By Michelleanne Bradley
I have been off of my practice for a little while.
I do not mean that I have not been practicing; I have been practicing with a fierceness and concentration that is impressive, especially for me. I mean that I have not known until I was recently made aware that by practicing while female, I have apparently been remiss. On one discussion thread I had a fellow practitioner tell me that there is actual science behind why women may have more obstacles in certain practices such as meditation, due to the way that male and female bodies are different. The practitioner went on to explain that it doesn’t mean that women cannot do a thing, just that women may need more effort, and since our lifetime is limited, it may be easier to attain in a male body.
Now look, I am sure that there are many ways to insult the snot out of everyone, and really, for me, the best way is to tell me that I cannot do something because I am a woman.
Here is the thing, I could fill volumes with anecdotes, and little tales and first-hand experiences. I could ask my girlfriends to share their stories too, and we could get our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers, and the whole of women forever for eternity to share our stories. We could tell you how the insults happen, the little digs, the microaggressions, the macroaggressions, the social constructs, the blatant discrimination that has been in place for damn ever.
I know, I know.
There are those who say that it’s all a bunch of falsehoods, that women are not discriminated against, that they are just viewed as “different.” Not able to learn as much. Not able to earn as much. Not able to do as much. Not strong enough. Not big enough.
Not enough. Not enough. Not enough.
I cannot tell you how old and tired and exhausting that story line becomes after a few millennia. Let us clarify that narrative a bit. Siddhartha Gautama is said to have started welcoming women into the sangha beginning with Mahaprajapati—his stepmother who was also his aunt—after persistent requests by her, and intervention by the Buddha’s cousin, Ananda. The timeline on this is supposed to have been about five years from the time it took Siddhartha Gautama becoming the Buddha to come around to ordaining women.
That was over 2600 years ago that Siddhartha Gautama sat under the Bodhi tree. Another 454 years later, the teachings were first written down. That is a lot of time for Buddhism to be solely an oral tradition, and in that time, we see the introduction of the variations on the number of vows taken for women (311) versus that for men (227).
So, what is the hold up with some current practitioners and leaders to see that women are actually full on capable of all of this?
There are arguments that the lineage of female practitioners cannot be traced back to Siddhartha Gautama, and that is why they cannot be fully ordained within a tradition. There is no excusing the erasing of the lineage of women practitioners by male practitioners. See how this gets exhausting?
I have read of women who have laughed off the idea that they are not capable, and sometimes I have been that woman. I cannot laugh it off anymore. I have heard so many variations about women who do not want to do certain practices because they lack the strength, the critical thought or the intellectual complexities. I tell you what, that is all a bunch of crap. Those stories? They are just that—stories.
They are tall tales to make some feel superior and others inferior, and that is not supposed to be the point of any belief system. There will come a time, because it has already come for many of us, when women will just say that they have had enough of being told that they are not enough. When that time comes, there will be no options other than to change.
This is not a movement that will need to be driven by the men in the practice, this will wholly be driven by the women in practice. All of this talk from the Dalai Lama, from Karmapa, from the leaders of the Theravada traditions, it will be seen as just that, talk.
We are here to build community, to create connection, and to seek enlightenment. Get on track with that. Get off of our shoulders.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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