Gwiwer wrote:One thing I love about Buddhism is that it has a long history of skepticism and cautious inquiry dating all of the way back to the Buddha himself. As such, I'm not getting myself in too deep because I really don't know what the future will hold. A year from now I might be practicing Tibetan Buddhism, or Zen, or Theravada, or Pure Land Buddhism, or maybe an entirely different religion altogether. Until I get a better idea of where I'm heading with this, I'm trying to keep my options open and not get myself in too deep. That's one of the advantages of learning a language like Russian or Japanese over Tibetan. If I eventually decide Tibetan Buddhism isn't right for me, I could use my knowledge of that language for other purposes, but I can't really think of any practical purposes Tibetan would serve me other than having knowledge of a fairly interesting and rare language.
Okey dokey. Pema Chodron's books in English are really terrific and accessible.
Personally, I found it useful to go to various Buddhist centers and find out how it felt for me to be there in real life. I, too, find patriarchal religions distasteful. I explored world religions, as you have done, for a non-patriarchal religion where women adepts are held up as role models, the female form is used in religious imagery, and so forth. I ran across Yeshe Tsogyal's spiritual biography in a bookstore, and it was amazing. I looked at thankas of Tara... wow! Then I went to see Khandro Rinpoche at a retreat center in Vermont and heard her talk and learned to meditate. The experience of stepping outside my worldview, outside my comfort zone, just for a couple of days, really shook up my world.
It took a couple of years after that for my to sit down and have a talk with myself. "Listen, self, what is it you are looking for?" You want to explore an authentic wisdom lineage based on compassion in which to explore via personal practice, all the deeper question you have about the nature of reality, and evolve to a higher level of wisdom and understanding. Will you ever find such a tradition that is completely non-patriarchal in this world? You're in your 30's, who much longer are you going to wait to commit to a path so that you can take it to it's depth? You only have so many years left!"
I decided the Nyingma or Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism best met my criteria, because they had female adepts in the their lineage tree, and current female masters (and I did not choose a female teacher and my meditation master, just knowing they were there was good enough for me). You might look in to the Shangpa Kagyu tradition of the Kagyu, and the Nyingma tradition, and then do your research about specific lineage masters reputation, then check them out. The Gelugpa and Sakyas tend to be more monastic and intellectual in focus, of course there is always Jetsun Kusho-la, who -- as a Sakya leader-- is the highest ranking woman in the traditional Tibetan hierarchy.
If you can afford to go to Tara Mandala in the U.S. (Pagosa Springs, CO) I think you will enjoy it. Unfortunately, they have to charge a lot to keep the place going.
Good luck! This is a precious sacred exploration.