The controversy over Bikkhuni ordination a few months ago created quite a stir in Australia, Europe, North America, Thailand and elsewhere. There have been plenty of accusations of sexism, misogyny and the like directed towards the Thai Sangha, principally from the West for their actions in response to Ajahn Brahm’s participation in that ordination event.
Some of the more vociferous comments came from the Zen community or more specifically from the non-mainstream Zen community. Brad Warner wrote the article My Home Town and Bullshit Sexism in Buddhism and John Pappas wrote Filthy, Filthy Buddhist Women! for example. It was also discussed in forums, emails and in conversations.
At times the discussion ramped up to include the usual story about the archaic, paternalistic approach that Asian Buddhism seems to embrace. It is true that women’s rights aren’t too high on the agenda for most Asian countries outside or inside Sangha. There have been calls for the West to distance itself from the “Asian”, non-“Progressive” social elements of Asian Buddhism in many quarters.
This is all very ironic considering the fact that sexism is alive and well in the West, including in Zen Buddhist quarters.
As a general social example in North America, in the runup to the 2010 Olympics there was a great deal of controversy about the lack of a women’s ski jumping event. Switzerland, Canada, USA, Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden all have women’s national level ski jumping teams. The ski jump has been built so necessary infrastructure is in place in Vancouver. The organizers seemed to overlook the fact that women participate in this event at an elite athletic level. When this was brought to their attention more than 2 years before the Olympics, various excuses were made such as scheduling difficulties, accommodation difficulties etc. They just hadn’t planned on it or even considered it. The matter even went to court, by which time it was truly too late to arrange anything.
It is in the social consciousness, institutionalized to such an extent that most organizations and indeed most people don’t think too much about it.
I had a brief exchange on Twitter the other day. The other person was a male and had compared my blog to that of another woman. He said “NellaLou’s blog is like a thinking person’s” version of that other blog. It was meant to be a compliment I believe, but it brought up some interesting thoughts on my part. Some of these included:
- The issue of comparisons and competitions.
- Gender specific comparisons.
- “Thinking” as a measurement that signifies something.
- Are women’s blogs a specific category? If so how are they different than men’s blogs?
- Are men’s blogs considered a category or are they just taken for granted as “blogs”?
- Is it a surprise that a woman can be a “thinking person”? Clearly, by comparison the other woman indicated is not deemed to be so even though she is professionally accomplished.
This brought on further interest in checking out blogs, specifically the Zen variety. In general when I look at the blogroll here there are considerably more blogs by men than women. And of all those there are more Zen men than women although the women are certainly not absent. So I went a little further afield.
At the Zen Community aggregator blog there are 32 blogs listed. None are written by women. The only woman’s work that may appear on that site is Karen Do’on Weik who is the partner of Jay Rinsen Weik as co-creators of The Drinking Gourd Dharma Circle Blog which is affiliated with the Toledo Zen Center. There is an excellent blog written by Barry Briggs included called Zen Women, which is about the Zen Women throughout history. They are all dead. Are there no living Zen Women to include on their own in the Zen Community?
Well to answer that rhetorical question, here is a list of some Zen Women bloggers who are very much alive and kicking.
108 Zen Books by the irrepressible Genju
ZenDotStudio by a multi-talented artist
The Dalai Grandma is Jeanne Desy of Columbus, Ohio and writes about “Zen practice shared with (mostly)a light heart”
Slipping Glimpser by Zenshin Florence Caplow is even a Zen priest
DQ’s Windmill by Donna Quesada
My Zen Experience by Myochi
The Jizo Chronicles by Maia Duerr
There are a few more Zen women bloggers such as Karen Maezen Miller, Joan Halifax, Barbara O’Brien but they blog elsewhere. So all in all it’s not like Zen women bloggers don’t exist.
So perhaps it was just an oversight. Perhaps it just didn’t cross anyone’s mind to include any women in the Zen Community.
In a more overall look at Buddhist blogs consider the OneCity blog with a ratio of 9 men/3 women or the Progressive Buddhism blog with 13 men/3 women listed as authors. In a couple of other large group blogs the ratios are as follows:
There may be numerous reasons for this invisible women mindset. Consider that on Wisdom Publications list of Authors, Editors and Translators approximately 12% of the list are women.
American Zen Teachers Association has quite a long list of practice centers and their teachers. Approximately 30 % of the teachers listed are women. This strikes me as a little better than the average inclusion rate.
It’s not like this is a new issue by any means.
Zen and the Art of Religious Prejudice is an essay that appears on the Zen Site in the Critical Zen section. The Soto Zen leadership:
…stubbornly ignored the increasingly vocal demands of wives and nuns until the shortage of male clerics during the Second World War forced them to acknowledge the importance of women in Sõtõ Zen religious life.
There are numerous historical examples of women’s “place” in Buddhism. Many may think this era came to an end when Buddhism began to take hold among the Acquired Buddhist community in Europe and North America. Yet with the bhikkuni issue the European leaders did not support Ajahn Brahm and outside of Theravada circles comment from leaders (Ven. Brad, Rev. Danny Fisher excepted) has been almost absent. Although as mentioned on this blog and elsewhere Ven. Tenzin Palmo Made a Statement Regarding Bhikkuni Ordination Controversy.
Could it be that the upholders of the State of Zen in America are not nearly as progressive as they would like to imagine ?
Thanks to Arun Likhati for the idea of checking ratios. His Asian Meter posts including the latest one Opportunities, Incentives and Privilege tell it like it is.
Appearing in the Review of Korean Studies Women Zen ancestors, a second take by Judy Roitman-provides an overview of women in Buddhist traditions with focus on Korea, academic study of this issue and personal reflection of the state of practice for women.
WOMEN IN AMERICAN ZEN:VARIATIONS ON ADAPTATIONS OF RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY by Susan Irion -thesis with a feminist critique of Zen practice