Tag Archives: feminism

Invisible Web of Gender by Oxana Poberejnaia

01_17_3---Spiders-Web_webGender is like an invisible web. Even if you know it is limiting and want to get out, you don’t know where to begin. Most people do not even see gender as something that is externally imposed on them, limiting their spontaneous being.

 

Gender – how to untangle the tangle?

 

As Dhamma (Dharma) practitioners we should understand the basic principles of cause and effect and of the absence of a permanent self. Many practitioners apply these principles in their everyday lives. However, it is gender that is often the stumbling block.

 

CauseAndEffectIt seems that western Buddhists are happy to accept that everything about them is conditional and dependent on one cause or another – everything but gender. One might argue that gender is the last bastion of Self for us. We tend to fuse our gender identity with our core sense of self.

 

In case someone should wish to untangle this tangle, it would probably be along the normal path of any Buddhist practice: 1. Notice; 2. Accept; 3. Let go.

 

For practitioners with experience, the second and third step would be if not easy, then relatively familiar.

 

It is the noticing, which might be extremely challenging. Noticing subtle gender patterns in your particular case is like getting out of an invisible web. Gender seems as natural to us as eating cereals for breakfast.

 

Wait a second. Is eating cereals for breakfast a course of things prescribed by nature? We all know it is not. I ate cucumber and tomato salad for breakfast in Israel and borsch for breakfast in Ukraine.

 

There is no ‘I’ in gender

 

Gender is part of society’s structure. The ways gender expresses itself are many and are different depending on the particular culture, class, education, and financial situation of particular individuals.

 

As long as people are blind to the realities of gender as it is currently imposed by patriarchy, they are compliant. Even the ones with the best intentions. Men who do not see the reality may ask question like: “Why do women wear these ridiculous high heels? I do not force them to. I would never wear these even if people were forcing me to.”

 

family-76781_640Such questions show a misunderstanding about how society works. People are not separate individualised entities who make rational choices. Each person is a patch on a fabric of society, the same way as each individual is part of the energy network between the sun and the earth, with all its plants, animals, water and minerals.

 

It is easy to confirm or refute this claim: try to exclude yourself from the energy network – for instance, don’t go to the toilet next time you want to. Next, try to exclude yourself from society – for instance, start speaking Russian in the UK or don’t pay a bus fare.

 

Repercussions will be immediate and obvious.

 

How are you male? How are you female?

 

How are you caught up in the web? In one group of society being a woman means wearing a pony tail and being beaten by your unmarried partner, in a different group being a woman means having your body, clothes and jewellery accessed by your husband’s business associates in order to configure his status.

 

While for some being a man means showing no emotion and working yourself to death at 40, for others being a man means living a life of creativity while your Mother or your wife takes care of your family and home.

 

There is a saying that in a society where slavery exists everyone is a slave. Slaves are slaves to their masters, and masters are slaves to the social order. Slaves have no control over their lives, but neither do their owners. Slave owners have to have slaves, they have to depend on their labour, and they have to avoid treating their slaves as human beings.

 

In patriarchy, which is absolute majority of societies now in existence on earth, the situation is similar. Everyone upholds patriarchy: women, men, the elderly and the children of both sexes.

 

Children are particularly vicious and vigilant in this regard – just watch them play or listen when they pass their judgements on what girls and boys should wear, how they should have their hair and down to minute detail of what and how they should eat.

 

Delhi_Queer_Pride_2010_(2)Those who challenge patriarchy are deemed strange and unacceptable and labelled in a variety of derogatory labels. “Butch”, “gay” (both when used as an insult, not as a self-identification),  unfeminine”, “girl-like”, and simply “weirdo” are applied to men and women who behave outside of a patriarchal model of life.

 

In societies that offer people more opportunities (or in circles of societies which offer people more opportunities) such individuals have a choice of joining like-minded people and feel relatively safe and accepted.

 

stop-482702_640As we have always been saying, there is a way

 

With the help of the whole arsenal of Buddhist practices, such as calming down, being present and seeing clearly, coupled with compassion, we can slowly start noticing gender patterns that rule our lives while bypassing our better judgement.

 

For a woman, is having a smaller portion of food than men natural? For a man, is talking first and controlling the flow of a conversation natural? For a woman, is smiling as a response to a hurtful remark natural, in order to keep peace? For a man, is producing hurtful remarks as a way to hide your emotional vulnerability natural?

