Sunday, March 31, 2013

Women's Buddhist History: Text Written by Woman

An important Theravadan Buddhist text that was thought to be written by a prominent monk was most likely written by a Thai woman, scholars say.

Thammanuthamma-patipatti is a set of dialogues, supposedly between two prominent Thai monks last century.
It had been attributed to one of them - Venerable Luang Pu Mun Bhuridatta.
But scholars believe it was really by a female devotee, making her one of the first Thai women to write such a text.
Printed in five parts between 1932-1934, initially without a named author, Thammanuthamma-patipatti (Practice in perfect conformity with the Dhamma) is viewed in Thailand as a valuable and profound Buddhist text which deals with Buddhism's different stages of awakening.
Dr Martin Seeger from the University of Leeds believes he has traced the authorship of the text to one Khunying Yai Damrongthammasan - a wealthy and extremely devout woman who developed an impressive knowledge of Buddhist scriptures during her lifetime. 
 None of Luang Pe Mun's biographies claimed he had written it, Seeger notes, while the woman's son, a monk, said in her biography that she had written it.

Justin McDaniel, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said it could be so.
"At that time and in the present day, women were seen as having the same capability when it came to Buddhist scholarship as men, especially in the realms of meditation and scholarly study. ... I think it's actually a lot more common than people realise, that students of monks - and especially women who tend to focus more on scholarship - would be writing."
Seeger, however, says that her achievements -- being able to read and write and her knowledge of canonical scripture -- were "very rare for a woman at that time." Seeger says only one other woman  in 1928 wrote a similar text, Seeger says it does not achieve the same level of profundity as this work.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Memories ... of the way we are

In my childhood, Easter was a days-long banquet of ritual, religious and cultural. Things start with Ash Wednesday and Lent, 40 days before. It was crucial to determine whether Valentine's Day would fall in that time period before deciding to give up chocolate. Then on Palm Sunday we received palm fronds on the way out of church, ensuring that any palm-frond duels would take place in the back seat of the car on the way home -- leading to the confiscation of the palm fronds by my mother, who made them into crosses that hung on the walls.

Thursday, the night of the Last Supper, meant visits to seven churches, easily accomplished in my heavily Catholic hometown. Good Friday was a solemn day -- no school, more church, but with a twist: all the statues were shrouded in purple robes except for a gory-to-my-eyes, life-like crucifix laid on the steps to the altar. Adults would kiss the hands and feet, where nails pierced the wooden flesh. I stayed far away.

Things lightened up on Saturday for the blessing of the food. We went -- again -- to church, this time cradling baskets containing my grandmother's homemade kielbasa, horseradish, colored eggs, a butter lamb, and other items whose names I could pronounce but can't begin to spell. The odor of the food blended with residue of musky incense for a festive traditional stink. No chocolate, jelly beans, or Peeps; those made their appearance on Sunday after we hunted them down in the places the Easter Bunny had hidden them.

Hats. We had hats. Women (and girls) had to cover their heads in church, so Easter outfits included hats. And corsages. My mother picked out my hat; my dad got the corsages. My corsage would have a pipe-cleaner bunny among the carnations.

I remember it well.

Or do I?

Many people think of memory as a video recorder, an incontrovertible record of events. Science, however, says that's not the case. In a recent study, more than 5,000 participants were presented with doctored photographs representing fabricated political events, with around half claiming to remember the false scenarios. The study, part of a decades-long program of research by psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, provides "a neat demonstration of how our memories are created in the present rather than being faithful records of the past," Time reports.

Memory is a complex mental function, tied to imagination, and there are many ways it can go wrong, scientists say. The bigger question is, why are we so attached to our idea of memories as fixed, unchanging possession? Time writes:
There are many reasons, but one is that memories are foundational for our sense of self. This is particularly true for early childhood memories (which the scientists tell us are the most unreliable of all). In her striking description of lying as a small child in her cot at St. Ives, Virginia Woolf noted that this wasn’t just her earliest memory; it was the moment she became the person (and the writer) she was. It is no wonder that we resist the idea that our memories are collages of disparate sources of information, assembled and reassembled long after the event.

