Book Review: Buddha’s Daughters

2014 July 10

buddhasdaughters

Buddha’s Daughters: Teachings from Women Who Are Shaping Buddhism in the West offers a wide range of teachings from numerous notable female Western Buddhist teachers such as Pema Chodron, Khandro Rinpoche, Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Joanna Macy, Tsultrim Allione, Charlotte Joko Beck among many, many more. This anthology,  edited by Andrea Miller and the editors of the Shambhala Sun is an important and comprehensive collection of stories, instructions and practices on diverse topics such as: birth, old age, sickness, death, anger, love, divorce, health, children, attachment, fear, sex, the environment, psychology, poetry, beginnings, ends and middles – and more. Yes. It’s all in here.

I was struck by Andrea Miller’s introduction which, on the topic of gender and Buddhism deftly points out the following:

… Buddhism like all world religions, has largely been shaped and defined by men. Century after century – right up to the present day – women have been denied teachings and ordinations and have found themselves relegated to monastery kitchens. They’ve been deemed to be of “lower birth,” and in some lineages even the most experienced, aged nun must bow before any monk, even the youngest, least experienced among them. Blocked by such discrimination, women have had limited opportunities to develop into advanced practitioners and teachers. Yet despite the challenges, women have been diligently practiced from the beginning- since the days of the Buddha. I hope this anthology serves as an inspiration for contemporary women practitioners.

One of the best aspects of compilations such as this one is that they pull from various traditions and allow readers to discover teachings and wisdom from spiritual paths outside of one’s own. With teachings from a multitude of flavours of Buddhism comes the ability to open up one’s perspective and to see wisdom in places one may not initially look for them in. Through this book, I was able to discover many practices, teachings, pieces of poetry and philosophies that I wasn’t previously aware of. I love it when a book allows me to go down the rabbit hole of discovering new things to read and helps me to create list of things to check out. One example of this is my discovery of Buddhist nun and poet Rengetsu who I am now absolutely fascinated with and will be adding to my ‘must find out more about her’ list.

One of my favourite chapters was that of Tenzin Palmo who writes clearly and powerfully on the topic of Vajrayana. She delivers a glimpse into this yana without ‘giving away too many secrets’ and does so in a way that is both magical and real-world. It is truly a rewarding read and should be required for practitioners regardless of their time or location on the path.

But in Vajrayana, there are so many practices. Ther is vipassana, there is Zen-like meditation, there is study, there is the whole panoply of Technicolor Vajrayana visualizations with buddhas and bodhisattvas in every possible color combination. There is something for everybody- peaceful, angry, sort of peaceful, and sort of angry, standing up, sitting down, lying down, any way you want.

Buddha’s Daughters offers the best of spiritual guidance as well as just ‘plain old’ life advice. It is an important contribution to the  collection of books featuring female voices and is a highly worthy addition to any bookshelf. These stories of powerful women from the past and present will hopefully inspire future great female teachers.

3 Responses
  1. July 11, 2014

    Nice review. Thank you. This is such an important topic. My only complaint about the book is that the selected contributors seem like the “usual suspects,” so to speak. It would be wonderful to see an anthology that was more wide ranging, bring fresh voices to the mix.

    • Tanya McGinnity permalink*
      July 14, 2014

      Valid point Peter.

      I think those ‘big names’ do tend to sell books so they’re reliable, however I was quite captivated by writings submitted by many of those ‘not so householdy names’. I also like the multi-traditional approach to the book. Sadly, I’m only lately really digging into Zen books so this is a way to expand the minds of those like me who may have had their ‘insert Buddhist school here’ blinders on.

  2. Janelle permalink
    July 12, 2014

    I am looking forward to reading such an important book. Thank you to Andrea Miller.

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