Peace of mind vs Dogma and Capitalism by Oxana Poberejnaia


oxanaWhen I said in my response to Carol P. Christ’s comment that on one level Goddess spirituality and Buddhism are about the same thing, I am afraid it could have sounded shallow. What I wanted to express is that for a Goddess adherent, the primary goal is not to go through death and be reborn. Neither is the primary goal for a Buddhist to go through death and not be reborn. I believe they both seek the same thing: to be happy in this lifetime, to be comfortable with themselves and the world, to be OK with the reality of their own death. Carol says: “For me, regeneration applies to the community, to nature, to the whole, not to the individual”.

The two faiths just lead to this result by using different theology and practices. One of the ways Buddhism installs this peace of mind is by dissolving the very notion of an “individual” and thus, their impending death becomes less of a problem. From the Goddess side of things, listen to an episode of Karen Tate’s Sex, Religion, Politics podcast Enlightenment for the Rest of Us/Shamanism with Polly Campbell, author of Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People. Karen is a Goddess advocate, and what Polly was teaching could be called secular Buddhism: the same breathing techniques, being in the moment and being grateful.

I believe that at a certain level of realisation, after a certain amount of sincere practice, people of all religions experience life in a similar way. I would also argue that when that happens, these practitioners let go of many conceptual teachings of their religions. Sometimes these people are called mystics. I do not believe that a mystical approach to life is necessary for such realisation. In fact, a person can be of most practical nature and still find life “quite satisfactory” as Carol confesses she does.

For instance, in the Soviet Union stories about Nasreddin Hodja, retold in two novels by Leonid Soloviev, were immensely popular. For Soviet secular people, he was the face of Islam: irreverent, witty, deeply compassionate, busy with helping poor people while others went to daily prayers.

The connection with Feminism here is not that women are inherently averse to theory, but that in our written history patriarchy controlled written and scholar knowledge and guarded it from women. Because of this repression, which still goes on in most Buddhist schools in traditionally Buddhist countries, women excel in practical matters such as the practice of meditation, education (especially of girls), building their own nunneries and so on.

From Rita M. Cross’ Buddhism After Patriarchy I learnt that in Tibetan Buddhism prominent women religious figures could not boast extensive philosophical knowledge, as they were not given the same education as boys, however, they were famous for their mastery of meditation.

Prince Siddharta Gautama shaves the hair off h...

Prince Siddharta Gautama shaves the hair off his head as the sign to decline his status as ksatriya (warrior class) and become sn ascetic hermit, his servants holds his sword, crown, and princely jewelry while his horse Kanthaka stood on right. Bas-relief panel at Borobudur, Java, Indonesia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carol also asked me about the very start of Buddhism: i.e. Prince Siddhartha’s leaving his young wife and newborn son in order to achieve Enlightenment. Carol is wondering if the story of abandonment means that “women with children cannot become enlightened either. This answer also seems to assume that while Buddha “could” become enlightened without the burden of wife and family, even the so-called great man could not change the conditions of patriarchy and patriarchal marriage–even for himself, his wife, and his child”.

On the first point, I would say that no, it does not mean that. The historical Buddha was not a Buddha before Enlightenment, thus, not a “great man”. After his Enlightenment, the Buddha made a point of not being a social reformer, concentrating instead on ending suffering of individuals.

Moreover, there was no Buddhism to follow when the Prince left the palace. The historical Buddha (re)discovered a spiritual technique that enables Enlightenment. The technique is now out there for anyone to practice. We do not leave in a social vacuum, and neither did the historical Buddha. For instance, we nowadays cannot forego the dreaded “Festive Season”, even if we are not Christians. Or even if we are Christians and oppose the commercialised Christmas. People still expect cards, gifts and certain food from us. This is just one example.

In the Buddha’s time and his land, life was even more regimented. Every step of every person was accounted for, in accordance with their gender, caste and position in their particular community. I would say with complete confidence that yes, had Prince Siddhartha remained in the palace to live a life of a ruler he would not have reached Enlightenment. Now that he had done that, other can follow – men or women, with children or without.

