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Back in 1981, I attended the very first Women and Buddhism conference in the United States, held at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. This gathering became quite explosive, as women from Zen centers spoke up about the sexual power abuse perpetrated by their male teachers, and asked for help with this perennial problem.

From 1981 to 1990, there were seven Women and Buddhism conferences. The participants, from Zen, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhist sanghas, generally fell into one of two camps: women who had been involved in Buddhist practice for five years or more and were not particularly involved in the feminist discourse of the times, and feminists who had been organizing and demonstrating for women’s liberation and were newly drawn to Buddhism.

When feminists began to frequent Buddhist institutions, they started questioning the hierarchy and power dynamics they encountered. Many of the longtime Buddhist practitioners, for their part, were concerned about preserving the tradition. Energies for change and energies for continuity met in these conferences, where they were debated, explored, and acted out.

Much progress has taken place since then—in scholarship, in challenging traditional hierarchical structures, in feminizing the language of chants and liturgy, and in women being recognized as lineage-holding dharma teachers and assuming leadership roles.

Nevertheless, with the exception of Pema Chödrön, who has become something of a rock star in the Buddhist world, and a few other prominent women teachers, the public face of Buddhism is still often male. Moreover, the fact that women are denied full ordination as bhikkhunis in the Theravada and Tibetan traditions remains a serious injustice, though the recent bhikkhuni ordinations in California inspire hope that the Theravada bhikkhuni sangha will take root here in the West (see article by Amy Boyer on page 42).

In this forum, the participants are women who have had decades of firsthand experience dealing with the issues facing women in Buddhism. They bring us up to date on progress and obstacles, and present a vision for the future. It’s a refreshing discussion that explores the nitty-gritty while still holding a positive view...

Making Our Way: On Women and Buddhism - Lion's Roar

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