The Buddhist path of awakening has primarily focused on individual transformation as the “place” of enlightenment, even if the awakened One is committed to Saving All Beings.” The spiritual friend or community can be a necessary support to awakening, but the individual mind or heart or consciousness is the location or center of enlightenment.
With the Buddha’s departure and Yasodhara’s growth in spiritual community, “a split in the path was forged”—a split that has been furthered by the way the Buddha’s teachings have flourished in the world. Patriarchal traditions seem to have fostered this prioritizing of the internal, individual opening to the spirit. This doorway can eventually open to a full engagement with all of life and humanity, but the possibility of the human-to-human relational opening, and the doorway to the spirit within particular relationships and communities, remains the more obscured, undeveloped, and uncharted path. The Buddha’s Wife offers a possibility of healing the split, imagining into a shared inclusive path where all voices (male and female, monastic and householder, black and white, East and West) can be included and flourish. Many doorways, one path.
Some may argue that the Buddha’s path is beyond all divisions and represents a universal path. We do believe that the Buddha saw the whole beyond the divisions—the “co-arising” of all things. However, the establishment and maintenance of the teachings have been transmitted over centuries, primarily through Asian, male, monastic communities. As the Buddha’s teachings come to the West, the infusion of different voices—the sensitivity toward and the inclusion of women, people of color, different classes and sexualities, diverse ethnic and cultural groups—has begun. In this endeavor, careful and precise attention is called for. And so are boldness, courage, and creativity.
The Buddha’s last words are said to be: “Be a light unto yourself; seek your own salvation with diligence.”
Yasodhara’s last words might have been: “Sometimes you need the light of others to see the way. Sometimes you need to be a light for others. And always, the light will shine more brightly with two or more gathered in spirit.”
And what about the shared path? We might say: “Every doorway opens to the path. All are necessary. There is no right door or right way. Sometimes in the dark night, we need to find our own way, or to lead the way alone; sometimes we need to rely on others. Always, we can share our light and find a new brightness in community, which will reveal to us what we are only beginning to see alone.”