Opening the Lotus:
A Woman's Guide to Buddhism

by Sandy Boucher

Beacon Press, 1997. ISBN 0807073091.
Reviewed by Melanie Alberts
Posted on 11/18/2004

Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

Sandy Boucher's twenty years of experience with Buddhism frames this unique introduction to one of the world's oldest faiths. As someone looking to learn more about Buddhism, I've been reading many introductions lately and Opening the Lotus is clearly my favorite. Boucher writes with a lively and accessible style as she focuses on women in Buddhism. It is notable that the only illustration is of the goddess Kwan Yin. The author includes many personal stories because she says "...the Buddha way is not a path of received truths but a path of investigation of the human condition through one's own experience of it."

The first chapter is a brief biography of the Buddha and the tenets of Buddhism. Boucher quickly moves into the practical aspects of the faith when she answers questions like "What can I expect in a Buddhist meditation hall?" and "Can women be Buddhist leaders?" while describing how women have fared in Buddhist history. She addresses sexuality, emotional detachment and enlightenment through a woman's perspective. I was pleased to see so many stories used as examples.

In "An Encounter with Anger," the author writes of an incident she experienced on Parappaduwa Nun's Island in Sri Lanka, where Western women can live as nuns for weeks at a time. When a certain gung-ho participant requested that they rise at 4:00 a.m. instead of 4:30, Thinking 4:30 a.m. was early enough, Boucher fumed throughout the day. Later, she realized, "How completely I created this emotion, and how inappropriate it felt in this serene monastic setting. But perhaps it was not inappropriate, for I was shown my own capacity for anger, which I share with every other human being, and I was given the opportunity to observe it fully. So I watched my rage build and sustain itself and finally, slowly, begin to dissipate. Not until evening had the anger stilled. I felt emotionally wrecked and pushed to my limits by my day long experience, but when I went to bed that night I knew I had been given a profound teaching."

Such revelations are the fruits of meditation. The author describes walking meditation and offers five different seated meditations, from a focus on the breath to a complex visualization. Finally, she includes an extensive directory of women teachers and retreats for women. Opening the Lotus is indispensable for the information it provides on women's roles and how they shaped the faith over the centuries. It encourages you to find your place in Buddhism and is an energizing place to start.

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