Buddhists have long known that memories are ineffable and ephemeral. Mindfulness meditation -- as taught by the Buddha and updated by any number of scientists in the last 40 years -- is a practice to help us stay in the present moment, knowing that ruminating over the past or worrying about the future leads to suffering.

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” -- Buddha

And yet, Buddhism also proposes that we carry the effects of past actions in our karma. Our
unexamined actions create habitual patterns, and we react from habit, not from what we see before us. Our view of the world -- whether it is safe, friendly, satisfying, beautiful -- is formed in large part by the views of our parents and caregivers, and the culture we grow up in. If we are raised to be suspicious of strangers, we carry that with us into encounters -- unless we examine our habitual thoughts pattern and practice changing them.  (Teacher Tyler Dewar details ways karma can be purified in this article.)

We also carry around the idea that a self, an independent and unchanging being, was forged by these memories. But if we simply look closely at the people we were in those photographs and compare them to who we are now, we can see that we've changed. We're bigger. Our likes and dislikes have changed.  Time writes:
Bracing as it might be, this new way of thinking about memory does not have to lead to self-doubt. It simply requires that we take our memories with a pinch of salt, and forge new relationships with them. They may be a kind of fiction, but the manner of their making speaks volumes about those who create them....  Whether the events happened or not, your biases and beliefs shape the kind of memories you form, and thus reveal the kind of person you are.

I am the kind of person who believes that memories are stories we tell ourselves and examining them can be revealing. Our selves are not solid but fluid, endlessly adaptable to the container we put them into. And our nature is ephemeral -- vast and clear as the sky, with wispy clouds of constructed selves that float and dissolve.

I'm also the kind of person who plays with Peeps. This is my time to stock up!

PS. Easter Monday is Dyngus Day. In my youth, it was said that the boys would tap the girls with pussy willow branches, and the girls would hit the boys with socks filled with flour in a bastardized version of an ancient fertility rite. Today, it's gender neutral.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Important women in Tibetan Buddhism

While iconic archetypes of feminine enlightenment (dakinis in the ancient language of Sanskrit) were erected on shrines, few women in Asia were actually emboldened to follow in their footsteps. That women participate equally is probably the single biggest change with Buddhism being established in the West. Here are ten extraordinary female teachers of Tibetan Buddhism, who have transformed the way Buddhism is viewed in America. Michaela Hass 

1. Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche
"If being a woman is an inspiration, use it. If it is an obstacle, try not to be bothered by it."
2. Dagmola Kusho Sakya
First Tibetan woman ever to immigrate to America.
3. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo (Diane Perry):
"I took the vow to attain enlightenment in a female body."
4. Pema Chödrön (Deirdre Blomfield)
Most successful female Western Buddhist teacher.
5. Ven. Thubten Chödron (Cherry Greene)
An innovative abbess.
6. Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo (Patricia Zenn)
Surfing to realization.
7. Sangye Khandro (Nanci Gustafson)
"Enlightenment is a full-time job."

8. Lama Tsultrim Allione (Rosmanière Ewing)
The enlightened feminist.

9. Chagdud Khadro (Jane Dedman)
A perfect example.
10. Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel
The power of open questions.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Two ways to 'Lean In'

Instead of pulling back from the pain ... we move closer. We lean into the wave. We swim into the wave.

Pema Chodron, Looking Into Laziness

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.
Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

For Sandberg, whose book is a cultural phenomenon, generating debate and blog posts for the past several weeks, leaning in is a way of building ego, of winning status, defeating competitors. Women should lean in rather than pass up opportunities for advancement because they are looking too far in the future when they may want other things, like children.

Chodron talks about leaning in as a way of cutting through fixation. In The Places That Scare You, see talks about using emotions to see where we are attached

Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we're holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in, when we feel we'd rather collapse and back away. They're like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we're stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it's with us wherever we are.

This week I've been at a retreat with Lama Tsultrim Allione on "Feeding Your Demons." There are demons, those things that scare us, and there are god-demons, those things we want so much that they become an obsession. God-demons don't look at what truly would be of benefit for us or others, they want what looks or feels good.

Lama says you can tell whether something is an aspiration or a god -- whether it's an intention to work toward something or a desire to simply have it -- by the tension around it. Sandberg's "lean in" sounds like a tactic to make someone uncomfortable by invading their personal space so you can gain power over them.

