March 26, 2009

Week #11 Reading Reflection Assignment

REMINDER: visit on April 2 by Pat Darling to talk about her experiences with contemporary Buddhist practice.

Due for full credit on April 2; due for "grace period" 1 point down on April 9.

These articles reflect a wide range of perspectives of American women who have embraced Buddhist practice. They move away from primary concerns of inclusion and battling sexism to more exploration of the value of Buddhist practice. Respond to the following prompts in your reading reflection:
-- What, on the whole, do these writers feel is the attraction of Buddhist practice to contemporary American women?
-- How can women be able to benefit from Buddhist practice in the face of ongoing social difficulties (sexism being one of them) that are part of the human dimension of any religious organization with thousands of years of tradition?
-- For you, what were some of the highlights or things you found interesting about Buddhism that you learned from these articles?
-- For the two African American women, bell hooks and Jan Willis, what do they articulate about how Buddhist practice is helpful to them in terms of their own traditions and their own situations as women of color in America? Do they have particular insights / concerns / unique experiences because of their situation as women of color?
-- What would you like to know more about regarding Buddhism? (If you get this posted before Pat Darling comes to talk to us on April 2, we can give her the questions you post.)

Week #11 Reading Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions for April 3, Buddhist Women On The Edge

1) bell hooks, p. 287, "Contemplation and Transformation"
** If you have a prior exposure to bell hooks or her writings as a feminist and African American activist, were you surprised to learn that she identifies as a Buddhist?
** What is your understanding of her assertion that "love is an active practice.....To commit to love is fundamentally to commit to life beyond dualism."
** Does your faith ask you to be in love with the universe (even the hard parts)?
** What brought bell hooks to Buddhism?
** What are some difficulties for African Americans who get involved with Buddhism?
** How does the culture of domination depend on dualism and victimhood?
** How does she explain the connection between suffering and love?
** How does she explain the transformative power of Buddhism (and its
capacity to create social/cultural "revolution"??

2) Pema Chodron, p. 293, "No Right, No Wrong"
** What did you make of Pema Chodron's moral ambiguity in regards to her relationship with her teacher Chogyam Trungpa and what most of us would identify as "immoral' behavior?
** Can one love and respect and be devoted to someone who doesn't keep ethical norms (without being hurt or compromised)?
** What is her advice to fellow students who find themselves being propositioned by someone "who loves women"?
** Are her eyes wide open on this issue? Again, how does she handle the ambiguity?
** What did you understand about groundlessness (the wisdom of insecurity is what another Buddhist teacher called it) and Pema's quest to "be free of habitual patterns.....which maintain a false sense of security which denies death." Is this an unusual desire? How does her teacher push her envelope?
** How does Pema define genuine compassion?
** Would you find her spiritual counseling or advice useful?

3) Jan Willis, p. 81, "Buddhism and Race."

** How does Jan combine "Baptist - Buddhism"? (In her autobiography, she goes into more detail about how the Baptist part still works for her. It's much like why Raenel Jones still goes to her mother's church, for comfort, for familiarity, and for the music).
** What is her critique of American Buddhist centers in regards to creating a comfort zone for people of color?
** What is her observation about why Nichiren Shoshu of America has had more success in attracting women of color (including Tina Turner) than other Buddhist centers?
** What does Jan Willis get from Buddhism? From teaching Buddhism in the academy?
** What is the deep knowledge that Willis reminds us that black people carry, and what experience does this knowledge come from?
** What wisdom and understanding do black people have to offer all people?

4) Thubten Chodron, p. 223, "Living as a Western Buddhist Nun"
** Have you ever had questions similar to the ones Thubten Chodreon asks on page 223? ** What did she find in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that wasn't there for her in mainstream Western culture?
** How would you respond if it were your child that announced that he/she was being ordained as a Buddhist monk/nun? What was Thubten Chodron's lifestyle after ordination?
** What are some of the challenges of being a Western nun in the Tibetan tradition? Pay particular attention to these: not speaking Tibetan; being a woman in a male-dominated hierarchical religious institution; being an educated, assertive, active, initiating American rather than a demure, quiet Asian female monastic (please excuse the stereotype); living alone vs. living in community; having to work for livelihood; and dealing with gender discrimination.
** What does she finally conclude about maintaining options as Buddhism comes to the West?
** Did you find any advantages or benefits for the monastic life?

5) Rita Gross, p. 133, "Renunciation and Balance in American Buddhist Practice" >
** What kind of lifestyle actually promotes becoming an enlightened Buddha? (Buddhist theory says that we're all Buddhas in the making, that enlightenment is on a continuum, which places Shakyamuni Buddha as being fully enlightened---and that his enlightenment was attained over many, many lifetimes).
** Is it possible for lay people to experience the same level of realization as the monastics?
** In her "dissertation" on Renunciation (giving up) and Community (joining), how does family fare in Rita Gross' article? What obstacles to detachment and renunciation do immersion in work and family present? Why does she suggest denouncing "domesticity"? How might the fact that Rita Gross didn’t have children affect her thinking?
** Buddhist tradition takes Refuge in the Sangha, or the community. Why does Gross say the Buddhist community is not a place to provide security for the ego or a safe social environment? Then what is the purpose of this community? (To replace the family? To give unconditional love? Mutual admiration society?) How does renunciation fit into this community?
** As a feminist, Gross notes "the absolutely critical importance of relationships to spiritual well being." How is this insight similar to the other readings from this course? ** How can "Right Livelihood" help American Buddhists balance work, family, and community in pursuit of enlightenment?