Bringing It Down
The new issue of WIE
is indeed an interesting issue and beautifully
done. I only wish that now there could be a conversation among all the people
interviewed, to see what we learned from each other.
I do have one serious objection. It appears that one of the standard questions
asked in many of the interviews was about traditions that divide clearly between
men's and women's roles, the examples being tantra and Orthodox Judaism—where
men devote themselves to "study and prayer" while women devote themselves
to "home and children." This perpetuates the stereotype that women
don't study or pray, which is the opposite of what both Esther Kosofsky and
I were saying ["The Back of the Synagogue Is Not the Back of the Bus"].
More correct would be to say that in traditional Judaism men are responsible
for the organization of public
prayer and for studying and administering
aspects of Torah tradition. Women certainly study and women
certainly also pray.
The main thing about gender roles in Judaism is not "getting there"—to
liberation—but "bringing it down"—bringing the message to other sentient
beings. The liberation ultimately has to be a collective one. There have to
be ways of transmitting this to the collective. So the question is: How do you
create a structure that does that? If teaching people one-by-one worked, we
would have had a world of liberated individuals long ago. It's not enough. So
the traditional Jewish gender system is intended, I think, to help support strong
family and community structures, in order to preserve and transmit the teachings
to the next generation.
Los Angeles, California
Lipstick and Enlightenment
Thank you for the wonderful interview with Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo
["What's the Relationship between Emptiness and Beautiful Nails?"].
I was completely fascinated and inspired by her story and teaching style. I
have experienced the same prejudices in regards to my appearance and gender
within my own spiritual family. I was openly mocked and laughed at by my fellow
students if I ever wore lipstick or high heels, as if to say that this meant
that I couldn't possibly be a serious seeker. In the beginning it hurt and confused
me even though I knew that my teacher took me seriously. Eventually, as my spiritual
life deepened, I knew that I truly cared about growing spiritually more than
about anything else. If enlightenment were as simple as throwing away my lipstick,
I would have done it a long time ago.
Thank God that I am not blind enough to think that a male teacher (or student)
who wears a shirt and tie and is impeccable in his grooming and appearance could
not possibly be the real thing. If that were the case, I never would have allowed
the teachings of my own teacher into my life. Don't let good looks and charisma
fool you! Any preconceived idea of how a real teacher or a real student should
look and dress is only our own limitation staring us in the face and stopping
our evolution. Anyone who has found "the jewel" and is willing to
share it should be treated as the gift from God that they are even if they don't
wear orange robes or shave their head.
New York, New York
Lion's Roar of Enlightenment
Thank you for your interview of Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo. Jewish-Italian-American
, reincarnation of the founder of the Palyul sect of the Nyingma
school of Tibetan Buddhism, incarnation of Lhacham Mandarawa—after reading these
outrageous credentials I could hardly wait to hear about her track record in
the fifteen or so years she's been teaching and what she would reveal about
"the relationship between emptiness and beautiful nails." Andrew Cohen
didn't hold back in the interview and Jetsunma didn't flinch. She seems to be
a teacher who walks her talk. This was a revelation to me because I'd written
her off as a spiritual bimbo when I first heard of her discovery years ago while
a member of Trungpa Rinpoche's Vajradhatu community in Boulder, Colorado. By
the end of the interview I felt a lot of respect for her dignity.
Her poem "War Cry" was a brilliant addition to the piece. Here
Jetsunma unleashes the ferocity of an irate mother protecting her young as well
as the nurturing quality of a mother. The language she uses in "War Cry"
is that of a woman yet the aspiration to do whatever it takes to achieve victory
is beyond gender
. The relationship between emptiness and beautiful nails
is the lion's roar of enlightenment!
Mind and Beyond Mind
Can we ever know if there actually is difference
of and beyond thought? Perhaps differentiation is purely a function of mind,
and difference the mind's creation. Do "men" and "women"
exist from a perspective of no difference, beyond mind?
It seems to be a very deeply entrenched human condition to equate the representations
of mind with what is totally independent of and beyond it. While it is often
extremely useful, even necessary, to equate the two to live in the world, the
usefulness of the equation in no way makes it true.
It is just as reasonable, possibly more so, to see mind/thought as a tool,
which has evolved to be appropriate to, and useful in, the environment in which
it finds itself, as to see it as a mirror image of that environment. This is
saying nothing about what actually is
and leaves what is
beyond mind, undescribed, and the mystery it surely is.
To say there actually is
difference is saying exactly the opposite.