Chodron's "lean in," however, is about relaxing into the moment, staying with the discomfort, not fighting with it, to learn from it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

You are not your pants

Gender is a dimension of ego, Lopon Rita Gross says, and the one we cling to most persistently. It's also one that we're least like to examine. It's not included in traditional Buddhist meditations designed to deconstruct identities and lead to insight on egolessness.

Buddhism both proclaims that enlightenment is without gender and places gender-based restrictions on practitioners, seen most clearly in the rules regarding Buddhist nuns and their status."They have not questioned why rules about gender are so important when nothing in the phenomenal world really exists," Gross said in her talk, "Clinging to Gender Subverts Enlightenment," which was a keynote address at the Gender Studies Symposium at Lewis & Clark College in Portland OR. (Divining Meaning: Meditations on Gender and Religion.)

"Gender may well be the last component of our composite ego to be surrendered," Gross said. "People rarely question gender's centrality. They don't see the contradiction."

Yet, when they're asked to give up gender-expressive traits, they resist, even Buddhists dedicated to achieving egolessess. Gross says male teachers in her sangha have resisted wearing robes because they uncomfortable not wearing pants.

"If you can't give up your pants, how are you ever going to give up your ego?" she asked.

Gross proposes adding contemplations about gender to the traditional mahamudra investigations, which look for evidence of the self.

What color is your gender?
What is its shape, its texture?
Where is it located -- is it internal or external?

She also suggest contemplating
-- how many of my habits are conditioned by gender norms and expectations?
-- how uncomfortable would it make me to do things differently?
-- when we meet someone, the first thing we note is their gender. what assumptions do we make based on that?
-- what if we interact with someone whose gender is unclear, in person or via email? How do we respond to being without the ground of gender?
--ask yourself - what makes you a man or woman. If someone guessed your gender incorrectly, how would you feel?
-- Try out the body language associated with the other gender.

It takes training to tease out gender-clinging, Gross said, and to realize that letting go of our attachment is necessary to enlightenment.

"The problem is rigidity and fixation when people cling to gender. If one does not make an ego out of gender, one would still know if one is a man or a woman," Gross said.

But, she added, we would wear our identities more lightly, being willing to grow and change.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Women's Buddhist History: Resources

For information on female Buddhas and their stories, visit Druk Galwa Khilwa Abbey, which gives histories of about a dozen great yoginis of tantric Buddhism.

The sad thing about the stories is that all of them are objects for male action. They're kidnapped, beaten, pursued by men -- fathers, suitors, Buddhas -- but stay devoted to the dharma.

Take Mandarava, who " attained a degree of mastery equal to that of her consort, (Padmasambhava) a fact given expression in her honorary title of Machig Drupa Gyalmo, Singular Queen Mother of Attainment."

"In the 8th century AD, the king of Mandi had a beautiful daughter, Princess Mandarava, born with all the signs of a dakini. Although she was not born a Buddhist, she was interested only in solitary retreat, away from the samsaric obstacles of marriage and other activities. She became a nun on reaching adulthood. Her father, who was worried about the possibility of his daughter disrobing which would affect the kingdom's reputation, sent five hundred ordained nuns to live with her, to practice with her and to guard her from male suitors.
When Guru Padsambhava journeyed from the Swat Valley (located in present-day Pakistan) to Tibet, he stopped at Mandi and discovered Princess Mandarava to be a suitable spiritual companion. The princess and her entourage became disciples of Guru Rinpoche. A local shepherd discovered them and news of the princess living with a man finally reached the ears of the king. He was so outraged that he commanded that his daughter be stripped and wrapped in thorns, and locked in the dungeon near the river. At the same time, he demanded that Guru Rinpoche be burned in the charnel grounds high in the mountains, while he watched the smoke from the Royal Park.
Guru Rinpoche turned the fire into a lake and reappeared on a lotus. The sight of this converted all the witnesses into following Buddhadharma, and when the king knew about it, he too became the Guru's follower. Immediately, he ordered that the princess be released from the dungeon. The lake became known as Tso Pema, or the Lotus Lake, and is also commonly known as Rewalsar."

Or Niguma, who passed on her secret teachers to a male disciple -- who then is credited with founding the Shangpa school of Buddhism, based on the teachings he had received from her.

