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Six Tusks, Side Born, Clean As a Whistle

Earthday ceremony on Sunday morning: Chanted the Loving Kindness Sutra and The Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo for protecting the life of our planet. Listed all of the endangered species (from plants to fish) too.

Later, in an overview class of Buddhism, we hear the stories- six tusked white elephant enters the womb, baby falls out of the side of his mother, clean and undefiled, never hits the ground, takes the seven steps, declares who he is.

Later, someone says, " I really liked this morning's ceremony- so real- chanting the names of endangered species. But then we get this stupid story. I guess all religions have this silly stuff."

I say, "I'm open to six tusked elephants and these stories. If this is conscious construction only, maybe consciousness was different in the Axial age, so projections were different. Buddha sees Buddha- if Buddha doesn't see Buddha, then maybe it is silly stuff."

She says, "Yeah, except when these stories support misogyny and patriarchy."

I say, "I don't think the stories are complete. We need more stories like Subu, who tore her eye out, only to have it grow back. We need more stories about the complete Sangha."

She gets teary eyed, I'm frustrated, because I mean I am open to eye balls growing back, not patriarchy. I'm open to milk squirting to the sky from the neck of Shi Shi Bodai.

And I question the complete enlightenment of the Buddha who refused Mahapajapati's request to ordain...either he wasn't complete, or men, who kept the stories, got it wrong. I think the latter is more true.

But what's really frustrating is that I don't feel like it's the same topic. What I want to talk about is Buddhism being a radical view of "reality." This isn't a refuge belief or disbelief, but the fertile ground of open hearted radical acceptance. I want to talk about the possibility of milk-blood.

A six tusked white elephant is a lot easier to see than the nature of emptiness or the nature of mind only!


  1. I am very open to metaphor - actually, I did my dissertation on the role of metaphor in plot. I feel I didn't get it then at all.

    But there is a role of myth and metaphor in moving us, our heart/minds. We feel music in our bodies, and neural pathways - where do we feel these stories?

    Also, I had to trudge through a lot of patriarchy and angry feelings about it in the course of growing aware. I left a teacher because in his sangha here you could silently ask to be hit with his big stick. This is done by a senior student who puts her entire body into it and it hurts like hell. As I grew, I couldn't stomach the idea of self-inflicted pain in the zendo. There it is.

  2. I forgot to click the "subscribe by email" to further comments, so here.

  3. Also the part where he left his wife and child to pursue enlightenment, that didn't ever work for me as anything but a metaphor for all that is dear to us that we must leave behind (self-image, conditioning) to reach the other shore. I mean, naming your child Rahula, yes perhaps before enlightenment.
    I did a modest amount of pro-feminist men's work in undergrad and grad school, and tired to publish a collection of first-person essays by young men raised by feminist moms. There is so much in the feminist toolbox to help men free themselves from patriarchy and all the damage it does us and everone else, it always made me frustrated that few men really grasped that they could not truly be free until woment are also free. This is part of what makes me hopeful about the myriad strong female teachers we have in this country, and the lineage I chose. When Roshi Joan Halifax says that women must partner strongly with men to promote compassion in our world, it goes both ways. Sign me up.

    1. I like everything you say. I have seen the heavy burden patriarchal values lay on men. It seems to be very hard for them to realize they don't have to be strong and know it all and rescue everyone, if they are good at that, or think they are.

  4. I am trying to learn to be really compassionate with people like this young woman. Living in a Zen community that encourages new practitioners to come and learn also encourages more experienced practitioners to remember what its like in the beginning. This young woman is a feminist and this is what she knows. Zen, maybe not so much...yet. I also recognize that a lot of people are in Catholic upbringing recovery. I think people associate creation stories and the like with Christians and Genesis and therefore with closedminded, conservative, misogynism. These are the same people that appreciate art, creativity and the inner child but do not make the connection between those attributes and the appreciation of the ancient traditional stories. And that the question of "real" or not is irrelevant. I could go on, but I won't :-) Thanks for the post.


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