 

In a Buddhist centre, is it natural for a man to assume he will be up there on the platform teaching the Sangha in a few years, if he sticks with it, while for a woman, is it natural to assume that no matter how long she sticks with it, she will still be preparing tea for the visiting male teachers?

 

Is it natural for a male Buddhist practitioner to have his household revolve around his daily sittings and retreats, and is it natural for a woman to shove her sitting meditation whenever there is a gap between serving others, and dream of a retreat as a special favour from her loved ones?

 

Read more of Oxana’s essays on gender in Buddhism on international blog Feminism and Religion

Manchester Buddhist Convention 2013: comments and reflection

The Manchester Buddhist Convention took place on Sat 12th of October at St. Peter’s Chaplaincy as the year before.

As before, it was wonderful to have been able to hold it here and our thanks go to the Rev. Terry Biddington and his team. It is a great, central location, large and comfortable.

Many thanks need to be made but I want to begin with some thoughts about the Convention itself.  Some of it is from feedback. Some from conversations.

First the critique:

Two people mentioned, ‘chaotic moments’. One person said there was some of chaos but it was soon resolved – ‘… a bit like life’.

With 25+presenters and 200+ attendees in a space to which we gain full access only at 9pm the night before, will always entail some degree of ‘chaos’. I’m more interested is in how we deal with the chaos rather than the chaos itself so I hope you will accept this. Each year some things get better and other things crop up.

One person mentioned the length of inputs and how they fitted together but more felt that they were complementary and responded to the theme in a remarkable way.  Several commented on how moving they had found them.

The acoustics were a problem. I am trying to understand the reason for this as the Auditorium has an in-built microphone system. I can only suppose that it is more suited to lecturing than to discussion. Anyway we will examine this problem and will review how we use this space next year.

Feedback on the Science session was uniformly good (apart from comments about acoustics!) – well presented and engaging.  Critique came from panel members themselves some of whom felt that tighter facilitation would have encouraged discussion. We may follow up on the Science strand next year, perhaps focussing on a specific theme from this year’s session. It’s clearly of great current interest and the impact of meditation on the neural pathways is a popular area of research, while  mindfulness ‘training’ is finding it’s way into all area of work including the NHS and schools.  One question posed was whether Science represented an alternative to faith or had become or another ‘faith system’.  (The Jury’s out on that one.)

The Gender and Buddhism session observed that Buddhism, ‘changes every time it enters a new culture, and feminism is something that Buddhism is absorbing now, with various degrees of success.’  Gender ‘politics’ has never been invisible or uncontroversial in Buddhism from the time when Mahaprajapati’ implored the Buddha to permit women into the sangha.  Women have also been teachers. A wonderful example is the hunch- backed slave Khujjuttara whose teachings are the Itivuttaka (‘This was said by the Noble One’) and is said to pre-date the Pali canon. A life well-worth examining. (It would also be useful to reflect on the difference and convergence of the two notions – gender and feminism.)

Now change and challenge is happening both East and West and have as much to do with a new millennium as a new culture. Some instances of women’s activism are – Buddhist nuns in China/Tibet (eg – Nun Ngawang Sandrol who has spent over 15 years in jail in severe conditions.)  Bhiksuni Chen Yen, founder of Tzu Chi (So it was really very good to welcome Tzu Chi back to the Convention this year. Bhiksuni Chao hwei Shih, who lobbied the Dalai Lama to recognise full ordination for women, tore up the 8 Gurudharmas, established a research institute for applied ethics, animal rights, environment and conservation in Taiwan.  Joanna Macy, long term socialist and activist, Bell Hooks activist on class, race and gender issues within Buddhism, Joan Halifax who founded Upaya and the International Women’s Partnership (established in Thailand and includes all spiritual paths not just Buddhist) to name a few. It would be interesting to explore this in some depth at a future Convention or to have it as a MBC sponsored workshop.

Here is a nice final comment  ‘…you cannot be too mindful: it is best to be mindful at all times, it is also preferable to be Feminist at all times – whatever it means for each individual.

