Emptiness and the Female Form

Feminist groups around the world are gearing up – protesting, campaigning, marching, lobbying politicians, donating time and money, and saying NO very loudly to sexist attitudes; it’s happening globally. Even if we are not yet seeing the results we want, women, and allies of equality in all of its forms, are being heard. I hope change is coming.

Buddhism too, is not without need of reform when it comes to equality.

I’ve read several articles recently chastising Buddhist institutions and some traditions for their prevailing sexist attitudes. It’s true – sexism and misogyny has been rife within Buddhist lineages for centuries.

There are stories that go back to the time of the Buddha and suggest he himself taught that women were ‘lesser’, although I take that with a pinch of salt. The Buddha was also recorded as saying that women and men were equally intelligent, and equally capable of realising enlightenment, so which is it? And we know he ordained 1000’s, or who knows maybe 10,000’s of women to his order. Personally I think it’s likely that the ‘women will be the cause of the dissolution of Buddhism’ stories are just made up by a bunch of bigots many years after the Buddha’s death to maintain a boys club. Because how can you vow to save ‘all sentient beings’ yet scorn half of them? But that’s just my view.

Anyway, it’s undeniable that some Buddhist traditions, particularly the monastic traditions, are still frightfully sexist. Ordained women rarely have the same status or respect as ordained males, and women are considered such a danger/distraction to the monk’s devoted practise that they are actually not allowed to be alone in the company of a woman.

Against this backdrop of deep-rooted sexism, I was happy come across some teachings from Zen Master Dōgen which revealed his deeply feminist views. By the 1200’s, sexism in some Buddhist institutions must have been already rampant, else why would Dōgen feel the need for such a long and impassioned lecture?! In a teaching* he wrote in 1240 he more or less rants for several pages about the ‘bunch of idiots’ who ‘insult the dharma’ with their misogynistic views. Here are some of his choice words; Continue reading “Emptiness and the Female Form”

Time To Get Some Shit Done!

Last weekend I went to a fantastic ‘Un-Conference’ in Christchurch, NZ. Women Who Get Shit Done events are collaborative gatherings for those of us who identify as women. There is no upfront agenda, and the topics and sessions are co-created on the first evening and led by the participants themselves. It’s a giant event of networking and idea sharing, where you can learn, support, inspire and be inspired. It was really fantastic – if you are in NZ I definitely recommend you to apply for a space on the next event.

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I was astounded by the vast range of topics, issues and causes that the group were in to. From gender equality to local politics, environmental issues to health & wellbeing, creative writing, poetry, bee-keeping and cheese-making, there was very little that wasn’t covered!

The evening I arrived home, I felt rather humbled by the work the other 119 women were doing. They are really making the world a better place, often challenging the status quo in difficult and sometimes even hostile environments. They are truly remarkable beings! Continue reading “Time To Get Some Shit Done!”

The Most Important Point….

I’ve been living on a greatly reduced income for a couple of months. Unlike millions of people who actually never know when their next wage is coming, I knew this ‘gap’ was ahead, so I made some calculations and gave myself a meager daily budget to make sure my money would stretch.

The first 2 or 3 days were the most challenging – I felt I was in a self-imposed prison of deprivation and worry about the future. And boredom.

But before long I saw these weeks as an experiment: I have a bit of a stubborn nature, and I wanted to prove to myself that I had the discipline to live simply and renounce some very unnecessary habits (usually involving a trip to a café!) When it was reframed like that, it became more interesting. But what was the point, really? What was I trying to prove, or achieve? I have a credit card and guaranteed work ahead, why didn’t I just put a big food shop on credit?

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Suzuki Roshi taught that, “The most important point,” and here he paused to make sure he had everyone’s full attention, “is to find…out…” another pause, “what…is…. Continue reading “The Most Important Point….”

Step Away From The Recipes!