Once Niguma herself had reached enlightenment, she began to pass her knowledge on to others. Her most famous disciple was the Tibetan yogi and BÃnpo Khyungpo Naljor, the only one to whom she imparted her most secret teachings. The Shangpa school, although officially founded by Khyungpo Naljor, is in reality based on this transmission from Niguma.

There are additional stories, all with similar aspects.

Seeing gender fixation and gender privilege as an aspect of ego makes Buddhist patriarchy inadmissible on Buddhist grounds. Rita Gross

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Building a Patriarchy on the Fields of Alaya

Buddhism, at its base, is genderless. The Buddha taught to both men and women, and he taught them the same techniques to achieve liberation from suffering. Heck, many representations of the Buddha are androgynous and open to interpretation.

But since that time Buddhists have built a lot of male-dominated structures on that base.

…For too long in the West, and I am sure in the East, gross misogyny has existed in the Buddhist world, a misogyny so deep that it has allowed the disrespect and abuse of women and nuns in our own time, and not only throughout history, and not only in Asia. The misogynistic abuse is not only in terms of the usual gender issues related to who has responsibility and authority (women usually don’t have much, if any), but it is as well expressed through mistreatment of women, through sexual boundary violations of women, and the psychological abuse of women…Roshi Joan Halifax in an essay on sexual abuse by Zen teachers

Originally an oral tradition, Buddhism was filtered through hundreds of years of society before any of it was written down. So it's difficult even to determine what could be attributed to the historical figure and what was added by subsequent interpreters. The Vinaya, the rules that govern the conduct of monks and nuns, has 227 rules for monks and 311 for nuns in the Theravadan tradition.

Innovators can take a new idea only so far. The Buddha went against the stream by teaching to beings from all castes, men and women. He was radically egalitarian for his time. But a lot of Buddhist institutions stayed stuck in that time when it comes to gender roles.

Rita M. Gross says that "Buddhism is feminism" because both ask us to look closely at what we take for granted and determine whether it is valid. Buddhism offers innumerable (although someone probably has made a numbered list) ways to deconstruct thoughts about the self, about relationships, about the environment, about thoughts themselves with the aim of realizing their fluidity. If we do so, it's taught, we'll realize the truths of emptiness, impermanence, and non-self.

Likewise, feminism asks us to look at the ways that our ideas about gender limit us and the ways we see ourselves and our roles in the world. Does this job have to be done by a woman? Does writings presume male = normal?

Using either form of analysis, I believe, we'll arrive at a place where we are innately limitless and free. Our nature -- buddha or human -- is luminous and full of possibilities. Our concepts and society's norms are what hold us back.

Unfortunately, for 2,500 years, that has included sangha, the community of Buddhist practitioners, and the various institutions that kept Buddhism alive. Under the Eight Special Rules set down when the Buddha agreed to ordain women as nuns, the most senior nun ranks below the least-senior monk. Roshi Joan has said that the lineage in which she teaches stretches back through 82 lineage holders -- and she is the first woman since Prajnaparamita, the female deity at the top.

Halifax, Gross, Lama Tsultrim Allione, and others have written about the difficulties they've encountered in practicing as women. When she realized -- at a time that she needed to hear about examples of women practitioners -- that there was a dearth of stories, Allione went to Tibet to track them down and wrote a book, "Women of Wisdom." Allione, an emanation of Machig Labdron, teaches Labdron's chod practice and is creating a female lineage with practices she'd received from women or developed herself.

Stories are important because of what they communicate. When men are writing the stories and they write only the stories of men from a male-normative point of view (that assumes women's stories are included in those with male characters and pronouns), women become invisible. And when women are not seen or heard in a tradition that values lineage and history, women have to fight to be seen and heard in their own time. That's made more difficult in traditions where teachers are revered and what might be seen as inappropriate is transmuted to "teaching" or "crazy wisdom."

The large amount of discussion, both within communities and in the larger world, about sex scandals in which male teachers had widely acknowledged, decades-long histories of poor behavior (much of which qualifies as criminal) with female students has brought needed attention to the larger issue of gender inclusiveness in Buddhism. Or it can do that, if we act responsibly and look not just at the actor and the acted-upon but at the environment in which the actions took place and the complicity of others in ignoring what they saw or dismissing women's complaints.