Several people commented on Buddhism and social action sessions. One person observed that it challenged ‘the stereotypical image of sitting and meditating’ – a stereotype that never fails to surprise me. It flies in the face of the Buddha’s own example – a life of action and service as well as practice – having left family, wealth and home to serve a wider community that included those he had left. An example to learn from is the way he cared for a sick monk who had been abandoned by his comrades and chided them for doing so. He taught by demonstration – tending the sick; challenged the status quo in relation to both caste and gender, again by example rather than overt confrontation, though he didn’t recoil from challenge if it became necessary. Could it be that one reason why this stereotype exists is because meditation is sometimes approached as a technique without a spiritual underpinning? Something that just makes us feel better?  Buddhism (like other spiritual paths with meditative practices) becomes decontextualised, without a framework.  Nor is it embedded in the cultural fabric. Yet Buddhists are reluctant to engage with other schools which could facilitate the development of a framework, make us visible and anchor us more deeply in this society.  I think we also short-change ourselves over the amount of work Buddhist centres do.  Many (most?) are quietly active both here and overseas.  I know that Tibetan lineages (with which I am most familiar) have schools, feeding centres, hospitals, etc in Europe, Asia and Africa.  It would be interesting if someone in the different Centres did a quick survey on what their centres were involved in and we could begin to develop a compendium of practical Buddhist contributions.

Some other comments:

  • The MBC is a truly worthwhile event; it is especially commendable getting together so many people from different traditions and packing so much into a small space and short time. The plans for expanding and/or building on the success of this event will be really interesting.
  • Some themes that came up were relationships in all their forms, Everyday life dharma, textual study of scriptures, discussion around including meditation in the programme (Some people want more, some less -different strokes for different folk!) (There were 2 meditation strands in a tight programme. Textual study of the scriptures  needs to be ongoing programme. The MBC can provide a space where interest in this can be explored or advertised
  • As a field, Buddhist Chaplaincy is growing, but it will never operate on the same scale as in other World Faith communities. What it does seem to be doing is asking serious questions that have relevance to us all(We tried to get a speaker from Angulimala, the prison chaplaincy service who were very interested but over committed.)
  • General feeling that MBC got beyond individual sanghas and gave bigger picture….one lady said that’s why she kept coming to the event.
  • Some talk about Art and Buddhism. (So could be a good theme to pick up)
  • Environment and connection to Dharma.
  • In the end Buddhism transcends all divisions, including gender.

The day was underpinned by meditation, practices and specific Dharma/Dhamma topics from the different schools represented in Manchester – a range of Zen, Chan, Theravada and Tibetan practices, presented by deeply committed people helped create a vivid tapestry of a spiritual paths that has ways and means to suit the needs of most searchers and could have very simple and applicable answers to the issues that face us in the world today.  Unlike early Buddhist societies, we have access to all the different schools – some austere, some reflective, others quite wild! The MBC brings all these together.  What began as a get-together of Buddhists in Manchester is fast becoming an annual event that attracts Buddhists from a much further afield, as well as people of different faith backgrounds. This is the main strength and service it offers the Dhamma/Dharma.  Feedback indicates that this is also what people appreciate most. Would it not be wonderful if Buddhists could develop an ongoing discourse that is not just an annual event? We have a few ideas we may approach people/centres with in the future.

Thanks must go to the presenters – the ideas you brought, time put in, comments, discussions and promises of future help; to those who stepped in at the last moment. Thanks to Tzu Chi who made a very generous donation to the MBC- all the funds they raised from the sale of books on the day! All this is an example of Buddhism in action and all for the joy of sheer giving!  Final and great thanks must go to the wonderful steering group.  (Jeeta raho as they say in India – continue to live!)

This report comes out just as we re-group to organise the 2014 event when we can follow up on some of the ideas. MBC 2014 will take place, as usual on the second Saturday of October 11th at St. Peter’s Chaplaincy.  Details will follow but please put that date in you diaries.

Metta and maître to all.

Jaya.

 

Manchester Buddhist Convention 2013 would like to say a huge thank you to all involved in making this year’s event so successful and enjoyable – that includes the University Chaplaincy for providing the space, visiting Venerables , monastics and speakers from many traditions, the Steering Group, including the cooks and kitchen helpers, and all groups and individuals who attended.

