Breaking Glass

Buddha Nature and Gender Nature

I have decided that the only way to understand American liberal society is through the mystical practices of Asia’s ancient religions.  Let me explain.

Hundreds of millions of the world’s Buddhists have at the heart of their faith a seemingly irreconcilable mystery.  For two millennia, they have been taught that emptiness (sunyata) is a fundamental principle of reality.  When properly analyzed, nothing in fact has any content or substance beyond what we attribute to it: All is empty.  At the same time, though, mystics teach the goal of finding the ultimate cosmic reality that is at the heart of all things, the Buddha Nature that is within all of us.  But doesn’t that doctrine flatly contradict the idea of emptiness, in that at least something is absolutely valid, a rock on which to stand?  Is everything empty, or not?  Scholars and contemplatives debate that baffling paradox.

That religious conundrum has struck me often in recent decades, as Western scholars and academics preach the theme that all things are constructed, whether we are looking at nations, classes, or (especially) “gender identities.”  However solid and real it might seem, nothing is innate or inevitable.  Our identities are made and remade through social influences and interactions, and especially through the power of language.  From our earliest years, we learn to...

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