Danny Fisher writes on Patheos:
Every time one of these scandals breaks, we talk about the power differential, appropriate relationships between teachers and students, and everything else but misogyny. We don’t want to believe that it has crept into Buddhism and our individual communities, I think. We want to believe we’re better than that.  
And we are.

But we are part of a tradition that has built a patriarchy on the fields of Alaya, the fundamental openness and pure awareness that is our natural state. We're also part of a tradition that recognizes emptiness and impermanence, that was intended to be fluid and adaptive. Halifax notes that more women are being given transmission and empowered (by male teachers) to teach. The situation is changing.

Although it has not been typical for women to have positions of authority within traditional Buddhism, in our time, we are seeing a dramatic and positive change for women in all Buddhist orders. For example, I believe there are more women roshis (Zen masters) in the United States than there are in Japan. In the United States, more and more women find themselves head of monasteries and Buddhist institutions. And women are setting policies in place that guarantee practitioners ethical treatment, honor families, insure democratic processes in their organizations, and are dedicated to environmental justice and social engagement.
That women are receiving transmission in our era is an extraordinary shift away from a patriarchal religion toward a religion that honors gender parity, and practices what it preaches about inclusivity. This bodes well for Buddhism and all religions, as women have much to contribute to the psycho-social body of religion, as well as the philosophy, ethics, and practices that ground religious institutions.
 While we celebrate those advancements, it would be wrong to take them as a sign that all is well and we can go from here. We need to look at ourselves and our organizations, with clarity and compassion, and examine what constructs or thoughts we may hold that place limits based on gender. And work to liberate them so that we may free others.

May all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Women's Buddhist History (Name Two): Yeshe Tsogyel

In the Buddhist tradition I've studied in since 2006, there's a lineage chant listing the line of enlightened beings who handed down teachings. I've said that list -- which includes the name Yeshe Tsogyel -- hundreds of times, but I didn't know much about her, other than that she associated with Padmasambhava, founder of the Nyingma lineage, until I recently read a couple of books by Buddhist feminists.

This account is from "Buddhism After Patriarchy" by Rita M. Gross:

Born in 8th century Tibet, it's said thatYeshe Tsogyel's mother had visions at her conception and throughout pregnancy. Her birth was said to be auspicious, but her parents were mainly concerned with finding her a husband. With suitors threatening to go to war over her beauty, Yeshe Tosgyel was sent into the wild, and the man who found her would be her husband.

She wasn't interested in the plan and resisted her captor, giving in only after her back had been beaten to a bloody pulp. She escaped when they were passed out drunk. She was found by an emperor, who took her as his consort, then gave her to the guru Padmasambhava as an offering. This suited her, as she desired to study the dharma, but he soon sent her to Nepal to find a consort of her own. She did, then went into a three-year retreat before returning to Padmasambhava, who confirms her realizations.

She worked extensively to study and spread Buddhism, gaining many disciples, male and female, and bringing them to high levels of realization. She also wrote down many teachings, hiding many of them to be found later at appropriate times.

Her final practice was exchanging her karma for others', taking on their suffering and giving them what would relieve it. She fed the hungry, gave medicine to the sick, and made the poor wealthy. She made emanations that helped people in many locations.

After 12 years of this, she died, leaving many signs of her greatness.

Gross notes two things:
-- The prevalance of her abuse by males throughout the story, whch include being treated as property, beaten, and raped. She twice converted men to the dharma by giving "aggressive depraved men insights into the roots of their aggression and keys to handling that more effectively."
-- Her relationships with women, including other of Padmasambhava's consorts. Four of her 11 root disciples were women, and two were recognized, as she was, as emanations of Vajravarahi. At the end of her life, Yeshe Tsogyel was visited by Mandarava, the other main consort. "We exchanged and tightened our precepts, making endless discussions on the dharma," it is said.

Gross offers these two contrasting accounts:
From Yeshe Tsogyel:
I am a woman --I have little power to resist danger.
Because of my inferior birth, everyone attacks me.
If I go as a beggar, dogs attack me.
If  I have wealth and food, bandits attack me.
If I do a great deal, locals attack me.
If I do little, gossips attack me.
If anything goes wrong, they all attack me.
Whatever I do, I have no chance for happiness.
Because I am a woman, it is hard to follow the Dharma
It is hard even to stay alive.

from Padmasambhava:
Wonderful yogini, practitioner of the secret teachings
The basis for realizing enlightenment is a human body
Male or female -- there is no great difference.
But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment,
A woman's body is better.