It was lovely to see you all there – thank you for coming and we look forward to seeing you next year.Theravada Buddhist Monks from Ketumati Buddhist Vihara Oldham (Sri Lankan Monastery), Saraniya Centre Salford (Burmese Monastery) and Wat Sriratanaram Baguley Manchester (Thai Monstery)  at Manchester Buddhist Conference 2013

Photo : Thai, Burmese and Sri Lankan Theravadan monastics , from three different monasteries in Greater Manchester, in the opening session at the MBC 2013.

What is Manchester Buddhist Convention?

An emerging ‘interBuddhist’ tradition , unique to Manchester and reaching out to the whole North West, and aiming to:

bring together the Buddhist community in the North West and foster dialogue and understanding between followers of different Buddhist traditions.
Preparing the venue and running the day is a joint endeavour – please let us know if you would like to be involved.

The 2013 Convention was on  Saturday 12th October

Venue: St. Peter’s Chaplaincy, Oxford Road. 

Time: 9 am – 5 pm

Update:

This may be the last update we send unless there are urgent things to communicate, therefore please make a note of the following:

  • This year we don’t plan to print timetables or presenter notes this year. Please download and print for your own use. These will be posted on the website by the 6th October at the latest, so do keep checking. If you are a Dharma Centre or have access to printing equipment, could you consider printing off a few for your own attendees and for use by others on the 12th and bring them with you? This will be much appreciated.
  • Programmes of the day will, hopefully, be pasted on the every floor and definitely on the middle floor.
  • Coffee, tea and lunch will be served only within the designated times – ie –

coffee – 9am- 9.45

lunch – 11.30-12.40

tea – 15.10 – 15.30

If you require refreshments between these times please bring your own. There are also cafés around St. Peter’s.

  • There is a multi-storey car park behind St.Peter’s and some ‘off road’ parking metres but no free parking. No parking is available in St. Peter’s Chaplaincy itself.
  • There will be paper for your comments and feedback. If you wish to reflect first, don’t hesitate to contact us later on facebook, the website or to me at:  jayagraves@yahoo.co.uk
  • Next year’s Convention will depend on how many people are willing to become actively involved in organising it and how the work is shared so if you value this event, please consider joining the Steering Group. There will be a briefing and discussion early next year where we will decide how to go forward. To join the to join the steering group; contact us at the same addresses.
  • Any ideas for future Conventions will be welcome most welcome. It is the ideas that are generated by you that create the Convention.
  • This is a free Convention run by volunteers and presenters who give their time freely and bear their own expenses. However, there are major costs involved – food, venue, publicity, petrol etc.  The core group will carries some of this. However, if you are able, can you remember to make a donation so that we are able to continue to run a free Convention to which all Buddhists and non- Buddhists invited. There will be donation boxes dotted around the Venue.

Looking forward to seeing you again,

With Dhamma/Dharma greetings,

Jaya

Strands/topics for the day in 2013 will be:MBCphoto1

  • Science and Buddhism
  • Buddhism in the World
  • Human Rights and Gender
  • Dharma Topics
  • Meditation

Stick with one strand, or cherrypick.  We will also have keynotes, a discussion session and a space to just be. As always, the success of the day will depend on how you participate in it!

There is no set charge but Dana will be welcome and needed to cover the basic cost of venue, food and other expenses. Register for mbc 2013

On the day, programmes will be posted on walls on the Chaplaincy.

 

Gender and Human Rights Session at Manchester Buddhist Convention 2013

By Oxana Poberejnaia,

blogger for Feminism and Religion

I am grateful to all participants of the Gender and Human Rights session at MBC 2013 for a friendly yet thoughtful discussion. We had both sexes present in the room, and all ages (from 3: thank you, Aki, for top behaviour!) and up.

I had been preparing for the session using the book

Buddhism After Patriarchy
A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism
Buddhism After Patriarchy
Click on image to enlarge

Rita M. Gross – Author

and recommended it to everyone at The Convention.

My goal was, as I laid it at the beginning of the session, to facilitate inner searching for each of us around such issues as: “Is any organised religion compatible with Feminism?” “Are we happy with the current situation in Buddhism regarding women?” “Is Buddhism part of the problem or does it offer solutions?” and “What should we do next?”

I also hoped that through conversation, new common insights would arise and solutions to common problems found. And indeed they were. For instance, I have found another person who also dislikes this common place separation into “Western” and “Eastern” ways of thinking or doing things. I also believe that we now live in a global world and deal with common problems.

