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.