How does your karma garden grow?

People have a lot of ideas about what “karma” is. The word has made it into popular culture, and it’s used for everything from automobiles to yoghurt. But it probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.

The word “karma” literally means action. And the idea is that our thoughts and actions arise from past thoughts and actions and affect future ones. Thoughts (which lead to actions which lead to habits) have consequences – in the physical world and on our psyches.

Karma is connected with intention or motivation. We won’t be reborn as flies just because we accidentally kill a fly in this life, or a lot of flies. In fact, while karma is generally linked with rebirth, it doesn’t have to be. Karma works over the course of one lifetime, or one day.

Creating karma is often described a planting a garden. If you plant the seeds of virtue, you get virtue. If you plant hatred, you get hatred. Think beans: If you plant beans, you don’t get corn.

Here’s a quote from David Nichtern:

Whatever we cultivate, whatever we choose to become familiar with, that is what will manifest for us. If we choose to cultivate aggression, craving, and dullness, those qualities will surely ripen. If we choose to cultivate awareness and compassion, those qualities will develop. It’s not rocket science -- it’s gardening.
The Buddha gave a 12-step process for how things happen to us. Steps 1-5 relate to how we perceive things (which sense we uses, etc). Step 6 is where we make contact with an object. Step 7 is our reaction to it – aversion/attraction/indifference. 
In between 6 and 7, there a gap of pure perception. Karma attaches between 7 and 8 – if we attracted to something we crave it and grasp onto it; if we’re averse to it, we push it away; indifferent and we ignore it.

My teacher talks about the moment when you walk out the door – you can turn in any direction. The choice you make at this point directs your thoughts in a certain way from this point.

As you act in a kind and loving way, you’ll move in that direction. If you act from fear and anger, you’ll create fear and anger. David Loy says: Just as my body is composed of the food eaten, so my character is composed on conscious choices, for “I’ am constructed by my consistent, repeated mental attitudes. 
People are ‘punished’ or ‘rewarded’ not for what they have done but for what they have become, and what we intentionally do is what makes us what we are.”

The Buddha built on the Hindu idea of karma as punishment or reward over lifetimes. The radical change the Buddha made was to say that karma was not the result of an act, but motivation – and that it can be changed.

Josh Korda:

The Buddha taught that its incorrect to believe that for every harmless act there will be inevitable long term benefits, nor will every harmful act result in apparent karmic payback. Look around the world and it's clear that people get away with horrendous acts. But how they feel internally we cannot observe with any certainty.
The fruits of karma should not be thought of as entirely external or material or visible in nature; the teaching of karma is actually a profoundly internal, psychological insight. As the buddha stated in the kalama sutta: "Even if there is no rebirth, and there are no external results of actions rightly and wrongly done, then here, in the present life, I will live with ease, free from hostility, ill will, free from trouble as a result of my harmlessness."
A lot of western teachers say that karma goes beyond each person. We have individual karma, family karma, and societal karma. Whether you believe that we return for multiple lifetimes to work out our karma or that it ends with our death, it’s easy to see how our actions influence what we give our children in our bank accounts, the environment, the structure of society.

What do we get from our ancestors, and what can we give to our children? The Buddha said, in the very first lines of the Dhammapada, that we create the world with our minds. Our sense of self is created in part through our earliest interactions with our families, whether they respond to our infant needs and treat us as valued and important or ignore them or see them as a burden. And so we shape our children and our world: What is our attitude toward others? Toward the environmment? Toward wealth? How do we define success? What would we do to get it?

Given that karma is the result of intention or motivation that leads to habitual patterns of thoughts that leads to action, karma can be changed. We’re not trapped by our actions. Everything is workable. Psychology and Buddhism tell us that we can change those patterns. We all have our past karma, but there's new karma we're planting right now. We can choose to act skillfully right now. We don't deny our mistakes, we don't allow them to define us; we acknowledge them, but we don't brood on them, for if we do, we don't pay sufficient attention to the karma we're creating right now.