Buddhism, we believe, changes every time it enters a new culture, and feminism is something that Buddhism is absorbing now, with various degrees of success, but this process is inevitable.

I also liked how we drew parallels between our Buddhist practice and practising Feminism. For instance, one is allowed mistakes on both paths. Also, just you cannot be too mindful: it is best to be mindful at all times, it is also preferable to be Feminist at all times – whatever it means for each individual. And if it means challenges every sexist joke told around you, then so be it.

We also discussed how we ourselves chose our Buddhist tradition, based on our belief about what’s right regarding gender equality, and also how we can work within our traditions for gender equality. Questions were asked if a tradition that started very much as a patriarchal one can evolve into a more equality-supporting one.

A thought was expressed that Buddhist practise transcends all mundane matters, including gender divisions. This is undoubtedly encouraging to us, particularly because we as Buddhist practitioners know from our own experience that we are not defined by any conditioned characteristic, including gender. This inner knowing helps me a lot in my Feminist activities.

 

Gender and Human Rights session at MBC 2013

By Oxana Poberejnaia

At Manchester Buddhist Convention 2013, “Intelligent Compassion”, I am going to lead an informal discussion around issues of Feminism and Buddhism, in a session entitled Gender and Human Rights, 12.45-13.30.

I led a similar session last year, and we had a really interesting discussion. You can read about it here.

Since then, I have started writing monthly posts for an international multi-author blog “Feminism and Religion” (affiliated with the Women’s Studies and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University) I enjoy sharing views with feminist bloggers from many religions or none. Very often we have fascinating discussions through commenting on each other’s posts.

My first three posts were based on my call for discussion for last year’s Convention and on the discussion at the session.

Are Buddhist Women Happy? Part I and Part II

Menstruation for Buddhist Women

I believe that mindfulness of menstrual cycle must be included into the Four Foundations of Mindfulness practices for Buddhist women.

In Blindness of the Gals I discuss inability or unwillingness of Western Buddhist women to see gender inequality inherent in both their society and in their Buddhist institutions and texts.

Mindfulness of Putting Ourselves Down is about the need I feel to constantly monitor my action and reasons behind them to check if I am myself contributing to my own oppression and to the culture of patriarchy in general.

Cultural Conditions and Spiritual Subtleties was a response to some of the questions that fellow bloggers asked in relation to my post Blindness of the Gals. It dealt with how experiencing different cultures and practising meditation are alike in that they allow us to see our personal reality and social reality in perspective, to se that they are not a given, stable “thing”, but rather a process that can be directed one way or another.

At the session at MBC 2013, I would be happy to listen to your views in these and other subjects.

A little bit about me: I started practising Buddhist meditation at The University of Manchester Buddhist Society in 2002. I practised and went on retreats with various traditions such as Samatha, Zen and Vipassana before formally taking the Three Refuges with Western Chan Fellowship. I hold PhD in Government from The University of Manchester and a Postgraduate Certificate in Buddhist Studies from The University of Sunderland.

At the moment, I practice Buddhist meditation while at the same time exploring the Sacred Feminine. I write poetry and prose, paint watercolours. I also play and teach frame drum. My works can be found on my website.

Women and Buddhism: session at the MBC

Mala, Buddhist prayer beads.

Mala, Buddhist prayer beads. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Women and Buddhism

by Oxana Poberejnaia

Call for discussion

At Manchester Buddhist Convention 2012 I am inviting women and men, ordained and laypeople, to share their experiences, feelings and thoughts on the topic: women and Buddhism, and in particular women practising Buddhism here in now, in the West in 2012. Although historical analysis and geographical parallels would be useful.

The basic question is the same as in a “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” sketch about a sour-faced champion car racer: “Are you happy?” Are we, Buddhist women, happy with Buddhism? Are Buddhist men happy with the position of Buddhist women? Are we happy with the legacy we are leaving for future generations of Buddhist men and women?

This question can be re-phrased as: Are we happy because we should be happy? Because we strive to be happy? Because if we are unhappy it is our failure as women? Are we happy to keep other people happy?

Do these questions sound familiar? – Are these the same questions that women have to deal with anyway, in this patriarchal society we live in.

