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.