We can change the things we tell ourselves and the world.

Rita Gross says, in "Buddhism After Patriarchy," "Much of my present is determined by what has already occurred in the past cannot be undone or changed. However, my method of coping with my present is not predetermined – how I cope will deeply affect my future.”

Gross further says that since we’re not talking about karma as creating an unchangeable future state, it can lead to equanimity and deep peace. 

Ultimately, the things that happen are not the result of some mysterious and arbitrary will of Someone. They are the result of cause and effect and reflect some deep harmony and sanity inherent in the cosmos. First one needs to sort out the things that can be changed and work to change them, rather than passively accepting them as “just my karma.” Following that, one can temper potential emotional exhaustion and burnout by contemplating whatever results, whether success or failure, as karma, seeing karma not as a matter of rewards or punishments but as a matter of inscrutable appropriateness.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Women in Buddhism: From the beginning

March is Women's History Month. Friday, March 8, is International Women's Day.

How many women in Buddhist history can you name -- not contemporary practitioners, but historical figures?

Unless you've made a deliberate effort to study this subject, you probably can't get to five..

We don't know the stories of women in Buddhism, and this is a problem.  We like stories. That's how we build culture; that's how we communicate norms. And when the norms are told by men and about men, we're getting only half the story.

Roshi Joan Halifax says that she's the 82nd person in her lineage -- and the first woman.

That is not because there are no women. Their stories were simply not deemed worthy of recording by the people who kept the records. The stories are there. I'm going to tell some. If you know of some, tell me more.

Interestingly enough, there is a record of the earliest Buddhist women to wake up (reach enlightenment), the Therigatha.

The following account is from "The First Buddhist Women: translations and commentary on the Therigatha" by Susan Murcott.

The first woman of note is Mahapajati Gotami, the Buddha's aunt, who raised him after his mother, Maya, died seven days after he was born. After Siddhartha became enlightened -- and the Buddha -- she became one of his lay followers. Other women came to her for advice, support, and direction.

After her husband died and her son became a monk, she became a woman on her own, cut off from the connections that brought her identity and security. Other women -- members of Siddhartha's harem who lost their status when he went out on his own and women whose husbands abandoned them to become monks -- came to her. The Therigata says the number was "more than 500," which means a great many. "The longing of these women became their spiritual aspiration," writes Murcot.

It is reported in the Cullvaga that Mahajapati went to the Buddha, "stood at a respectful distance," and said:"It would be good, Lord, is women could be allowed to renounce their homes and enter into the homeless state under the Dharma and in the discipline of the Tatagatha. He replied: "Enough, Gotami. Don't set you heart on women being allowed to do this."

This happened twice more. Then the Buddha moved on to Vesali, and the women, dressed in Saffron robes, followed him, 150 miles, walking barefoot. Ananda saw Mahajapati outside the hall. He went to the Buddha:

"Pajapati is standing outside under the entrance porch with swollen feet, covered with dust, and crying because you do not permit women to renounce their homes and enter into the homeless state. It would be good, Lord, if women were to have permission to do this."

The Buddha gives the same answer he gave to his aunt, and this exchange also happens twice more.

Then Ananda takes a new approach. He asked if women can become enlightened. The Buddha says yes. So Ananda says, "If women are able to realize perfection and since Pajapati was of great service to you -- she was your aunt, nurse, foster mother; when your mother died she even suckled you at her own breast -- it would be good if women could be allowed to enter into homelessness."

The Buddha then agrees, provided the women accept the Eight Special Rules.which relegated them to secondary status. "(1) A nun who has been ordained even for a hundred years must greet respectfully, rise up from her seat, salute with joined palms, do proper homage to a monk ordained but that day." The Buddha later made an exception for six monks who lifted up their robes and showed their thighs to the nuns, according to the Vinaya, indicating that only monks deserving of respect should be treated with respect. Later, Mahajapati asked the Buddha to eliminate the gender distinction and go solely by seniority, with novice monks bowing to more senior nuns. He rejected that request.

Pajapati died at 120. When she was very sick, she asked that the Buddha come to her. He died -- although the rules forbid a monk from visiting a sick nun. When she died, is said, miracles occurred that were equaled only by those that took place when the Buddha died.