Absent women

I welcome any and every perspective on these questions and I disclose mine straight away: my position is that of feminism. Women in contemporary society have no place of their own. Women are seen and treated as deficient men: Men who bleed, men who cause nuisances to work places and benefit office by bearing children, men who have cycles of health, weight, and mental and emotional states. Women are constrained and contained – so that the patriarchal order of things carries on.

Women are denied their history, their language, their culture, their spirituality. Women have no land to stand on, no fortress to defend, because there is no place in society that women can call theirs. We are wives, daughters, sisters, lovers, carers, disturbers of peace. We are companions, consorts, “Other Women”, or enemies – all in relation to men. But we never stand on our own right.  We cannot describe us by defining us as what we are (as Tony Stark did for his suit).

I said that my position is that of feminism, and not male-bashing. Men do not benefit from patriarchy either. Men are involved in a meaningless non-ending struggle to be The First – which is logically and practically impossible. Men are denied their connection to themselves, to nature, to other people, as these qualities are a threat to the patriarchal system.

Is Buddhism part of problem or solution?

The question is very clear: Buddhism in the West – is it part of patriarchy or not? It is also very clear that this question is a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional one. Even starting to answer it will require a lot of defining terms, a lot of deciding which criteria to include in the analysis. Then come research and surveying. Then come individual opinions of a multitude of people involved in this issue.

Therefore, what I can say on this subject is necessarily a tiny drop in the discussion, and a very personal perspective. The discussion can carry on, beyond this post and beyond the Convention, should there be such a wish in the Buddhist community.

To put the general feminist inquiry into a more practical plane, let’s consider one issue: Do the same methods of training in the Dharma work in a same way for women and men? Do women compete in spiritual “sports” that are not relevant for our spiritual development?

Buddhist Psychology

Is the image of a Dharma practitioner masculine, feminine, universal, or neither? If there such a thing as a general human? The Buddha was a man, his Mother and his step Mother were women, his teachers were men, his companions were men, his first disciples were men. Since we often claim that Buddhism is accurate in its insights into human psychology, a question arises: insights into whose psychology exactly?

Some other questions to ask ourselves are: Which part of the metta meditation is most difficult for women? Which – for men? I cannot speak for men, but for me, the first part is most difficult – wishing myself to be well and happy. Even after I have realised this, I still say to myself: “Yeah, yeah, I really should.. “ but tend to skip that part of the metta meditation anyway.

Buddhist Ethics

A question about Buddhist ethics would be: Does it overlook women and focus primarily on men? Does it sometimes seem that Buddhist ethics aims to getting men to the place where women are already? Taking one saying from Sutta Nipata 1.8:

Even as a mother

protects with her life

Her child, her only child,

So with a boundless heart

Should one cherish

all living beings.

Should we not, as women, immediately refer this to our own experience, like so: “Oh, right, so, it means that I should cherish all living beings the same way I protect my own child (for women who have children) or as I already protect children of other women, my relatives, my friends, environment, and so on”. But do we as women do that – let’s answer honestly? Most of the time, we do not. Because when we approach Buddhism, we approach it as generic spiritual seekers, as the same deficient men we have been all our lives. And instead we start conjuring in our heads that Indian woman, whom the Buddha had in mind, whose properties we are invited to emulate.

Men’s Initiation Rites

When we come to Buddhist practice, we might enquire something like this:

As monastic practice is in many ways a model for our Western lay practice (since we know that many Buddhist lay practitioners in the East do not practice formal meditation), we might consider: Are Buddhist monasteries an extension and continuation of men’s long house, places of men’s initiation rites?

These long houses, supposedly, were part of many hunter-gatherer cultures, and survived in our fairy tales as houses in forests where a group of males live (as in Snow White). The features of long houses: exclusively male company, hard ordeals, which are taken on together, secrets, hierarchy, sense of belonging and achievement – carry on into our society in such institutions as army, sports clubs, gang culture, and various closed groups and professions, such as, say, a predominantly male University Faculty, or a political party.

How do you get ahead in the army, in a political party? By being the toughest, by pushing yourself the hardest. Are such measures of Buddhist “success” and “seniority” as a number of “strict retreats” related to this? And, considering family commitments of women, are they left behind when assessed by the number of strict retreats they have done?

Another feature of male initiation ceremonies, as well as of men’s predominant activity for millions of years – hunting – is silence. We encourage the practice of silence at our retreats and wider practice. Is it relevant or helpful for women?

