The vajra: cutting through to the truth

The Guardian’s Article on the FWBO

FWBO Teachings

I | The Place of Women

Madelaine Bunting writes:

A misogynistic biological determinism consigns women to a “Lower Evolution”, where their hormonal rhythms and desire for children render them spiritually inferior to men.

This is a travesty of the actual position held by Subhuti and Sangharakshita. There is no institutional sexism in the FWBO — men and women receive the same ordination, follow the same precepts, and have the same status. We recognise that men and women, have the same potential to achieve Enlightenment. There are no institutional barriers whatever to the admission of women into the WBO. Indeed, it is women who are responsible for the process by which other women are trained and selected for ordination, and it is women who conduct the ordination ceremonies.

The article’s interpretation is based on a serious, though not uncommon, misunderstanding of Sangharakshita’s views on the various issues that men and women have to work with in the spiritual life. Buddhism teaches that all phenomena arise in dependence upon conditions. Therefore, men and women, although having equal spiritual potential, are nonetheless not the same in all respects, since gender differences — whether social, psychological or biological. — give rise to different conditions.

To say that women’s biological conditioning has an influence on their spiritual lives is very different from propounding a misogynistic biological determinism. One can work with one’s conditioning — that is what spiritual life is all about. The conditions which men and women work with will have some elements which are related to gender. To address such issues is in fact to do nothing more than to take the spiritual needs of women seriously. It seems altogether extraordinary that such a concern could be interpreted as a form of misogyny — which is of course a form of hatred which has nothing to do with the spiritual life whatsoever. Practice surely bears all this out. Women in the FWBO have created a vibrant, highly effective spiritual community. They have founded residential communities, right livelihood businesses, Buddhist centres and retreat centres.

The FWBO’s views in this area are frequently misunderstood. However, in the interests of fairness, Madelaine Bunting should surely have noted that Sangharakshita, Subhuti and others in the FWBO, insist that they do not believe what she says they believe — as Maitreyi (a senior female Order member) put to her very clearly in a two-hour interview.

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