Friday, March 29, 2013

Conscious Construction and Leg Shaving

In some schools of Zen, including ours, people talk of "conscious construction," that our entire world as we know it is entirely constructed by our mind.  You can get really deep into the analyses of this idea but at a most basic level it makes sense right?  We can never truly be in someone else's shoes, ours are the only ones that fit.  A great example is that if you ask several people how they remember a certain event they all attended together, they will all say something different.  Or if you feel one way about something that happened to you, chances are you will feel different about it 5 minutes later, 5 hours later, 5 days later, etc. and this has nothing to do with the event changing, you changed.  We bring all of our past (karma) into every moment and it colors what we see.

Bear with me here as I shine this light on the topic of feminism, sex and looking cute (yes I am a little obsessed with these topics lately).  I was talking with my husband about dressing sexy and wanting to look cute.  We may have different perspectives...I think I believe that the experience and pressures of appearance are different for men than women (some may disagree with me and that's cool).  Which brings me to one of my points of personal inquiry: what do I do with the specific baggage that comes along with being me and a woman?  When I want to look "cute" is this simply what men (and other women) have been telling me since I was born ("oh what a beautiful little girl you are!").  Is it possible to look cute, express myself in a way I feel good about, that isn't about being better than other women, consuming (buying and wearing) products made in sweatshops or trying to please some other group by "selling" my body and what it can do for someone?  As humans, how important is it to feel accepted and what does appearance have to do with it?

If I have large breasts does that mean I can never wear anything tight because it is provoking someone and their pornographic fantasy?  Now this may be too much information but what about leg shaving?  As many of you know, I haven't been shaving my legs for quite some time now.  One of the reasons is that it's time consuming, another is, why get rid of something I was born with, another is a big F*** you to people say women who don't shave are manly and unattractive.  BUT I am not at the point where I do it because I think it looks good....(blush, shame) It's easy not to worry about it in the winter cuz I always wear pants but as summer (bathingsuit season) comes I get a little anxious.  I am an Italian woman, which means I have dark hair and a good amount of it and I am not totally comfortable in a bathingsuit.  Now what do I do with that?  Who wants to be stared at, mostly by men, and looked upon with open disgust?  What makes me care about people who act like that?!?!?  

So I have this world view that is consciously constructed by my own mind and includes mainstream ideals of attractiveness.  I have a lifetime of baggage (ie. social feedback) about what is acceptable and what is not.  The wild card is how much control do I have over what I assimilate and what I reject.

The Feminist Current has a great blog post that sort of inspired this post in thinking about how all this objectifying continues.  This is a quote from the post, I definitely recommend you check it out.
"...women shouldn’t have to be sexy and naked in order to get the attention of the media (yet they do) and that this just perpetuates the idea that women are to-be-looked-at. Why do women (and not men) need use their “sexy” bodies to bring about awareness to serious issues like homophobia, dictatorship, sexism and racism?."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Taking Refuge in Evil

Jiryu (click left to listen) gave a talk a few weeks ago that blew a lot of minds.  I highly recommend giving it a listen, even if you know nothing about Buddhism, especially if you know nothing about Buddhism.  But he knocked some socks of when talking about a little known sect of Buddhism that, among other things, talks about taking refuge not just in the good but the "evil."  People had a really hard time with that.  It made me think of a common zen phrase is mentioned often around here, "turning away and touching are both wrong."

For example, the ecosattvas (environmentalist bodhisattvas) have been working on a project of figuring out how to change the way San Francisco Zen Center and Green Gulch invests its money.  (If you thought Buddhists don't trifle with such things as the stock market you are incorrect)  Zen Center is an institution that in many ways is no different than all of the other institutions and corporations we blame for the impending demise of the earth and its inhabitants.  Kogen (my husband) and I seem to respond in ways that to me look a little like turning away and touching.  He is touching the conflict and the pain and feeling it so deeply it sometimes looks like despair and anger.  Whereas I seem to be turning away.  I feel like there is no stopping this train of destruction we're on and maybe also that I know that everyone of us is complicit and we cannot escape participating in some way.  I don't want to see what I can't change.  Both missing the point? Yes I think so.

