Thursday, September 15, 2016

Interviewing Buddhist Women: Jacqueline Kramer, Part 2

Jacqueline Kramer with Susan Pembroke, founder of  the Alliance for Bhikkhunis
and Insight Meditation Ventura

In this two part series, Ven. Adhimutta interviews Jacqueline Kramer, author of Buddha Mom and 10 Spiritual Practices for Busy Parents. To read Part 1 please click here.

Ven. Adhimutta: How did you become involved with Sakyadhita International (SI) and what are your her opinions on women in Buddhism?

Jacqueline Kramer: How I got involved with Sakyadhita is another story about being led somewhere I never dreamed I’d go. One thing just led to another. After Buddha Mom came out, I thought I was done with Buddhist work, that I had done what was asked of me. Then emails started coming in from all over the world: New Zealand, England, Ireland, New York (all English-speaking countries because the book had great distribution, but had not been translated into other languages). I couldn’t go to all these places to teach, so I set up online groups and wrote a curriculum related to mothers such as setting up and maintaining a home practice, the 5 precepts for householders, and a number of other classes. The book, and this work, came to the attention of the people behind the Outstanding Women in Buddhism Awards, and they picked me as a recipient of this award in 2008. I'd never won an award before, and as averse as I am to travel, I went to Thailand to receive the honor. The award recipients stayed in a women’s safe house just outside of Bangkok. It’s there that I met Ven. Bhikkhuni Dr. Lee, co-founder of the award. There was a real simpatico between us. She told me about what was happening with women in Buddhism in Thailand, how they were being oppressed and even threatened. I met a young woman there who wanted to leave Thailand but had a child with a Thai man and, because of legal concerns, would have to leave her child [in the safe house] should she return to Ireland. The child’s father was attempting to harm her and steal her child so she was in this safe house.

All this assaulted my virgin consciousness. I had held Buddhism up on a pedestal and believed that it championed women. Early on I was given a book by one of my teachers, Ven. Piyadassi Thera, called The Virgin’s Eye, which spoke of how forward thinking the Buddha was in regards to women. Now I saw, in a very heart rending way, how hard women in Buddhism had it, how men were more supported and respected, [and] it broke my heart. During one of our discussions I vowed to Dr. Lee that I would do what I could to support a women’s right to become a fully ordained bhikkhuni (nun). It was another one of those deep commitments, like when I vowed to do what I could to support life on Earth and Buddha Mom issued forth from that. In both cases, I initially had no idea what I would do to fulfill the commitment I’d made. All I had was a deep emotional commitment.

So, after getting a shocking eyeful in Thailand of the dark side of Buddhist culture, I returned to the States with my vow to do what I could to support women in Buddhism. Later that year, I gave a presentation in Colorado about Buddhism and mothering. At that conference I met a woman, Susan Penmbroke, who had just started the Alliance for Bhikkhunis. We really hit it off, and remembering my vow to support women’s right to ordain as bhikkhunis, I volunteered to help her with this effort. Like all non-profits, there was a need for more volunteers. It wasn’t long before I was Vice President (VP) of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis , going to meetings and writing articles about women in Buddhism. This was all an adjunct to my original work supporting mothers in their Buddhist practice.

To view more artwork by Jacqueline Kramer please click here.

The AFB work was mostly in the Theravadan field and I had been practicing Zen for some years. But I believed, and still believe, women have a right to the same spiritual support as men have. AFB seemed like an important way to support women, which is my primary interest in all the work I do. My mother was my first spiritual teacher, my root teacher was a woman, Ven. Anagarika Dhamma Dinna, and I sat with Ven. Ayya Khema so, naturally, I felt a calling to support women in Buddhism.

As VP of AFB, I met many interesting women and learned about what was happening with bhikkhunis and other women in Buddhism around the world. I met women of great conviction, such as Ven. Ayya Tathaaloka. I had the privilege of having a front row seat when Ven. Ajhan Brahm ordained a woman in Australia and was then excommunicated for this. It was yet another eye opener, not only about Thai politics in regards to woman, but also about what was going on in England and even the United States. I saw ways that the archaic misogyny was attempting to translate and transport itself to it’s its new home in the West. I wrote articles about these things -- this was my service. AFB is also where I learned about Sakyadhita International and the good work it does for Buddhist women around the world. I’ve written a few articles for Sakyadhita USA, but have never been to a conference.

Ven. Adhimutta: Do you have any additional thoughts?

Jacqueline Kramer: There is something I’d like to add to what I’ve said already. I have been deeply influenced by the work of Merlin Stone and others who shed a light on how the divine feminine has been denigrated for centuries in cultures all over the world and how goddess cultures have been denigrated and destroyed. Like a number of others, I think our world has become overly masculinized and feminine values are underrepresented. Undervaluing the feminine values, such as interconnectedness, love and just being, has led to the the eco crisis, the amount of violence we see, and the devaluing of women all over the world. Buddhism professes these feminine values. I think they are at it’s its core. This is one of the things that drew me to it. That may be why it was such a shock to discover the same old misogyny in this beloved practice.

Where women in general have been denigrated within spiritual systems, mothers have it even worse. Mothers are invisible. Even though the Buddha said he based his teaching on motherly love, actual mothers are at the bottom of the Buddhist hierarchy. In practice, mothers (lay women) are trained and used as servants for monastics and seen as unlikely to awaken. Systems for their awakening have not been seriously developed. The spiritual opportunity of the opening that happens when a woman becomes a mother has been completely missed. There is lots of work to do here and I sincerely hope that in the years to come both monastics and lay teachers will explore this fertile ground.

Ven. Adhimutta: What is the one thing you would like to accomplish?

Jacqueline Kramer: If I were to say what is the one thing I most want to accomplish in my work, it would be to do my part in bringing some balance into [the above mentioned] area.
To read Part 1 of this two part series please click here.

Jacqueline Kramer

Jacqueline Kramer has been practicing and studying Buddhism for more than 40 years. Jacqueline holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in painting and sculpture from Bennington College. She teaches art and music appreciation to seniors. Jacqueline sings with a swing big band and performs one-woman shows. She is a freelance writer and the director of the non-profit Hearth Foundation, a place for parents who wish to develop more awareness, calm, and joy in their family and everyday lives.

You can find Jacqueline's blog at https://awakeningathome.org/.

Other Awakening Buddhist Women Articles by Jacqueline Kramer:

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