Rita Gross, Buddhism After Patriarchy

Buddhism After PatriarchyI’ve begun to make my way through Rita Gross’s powerful Buddhism After Patriarchy. Here’s one compelling passage:

“In traditional Buddhism, except for the teachings about karma, no major teaching has been used to explain or justify male dominance. As is the case for most major religions most of the time, the core texts present the major teachings in a sex-neutral manner. One would easily form the impression that they describe the human condition and prescribe ways of dealing with it that apply equally to women and men. Many Buddhist teachers reinforce that impression emplicitly or explicitly in their teaching style. Nevertheless, Buddhist institutions, both lay and monastic, are riddled with male dominance. As is so common, we find gender-neutral teachings appropriate to all human beings linked with male dominance of the religious life and institutions.

“Therefore, something more is needed. It is necessary explicitly and directly to tease out the implications about gender issues implicit in the major doctrines of Buddhism and apply those findings both to current Buddhist practices and to contemporary gender questions. The primary theses of this part of this book are that no major Buddhist teaching provides any basis for gender privilege or gender hierarchy and that these doctrines, in fact, mandate gender equality at the same time as they undercut the relevance of gender. Furthermore, it is also my thesis that these major teachings are much more compatible with feminist than with patriarchial manifestations of Buddhism. In other words, to be true to its own vision, Buddhism needs to transcend its androcentrism and patriarchy” (153).

One more time, just because it’s such a beautiful sentence: “In other words, to be true to its own vision, Buddhism needs to transcend its androcentrism and patriarchy.”

10 Misconceptions about Buddhism

Last year, Tricycle published an excellent list entitled “10 Misconceptions about Buddhism.” The misconceptions include ideas such as “All Buddhists meditate” (#1) and “All Buddhists are pacifists” (#4).

The list is a helpful one. Each item on the list has a link to a longer article on discussion on each of the topics. The article was written by two eminent Buddhist scholars, Robert Buswell and Donald Lopez.

Read it here: http://www.tricycle.com/blog/10-misconceptions-about-buddhism

Taoism and Teaching: Reflections on Silence


We’ve been studying ancient Chinese Religions in my Asian Religions course this fall, and we recently read Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching. While reading it, I was reminded of two of my favorite chapters and their connections to teaching. (Both chapters are from the Feng/English translation, a favorite of a former colleague and blog reader who asked me about my preferred translation of this text in my initial interview at my current school.)

Chapter 11:

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

I find this distinction between benefit and usefulness to be so helpful when thinking about my classes. We need to shape clay into bowls and cups, but those objects are useful because they also enclose space: they create openings into which other things can be put. And so it is with me as a teacher in the classroom: I need to shape words and ideas, yes, but I also need to step back and to create silence. Me pausing (and then pausing some more if necessary) opens up space for students to step into and speak. Part of my usefulness is an educator comes from what is not there: silence, space, an open invitation to participate.

I was reminded of this idea recently with one of my classes this fall. I’ve been writing short reflections after each day, in part as a practice to keep better track of what I’m doing, and in part to look for broader patterns and trends. A word kept emerging in my after-class reflections: oversteering. I felt as if I was too involved, and was doing too much work in class. More recently, I have decided to step back more during discussion, to allow for more silence, and to let students make some of the connections themselves. This means trusting my students more, and working on being more comfortable with silence and in uncertainty.

We had real success with this in class two days ago. We were discussing rescuers during the Holocaust, and I saw a connection to a previous reading we had done about a German bystander. In my enthusiasm, I almost made the remark, but I caught myself and waited. A student stepped into the silence, and then a few more spoke after her, building upon her ideas. Together they made the connection I wanted to make for them. They created something together, making connections to the material and to each other that they would not have been able to do if I had jumped in too soon.

This anecdote reminded me of Chapter 17 as well. Although the passage is written in the context of leaders and leadership, it has deep resonances with education as well.

The very highest is barely known.
Then comes that which people know and love.
Then that which is feared,
Then that which is despised.
Who does not trust enough will not be trusted.

When actions are performed
Without unnecessary speech,
People say, “We did it ourselves!”

Even better than being a teacher who is loved, Lao Tsu argues, is the one who is barely known. In this context, perhaps it’s preferring silence and the creation of space to an impassioned connection to another reading. If all goes well, this type of learning and classroom environment creates a space where students can talk to and learn from each other – where they can genuinely say, “We did it ourselves!”

What Would Krishna Do? Or Shiva? Or Vishnu?

Over the summer, several readers emailed me a link to this great interview with Jonardon Ganeri, a professor of Philosophy whose work has largely focused on the Sanskritic Indian traditions. His interview is a part of an ongoing series in The Stone, the philosophy blog at New York Times online.

He does an excellent job of speaking to the internal diversity in Hinduism: “The essence of Hinduism is that it has no essence. What defines Hinduism and sets it apart from other major religions is its polycentricity, its admission of multiple centers of belief and practice, with a consequent absence of any single structure of theological or liturgical power.”

Check out the interview below. And thanks to those who shared the link!