Rolling around my mind this week are two dharma stories. First, this line from Suzuki Roshi, who was commenting on how he got to a place with his American students at Tassajara where he didn’t want to give so many formal teachings. “It’s like giving you a recipe” he said to one student, “it doesn’t work. You cannot eat a recipe”. Instead he emphasised practise – zazen – living and working together, and investigating things for oneself.

When I began cooking, back in my late teens, I would come across a recipe that appealed, try it once and if it ‘worked’ and was tasty and enjoyable I would faithfully copy it down. If I wasn’t impressed by the result, it would be discarded and forgotten. I thought this was an absolutely acceptable and sensible way of ‘learning to cook’. But how much was I really learning, or was I just collecting recipes? Now when I look back at how I ‘learnt to cook’ I realise I wasn’t learning much at all. Which is the same mistake we can make with dharma too, memorising complex doctrinal teachings and profound buddhist psychology, without deeply knowing what we are knowing. Although of course, we all need to start somewhere.

suzuki2I think most of us study Buddhism like something already given to us. We think that what we should do is preserve the Buddha’s teaching, like putting food in a refrigerator. We think that to study Buddhism is to take the food out of the refrigerator. Whenever you want it, it is already there. Instead, Zen students should be interested in how to produce food from the field, from the garden, should put the emphasis on the ground. If you look at the empty garden you won’t see anything, but if you take care of the seed it will come up. The joy of Buddhism is the joy of taking care of the garden – Suzuki Roshi.

Continue reading “Step Away From The Recipes!”

Finding Balance…

With this very first post, I am contemplating balance. I have just been asked to contribute some thoughts to a Hospitality Business magazine article about ‘Chef burn-out’. I’ve felt the burn myself at times, and it becomes pretty obvious I need to pull back. What are some of my strategies? To remember that relationships are of the highest importance – it’s hard to be a perfectionist-control-freak in the kitchen without pissing someone off. To set boundaries – say ‘no’ to extra work that I know I can’t cope with. To let go of the idea of perfection. To have passions and interests outside of work. And to remind myself – it’s only lunch. What else helps you?

Balance is something we are taught in meditation as well – not to strive too earnestly, yet on the other hand, not to relax our attention so much that we lose our inquisitive awareness. We need similar balance in our work life. Or perhaps I should just say, life.

Sneh Roy, who has written a wonderful cook book Tasty Express and continues to post fantastic recipes on her blog Cook Republic recently wrote about how she lost touch with the real meaning of food after 11 years of writing, blogging and publishing. She writes in her post:

cook republic“I saw the world of food change from discovering the thrill of sharing your Grandma’s secret recipe on your blog and starting a meaningful conversation about kitchen memories and the taste of food to the mindless and excessive sharing of every meal dolled up with the most insane garnishes across all social media every minute of every day. Over the years I felt a loss for the true meaning of food. I believe that food is a privilege. And those who have it are very blessed. I also believe that with the way things are now, many people have forgotten the true meaning of food. It is not to complicate lives. It is not to create envy or depression. It is not to create anxiety or build pressure. It is definitely not to create confusion and resentment. It is not to show off a lifestyle or preach lack of one. It is not to make one feel like a failure. It is simply – to nourish.”

Hear hear!

This is a great subject for me to contemplate this week, as I begin a new cooking venture having just resigned my position as Head Chef at a restaurant I’ve been at for the last 3 years. I am setting a strong motivation to not lose sight of what is meaningful for me in the realms of cooking (or blogging about cooking for that matter.)

From a Buddhist perspective, still on the subject of finding balance and avoiding burn-out, here’s some pointers, lifted from the Indian sage Atisha’s 7-Point Mind Training:

  • Be grateful to everyone
  • Don’t brood over the faults of others
  • At all times, simply rely on a joyful mind
  • And finally – Don’t expect a standing ovation

Have a great day, and may your food be offered and received with love.

Cool pic of a balancing egg, by Mike