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Reading Discussion Questions Week #10

Buddhist Women on the Edge - First Section

Please read the book's introductory remarks, and then read the chapters indicated below and prepare to discuss them next week. These questions are to guide your critical reading and to prepare for the written Reading Reflection assignment.

In the study of American Buddhism, "ethnic" and "convert" are the two main categories of American Buddhists. Ethnic Buddhists are immigrants or the descendents of Asian immigrants. Converts are dominant culture people who joined movements and practice groups which essentially are all of the Asian varieties of Buddhism: Japanese, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Tibetan, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. Sometimes they marry someone who is ethnic, but more often than not, they joined a Zen or Vipassana or Tibetan group which had its start in the 1960s.

Converts learned yoga, meditation and sometimes martial arts. They learned Asian cookery and medicine. They may have gone on week-end, three-week, or year long retreats for the purpose of achieving inner peace or the other motives of religious seekers.

In this book you will encounter converts to Vipassana or Theravadan (Sri Lanka and Burma) tradition, Mahayana (Japan, China, Vietnam) tradition, and Vajrayana (Tibetan) tradition. Some of these women have been all over the world; some found a Buddhist practice group in their own hometown. For more background information on Buddhism, see the new "Buddhism Resources" link on the upper-right directory list (be sure to 'refresh' your main page to see the new links).

As you read, please compare and contrast these women’s experiences with what we have read of feminism and Christianity or Judaism in the Plaskow and Christ books.

If you get confused about terms, please consult the Glossary in the back of the book, p. 305 – 308, and please remember that when one studies Buddhism and Zen, there are at least a half dozen languages that the terms are drawn from, so if you get confused, remember that it’s all part of “Beginner’s Mind."

1) Introduction
* How have Buddhist practice and philosophy helped the editor, Marianne Dresser, deal with uncomfortable and discouraging experiences with individuals and institutions in her adopted religion?
* What drove Marianne to seek “an authentic spiritual life" within Buddhism?
* Why is she uncomfortable with the human tendency to silence dissent and with unwillingness to look deeply into the social conditions of patriarchal religions?
* Why was it important for Marianne to represent diverse viewpoints in this book?

2) “Form, Emptiness" - p. 13 – 17
Sally Tisdale brings questions abour “is gender destiny" and “does gender make a difference".
* Why might women feel lonely and not have their relational needs met in a religion that fused with 13th C. Japanese feudal cultural and martial arts (classical Zen)? Where sitting practices and keeping silence is the norm? Where lineages and canonized leadership is always male?
* How can gender be illusion when a woman bleeds, goes through menopause, gives birth to children?
* What does Sally long for /call for in this essay?

3) “Sounds of Silence" - p. 19 – 36

Some Buddhist concepts/terms that Kate is incorporating into this essay:
** No-Self -- the Buddhist belief that a permanent self does not exist.
** Radical Empiricism – Buddha’s insistence that we need only believe our own (enlightened) experience, that Buddhists don’t have to take anything on faith or from dogma.
** Delusion – our ordinary mind which is caught in samsara (the suffering condition of the world).
** Mindfulness – that which cuts through the delusion.

* If the politics of Buddhism is the interconnection of all beings, how is Buddhist problem-solving different from that of the mainstream culture? (Do you see any similarities with the Christ article in Weaving the Visions?)
* What are the principles of “socially engaged Buddhism”?
* What do Buddhism and feminism have in common? (p. 22)
* How did Kate O’Neill get started on her meditation practice path? What was her first obstacle? (How does this relate to some of the statistics about women in this book?)
* Why is it important for Kate that feminist awareness inform her Buddhist practice?
(Does Kate’s lesbian feminist stance remind you of anyone else we have read?

4) “The Light of Outrage: Women, Anger and Buddhist Practice” - p. 51 – 56
* How does Anita Barrows explain the creative power of anger? Holy anger? Rage? Outrage? What is the Buddhist position on anger? How is this similar to Christian
teachings on anger? What are the implications for women’s experience?
* How are women acculturated in regards to expressing anger? How can anger be an empowerment rather than something to be denied?
* Who else have we met who expressed profound anger at the condition of her culture?

5) “Bowing, Not Scraping” - p. 57 – 67
* What kinds of cognitive dissonance does Katie Wheeler express about her adopted religion? What contradictions does she find in World Buddhism?
* How did Katie get on the Dharma path?
* What were some difficult places along that path as a nun in a Burmese order?
* Did you notice any similarities between Kathie’s Theravadan conversion and how she approached her latest conversion to Tibetan Buddhism?
* Why do Western women put up with subordination (and humiliation) in an Eastern religious context that they wouldn’t abide in their own culture?
* Is there any hope for change so that Dharma women have equality with men?

6) “Watering the Garden with My Eyes Closed” - p. 163 – 170.
* Explain how the themes of this essay could be summarized as “opening the heart”and “how all boundaries/walls are artificial.”
* How did you react to Barbara Gates’ life situation? – fighting neighbors, breast cancer, feelings of inner violence, love of garden, concern for daughters, genocide in Bosnia……etc.