Pagan Kennedy’s account of Michael Dillon’s quest to become a Buddhist monk (“Man-Made Monk,” Summer 2007), and the bigotry he encountered, hits a tender spot in me. In 2005, having studied Buddhism for ten years, I cut off my hair and aborted my four-year-long transition from male to female to seek ordination as a Gelug monk. Careful research revealed, though, that as a “eunuch” I was ineligible to become even a novice monk.
My ensuing disenchantment with Buddhist monasticism propelled me to seek my own truth, and at long last I joyfully completed my transition to womanhood in the spring of 2006. My disillusionment with Tibetan Buddhism became complete last fall when an American laywoman with whom I studied traditonal Tibetan dance repeatedly put me down in front of the other women. Currently I sit zazen while writing my autobiography and deciding whether I’ll continue to study Buddhism or move on in search of a religion that isn’t steeped in sexism.
Joni Kay Rose
Rio Rancho, NM
THE CREAM AND THE CAKE
I was delighted to read “Losing Our Religion,” the interview with Professor Robert Sharf in the Summer 2007 issue of Tricycle. I am a Burmese-born dharma teacher, and I’ve been teaching Theravada Buddhism and the practice of Vipassana in the U.S. for seventeen years. Sharf very succinctly described the “quick fix” technique of Vipassana that has been imported to the States while pointing out that what has been left behind is the sangha or community that holds the Buddhist heart and soul. When asked what I think of Theravada Buddhism in America, I often say, “Americans brought the cream but left the cake behind.” I believe this was partly due to the Burmese political climate during the sixties when Westerners were studying and practicing there. At that time Westerners were given permission to stay in the country only if they stayed in meditation centers for a restricted period and for the specific purpose of meditation. Even now, when the issuance of tourist visas has eased up, it is still difficult for foreigners to live in a community with Burmese families and friends. I feel that without firsthand experience of what makes Buddhism tick in the lay community, it would be impossible to feel the essence of Buddhism and how it has profoundly affected the Burmese people for over sixteen hundred years.
For members of the Burmese community, going to retreats at the meditation center is only one part of their lives as Buddhists. The lay community is constantly exposed to the teachings through movies, novels, magazines, and plays as well as sermons by monks and tutoring by elder relatives. There are all kinds of courses available at monasteries and nunneries, courses run by lay teachers, where anyone can study the full range of scriptural teachings.
I think if Westerners traveling to Burma in the sixties had had a chance to live among the local Burmese Buddhist community, a chance to learn the language and get to know the integral role of Buddhism in the lives of the laypeople, the story of the emergence of American Theravada Buddhism could have been different. Of course, that is only my personal opinion.
Dr. Thynn Thynn
Sae Taw Win II Dhamma Center
Professor Adam Frank draws many excellent parallels between science and Buddhism as forms of spiritual practice in his essay “In the Light of Truth” (Spring 2007). However, his main point is fundamentally misleading. Professor Frank writes, “When carried forward with right intention and an open heart, science is a kind of spiritual practice, no different in its aspiration from the work on the cushion. . . . Rather than compare the ï¿½results’ of science and religion, we would do better to compare the experiences, aspirations, and training of the most dedicated practitioners of each stream.” There is some truth in what he says, in that both disciplines demand an unflagging commitment to truth, but fundamentally there is a drastic difference between the aspirations and experiences of scientists and those of spiritual practitioners.