February 9, 2015

Making Our Way Without Asians

There is little new to say that I didn’t already say five years ago.

Let me start out, as I normally do, by noting that there are many virtues to the Buddhadharma discussion, “Making Our Way: On Women and Buddhism.” Sandy Boucher, Grace Schireson, Christina Feldman, Lama Palden Drolma and Rita Gross are individuals with considerable experience examining and debating the topic of women and Buddhism. They have wonderful insights to share, many of which I highlighted and jotted down in my notebook. But as you might have guessed, I noticed something missing.

Namely, Asians.

What makes this conversation so dangerous is that it easily leaves readers with the belief that Asian women, be they in Asia or the West, don’t even think about this topic, never mind do anything about it. Several years ago I posted Cheng Wei-Yi’s essay, “Rethinking Western Feminist Critiques on Buddhism,” and one of the comments came from someone with this very impression:

The critique is that we’re not listening to Asian women’s input here; well, then let’s have more of it. What developments towards the equality and dignity of women have taken place in Buddhism, apart from “western” feminist influence?

It is in response to challenges like these that Rev. Patti Usuki wrote Currents of Change: American Buddhist Women Speak Out on Jodo Shinshu. If you read the blog of Rev. Patti Nakai, you can find yet another Asian American Buddhist woman’s thoughts. Or you can read other publications by Cheng Wei-Yi. In a previous letter to Buddhadharma, I included a list of several Asian Buddhist women, including published authors, who could speak to this topic. Not only can you find their thoughts in books and on websites—these women are alive. You can send them email.

I have spent my whole life around Asian Buddhist women in the West. They are the reason I am Buddhist. They have taught me how to bow, how to chant, how to apply Buddhist teachings, how to walk mindfully, how to meditate and delve into deep concentration. These amazing women don’t fit any of the stereotypes of Asian Buddhists. I have known Asian American nuns ordained in the Tibetan, Mahayana and Theravada traditions—women who have had unthinkable struggles, incredible stories and strong opinions on the role of women in Buddhism.

Just imagine how different a conversation you would have if you gathered these women together for a discussion on Buddhist patriarchy. It’s something that’s never before appeared in Buddhadharma or Tricycle. Imagine what it would be like if they were in the room, so that you couldn’t so easily refer to Asian Buddhists as “them.”

2 comments :

  1. (1) Either you read primary-source texts, or you don't.

    (2) Either you live by the Vinaya, or you don't.

    When I meet white people who consider themselves "Buddhist leaders", who (1) neither read Pali nor any other canonical Asian language, and (2) who charge money for teaching whatever it is they know/invent, my problem with them isn't that they're white. My problem is that what they're doing is a mix of fraud and "the blind leading the blind".

    There could be and should be a wide range of legitimate forms of Buddhist scholars and dissident Buddhist intellectuals, outside of (and in addition to) religious orthodoxy. However, in 2015, we've got none of the three --and the problem isn't exclusively western by any means. The grass isn't greener on the other side --not on ANY of the other sides (from Sri Lanka to Taiwan).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOx95uYACuk

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  2. Hi Arun,

    I kind of shake my head when I see stuff like that. It's just one demographic out of the entire Buddhist-Women community. In the temple I go to, there's a pretty good mix overall of converts (i.e. white) and Asian Buddhists who socialize, do temple events, etc. Pretty nice really.

    It would be nice if something like that were reflected in this article, but not surprisingly, it isn't. Buddhist magazines like this will continue playing the same fiddle over and over until they eventually realize they are badly out of touch with times and the Buddhist community as a whole.

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