So to ask what it is like to have no notions of self as a man or woman and yet
still "be" a man or woman seems a little strange. How the absolute
perspective of no difference and the realm of difference coincide can better
be seen as the inquiry into what is the right equation of mind
, always recognizing that equating the two is solely the movement of
Sheffield, United Kingdom
The Baby with the Bath Water
Overall I am very favorably impressed with your new issue and its
theme of gender and spirituality. I have read the interviews with Andrew Cohen,
Sam Keen, and Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo, whom I had never heard of before but
hope to hear from a lot more in the future. I get the impression that Sam Keen
is someone who was wounded as a child because he did not measure up to being
a "real" man and who has spent much of the remaining decades of his
life "proving" that the only difference between men and women is the
hardware. If I am reading his replies correctly, he is absolutely convinced
that other than the hardware, 100% of what is male and female is culturally
conditioned. To me this represents a classic case of throwing out the baby with
the bath water.
Andrew Zahir Ruff
Palo Alto, California
In My Pagan Opinion
As aggravating as it was for me to read WIE
Issue 16 on various
gender liberation movements, I have to admit it stirred me up and made me think.
As a long-time feminist, I was interested in the interviews with Marion Woodman
["Taming Patriarchy: The Emergence of the Black Goddess"], whose thoughts
most mirror my own, and with Mary Daly ["No Man's Land"], whose out-there
views are always ahead of the times and therefore stimulating.
But I was bothered by the illustrations in the Woodman article. The Black
Goddess is not necessarily a goddess of African descent. It's the earth-related
and lusty energy of woman
that Woodman talks about, not literally of
women of color. I found the photographs sensationalistic and inappropriate for
what Woodman was saying. And what was that "Taming Patriarchy" title
for the interview? It is time for the destructive beast, patriarchy, not to
be tamed but to be euthanized.
I am really suspicious of enlightenment with transcendence as its goal.
In my decidedly pagan opinion, this is the height of escapism. It's a great
way to avoid taking any responsibility for the desecration of Mother Earth.
Also, to ask that we deny the body's pleasures is another way of denigrating
, who is so often equated with matter and "the flesh."
We were born into these wonderful bodies. Let's enjoy them for heaven's sake!
To me, true enlightenment is wholeness—the joy and delight of spirit, mind and
body together, a delicious state in which we, as beings-in-balance, can still
participate as spiritual warriors and political activists while living on this
beautiful, but endangered, planet.
Rev. Kay Gardner
Temple of the Feminine Divine
Just More Tribal Warfare
Underneath the useful points she raises, the essence of Mary Daly's
view toward men strikes me as no different from totalitarianism. With Daly,
women are, by their nature, the much superior race. Men are not merely inferior;
they are the source and the embodiment of all evil in the world. (Whew!) They
therefore deserve to be, if not exactly eradicated (her secret preference, one
suspects), then certainly rendered powerless and out of the picture.
The logical extension of views like this, if driven by real political power,
is policies and social trends that would make your average patriarchy look like
a walk in the park. This is not enlightenment, spiritual connectedness, or healthy
outrage over real grievances. This is a philosophy of hatred, elitism, racism
and totalitarianism. And it's old hat, really. It's just more tribal warfare.
Daly's views may seem like a great idea right now to some women. But at their
essence they are running counter to the slow trend of history toward respect
for all races and both genders. The lasting value of Daly's work, whatever it
may be, will not lie in her ultimate vision of life on this planet.
Walnut Creek, California
Silly, silly, silly!
Mary Daly is one angry womyn
but to me, it's she who just doesn't
"get it." With all due respect to the deep wisdom she has accrued
from her journey through this life as a female, she is still very obviously
identifying with her physical role. In truth, she would have to elevate her
viewpoint outside of "time" (a mere construct of the physical world)
before she could see her real nature.
The soul's real nature is androgynous, neither male nor female, and in successive
lifetimes it clothes itself in gendered physicality in order to grow into love,
into compassion, into wisdom. This is "Metaphysics 101." Instead of
seeing the world through a lens called female (or male, for that matter), how
much better to see it through the lens called tat twam asi
that, too"). There's where compassion lies.
Garnerville, New York
Laughing Up His Sleeve
Having read your interview with Swami Bharati Tirtha ["No Difference!"],
I consider it bizarre that your magazine would go to any hardcore keeper of
a tradition, particularly one as hoary as institutionalized
to provoke any response on gender that might be somehow relevant to the name
of your magazine.
Perhaps there is a misunderstanding that the Shankaracharya of Sringeri
bears no resemblance to the Pope simply because he is a Vedantic
Would you have bothered asking the Pope or the Dalai Lama when a female is likely
to be tapped for their jobs? Whatever else titular heads of religions are, they
are not freewheelers. Bharati Tirtha is a very sharp and extremely learned individual.