Cover of "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind"

Cover of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

One of the gifts that the historical Buddha gave to people, Buddhist meditation, is something that I personally would not abandon even if all Buddhist institutions had been rotten patriarchy through and through. Buddhist meditation is unique, and no other spiritual tradition that I know of offers anything similar. Its uniqueness as I see it is that the meditation does not lead you to a pre-determined goal or absolute: Universal Unity, God, Oneness, or anything of this sort. Rather, it peels your own unique layers of anger, greed and ignorance one by one, as you have acquired them. And the second point is that it never stops. There is always a step further, a level deeper. This has been described as “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”.

You could ask – how about Enlightenment – is not that a goal of Buddhist practice? Yes and no. It is a goal all right, but Buddhist teachings are very careful in insisting that Enlightenment, (nibbana) is beyond samsara, causation and description in words.

Returning to the Christmas issue – and I know I am starting preaching early, but so do shops – start pushing Christmas on us early, don’t they? In the same way as Prince Siddhartha could not combine palace life with spiritual quest, running around malls, sweaty and shopping bags over your shoulders, forearms, and cutting in your palms does not go well with our quest: both feminist and spiritual.

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. She teaches frame drumming and meditation. Her works can be found on her blog.

http://poeticoxana.wordpress.com   



Categories: Buddhism, consumerism, Earth-based spirituality, Feminism, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Islam, Ritual, Spiritual Journey

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. You wrote, “What I wanted to express is that for a Goddess adherent, the primary goal is not to go through death and be reborn.” Please understand that it’s extremely risky to generalize about pagans, heathens, spiritual feminists, and other people who love or adore or respect the Goddess. We’re not unitary. Many of us do in fact accept the concept of reincarnation, though getting reborn is not the primary goal of our lives. Generally speaking, we live here and now and try to do good on the planet. But even that may be an unsafe generalization. Yeah. We’re practically walking definitions of the word “rebel.”

    But keep writing!

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    • Hello, Barbara! Thank you for your kind comment. I would just humbly point out the word “primary” in my statement. There might be pagans out there whose primary spiritual goal is to get reborn, I just have not met any to date.

      But keep commenting!

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  2. Thanks Oxana, your Buddhist faith seems to me very deep and rich and interesting. I am inspired by and profoundly moved by Zen teachings. Also I would love to read your thoughts on frame drumming — a very interesting tradition as a form of spirituality, and dating back into the middle ages among women. There’s a fascinating book on the topic by Layne Redmond called: “When the Drummers were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm.”

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    • Oxana, just to add that it’s the medieval music that has come down to us that I was referring to as regards the middle ages. There are early music CDs with fascinating examples performed by ensembles using frame drums. There are works of art showing women drummers dating back to ancient times, but as far as I know no music has survived to go along with that.

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      • Hello, Sarah! Thank you very much for your kind words. As a Buddhist practitioner, I would gently deflect your compliment by saying that my deep Buddhist faith is not achievement, but a result of a multitude of influences in my life: such as my genetics, upbringing, my teachers, my friends, and so on.

        Sure, I will write a post on frame drumming – although I am kind of supposed to be a Buddhist blogger here…

        I consider Layne Redmond to be my distant Teacher. I never met her, but I learn from her DVDs and CDs and I teach in her tradition. I love “When Drummers Were Women”, can’t wait for the new edition that she is working on while in hospice. I held a healing drumming with her in my group, please also send her healing.

        Thank you so much.

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  3. Religious scholar, Miranda Shaw, makes a cogent and informative argument for the inclusion of Buddhism in Goddess scholarship in her book, “Buddhist Goddesses of India.” Shaw states, “Buddhism has exalted female deities to the pinnacle of the pantheon, to embody the loftiest metaphysical principles and goals of the tradition, including Buddhahood. Having documented this remarkably diverse pantheon, I use the term ‘goddess’ because I believe Buddhism merits a place among the goddess traditions of the world” (13). As a Buddhist scholar and feminist, I cannot recommend this work highly enough.

