Monday, October 13, 2003

Reading How the Swans came to the Lake, a history of Buddhism in America. I was struck by one passage that described a woman who had lost her temper with her kids the night before. She asked a Zen Roshi if sitting zazen would change her so that she wouldn't lose her temper with them so often. According to the book the Roshi and his friends had a big laugh about that, at the idea that sitting zazen would change someone.

Maybe I understand why they were laughing. Maybe because you can't contain Buddhist transformations, you can't predict you'll come back from a sitting-raid with a the particular change you wanted, the particular dharma-booty you had in mind. Or maybe because in a very real sense, nothing changes. Bokar Rinpoche said simply "There is nothing to do. Nothing to do." And he meant it.

But I also understand that these were single men laughing at a woman raising children. If a man had asked them if sitting zazen would allow him to have a direct perception of emptiness, which would be precisely as silly a question, for precisely the same reasons, they wouldn't have laughed. And in fact they were wrong, demonstrably, measurably wrong: in fact sitting zazen (or practicing any other version of calm abiding) does correlate with losing your temper less often.

Roshis or not -- I have more respect for a woman trying to extend the limits of her compassion than for a bunch of men (who have removed themselves from the difficulties of child-rearing) congratulating each other on the sophistication of their understanding of the Dharma.

I wonder sometimes how women can stand to practice the Dharma. Sometimes the sexism's so strong you could cut it with a knife; other times it's just a whisper. But it's almost never absent.

No comments: