Menstruation for Buddhist Women by Oxana Poberejnaia


oxanaNot all, but many women menstruate. The menstrual cycle is a contentious areas for feminists. Even men who aspire to be a feminist tend to find it difficult to deal with it. Inappropriate jokes ensue, and completely ignoring the issue is also a popular option.

My journey along a feminist path and toward the Sacred Feminine necessarily included working with my menstrual cycle. In this, Women’s Wisdom and the Menstrual Cycles articles  and Womb Blessings by Miranda Gray have been most helpful.

In Western Buddhism, one of the most revered and widely-taught practices is the four applications of mindfulness (body, feelings, mind, and mind objects – these terms have very specific meanings in Buddhism).  I argue that mindfulness of the body should include, for women, mindfulness of menstrual cycle. Once the need for such teaching is recognised, similar exercises may arise for men, to acknowledge hormone-based fluctuations in their bodies, for example, men’s response to hormonal changes in their female partners’ bodies, to do with pregnancy and giving birth (documented) and with menstrual cycle itself.

Western Buddhist practitioners are encouraged to stay with their bodies, feelings, mind and mind objects, without trying to control or change them. The Buddha went to details as instructing monks to be mindful at all times, including when they urinate and defecate. The full list is found here.

And yet, there is no specific teaching for women to be aware of our menstrual bleeding.

I know from experience that I am not only affected by my menstrual cycle at the time of the actual bleeding. Every day for me is not just a calendar date, it is also a very particular stage in a 28-30 day cycle. One day it is the day before ovulation, so I have just had a busy week, and I am possibly getting a bit more introverted, and tomorrow I will feel some minor pain from ovulation. Another day could be the first day of the last week before bleeding. I might wake up tense, alert, with a vague feeling that something is wrong. Then I remember I am entering the what Gray calls the Enchantress stage.

Miranda Gray described menstrual cycle in terms of four distinct stages. And it is usually The Enchantress stage that women are most prosecuted for: literally in the past and present women are killed for being witches. Alternatively, women are ridiculed and discriminated against in the capitalist patriarchal society. The patriarchal view is that menstruating women are dangerous, unstable, unreliable and untrustworthy, because every cycle they enter a stage they can’t control, when women seem to be aggressive, moody, unreasonable, destructive. Patriarchal adherents can deal with the bleeding phase – the Hag, as Miranda Gray calls it – because women tend to lack in energy and just suffer quietly on a couch during it.

But it is the Enchantress Stage that really scares some men. And some women. Women can get self-demeaning and distrustful of themselves due to the fact that the menstrual cycle appears to be a problem, rather than a blessing, to them. The reason for this  is that patriarchal society wants women and men to see menstrual cycle as a problem, so that women are seen as inferior, as “broken”, “freak” men. Not as stable, not as efficient, not as logical, not as productive. These considerations become especially important in a capitalist society, in which all people are “valued” and rewarded only as much as they contribute to enriching the top 1 percent of capitalists. In a capitalist society, the sacredness of life is obliterated, and giving birth is seen as an inconvenience. The abhorrent way in which Mothers are treated in the US has been discussed on FAR.

However, this is an area is where Buddhist practice and the Goddess spirituality can work together. Buddhism offers excellent teachings on being mindful, of letting be, of letting go of control. If only this was taught in Western Buddhist centres to women in relation to menstruation. Miranda Gray offers a framework that is rooted in mythology and Goddess spirituality. With an addition of Buddhist meditation, it would be an integrated path to body and spiritual, and subsequently, social liberation for women.

Enchantress is not bad. She is not crazy. She is not stupid. She is preparing the way for rebirth. She is the one who is getting rid of everything that is dead, outdated, rotting, damaging. She is Mother Kali. She is autumn. Without autumn, there is no winter. Winter in menstrual cycle is bleeding – the time of no thought, the time of ultimate letting go and submerging into the waters of the Goddess in Her womb. This is also very similar to many Buddhist teachings.

Without winter, there is no spring (Virgin phase in menstrual cycle): there is no energy, no new sprouts, no growth. Without spring, there is no summer (Mother stage, ovulation): no fruition, no completion, no abundance, love and caring.

In my own experience, the infamous (in a patriarchal society) Enchantress phase is the time of honesty. Enchantress cannot put up with the injustices that I as a woman experience in my life – or that other men and women experience. The Enchantress does not take crap. She is wild, and she is unstoppable. She is the hand of justice.

During the Enchantress stage, I am not distracted by the energy swelling up inside me and compelling me to do, to act, to organise. I am not concentrated on being fertile, as at the time of ovulation – the Mother stage, when I want to be one with the world, to care and to nurture. And I am not listening attentively to the voice of the Dark Goddess as blood comes out of my womb. So, all the crap that I have taken in the previous cycle, due to lack of time, not wanting to bother, or just feeling sorry for the perpetrator – it all resurfaces, and the Goddess tells me: “In letting patriarchy put you down, you put me down.”

