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Buddhism for Women, Women for Buddhism: What can the Dharma offer?

B: Women obviously have so much to give to this ancient tradition. The more awkward question is, does Buddhism have anything to offer women?

KLT: Certainly Buddhism has much to offer women, especially psychologically and spiritually. Starting from earliest Buddhist times, as evident in the Therigatha (Verses of Elder Nuns), Buddhist insights into the nature of the mind and correctives for mental defilements have been seen as spiritually liberating for women. Historically, too, Buddhism has been socially liberating for women, giving women the rights to divorce, remarry, and monastic life, which have translated to considerable social freedom. Pre-existing social constraints on women have not been completely overcome, but gender inequalities and other social ills cannot be laid entirely at the feet of Buddhism. Of course, it is regrettable that Buddhism picked up patriarchal, even misogynistic elements from pre-existing social and cultural mores and has not been successful in eradicating them. Attitudes towards women, although better than in certain other societies, are still not 100% egalitarian and these attitudes, especially when internalized by women themselves, have held women back. But all these obstacles can be overcome through education and by applying the essential Buddhist teachings in an egalitarian, socially liberating way. Concepts such as no-self and universal compassion are ready resources that can be utilized for empowering women and for cutting through sexist preconceptions about women. The Buddha’s teachings are essential tools for understanding mental defilements, such as fixed concepts of the self, that are the root causes of self-centeredness and discrimination. If we put these teachings into practice, we can liberate ourselves from constricting, unpleasant habits such as sexism and other forms of discrimination. Based on their first-hand experience of discrimination, women can empathize with others who experience discrimination and pave new pathways for freeing the mind from these disagreeable habits.  

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