Lineage and Individual Approaches to Practice

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Re: Lineage and Individual Approaches to Practice

Postby rory » Mon Jul 29, 2013 4:35 am

I think this may be a big gender thing, as men seem to adore uniforms, titles and hierarchies. Oh so vertical. Women for obvious reasons are more egalitarian. As a woman involved in the dharma, I'm a Nichiren Buddhist in a traditonal sect (from the 14th cent.) for the very pragmatic reason that it is a based on a famous sutra, the Lotus, which most can understand and Nichiren's teachings are free, easy to practice and available to everyone. As Ven. Indrajala says these elaborate Vinayas, sects with degrees, titles etc are just social constructs. And they don't benefit women, rather they exist to keep a status quo of in and out groups, maintain an elite and perpetuate hierarchies. Now if you like this way of practice good for you, but be aware enough that it was created and is imbued with the culture, customs and prejudices of the region. Don't confuse the construct with the Dharma.

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Re: Lineage and Individual Approaches to Practice

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Jul 29, 2013 3:32 pm

And they don't benefit women, rather they exist to keep a status quo of in and out groups, maintain an elite and perpetuate hierarchies


We don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In other words, I am not a big fan of hierarchies. And my position as an interpreter is not a high one at all- I never entered debating classes at the big monasteries so in Gelug I am pretty much a nobody in the formal structure.

However, I do see the benefit of such structures in keeping a disciplined monastic study system going where people can really penetrate the teachings. The statement that such structures don't benefit women would have been correct five years ago. But it no longer is.

That is because for example the Geshe degree is now available to women. Since it is now accessible, it becomes a tool to help women become scholars on equal footing to men, and be the teachers and managers of their own institutions.

http://www.thetibetpost.com/en/features ... hd-degrees

I am not sure that the Nichiren sect's democratic approach to practice means that it is more suitable to women as a rule. I am familiar with some of the Buddhist churches connected with it in Canada and most of the pastors and management are still men.

On the practical level, the lack of empowerment of women in Buddhism is more connected with the patriarchal structures of traditional Asian societies than academic degrees or Vinaya IMO.
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Re: Lineage and Individual Approaches to Practice

Postby rory » Wed Jul 31, 2013 5:07 am

I appreciate your addressing this. You may be a 'nobody' but you're a male nobody. How many female translators are there? How many female high lamas or Dalai Lamas have there been?

Shakyamuni taught around what 500 B.C.E. He walked around and taught everybody, telling them they could achieve enlightenment. He ordained men and women. His wife and aunt became enlightened. He didn't leave an appointed successor or institution. So now it's approx 2,000 years later and you're telling me women now can become geshes.

What happened in those years? Shakyamuni was radical, he taught that everything changes. He didn't leave orgs or hierarchies or say women couldn't become enlightened; these were created by men and their cultural perceptions and they kept women out and down and ignorant. What is the obsession with Vinaya but a way to keep Theravada women from becoming nuns, and Tibetan nuns what haven't they just gotten the full vinaya.

In Nichiren Buddhism women can become priestesses, in the Japanese tradition this is easy, though they won't become the heads of sects, only Japanese men. It's sexist but less so as there are fewer barriers, I've dealt with having a master in studying esoteric buddhism the power plays were nasty.

The fault lies that Buddhist men embraced their patriarchal culture more than the teachings of Shakyamuni and their hypocracy in loading ideas of karma onto womenś backs but not that of change.
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Re: Lineage and Individual Approaches to Practice

Postby rory » Wed Jul 31, 2013 5:18 am

I appreciate your addressing this. You may be a 'nobody' but you're a male nobody. How many female translators are there? How many female high lamas or Dalai Lamas have there been?

Shakyamuni taught around what 500 B.C.E. He walked around and taught everybody, telling them they could achieve enlightenment. He ordained men and women. His wife and aunt became enlightened. He didn't leave an appointed successor or institution. So now it's approx 2,000 years later and you're telling me women now can become geshes.