Oxana Poberejnaia was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and has been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention, now in its 9th year. Oxana is now exploring the Sacred Feminine through marking seasonal festivals, working with her menstrual cycle, frame drumming and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Oxana is an artist and an author. Her works can be found on her blog.

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Categories: Body, Buddhism, Childbirth, Feminism, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Men and Feminism, Patriarchy, Women's Spirituality

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36 replies

  1. A very thought provoking article. But I feel there isn’t that much difference between Buddhism and Christianity. Even the concept of Immaculate Conception and the virgin birth features in Buddhist mythology and iconography – denying women a positive and healthy view of their bodies and functions. I explore this here http://www.goddess-pages.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=590

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    • Thank you for your comment and link. As for virgin birth, Western Buddhists are more familiar with the version of the story where the historical Buddha has a Father (who marries for the second time after the Buddha’s Mother’s death)

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  2. Menstruation is the ground of feminine magic. Menstrual blood is an extremely potent magical tool (I know, I’ve used it). The menstrual cycle is a lunar one, and enables the witch to draw down magical lunar power to use as she will. Women have been doing this for as long as anyone can remember, and they are still doing it. Its what scares men silly and makes them want to control what women do and when they do it. Its why all formalised religions denigrate and marginalise menstruating women: but the discrimination is, in fact, a recognition of a woman’s dangerous magical power. There is no place for feminine magical power in the churches and temples and mosques and synagogues. Of course not.
    Menopause is the most powerful time of a woman’s life, because now she has the power of her womanself together with freedom from the biological cycle which made her so different, so special, in the first place. She is powerful like a man and like a woman too. She is the old, dark moon, full of wisdom and secrets.
    Women will continue to feel miserable about menstruation until they acknowledge and live the fact that they are each and every one of them sisters to the moon, and that their cycle, like the cycle of the tides and the seasons, is full of magic, charged with power.

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    • I have never read an explanation of menstruation worded so beautifully as you and Oxana have done. So many of us have been raised in the false belief that this is a cursed, unclean time. Well, sometimes it isn’t the most pleasant or convenient, admittedly–but we do have to remember that this is part of the system of woman that prepares for the miracle of conception, pregnancy, and birth. These are all parts of the whole–as Oxana so eloquently used the metaphor of seasons.
      I’m feeling such a mix of empowerment from your words, and anger for being another female among countless others who have been raised to feel ashamed during this time.
      It is exciting to be living in an era in which Woman is finally and truly being liberated, understood, and revered. It’s about time.

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      • Ayla, I cannot express how touched I am by your exceedingly kind words. I feel so happy I could wrote something that you appreciated. I completely share your experiences and I also feel sad at how I was about menstruation and how many of my friends still are. Blessings to you! :-)

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  3. Awareness of our menstrual cycle is a good practice for all women. Thanks for this call to embodied mindfulness.

    Life after menopause can also be quite enchanting, I will bear witness! ;-)

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  4. This is also very similar to many Buddhist teachings.

    I think it is the reverse – that Buddhism and other patriarchal religions try to be similar to the original female way of being and that her way of being on our Earth was/is the original religion.

    I enjoyed reading this article.

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  5. Thanks for this very interesting and helpful perspective. I am one of those women who collapse into tears at any provocation at certain times in the menstrual cycle.. The body following the cycles of the moon in terms of sensitivity continues even after menopause for many women — though the bleeding stops the cycle of vulnerability can continue just as if you were still menstruating.

    Women had to fight a long time for their rights in Buddhism, as in all patriarchal religions, but Buddhism’s breakthrough toward equality is far more advanced in modern times, in my opinion, than most of the classic faith traditions, excepting Goddess Spirituality. The understanding in Buddhism that we all possess Buddha Nature, as does every existence in creation, is mind-boggling in terms of equality. Zen Buddhism is a combination of Indian Buddhism & Chinese Taoism. In ancient times, the symbol of Tao was thought to picture the moon in its changing phases of fullness and emptiness (each evolving out of the other, yang and yin), and therefore essentially non-sexist, and non-dualistic.

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    • I find Buddhism’s practices very useful in my life. But I have yet to find a Buddhist group that isn’t hierarchical, and for me, that means that they are still mired in power-over thinking and therefore patriarchal.

