Why I am not a Buddhist:
A review of Rita M. Gross' Buddhism After Patriarchy,
by Judith Johnson
Overall, although I differ from Gross on some fundamental points, I should say that her book is simply the best argued, most stimulating book on religion I have ever read.
My heart goes out to Prajapati. One of the first Buddhists, a relative of Buddha, she created what Buddhism has to offer women, asked for more, for full equality within the religion. Gross documents how Prajapati did this. Yet when she writes about the origin of Buddhist patriarchy she says gender equality was "beyond the Indian imagination of the time," as if Prajapati did not exist.
Rita Gross badly wants a tradition she can respect, is nervous because the women's spirituality movement makes mistakes, does not want the full responsibility of reinventing ritual so it respects her. She stops short of calling Buddha on his big mistake, his failure to fully transcend gender, in practice as well as in theory. She takes the liberty of introducing the prophetic feminist voice to Buddhism, but can't accept that taking authority means taking risks and being wrong, as wrong as Buddha.
Buddhist patriarchy is responsible for much bad karma where its attitude to women is concerned. Gross does acknowledge that. Why should women be exempt from making mistakes on this scale? We are not, and will only have full authority over ourselves when we realise this. Gross finds it "unthinkable" that Buddhism would not refrain from harming women, then documents two and a half thousand years of sanctified oppression that say otherwise. I want to bonk Gross on the head, send her back to meditate again, until she can feel a ritual that works in a given moment, and realise it may never work again.
Institutionalised religion, all of it, with its repetition of past successes, is both an impediment to spiritual progress, and essential to it. It is essential, and Gross provides an excellent clear analysis, a base for reconstructing Buddhism so it ceases harming women. There is much analysis that is absolutely relevant for current spiritual practice, Buddhist and non, for women and for men. But it leaves me undecided about whether Buddhism is part of the baby, or part of the bathwater.
Gross states that the life and world that we are born into is fundamentally sane and reasonable, but we often need religion to appreciate that. I have to differ on this point, as animals our basic drives are to have lots of happy well fed children who give us many grandchildren, and to survive. Our drives simply cannot be fulfilled, we must die, and our children will encounter tragedy. From my perspective (as a biologist) life is fundamentally crazy making, and if religion has a use it is allowing us to deal with that creatively
© Copyright 2001 Judith Johnson