after throwing off my monk's robes and fleeing the zen retreat from hell, some insights wake me this morning.
the actual practices of chanting, bowing, sitting and walking in silent meditation are tried and true gateways to a clear, calm mind, a sense of well being and ease, and the cultivation of compassion and wisdom. in many other contexts i have experienced most of these forms to be extremely powerful. ultimately, when i discovered buddhist teachings and began to practice meditation and mindfulness five or so years ago, it changed my life inside out. i have deep respect and affinity for the dharma and the practices.
however, at this particular monastery in korea, the practices i know very well and love felt oppressive. the purity and richness sucked right out. i was to bow down to a particular man, even while chanting. i've experienced chanting as a beautiful door to becoming one with sound, experiencing interconnected being. however, the purity of this practice was tainted by having to do prostrations at the feet of a man who demonstrated not a hint of humility or wisdom.
as a woman, i was to enter buildings separately from men and follow behind them in walking meditation. while sitting in meditation the head monk periodically walked behind us with a stick and if we wanted to be hit, we were to signal him with a bow and then a loud "WHACK" echoed throughout the hall. violent and startling to say the least. for the first time, i personally experienced the patriarchal, misogynistic roots of buddhism. my place as a woman within that traditional form was crystal clear. and at this particular temple, a man who held horrifyingly simplistic, sexist values was to be my master, my guide, my teacher.
it is possible that this form of buddhist thought would attribute the domination and higher privileges of men over women as karmic. those humans who are born female in this lifetime deserve all the ways they are subjected to the power of men because of some negative karmic doing in the past. those who are born male, on the other hand, must have completed magnificent karmic deeds and accumulated great merit to be granted such holy status and power in a lifetime. humans who suffer from poverty, illness, or war are in that position simply because of their negative karma. i see how this way of thinking could enable a person to say, "don't think dualistically, things are the way that they are for a reason. transcend. pray to be born a male in your next life." that is an awfully convenient logic for those who are privileged and powerful. no responsibility taken. no measure of effort given to change the conditions that cause such great suffering in the world.