There is also a saying that "one must be steeped in relative truth before being able to see the ultimate truth."  In other words, we have to slug through all the touching and turning away that humans do, it's called practice.  We will go around and around the wheel of karma (or samsara) of actions and consequences and their consequences and their consequences until...we can truly act from a place with no gain in mind?  I know it sounds crazy!  We debated it for most of one evening's Genjo Koan class.  How we just "sit" here when there is so much suffering in the world?  Are we actually engaging in the world when we sit in the zendo?  When we go out into the world to "fight" the injustice, what exactly do we think is going to happen?  What happens if our goal is not achieved?  How can we work towards something with no gain in mind?

So I think what Jiryu called evil is actually just all those things in the world that are painful, that we don't like.  But they are things caused by humans just like us.  And we wouldn't recognize them as "bad" if it didn't touch a place inside that has felt it before.  So taking refuge to me means not running away from the problems and to let people know you see them and their exactly the same way we want to be seen.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Reflections on International Women's Day (belated)

So my first reaction to "women's day" was BARF!  Just what we need, another dumb hallmark holiday to pacify an oppressed group.  But it turns out this is a little more than that, maybe a lot more.  This day was started as part of a Socialist/Communist movement and was decidedly much more political than celebratory.  For an overview, check out my friend Wikipedia.

So let me step back to yesterday, the actual "women's day" of March 8.  It was brought to my attention as we celebrated Mahapajapati Gotami or the Buddha's stepmother and the first ordained woman in Buddhism.  As Eijun Linda Cutts talked about in last night's dharma talk, this awesome event was not without struggle.  Buddha refused to ordain her!!!  Yes you heard it people, the Buddha refused to ordain a woman, refused a second time and then was prevailed upon by one of his followers to acknowledge that women are just as likely and able to attain awakening (enlightenment) as any man.  The struggle did not end there.  Sutra writers (ie. not the Buddha) at some point in time claimed that the Buddha added a few (8) extra rules for his new female disciples.  These included: ordained women, no matter how long they have been practicing must always bow down to a male priest regardless of his length of time practicing, women cannot teach men while men can teach women, and women cannot ordain priests.  Many recent scholars have decided that these rules seem to have come into existence actually 500 years later than the Buddha's time....sketchy!  Or at least goes to show that, like the Bible and other religious texts, their origins are decidedly Man made and subject to constant change depending on the times and the social context or maybe even whims.  What that says to me is that we have to dig deep.  We have to dig deep and examine what parts of tradition are important to keep and why.  Because the "Buddha" said so?  Or because it feels right deep in our hearts, hara and guts.

So when a man on another blog tells me that in his teachings, the Buddha most certainly did address my experience as a woman in the 21 century I politely (sorta) will not accept that.  Sure I can be flexible and adapt things to speak to me but I need to have that freedom without persecution of being un-Buddhist.  I need institutional support and guidance.  There is a lot of discussion in the Buddhist community here in the United States about how Zen is settling in the West.  Traditionalists feel that we cannot make adjustments to "fit" our culture because then Zen will just become some watered down self-help group.  I acknowledge the danger of that while also positing that we cannot simply accept the ancient texts as "Buddha's" words and therefore the only way.  I live in a country where women are allowed to ordain as Buddhist priests and yet I am painfully aware that this option is not available to most female Buddhists in the world.  We are pointing at the conventional truth of an inequality that persists.  Linda Cutts thankfully made the connection last night in her talk that this origin of inequality may be related to the current issues of sexual abuse and misconduct rippling through Zen communities. Even our most beloved teachers who did not engage in "misconduct" are still susceptible to weakness.  Suzuki Roshi, founder of San Francisco Zen Center, had a first wife who was brutally murdered at his family's temple back in Japan.  His mother-in-law and a few others including other women warned him of their fear of this man but he did not listen.  Why didn't he listen?  Possibly because women were not listened to.  Suzuki Roshi felt the deep regret of that choice for the rest of his life.

So on this day of celebrating Mahapajapati I turn the light inward and reflect on what I can do to be upright and not slander others nor stand helpless or silent.

P.S. Check out this great article about great Zen women featuring our own Linda Cutta and Emila Heller!  Emila's picture showed up when I was looking for a picture of Mahapajapati.