Three teachers of various Buddhist traditions respond to this question, here.
The emptiness of the self is part of what we face in practice. It is this very emptiness that allows us to work with our karma, clarify our lives, and awaken to the truth. But becoming your most authentic self is part of it too. The Buddha advised his followers to be indifferent to their bodies, but he also taught people to use their bodies as the tools of awakening. The Buddha’s own story teaches us that extremes are not conducive to real understanding. It does us no good to be miserable, unhealthy, or at war with ourselves.
What would you have said?
2 thoughts on “Lion’s Roar: Does my transgender identity conflict with the teachings on no-self?”
I am neither a Buddhist teacher nor transgender. But as a long time practitioner of Zen and an ally I wish to comment. As we have conceptualizations about the self, we also have conceptualizations about no-self. When we are able to drop our conceptualizations, both self and no-self fall away and we are just as we are. There is no question about whether we are true or authentic; or both true and authentic; or neither true nor authentic. We simply are.
‘Knowing without knowing’ is a touchstone in Zen. I believe this kind of knowing is demonstrated by the transgender (gender queer, gender non-conforming, questioning, etc) community and I greatly admire it. Why do you think you are a woman? Because you like dresses? I am a woman and I detest dresses. When we look closely, there is not a single characteristic that can be called male or female. How do you know you are a man? How do I know I am a woman? How do you know you are not either or that you are both? We simply know it. This knowing has no conditions, no characteristics, no reasons, and is ultimately beyond question. Even if you identify as questioning, that is beyond question.
We all have this knowing, but usually we cover it up by making up reasons for what we know. Thus our knowing is no longer free but is bounded by the conditions of the story we have made up to support what is known (eg. women have vaginas, men have penises; women are nurturing, men are macho). People begin to rely on the conditions of the story rather than relying on what is known. I think this may underlie transphobia. Those who rely on the conditions or definitions of a story to support their being feel their very being is threatened when those conditions are struck down.
Though Buddha nature is beyond characteristics, it expresses itself through characteristics such as form, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena, and, yes, gender. Expressing your gender as you know it to be in this moment is nothing other than expressing the Buddha dharma.
Since we all have this knowing, why do I admire the transgender community? Because they express their knowing courageously defying the conditions set by societal stories. May we all learn to express our being with such fortitude and freedom, allowing our Buddha nature to shine unobstructed in the ten directions.
Peggy Ikai Schubert
Thank you for the question.
Thank you, teachers for your responses.
Thank you with metta.