What happened in those years? Shakyamuni was radical, he taught that everything changes. He didn't leave orgs or hierarchies or say women couldn't become enlightened; these were created by men and their cultural perceptions and they kept women out and down and ignorant. What is the obsession with Vinaya but a way to keep Theravada women from becoming nuns, and Tibetan nuns what haven't they just gotten the full vinaya.

In Nichiren Buddhism women can become priestesses, in the Japanese tradition this is easy, though they won't become the heads of sects, only Japanese men. It's sexist but less so as there are fewer barriers, I've dealt with having a master in studying esoteric buddhism the power plays were nasty.

The fault lies that Buddhist men embraced their patriarchal culture more than the teachings of Shakyamuni and their hypocracy in loading ideas of karma onto womenś backs but not that of change.
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Re: Lineage and Individual Approaches to Practice

Postby Indrajala » Wed Jul 31, 2013 5:40 am

rory wrote:He ordained men and women. His wife and aunt became enlightened. He didn't leave an appointed successor or institution. So now it's approx 2,000 years later and you're telling me women now can become geshes.


Organized monasticism is quite male-centric and always has been. The Buddha never granted a single geshe degree.

Women don't have to play that game. They can and might as well do their own thing. Start their own club. If the boys get upset, well then that is their problem.

To balance things out it'd be nice to see female-oriented Buddhist sisterhoods that address issues specific to women. It doesn't have to be political or specifically pro-queer, but just something like a priestess circle that men don't have access to. They could govern themselves without having to answer to men who are not part of the club.

That might sound divisive, but really there are a lot of things that men can't really understand about women and vice-versa, so recognizing such gender differences could be key to having a healthy balance.
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Re: Dealing With Desire

Postby Ramon1920 » Wed Jul 31, 2013 7:48 am

This thread is all over the place.

Traditions have their upside and downside.
Lineages have no downside I can think of right now besides when a lineage falls into bad hands and either corrupt it or restrict it for some devious reason.

We're lucky in that we can travel, many of us anyways. So we can exercise a certain amount of choice when it comes to teachers and peers.
If we're very critical, we can avoid the downsides.

The unfortunate reality is that we are far too stupid and careless to reinvent the Dharma. We basically have to take the risk of following some person that relays the Buddha's message or strike out on our own, making small progress, and then dying. If not for Buddhist teachers, what would I be doing? Probably still struggling with the ideas of God or materialism. I am not so attentive and earnest that I would rediscover the Dharma myself.
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Re: Dealing With Desire

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Jul 31, 2013 8:33 am

Ramon1920 wrote: The unfortunate reality is that we are far too stupid and careless to reinvent the Dharma. We basically have to take the risk of following some person that relays the Buddha's message or strike out on our own, making small progress, and then dying. If not for Buddhist teachers, what would I be doing? Probably still struggling with the ideas of God or materialism. I am not so attentive and earnest that I would rediscover the Dharma myself.
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Re: Lineage and Individual Approaches to Practice

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Jul 31, 2013 11:31 am

How many female translators are there?


Actually female translators greatly outnumber male translators in my tradition. In my Tibetan translator training course, it was 80% women.

Also, understand that just as in Nichiren, the system of Tibetan Buddhism is practically not as Patriarchal in the West. In fact, it is dominated by women. The director of the centre I am connected with in Amsterdam is a woman. My "boss" and in fact the authority who manages the Geshe and translator positions throughout FPMT, is a woman. So actually for the most part I answer to women in my job environment, which I'm completely cool with. If I weren't, I would have problems finding work as a translator.
Last edited by JKhedrup on Wed Jul 31, 2013 11:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lineage and Individual Approaches to Practice

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Jul 31, 2013 11:47 am

He didn't leave orgs or hierarchies or say women couldn't become enlightened; these were created by men and their cultural perceptions and they kept women out and down and ignorant.


Well, actually, he did leave the Sangha body, as well as a general system of seniority to govern the monastic Sangha. I do agree with you though, that it has become unnecessarily complicated and hierarchical. And unfortunately sometimes those hierarchies developed in patriarchal societies and the structures disempowered women and their spiritual aspirations.