He obviously was laughing up his sleeve as to the cluelessness of Westerners
regarding what his office, tradition and the Vedantic texts are about. Throughout
the interview Tirtha seemed disinterested in the premise of the questions asked
and was intentionally evasive. He is an "employee" in the service
of the Brahmins—self-appointed keepers of the faith who for eons have co-opted
and masculinized every variety of institutionalized Hinduism, most certainly
including institutionalized Vedanta. It was the response of a corporate spokesperson
for him to have said that your question—Could there ever be a female Shankaracharya?—was
impossible to answer simply because it was "hypothetical." Better
for him to have responded frankly: There will never
be a female head
of this bastion of Brahmin orthodoxy. It is not open at any
political correctness or change, regardless of how incomprehensibly rigid that
may seem to most Westerners. The female ban follows the letter and spirit of
the tradition, as the Shankaracharyas must.
Regarding the texts you featured with demeaning references to women, these
were not excerpted from what Christians might call scripture or "revealed
Word." Several were characters speaking in stories. So why bother with
them? Hindu scripture is ranked. Texts like some of the Samhitas, Devi Bhagavata
from which you quoted are post-Vedic augmentations,
riddled with sociological agendas, many of which were aimed at solidifying control
of the "twice-born" priestly caste. Though the Samhitas are
part of the "revealed" (shruti)
literature, the Manu
that you have quoted is actually a
text, which does not enjoy the same authority as the other Samhitas. Actually,
the Manu Samhita deals particularly with the rules of conduct. This text is
regarded by Brahmins as the most important in Hinduism next to the Vedic literature,
an evaluation based, no doubt, on the high position assigned to Brahmins in
This entire article reflected a tendency in the West to try to understand
all things in American terms or, failing that, to Americanize what cannot be
understood. The complexity of Hindu traditions resists this cultural bulldozing
and political correctness, although attempts have been made and are being made
to reinterpret them. A tradition has to be accepted or rejected on the basis
of its original contribution and not on the basis of whether it is adaptable
to suit the obsessive, indiscriminate preoccupation with universal political
correctness prevailing in the U.S. today.
All this begs the question, what has the level of your discussions of gender
among traditionalists got to do with a publication with your name? To be provocative
and contemporary without becoming frivolous and sensational should be easier
by asking yourselves "What is wisdom?"
at least as often as
"What is enlightenment?"
Warner Springs, California
Into the Unknown
Congratulations on a stunning
issue of WIE.
I am blown
away by the directions in which you have gone in this issue. A few weeks ago
the three men who attend a weekly meditation group that I'm a part of read Elizabeth
Debold's interview with Andrew Cohen, "Liberation without a Face."
Afterwards, we had a beautiful discussion about what it means to be a man, in
which we entered into the unknown together, meeting in a place where we had
to admit that we don't know what being a man is. It was the deepest we have
ever gone together in a discussion. Beautiful work.
Fluidity of Gender
I am responding to the provocative ideas (as usual) set forth in
your last issue.
The outing and wider acceptance of gay sexuality is a necessary step in
the development of a broader conception of our humanity. The prevalence of androgynous
attire and the collapse of sexist barriers in occupations attest to a growing
awareness of the restrictions of role-playing in a cultural script that presumes
to define masculinity and femininity. Overidentification with gender is exemplified
by the current craze for breast augmentation, though we are not so far away
from an era in which women bound their breasts in another image of beauty.
The ancient Greeks seem to have recognized the fluidity of gender and sexual
boundaries. It was considered manly for men to lust after boys, then become
husbands of women. In Cos husbands dressed as women to bed their brides, while
in Sparta brides greeted their husbands with hair trimmed like boys'. It was
said that in Sparta the cleverest women loved girls. In Crete, same-sex love
was encouraged to avoid overpopulation. Argos celebrated a festival where men
donned women's clothes and women dressed like men.
Today, men and women who grew up feeling marginalized by the rigid role
ascribed to their gender no longer need to think of themselves as other-sexed.
It is ironic for women who love women, for example, to assume the appearance
and manner of the male, whom she rejects. The gay male need not take on the
mannerisms of a female caricature. What does it mean to feel "like a woman"
or "like a man"? One can feel only like one's idea
of a woman
or a man, which is certain to be a stereotype.
Neither sexual preference nor gender has anything to do with the individual's
spiritual nature, which transcends both and is the true giver and receiver of
Los Angeles, California
As Close as My Skin
My immediate experience when first picking up the new issue of What
"How Free Do We Really Want To Be?" was mostly
one of revulsion. What is this visual attack on my senses? I asked myself, flinching
from the air-blown beauties adorning the cover. What's spiritual
Until reading this issue of WIE
on the relationship between liberation
and gender identity, the whole topic of gender identity was a total mystery
to me. How can I even begin to understand what it means to be free of my identification
with being a male when that is simply what I have always known myself to be?
