7 June, 2009 - Women sometimes appear like second class citizens in Buddhism. Why is this?
Buddhism transcends equality between male and female, and aims to fully destroy all discriminatory concepts. Equality based on establishing two entities on a level footing is merely a fight between the changing concepts of superior and inferior. As such, it is not does not lead to genuine equality.
For example, a person discovers that a colleague is on a higher salary scale. He feels victimized and upset. Later, he hears that the colleague’s salary has been reduced. He regains his composure and feels happy. During the whole saga, the man’s income and life-style remained exactly the same. Yet, he was disturbed because his peace of mind was contingent on external reference points, rather than his own sense of well-being.
Therefore, relying on them as a means to gain peace is no different from leaning on a wobbly chair for stability - impossible. This is not to say that we not challenge social injustices, we should. However, when we do, we need to be aware that our opinions are not facts and will change. As history shows, this year’s champion is often next year’s villain.
Some people might question the Vajrayana stand on eliminating all worldly discriminations. Well, it is our attachment to the validity of one opinion over another that causes suffering.
Let’s consider a beauty contest. The judges ascribe beauty to a particular contestant and declare her the winner. However, this cannot be true. If a person truly possesses beauty then everyone would agree. Yet, a child may not consider the winner beautiful, maybe even an adult from a different culture. So, we understand that attributes such as beauty, ugly, pure or impure are merely imputed and do not exist separate from their reference points.
How does this help? Well, when we cling to a view as a fact, our opinions solidify. A beautiful person, for example, is considered to possess this quality, but from our analysis we know this cannot be true. Trying to maintain such unattainable standards causes much fear, from which only the owners of cosmetic companies and plastic surgery clinics can hope to gain. Examining the question from a different angle, we should consider our nature of mind. There is no male or female basic goodness of heart, nor are there inferior or superior versions. We all possess the same inner qualities.
On a mundane level, there are certain differences in the capacity of people to practice the Dharma. However, these are related more to karma, not gender. In Vajrayana, the only major difference between male and female relates to the way the mind takes rebirth. The energy of a male tends to be more concentrated, which signifies compassion. In a female, the energy is more spacious, which is linked to wisdom.
Likewise, there is absolutely no gender bias in enlightenment. Whether male or female, whoever contemplates the teachings and practices accordingly gains enlightenment. It is as simple as that.
History is testament to the ability of women to gain enlightenment. In recent times, the togdenmas in Tibet were an excellent example. Many of these yoginis spent decades in remote caves and achieved high levels of attainment.
Sukhasiddhi was another example. This fifty-nine year old mother of six was thrown out by her husband for showing too much generosity to a beggar. Wandering alone in the hostile valleys that border present day Pakistan and Afghanistan, she finally acquired a small amount of grain that she distilled and sold as alcohol. Her small business enjoyed modest success, and she was able to make an offering to a yogi practising in a nearby cave. As acknowledgement, she received a Dharma teaching. It is said she attained enlightenment that very evening.
It is important to realize that there are not two kinds of basic goodness - one for men another for women. We all awake to the same spaciousness and clarity. Any women who feel discouraged should remember Sukhasiddhi. She offers living proof that ultimately there are no gender, age or social barriers to enlightenment and that all human life is equally precious.