Vows, commitments and modern life: Spiritual feminism

Scorning women. 

If a male practitioner criticizes women, saying ‘women are bad’, he incurs a root downfall.  Among women there are many emanations of Vajrayogini, and by criticizing women in general we criticize these emanations and thereby block our development of bliss.  Female practitioners incur a similar root downfall if they criticize men.

Most societies around the world contain a good deal of sexism.  This is the legacy of times when physical strength was at a premium for productive activity.  But in modern times where it is our social and intellectual capabilities that matter, there is no place for sexist attitudes.  Indeed, such attitudes are a downfall of our tantric vows.

It is important that we make a distinction between acknowledging gender differences and passing value judgments about those differences.  For a variety of social and cultural reasons, it is true that women are more likely to get socialized into certain values and behaviors and men are more likely to get socialized into different values and behaviors.  Different life experiences will naturally wire our mind in different ways.  Acknowledging this is not a problem.  The problems come when we grasp at these differences as being somehow inherent between the two different genders.  Such differences are the product of cultural and social forces, as well as a question of what karmic tendencies happen to be ripening in any particular life.  The second problem comes when we pass value judgments about these differences saying some qualities and characteristics are better than others in a universal sense, and so therefore one gender is better than another.  The most we can say is for certain activities certain characteristics or qualities are more effective, for example being really strong will make you a better lumberjack and being very patient will make you a better kindergarten teacher.

Fortunately, modern societies are definitively moving in the direction of a more balanced attitude between women and men, though there still remains many negative stereotypes.  But professionally speaking, a modern economy tends to favor qualities typically associated with women, such as patience, a caring and nurturing attitude, social sense and so forth.  Jobs in medicine, education, basically any service are more geared towards these qualities.  Unsurprisingly, women today are graduating at higher rates than men, and entering the professional work force at higher rates than men.  But there still tends to be prejudice against women who occupy higher positions where decisions are made, and in the math and sciences.  We should make a point to be mindful where we might have prejudicial attitudes against women, and actively seek to correct them.

Likewise, there is also a growing tendency for some women to realize that the modern world is breaking in their direction and they conclude that they are better than men in some universal sense.  It is perfectly conceivable as the economy evolves for in a few hundred years attitudes reverse and we have a societal problem of reverse sexism against men.  Both attitudes are equally wrong.

Finally, it should also be noted that there still tends to be a great deal of prejudicial attitudes that show up with respect to fixed notions of sexual identity and preference.  Sexual identity is how much one conventionally identifies with being male or female.  Previously, thinking was if you have a male body you should identify with being male, and if you don’t, then there is something wrong with you.  Highly effeminate individuals who happen to be in a male body are considered an aberration. Likewise highly masculine individuals who happen to be in a female body are considered an aberration.  The reality is there is a full spectrum of possibilities of highly effeminate individuals in female bodies to highly masculine individuals in male bodies, and all sorts of permutations in between.

What we identify with is the fruit of what ripened effects, what tendencies similar to the cause ripened in any given life, and what environmental effects one is exposed to.  The ripened effect determines what body we take on, the tendencies similar to the cause determine what qualities we identify with.  Our life experience, upbringing and socio-cultural environment are all the fruit of karmic environmental effects.  Just as there are infinite karmic combinations possible, so too there will be infinite combinations of bodies and senses of identity.  All are equally good, just different.

In the same way, there is a wide variety of sexual preferences one could have.  What we are attracted to sexually is likewise a product of different ripened effects, tendencies similar to the cause and environmental effects.  For a variety of biological reasons, those born male are more likely to be attracted to those born female, but not absolutely so.  For purely karmic reasons, it is perfect possible that the tendencies similar to the cause of being attracted to women could ripen at the same time as the ripened effect of being born a woman ripens.  This would karmically create a lesbian.  Someone could grow up in a social environment where different sexual preferences are fully respected or fully persecuted.  This will also have an effect on how the different karma ripens over the course of an individual’s lifetime.  Once again, there is a full spectrum of possibilities of a highly effeminate individual born into a female body who is intensely and unambiguously attracted to men to a highly masculine individual born into a male body who is intensely and unambiguously attracted to women, and there is every possible combination in between.  From a spiritual point of view, all of these different combinations are equally good, just in different ways.  From a Buddhist point of view, there is no basis for discriminatory or judgmental attitudes towards any of these combinations.

The Tantric solution to all of these forms of prejudicial attitudes is to view everyone equally as emanations of Heruka and Vajrayogini.  Whether you view somebody as Heruka or as Vajrayogini, both deities are there.  Both are filled with great and powerful sexual energy, both male and female, in perfect harmony though slightly different balances.  Whether somebody is a Heruka or Vajrayogini practitioner has absolutely nothing to do with whether they are male or female, gay or straight, or anything else.  It is all a function of different karmic feeling and predisposition.  From a spiritual point of view, both are equally good just in different ways.

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