What has come clear after reading this issue is that my first response to the
magazine was not a matter of aesthetics. The very question jumping off the cover
was challenge enough to marshal my defenses around a dimension of my being that
is as close as my skin and yet as seemingly far away and unknown as the Milky
In his interview with Elizabeth Debold, Andrew Cohen remarks, "the
goal of liberation without a face is a natural state or a natural condition
. . . [where] we were willing to step beyond any and all notions of gender and
of self altogether first, and be willing, once we did that, to actually stay
." This statement served as a compass to guide me through the
unpredictable, implicating and disorienting turns that the issue took.
Mary Daly is a warrior, and something of her absolute resolution did resonate
with my own yearning for an absolute reference point in life—there was even
something tender and full of depth in her expression. However, since her stand
excluded about 49% of humanity, it occurred to me that something must be missing
in this view. I found the same unfinished picture emerging from the conversation
with Sam Keen. Although he did, indeed, exhibit clarity, eloquence, and passion
in relationship to the question of gender and spirituality, I was not moved
by his articulation in a transformative way. It seemed to me that the very liberating
potential of some of the questions being posed were lost in the force of his
The order of the articles must have been deliberate, because I was thirsty
for some dharma by the time Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo and Daniel Piatek graced
the pages. Their heartfelt and simple articulation of the truth—that the human
relationship to the absolute nature of who we are exists beyond relative distinctions
of gender—was an oasis of relief.
The interviews with exponents of spiritual traditions that have deeply fixed
roles for men and women challenged my ideas about how an absolute relationship
to gender might be expressed. Surely, with such fixed roles, this could not
be it! But then, undeniably, something opened up, and there was depth in the
expression of these people, reflecting the possibility of realizing our absolute
nature, for that place seemed to be their reference point, despite their gendered
roles within their respective traditions.
Reading this issue, it occurs to me that I just can't know what it will
look like to go beyond fixed ideas of gender. And that circumstances are always
only relative, whereas the truth of who we are is the immediate, absolute, positive
expression of a life imbued by that which is beyond time, circumstance, or gender.
This is my experience of this issue of WIE
—a challenge to take a headlong,
abandoned plunge into the groundless free-fall of Self-discovery.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Open Sky of Freedom
You guys have been having a good time these past few years exploring
sex, women and enlightenment and now gender. I'm sure this sells a lot of copies,
but maybe a better question would be: What do people expect enlightenment to
look like, and how does that expectation prevent them from finding the obvious?
To get to the deep and radical change required for self-realization we must
go beyond all these personal expectations. Sex has everything to do with personality.
Personality has nothing to do with enlightenment. To open up from the ego we
must stop taking everything so personally; stop taking our thoughts, emotions,
sickness, health and even our gender so personally. We are full of ideas about
gender, but ideas are not enlightenment—liberation from ideas is enlightenment.
This is where the open sky of freedom is found.
Gender has nothing to do with self-realization, for it or against it. It
goes the other way around; self-realization is the foundation from which we
can then begin to explore all the dimensions of being human, including sex.
I find that people's concepts of sex create no more or less of a barrier to
their self-realization than do their concepts of anger, truth and even clothes!
In the end a concept is only empty air.
Enlightenment is an easy state. It is the natural birthright of all human
beings and contains within it every aspect of our experience: sex, self-esteem,
pain, laughter and even confusion!
Connie Zareen Delaney
A Force That Rocks the Universe
Thank you for this fantastic issue of What Is Enlightenment?
I've barely had a chance to dive in and already it's becoming clear that this
journal is a revolutionary investigation into gender and sexual preference.
I'm thrilled to have such an outrageous canvas of radically divergent views
to explore and open up to. The knowledge that it is possible and very necessary
to have a clean, clear and free relationship to a force that rocks the universe
is a gift beyond price.
The two little blurbs on the top of Issue 16, "Could Christ
Have Been a Woman?" and "What's the Relationship between Emptiness
and Beautiful Nails?" are eye-catching and appeal to the popular culture,
but to me are inappropriate for your magazine. They sensationalize it and detract
from its high quality. Please don't cheapen WIE
by adopting tabloid journalism
in order to sell more copies. You have the most candid, serious, well-written
magazine in the spiritual periodical business. Please maintain your professional,
More Related than We Think
Your gender issue, as timely, provocative, and informing as I have
come to expect all your issues to be, was foreshadowed by Rainer Maria Rilke
"Perhaps the sexes are more related than we think, and the great renewal
of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed of all false
feelings and reluctances, will seek each other not as opposites but as brother
and sister, as neighbors, and will come together as human beings
order simply, seriously and patiently to bear in common the difficult sex that
has been laid upon them."