As for saying women couldn't become enlightened, I have honestly never heard this taught by any Tibetan master I have ever listened to (and I've listened to many!). The story of Tara alone would dispel this myth, and several of my teachers have stated that in some of the tantric systems women would progress more quickly towards enlightenment than men.

So now it's approx 2,000 years later and you're telling me women now can become geshes.


The Geshe system is a Gelug construct and much less than 2,000 years old. It is an academic degree, and yes, it is now accessible to women. Did it take too long? Absolutely. Should we deny this is progress? That would be silly. It wasn't so long ago in Western countries that women weren't allowed to vote. And don't forget that during the crucial years of the feminist movement in the West the Tibetans were fleeing over the mountains as refugees and trying to scrape together enough for basic survival. Not ideal conditions for a social justice movement- this is why I think things are taking longer in Tibetan society than many of us would like, but understanding the circumstances might be helpful.


This statement:
How many female high lamas or Dalai Lamas have there been?


Indicates the same problems present in Nichiren Buddhism, as you mentioned here:
in the Japanese tradition this is easy, though they won't become the heads of sects, only Japanese men.


Also, check out the present Dalai Lama's statements that the next in his line could be a woman here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on- ... e-a-woman/

If "Priestess" means the head of a temple and teacher, this is also possible within the institutions of the Tibetan tradition, especially the nunneries. Khandro Rinpoche comes to mind as a leading teacher of her tradition, as do Jetsun Kushok la, Khandro-la and others. Many of the eminent scholars and practitioners of the tradition in the West are women- Anne Klein, Ven. Thubten Chodron, Lama Tsultrim Allione, Jetsunma Palmo etc. Are there enough? No, but it isn't as if there aren't any at all.

I've dealt with having a master in studying esoteric buddhism the power plays were nasty.


The power plays in all schools of Buddhism are nasty. Whether we speak about the SGI's involvement in politics in Japan, Tibetan court intrigue, Zen and militarism and colonialism, or the present nationalistic movements associated with Theravada in Burma and Sri Lanka. To single out esoteric Buddhism seems odd, and I wonder whether it is to frame Nichiren as a better alternative (which I can understand, most practitioners are convinced that their own school in the best "brand".)

From the cursory readings of Nichiren's writings that I have done to better understand the perspective you are coming from in this thread, I do see that he championed the possibility of enlightenment for women. But on the organizational, practical level in very traditional Japanese society, I don't see that this has led to widespread empowerment of women or women in leading ecclesiastical roles. (Perhaps in the West it is different, but as I mentioned above, this is also the case in Tibetan Buddhism!).

Do not forget that there is a strong element of feminine divinity in Tibetan Buddhism, and I don't think this can be so easily dismissed. Several of the most cherished practice traditions, such as the Chod or Severance Practice, come through women.
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Re: Lineage and Individual Approaches to Practice

Postby rory » Thu Aug 01, 2013 4:56 am

Sakyadhita frankly is probably the best bet for empowering Buddhist women. Here you can read about the situation of Tibetan nuns from a Western Tibetan nun, it's just depressing.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michaela- ... 21834.html
I don't think these women are radical enough to go their own way though I agree with Ven. Indrajala it would be the better choice, allowing them to pursue enlightenment under favourable circumstances that suit them rather than wasting their time and energy getting male traditional establishments to treat them equally and dealing with that environment. Frankly it's very tiring.

JKhedrup; you're thinking women's rights are progressive. That's not the case. Western women had many rights under the late pagan Roman republic and early Empire, except for the vote, perhaps some more than we have today. They had property rights, could sue in court, will property, engage in business, make contracts, they could freely divorce their husbands at will, control their fertility, freely abort, adopt, have sex with men/women/both, be surgeons, doctors, gladiatrices, riters, owners of shops, be politically influential. . Pagan Irish women were very free under the Brehon laws. Women had rights in ancient Zoroastiran Iran.Christianity and Islam are patriarchal, same with Hinduism which heavily influenced Buddhism.