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      • Hi Nancy, In terms of the environment the teachings of Buddhism seem to me exceedingly helpful for our time, especially Zen. I was a member of a zazen group for many years, but the membership came from diverse paths. We came together to learn to meditate. It was glorious. There was no hierarchal feeling to it at all, nothing to profess, nothing imposed. We could all chant OM SHANTI… and every one of us support that prayer no matter our background or faith tradition.

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  6. Oxana, I really enjoyed this article. I’ve been following Miranda Gray for sometime & recently participated in one of her worldwide womb blessings. After 6 years of breastfeeding & 3 pregnancies I am finally getting back into the flow of my moon time & recognizing each stage of the cycle & how it affects me. It is a time to be honored & recognized, so many young girls are shamed when their time begins & carry this shame through life. For me, it is a reminder that my body is the earth body, my rhythm is Gaia’s rhythm – we are one & connected. Thankyou.

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  7. Thanks, Oxana, for this post. Menstruation has been an issue within feminism since its inception (at least in the second wave). My favorite example of how spiritual feminists dealt with male fear and revulsion of menstruation was Emily Culpepper’s M.Div. video at Harvard Divinity School (in the late 1970s or early 1980s), in which she filmed herself menstruating by positioning her camera below a glass table. I understand that within certain feminist theological circles women still talk about in-your-face feminist confrontation as “Culpeppering.”

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  8. Great post! And, amazingly, synchronistically timely since I literally JUST gave a presentation this afternoon about Moontime and working with our cycles at a La Leche League conference. I had Miranda Gray’s Red Moon book on the table in front of me, as a matter of fact! The setting was somewhat challenging, because I had Mennonite women in attendance as well as a woman wearing a veil (not sure what her background was) and another wearing a turban (again, not sure of background/faith tradition). It was hard to tell if I was connecting with them, or too “woo woo.” I think I handled it well though and I hope everyone gained something. I like the “four seasons” metaphor for understanding the ebb and flow of creative energy during our cycles.

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    • I love the four seasons metaphor, too, Molly ( I wonder why we both like it, my Wiccan or at least pagan friend!?). I was just listening to an online interview with Sonia Choquette where she said that “woo woo” should be “where it’s at,” meaning that when we’re “woo woo,” we’re actually connecting to our authentic self, being in touch with our intuition, etc.

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    • Imagine that, Molly! Great! Thank you for your kind words and for doing important work for women and for everyone!

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  9. The title of this article had me raising my eyebrows already. Why should this be an issue, I wondered. It’s a normal, healthy process a women’s body goes through. Reading the article had me thinking back on my own menstrual cycle. When I noted I was more out of sorts than usual, and realised that I was premenstrual, I calmed down immediately and enjoyed the process. It was a time that I spent being kind to myself, and was considerate of the process my body was going through. A lot of women would protest this, but I miss it. I’ve dipped into Buddhist practice and found there are no gurus. I often wonder whether Buddha meant women to be subjected to a hierarchy? After enlightenment, one can’t imagine it. At one retreat, after the morning meditation I ‘asked’ (a silent, inner question) whether women were welcome in Buddhism. I got a resounding yes and wonderful images floated in my imagination.

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  10. When I was in therapy in my mid-twenties, I often had breakthroughs that started from feelings of depression just before my period started. It was a time of greatest clarity.

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  11. Blessings for you! I enjoyed your article. It´s very important to be concious of our menstrual cycle, for both women and men. This is the way to go back to the Goddess the source of the Universe…

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  12. “… the menstrual cycle appears to be a problem, rather than a blessing, to them.”

    I respect that others have a different view of menstruation. But please don’t forget that there are women out there who have always had a bad experience of menstruation due to disease. Let’s just say that “blessing” is not a word that I would ever use when it comes to menstruation.

    My menstruation has been pretty painful even from the beginning. As it got worse I finally got a diagnosis of endometriosis.

    I never got any abstract feeling of wonder over my menstruation, just horrible pain. Screaming on the bathroom floor pain. All I ever wanted to do was stop that pain.

    For years I tried pain relievers (graduating to stronger and stronger drugs) along with many other treatments (accupuncture, homeopathy, herb, diet changes, …). But my pain got worse, and then it spread to all month long, not just during my period. Finally I had to have surgery. Removal of the abnormal endometriosis tissue solved the problem for me.

    My menstrual pain was *not* caused by lack of mindfulness or any vague mental problem. Nor was my problem caused by the patriarchy’s bad attitude toward menstruation. My pain was due to a disease. Removal of the abnormal tissue (uterine lining found outside the uterus) solved the problem.

    I still menstruate but now I can ignore it with only a few painkillers. The blessing for me is not menstruation but finally being free of pain.

    Those who have never experienced endometriosis pain have the luxury to view menstruation as some sort of blessing. That’s fine. But please don’t forget that many women out there have a completely different, real-world experience of menstruation, whether it’s from endometriosis pain (my case) or some other disease that affects menstruation. Please don’t forget these people when you talk of how menstruation is a blessing. It may be a blessing *for you* but you can’t generalize that.

