June 15, 2012

Buddha Buzz: Mindfulness and Being a Buddhist Woman

As mindfulness has spread into the corporate world, there have been some who have expressed their reservations about it. Is mindfulness being appropriated to serve ends of corporate greed? Is it promoting good business ethics or, as some suspect, merely teaching people to concentrate better on making money? If we take this article—"Corporate Buddhism Training Helps Employees Understand that Job Dissatisfaction and Malaise Are Actually Nirvana"—the answers to these questions are a very frightening yes. From the article:

Mindfulness,' a concept with its roots in Buddhism, has become a catch-word in many corporate environments. Benjamin Robinson, President and CEO of the New York City-based marketing firm Market-Based Marketing ('MBM'), has also implemented many other aspects of the Buddhist traditions into MBM's offices in order to improve employee performance.

For instance, MBM has a meditation room where employees can clear their minds so as to allow for new advertising ideas to fill their empty mental space. At the start of every MBM staff meeting, Robinson formally sets the group's intention: 'To act and think skillfully and mindfully, in order win more clients and sell more stuff to more people at ever-increasing prices, so as to boost the American economy and world prosperity, beginning with MBM executives.' And the meetings end with a five-minute 'metta' meditation, during which company employees send well-wishes to clients with outstanding invoices, wishing them wealth, integrity and an eagerness to pay their bills.

...All right, all right. Did I get you? That excerpt was actually from a spoof article on (what else?) www.thespoof.com. It's a pretty good one, too, even if it does the classic American error of mistaking Buddhism with nihilism.

Aside from spoofs, this week was an interesting week for news about women. An International Herald Tribune poll identified India, the birthplace of the Buddha, "as the worst place to be a woman among the world's biggest economies," citing concerns with "infanticide, child marriage, and slavery." The United States came in sixth, after Canada, Germany, Britain, Australia, and France.

Speaking of the worst places to be a woman, let's not forget that some of the time it's not so great to be a Buddhist woman, either. There's a whole lot of patriarchy goin' on, which is why I very much so appreciated this blog post from Jack Kornfield yesterday titled "Embracing the Feminine in Buddhism." It's mostly about two awesome American nuns, Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacitta, who run a nunnery in San Francisco. But my favorite part was Kornfield's ending story:

One of my favorite moments was when Sylvia Wetzel, a Buddhist teacher from Germany, talked to the gathered teachers about how hard it was for women and feminine wisdom to be fully included in the Buddhist community. They are excluded from opportunities to receive many teachings, poorly supported financially, badly respected and often used more to support the monks than practice their own. Most significantly, men are seen as higher than women. To get the monks to understand, Sylvia pointed to the many golden Buddhas and exquisite Tibetan paintings surrounding our room, noting they were all depicting males.

Then she instructed the Dalai Lama and the other lamas and masters to close their eyes and meditate with her, to imagine that they were entering the room and that it had been transformed so that they bowed to the fourteenth female incarnation of the Dalai Lama. With her were many advisors who had always been female, and surrounding them were images of Buddhas and saints, all naturally in women’s bodies because it is the best form for becoming liberated. Of course, it is never taught that there is anything lesser about being a man. Despite that, these men were asked to sit in the back, be silent, and after meeting to help with the cooking.

Sylvia Wetzel, my hat to you.

In the spirit of recognizing strong Buddhist women, I'd like to end with a Ted Talk from almost a year ago. By actress Thandie Newton, it's one of the best I've ever seen. I remember the first time that I watched it, I was thinking the whole time, Is she Buddhist? This sounds really Buddhist. Turns out Newton is Buddhist and a fan of Pema Chodron (isn't everyone). Newton's very sly—you'll never hear her say "Buddhism" or "Buddhist"—but it's dharma all the same.

Cover Image: From the Economist. Violence between Buddhists and Muslims has erupted recently in Western Burma. Here a Buddhist monk walks amidst the debris of burned houses.

Image 2: Rupak De Chowdhuri, for Reuters. From the International Herald Tribune.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
Dominic Gomez's picture

The Lotus Sutra contains the parable of the Dragon King's daughter, who at the age of 8 becomes enlightened without changing her form. It was a revolutionary teaching at a time when it was believed enlightenment was impossible for women simply because they were women.

omar.firoz33's picture

mindfulness in buddhist practice, and their efficiency, significance doing them simply regardless of the conditions, is the way of a bodhisattva. So if we replicate the paramitas, even when they do not occurs quite so normally as we would like, we will be going ourselves along the direction to serenity. They can be believed of as a shorthand edition of the Royal Eightfold Path.