Another tough question from my mother

The other day, my mom asked me in a super slow and emphatic way “Are you a practicing Buddhist?

photo by Luca Galuzzi - www.galuzzi.it  "Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;  use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are."  His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
photo by Luca Galuzzi – http://www.galuzzi.it
“Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;
use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Whoa. She didn’t even sound this shocked when I came out to her.

I did a little grimace, suddenly self-conscious. “Well, mom, I wouldn’t say that exactly.” I stammered on “I mean I’m not sure the Buddha would have called himself a Buddhist. He was this guy who just kind of woke up to experience his own life, and went around teaching about it. But I don’t think of it really as, like a religion that I could belong to or anything.”

Though I’ve been studying, and (yes mom) practicing, Buddhist philosophy for four years now, I’ve been loath to talk or write about it.

Until now.

I’m coming out of the closet. Truth is, I think about it all the time. Especially in relation to my work to end violence against women and children.

I think about it in relation to our satirical rape prevention tips post which begins “1) Don’t put drugs into women’s drinks. 2) When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone. 3) If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.” and goes on from there. I find it amazing that this post has been viewed 180,001 times.

I can’t help but think, that of all those people, it is statistically likely that at least a few readers were men who have raped someone. Or who have done other terrible things to women and children.

Back to the Buddha and what his enlightenment might have to do with rapists reading this post. The Buddha was just an ordinary man, who woke up. That’s all. He wasn’t visited by angels. He wasn’t struck by lightning. So I wonder, can these other men wake up?

Could reading a blog post that posits that rapists are responsible for not raping—instead of making women responsible for not getting raped—help these guys realize what they’ve done? Could they wake up to the oh-so-human experience of doing terrible things to others? Could they wake up to the oh-so-human capacity to stop doing those terrible things? Could they make amends by helping other men wake up and stop raping women?

Visiting Guatemala

It has been my privilege to travel to Guatemala with the Seattle International Foundation (SIF) to meet people working to address violence against women and children in four different states. What a great way to spend the Guatemaladays leading up to International Women’s Day!

Guatemala established an extensive femicide law in 2008 to address interfamilial violence, rape, and child abuse. Claudia Paz y Paz, the first woman attorney general of Guatemala has established femicide courts and specialized prosecutors offices to bring justice to survivors and challenge the perception that anyone can get away with violating women. SIF will be funding community-based organizations serving survivors in order to help build the supportive infrastructure they need in their community.

Meeting the many dedicated people in Guatemala working to empower women has been a wonderful experience. Although the context is different, many of the struggles that these activists face are similar to the challenges people dedicated to ending violence everywhere face: scarce resources, survivors with complex needs, enlisting support from other institutions, and finding sustainable ways to continue the work. I recognized their dedication, passion, strength, and determination, and most of all their creativity—as very much like that of advocates, activists, and institutional change makers here at home. In that sense I always knew I was with friends and compañeras throughout my time in Guatemala.