    Even aside from the issues with pain, I simply can’t understand why any organ should be elevated above all the others. It just does not make sense to me. I don’t think my stomach, liver, or kidney are any more or less a blessing than my uterus.

    Why should my uterus be viewed as special? Is there some sort of spiritual explanation that I’m missing? I do follow a spiritual practice (I’m a vegetarian, I do daily meditation) but I don’t know a whole lot about Buddhism.

    Anyway, thanks for listening and letting me provide an alternative point of view.

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    • My heart goes out to you. My daughter suffered with endometriosis right through her teens and early twenties, so I understand something of what you speak about. At 22 she was told her only options were a hysterectomy or pregnancy which might, just might, relieve the condition. She got pregnant and was one of the lucky ones for whom this effected a cure. Are you still young enough to have a child ? Is it an option you would consider ? In any event, I wish you many blessings and hope that, at the very least, menopause will eventually bring some relief.

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      • June-Marie Courage,

        Thank you for your kind words.

        My surgery (not a full hysterectomy, just removal of the abnormal tissue) successfully treated my pain. I was lucky because not all endometriosis patients have a good response to surgery. It’s a very tricky disease to deal with.

        At any rate, I am one of the lucky ones. I am no longer in bad pain all the time. I only get a little bit of pain the first day or two of my period. A couple of ibuprofen is enough to keep that under control.

        Thanks again.

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      • I have this as well and I have to have a complete hysterectomy. I am only 37. I am not grieving. I have accepted it. I did not get to have children. I DID get to raise many foster children (teenagers) who I would not trade for all the world and my life is rich and blessed for having done it as hard as it was. I will keep your daughter in mind when I pray/mantra. My heart truly goes out to you all. May unchosen this path light another, which is both unexpected and more beautiful, than the one she had hoped for. Namaste.

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  13. This is an amazing article on recognising a woman’s menstrual cycle in Buddhism. As a woman and a Buddhist I fully understand what is being said here, however it is also important to note that we mustn’t just except what has been written. Yes we are advised in the Buddhist teachings to be mindful of everything we do and every aspect of our being, and yes I agree the menstrual cycle is not acknowledged. We must remember however that in the time of the Buddha’s teaching initially, women were seen and viewed very differently than they are today. We have to acknowledge the way society is today and as the famous words say …..do not expect just because someone says it is so, go out and experience for yourself. If you feel comfortable praying in the temple whilst menstruating then that’s fine if not it is better to stay away. It is about self choice and right conduct, the menstrual cycle is a natural part of the woman and her entire being, and should be recognised as so. Personally I do not feel comfortable entering a temple when I am in menstruation cycle, this is just a personal feeling and not something I have been taught. In fact, even whilst in India I have never been told by any Buddhist woman never to enter the Dalai lama temple whilst menstruating, this is something that I have simply naturally avoided at this time in my cycle.

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  14. I found this type of foreward thinking very b in line with what the 14th Dalai Lama talks about in the evolution of Buddhism and the inclusion of science and other pursuits of truth to be considered with an open heart and mind in conjunction with Buddhist practice. Things change. Buddha taught that women should obey their husbands, but he also taught that husbands should respect their wives and daughters, which was very foreward thinking for his time. Some believe that women do not practice the Dharma, but this isn’t the case and the proof of that is in the very nature of meditative practive because the natural developmental process in the practice leads to practicing the Dharma, whether you have the language behind it or not. The human brain has a design. No two are alike, but how they develop is similar. Practice increases neurons in the specific areas of the brain which are being utilized and increases abilities in this area. So whether you have an understanding of astrology or a connection to how to align yourself and your next life, any truth can be stumbled upon naturally as Buddha learned when he made his journey. You simply look within. It takes hard work. Anything… any knowledge or truth can be reached in this manner if it is relevant to the person’s purpose or pursuit and spiritual/intellectual/physical growth in combination to the male and female energies of life (which ever form you see this as), your creation energy (which ever way you visualise this – Jesus, Buddha, Energy, pure white light etc.) and your world/universe around you and the combined relationship with your entire existance, no truth is out of reach that a human being is capable of accessing. Whether that person be male, female, or both (remember there are more than two genders and this happens more often than you would think) and it TAKES both the male and female energies to create life. Male and female energy exists inside all of us, regardless of our genders. Male and female hormones exist in us all and we all begin the same in the womb. So wisdom and learning means to continue to utilize tradition and what we know/have learned with what we are learning now. So, things change and this is beautiful. I really appreciate your open-minded approach. Thank You!

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