Shambhala Sun | March 2014
At the retreat I report on in this issue, Ani Pema Chödrön
talked about a dream she once had. In the dream, she was in the country,
perhaps at a monastery, and everyone there was busily preparing for the arrival
of Khandro Rinpoche, one of today’s preeminent women Vajrayana teachers.
“Ani Pema,” Khandro Rinpoche said when she finally arrived.
“Did you see the sunrise this morning?”
“No, Rinpoche, I didn’t. I was too busy.”
Khandro Rinpoche laughed and laughed. “Too busy to live
life?” she asked.
Since having this dream, Pema Chödrön says that whenever she
finds herself getting all caught up and habitually, compulsively doing
something, she thinks, “Too busy to live life? Too busy to be there for the sun
coming up or to notice anything?”
Did you happen to notice anything unusual about this issue’s
table of contents? That is, did you notice the names of the contributors? From
Ruth to Rachel, Laura to Lisa, they are all women. But we’re actually hoping
that you didn’t notice. Look at the cover—we haven’t made a big deal out of
there being only women on these pages or otherwise touted this as a “special”
issue. As we see it, the presence of women’s voices shouldn’t be something
special. It should be normal, and we’re treating it that way.
The reality, though, is that the publishing industry still
has miles to go in terms of gender equality. For some truly eye-opening
statistics on how many men versus women are published in magazines or have
their books reviewed, visit www.vidaweb.org, a website dedicated to women in the
literary arts. Spoiler alert: Women are given significantly less ink than men
in America’s magazine heavyweights, including Harper’s, The Atlantic,
and The New Yorker.
And this gender inequality in the publishing world is emblematic
of a wider problem. I’m thinking about violence against women, an issue that’s
addressed in bell hooks and Eve Ensler’s conversation “Strike! Dance! Rise!”
Ensler, a rape survivor herself, has spent seven years in Congo working with
women who’ve been brutalized and sexually assaulted. She and hooks grapple with
such complex questions as: How can white people help people of color without
reinforcing the framework of white privilege? How can trust grow between those
who have privilege and those who don’t? And after suffering violence and
trauma, what practices can help us come back to our bodies?
This issue also features teachings by three of America’s
most remarkable women Buddhist teachers, each practicing in a different
tradition. In “The Work of the Moment,” Zen teacher Pat Enkyo O’Hara asserts
that it doesn’t matter if we’re a garbage collector or an engineer; all work is
valid and meaningful. If we’re hung up on the status associated with our job or
the results of doing a particular activity, then we miss out on the opportunity
to fully experience the joy in the task at hand.
In “A GPS of the Mind,” Insight Meditation teacher Sylvia
Boorstein offers a fresh, modern take on classic Theravada wisdom for
choosing—moment by moment—the route to wholesome states of mind. If you’re a
Gen Xer like me, the word “wholesome” might come off as a little too unironic,
but keep in mind that wholesome is what makes us happy, while unwholesome is
what keeps us suffering. And, irony aside, who doesn’t want to be happy?
Following the article about my retreat experience with Pema
Chödrön, there is a teaching by her on shunyata, or emptiness. She says
that letting your thoughts go and just seeing what’s there when they’re gone is
a way of experimenting with shunyata. “This is actually the essence of
mindfulness practice,” she continues. “You keep coming back to the immediacy of
your experience, and then when the thoughts start coming up—thoughts like bad,
good, should, shouldn’t, me, jerk, you, jerk—you let those thoughts go, and you
come back again to the immediacy of your experience.” When we experiment with
shunyata in this way, we discover the open, boundless dimension of being.
If you enjoy the many varied voices of women in this issue,
you might wish to check out Buddha’s Daughters: Teachings from Women Who Are
Shaping Buddhism in the West. This anthology, which will be released on
April 8, has been created in partnership between the Shambhala Sun and
Shambhala Publications. It features teachings by Khandro Rinpoche, Pema
Chödrön, Pat Enkyo O’Hara, and Sylvia Boorstein, plus nineteen other remarkable
women teachers. In the Buddhist tradition, women have diligently practiced for
the last 2,600 years, often without recognition. We hope this anthology, as
well as this all-women issue of the Shambhala Sun, will serve as an
inspiration for today’s women practitioners.
—ANDREA MILLER, Deputy Editor