Please don't confuse 'social justice' with Buddhism's emphasis on change & it's original equality of the sexes, that's been abandoned & except for Bernard Faure, no one really cares. As for my problem with esoteric practices, I don't object to them. It's rather the hierarchy that controls who gets them. Did you know in Japan Empress Komyo built many nunneries for women, but subsequently they weren't supported by the government as Emperors wanted the esoteric rituals brought from China and the nuns weren't empowered to perform them...Women were banned from Mt. Hiei and Mt. Koya the centers of esoteric practice in Japan. so that's the beginning and decline of nuns in Japan.

The feminine divinity in Tibetan Buddhism reminds me of the VIrgin Mary or Guan Yin, really popular but it doesn't improve the status of women at all.I don't think Nichiren buddhism is the best alternative, right now it's a place that works, I'd enjoy studying Hosso (yogacarya) and Kegon (avatamsaka) schools with esoteric Shingon but I haven't met a master I'd put any trust in...that's the rub.
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Re: Lineage and Individual Approaches to Practice

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Aug 01, 2013 1:34 pm

JKhedrup; you're thinking women's rights are progressive. That's not the case.

I have to read up on this subject, I may well not understand the nuances. And I am interested- it is just there are many different things I am interested in researching so it is hard to choose. But it is important to be informed.

Western women had many rights under the late pagan Roman republic and early Empire, except for the vote, perhaps some more than we have today.


As you mention, Western (which here means white) women. The Roman Empire also had an established system of slavery, as well as sex slavery in women from conquered peoples. Certainly it would not be seen as an example of a truly progressive society in the modern context.


Please don't confuse 'social justice' with Buddhism's emphasis on change & it's original equality of the sexes, that's been abandoned & except for Bernard Faure, no one really cares.


I don't think I was confusing the two, my comments were not really in that vein. I was stating that (see previous comments) while the feminist movement in Western countries was making its biggest gains the Tibetans were coming over the mountains into India and still in subsistence mode. So to expect the same level of progress in such circumstances doesn't seem realistic.

. As for my problem with esoteric practices, I don't object to them. It's rather the hierarchy that controls who gets them.


With how Vajrayana seems to work in the West I don't blame you for having this impression. However, really there are many tantric practices available outside the hierarchy, from retreat lamas who live in the mountains and pass on initiation and instruction to small groups of students with little or no money and social status. Similarly, in the monasteries tantric initiations and commentaries are open to all qualified participants- I have sponsored initiations at Sera, for example, where monks and nuns both participated and received equal offerings. We didn't charge anything, I made the offering to the master and paid the Sangha to come! The event was also open to laypeople.

In closing I have no argument that the status of women in Buddhism is a serious issue that needs to be worked on. I just think that the structures of the monastic community are necessarily the root cause. In fact, handled properly monasticism is a tremendous vehicle for the empowerment of Buddhist women. Just look at modern Taiwanese Buddhism!

The new Geshe degree for nuns is the major turning point for progress in the Gelug tradition (http://mandala.fpmt.org/tag/geshe-degree/), but there are also exciting things happening in other lineages, especially the Drukpa lineage (http://drukpa-nuns.org/) which is developing really exciting programs.

So my hope is that the monastic structures continue to change to impart more opportunities for education and training to nuns and that we have well educated Buddhist women in leadership roles.

My fear is that a knee-jerk reaction to the inequalities might lead people to fault the monastic system and think getting rid of it will lead to more equality for women, which I think is mistaken. The lack of a functioning monastic system in Japan has led to many problems. I remember when a group of Japanese students came to Sera for initiations with one of my teachers. I asked one of the group members why, with a well-established Buddhist tradition with lots of choices or practice style, Japanese would come to India to take teachings. Her honest opinion was that the lack of a monastic Sangha body led to the decline of the tradition. Although Buddhism in Asia is on the decline in general it has been especially marked in Japan- she felt that a strong monastic tradition would have kept it more vibrant.

You will get no argument from me that there are huge problems with the Sangha, one of which is the lack of opportunities for women. But I feel the solution is to reform and open the Sangha, rather than jettison it. The Sangha has kept Buddhism alive for centuries.
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