in Zen. Nonetheless, I've greatly appreciated the work of Ajahn Brahm not only as it relates to the path, but also his efforts to support the practice and advancement of women in his lineage.

Over the years my on-line presence has opened my eyes to sexist attitudes that remain embedded in our society, attitudes that when triggered can destroy a woman, family and community, regardless of race, country, profession, and accomplishments -- during peaceful times as well as during war. The resulting harm is an extra burden of pain, hostility, fear and defensiveness that is carried forward for generations as exemplified by ongoing conflicts today.

Speaking for myself, I admit I've been partially blind due to being white and having spent most of my years in academia. That doesn't mean I haven't experienced sexism, it means privilege has made it easier to ignore, deny or rationalize using other explanations.

As a result of my increasing awareness of sexism throughout our globalized culture, I've grown curious about how women have fared historically and in practice in Buddhism. Especially since most religions have used their authoritative influence to encourage a sense of entitlement over women that contributes to the perpetuation of gender inequality and violence. In the U.S., the early vigor of the women's rights movement has been lulled to sleep and archived in hallowed halls as "Women Studies" and numerous books that go unread by most. Sexism and a sense of entitlement has crept back in via the religious right, the media, the entertainment industry and corporate marketing that rely on inaccurate, oversexualized and unrealistic depictions of women to market their stories and products subliminally feeding us poisoned views every day. The Buddha's truth is a message and practice of equality:

Men are not entitled to women's bodies and minds.

It is with these thoughts that I add my voice to those petitioning for Ajahn Brahm's paper on gender equality to be presented at the  2015 UNDV conference.

I agree with others that have suggested neither practice or realization depend on gender, nor should it depend on ordination. However, that realization is not prevented by obstructions is no excuse for willfully maintaining or causing obstructions that can harm others.

For men as well as women, we need to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression. The current policies of the Thai Theravadan Sangha and their treatment of Ajahn Brahm mock the Buddhas truth. It is my view that withholding ordination and requiring hierarchical protocols based on gender rather than respect and merit (such as those for bowing and evaluation described in the Five Points) encourages an attitude of entitlement in the Sangha and in society. A sense of entitlement underlies much gender-based violence in Southeast Asia and throughout the world. I am not so naive to think that changes in the policy towards ordination and service for women would solve the problem of exploitation and gender-based violence on its own, but at least reinforcement of the attitude via religious authority would be lessened.

If one thinks of the awareness that gives rise to the good will and kindness of all beings towards one another, not doing wrong is whatever speech and action maximizes that for both enlightened and unenlightened beings.

For more on women in Buddhism and the issue of ordination I also recommend a plethora of posts on Bhante Sujato's blog, as well as recent articles and posts (and associated comments) by Rev Danny Fisher, Hilary Cadigan in Chaing Mai City NewsBhikku Cintita Dinsmore, Justin Whitaker at American Buddhist, Joan Halifax in the Washington Post, and a recent review of efforts to restore Zen's female lineage by Mary Fowles  in Tricycle.

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