If we value silence as a counterweight to “idle chatter” this might very well be relevant for men: their connection between emotion and speech centres in the brain is smaller than that of women. When women speak to each other, though, it can be idle chatter, or it can be a meaningful exchange of deep emotions and insights.

Let us ask ourselves: When women come together in deep spiritual connection, what do they do? Do they go in deep silence, like men, conditioned by thousands of years of hunting and fishing together? Or do they do something else?

Buddhist Institutions

Another question is: Is it more difficult for women to follow a male teacher (including the Buddha) or to lead in a Buddhist organisation? And – related to that: when giving a Dharma talk, is it more difficult for us women to emulate talks that men give or to tell the truth of our, women’s practice? I, for example, in ten years of practice had never ventured to say anything outside the boundary of what I have heard from my male teachers, until this note.

Why? Because I have bought in the whole hierarchy system and thought more of climbing the ranks of the Buddhist community here in the West than about my inner truth, the light unto myself that I should be following. I wanted to please the teachers, to show them that I am within the mould.

Menstrual Cycle

When pointing at the most obvious difference between men and women – i.e. menstrual cycle – does this affect women’s practice and should it be acknowledged by Buddhist teachers?

Is sitting practice adequate for women with menstrual cycle? Should we prepare women to the fact that their practice will be very different depending on whether they are in the menstruating phase of their lives, are about to start it, or are about to end it?

Should we take into account the fact that if women are menstruating, there will be four phases they will go through every moon cycle: a more energetic and extrovert one, an energetic one where energy is directed to caring about others, and introverted one, and a withdrawal phase?

Sex and how not to get attached to it

Buddhist teaching recommends steering clear of lust. One of the more well-known techniques for curing the mind of attachment to bodily shapes is meditating on a corpse. I cannot speak for men, but I was given to understand that men are willing to have sex at any moment of any day or night and that sex is what is on their mind a lot. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Conversely, I must say that every moon cycle there are days where I would do anything not to have sex. Anything. I would dig up potatoes – just don’t approach me with any sexual intentions. At the same time, during ovulation I would pretty much have anyone that’s moving. And during these three days a meditation on a corpse would perhaps curtail my sexual drive. Whether it should – that is another matter. As my desire to have sex during ovulation actually has a very clear goal: procreation. It is also a part of the surge of energies I experience during the Virgin and the Mother phases of my menstrual cycle, which is then followed by going within and withdrawal of the Enchantress and the Hag phases respectively. And I need this energy to compensate for slowing down during the more introverted phases.

Another aspect of this issue is that I don’t believe the corpse meditation would be as effective on me as a woman. The thing is, women’s sexuality is different from men’s in that we don’t lose our heads over a pair of nice men’s legs. In fact, I can’t recall one occasion in my life when I was attracted to a man because of his long or otherwise legs. Or his chest. Or his bottom. What do I notice in a man first? Watch “Scandal in Belgravia” – “Brainy is new sexy”. I personally like brains, wit, and a passion – for anything. Be it collecting Victorian tea cups. Women look for kindness and ability to raise children in their men. So, how would I cure myself of attachment to brains? By picturing a stupid man?

Preliminary conclusions

If that is the case, should women not concentrate on other aspects on their Buddhist practice: for example, concentrate on loving themselves rather than loving others, searching to insert more feminine into Buddhist hierarchy and leadership, seeking their own inner truth – and I cannot think about anything else, really.

We as women do not have a positive place in Buddhism in the same way as we do not have a positive place in society. We can just about point to what we are not, but how about what we are?

Perhaps Buddhist women in the West should start searching for genuinely female ways of practising Buddhism, without fear of getting it wrong. As my male feminist friend said, if the Buddha had been born in our times, he would not have become a Buddhist, he would have sought his own spiritual truth.

I feel that we women should not grasp at philosophy, psychology and practices of what might be an extension of men’s initiation rites. We had our own, women’s  secret societies, in cultures where men had theirs. And this is where we should look for inspiration. Perhaps not silence, but song? Maybe not sitting, but dance? Perchance not individual practice, but open sharing of hearts and minds?

If these thoughts evoke any reaction in you, please come to the session “Women and Buddhism” at the Manchester Buddhism Convention, in the Small Chapel, 12.45-13.30. Comment on this post. Ask further questions.

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