Following Two Paths: Buddhism and Feminism
Huron, Debra, Herizons
Following two Paths: Buddhism and Feminism
In the late 20th century, women are putting their stamp on Buddhism like never before. While two International conferences for Buddhist nuns have been held since 1987, many women outside the religious realm are finding that being a Buddhist and an activist are complimentary pursuits.
American anti-nuclear activist and feminist Joanna Macy made the link in her book World as Lover, World as self, a plea for integration of eco-feminism and a Buddhist perspective to change the path planetary destruction.
In Canada, Pema Chodron, established and is now the abbess of Gampo Abbey, a 340 acre Buddhist retreat on Cape Breton Island. Further west in Ottawa, Bozica Costigliola is coordinator of the Shambhala Center, a Buddhist meditation hall and sangha. As a feminist, a writer and an activist in the labour movement, Bozica says Buddhism and her commitment to social change blend well.
"What Buddhism offers me as a woman is a way to stay sane in a very aggressive world and way to develop non-aggression as a spiritual path," Bozica explains.
Born into an Italian-Canadian family, Bozica's mother rejected Roman Catholicism. Bozica follows the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan lama.
"The main thing about Buddhism is to surrender your ego," Bozica explains. This does not mean surrendering will, but working with the mind. "The way the teachings have been presented to me is that you join to practice (meditation) and to study but, in fact, if what you hear and what you learn are not confirmed by your own experience, then there isn't really much point.
"You can't become enlightened just by studying. You actually have to connect with your heart."
Bozica first connected in 1981 at a weekend seminar in Tibetan Buddhism in Montreal. "I had never meditated before and the experience of meditation was what sparked the connection for me, more than the words that were said," she remembers. "It was sitting down and doing nothing for hours on end and experiencing what happens in the mind."
Buddhism teaches that everyone is inherently pure. The practice of meditation provides glimpses of that purity of mind, an experience that means "there's intrinsically nothing wrong with you as a human being... a realization that can only be helpful to women."
"If you can transcend ego, you can deal with the world as it is and you can deal more skillfully with it." She laughs, adding, "It's really hard to do, though."
As happened in China, Japan and southeast Asia during the last 500 years, Buddhism is sowing seeds in North America, on soil fertilizer by disenchantment with other faiths. The fundamental tenets of Buddhism flow form the experiences of Siddharta, an Indian price born in 450 B.C Echewing the princely life, he began a search for truth that first embraced ascetic practices, a path he later rejected in favour of the "middle way." Sitting under a bo tree, he is said to have gained profound insight into the nature of mind and reality and was dubbed the Buddha - the enlightened one.
During his life, the Buddha recognized people of all castes as equal partners on the spiritual path. He also accepted women as adherents, though not without a struggle. After being asked by his aunt, Queen Mahaprajapati Gautami, who wanted to become a member of the Sangha (community of Buddhists) and devote herself to the spiritual life. She and 500 other women lobbied the Buddha, who eventually agreed to allow women to enter the order.
As part of her spiritual path, Bozica has embarked on Shambhala training, an international secular path developed by the late Tibetan lama, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, for people who may be of other faiths, or have no particular religion but are interested in Buddhist teachings and ways of embarking a spiritual life. Some of the ideals of Shambhala training include building an enlightened society and developing confidence and bravery on a personal level. …