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  4. Hi Oxana —

    Good post! I agree with Barbara, and would add that most Wiccans believe in reincarnation. Also a lot of Wiccans practice frame drumming, because Starhawk and Layne Redmond introduced it into the community.

    I would also add that most Wiccans I know (and most Pagans) see themselves as one with the interconnected web of all existence, just like Buddhists. Our relationship to nature is as a result also very similar to “interbeing” or “dependent co-arising.” When I hear Buddhists speak or read Buddhist literature I’m struck by these similarities. Of course, there are the differences as well. For us the major metaphor for the interconnected web is the Goddess, while Buddhists seem to walk a via negativa, not necessarily seeing deity at the center.

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    • This is my experience, Nancy–that my name for that web of life, and my experiencing of “that which holds the whole and weaves the all,” is Goddess.

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    • Hello, Nancy! Thank you for the comment! As there are many faces to paganism (as Barbara noted), so there are a multitude of Buddhisms. In the West, people are most often exposed to Zen and Mahayana in general, also Tibetan Buddhism. However, things have started as Indian Buddhism, and Theravada is the only surviving school from those days. Some scholars sometimes go as far as to say that Theravada and Mahayana are more different from each other than some other separate religions are similar to each other. For instance, I can tell you that there are Buddhist who are almost atheist (bar for the Gods who live in one of the six divisions of the Universe and those who actually spoke to the Buddha). These rely on their own practice almost exclusively. At the other end of the range, there are Buddhists who do not believe in personal effort at all, but instead chant the name of a Saviour Buddha figure in order to be saved: for instance, to be reborn in the Pure Land.

      This concept of “Being One with the World” mostly comes from Mahayana Buddhism, more specifically, from Chinese Buddhism, which had been heavily influenced by Daoism.

      If you like, Theravada picture of the world would be like one of those pointillism paintings, where things and people consist of separate dots. Or perhaps, one of the “effects” in a visual editor: where you can turn a photo into a “Pencil Artist Sketch”: with background and people being hinted at by lighter or harder pressure on the pencil. Mahayana draws more pronounced outlines around “people” or “things”, while maintaining, as you put it, “negativa” – i.e., assertion that there is no permanent self.

      So, in Buddhist teaching (I am not saying “for Buddhists”, because there are no doctrinal requirements on being a Buddhist. In fact, there is no such a thing as “converting to Buddhism”. Buddhist practice is open to everyone and it does not matter whether one calls oneself a Buddhist or not. Many Buddhist practitioner don’t. I don’t. I say that I practice Buddhist meditation) this interconnectedness of life is not seen as a good thing, or as a divine thing. It is just reality of things. We are all interconnected with nature in the sense that we are all made from the same material: stardust. And we are all connected to other people in the sense that we all live in human societies. There is no other way for a human being to exist, other than as a form of carbon-based life and in a society.

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  5. My attraction to goddess spirituality has nothing to do with death or rebirth or an after life. My attraction is basically to a great love of women, and my idea of the lesbian goddesses Diana, for example, give me a sense of deep connection to power, to women being part of the hunt, the forests, nature. I’m not interested in anything male in terms of my spiritual sense. I want a great love that is a divine love that is lesbian love. And I see it in the beauty of women saints, in the idea that one does indeed make love with a goddess, a kind of eccstatic discovery I make here and there along the way.

    Buddhism is just more blathering of the boys boredom to me, more male mindbindings, and someone who just dumped his wife and kids? Sheesh, I wouldn’t give any male “spiritual” teacher the time of day for doing that. At least Jesus didn’t do that…

    I’ve lived in Asia, Buddhism is just patriachy that fakes out women in the west.

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    • Hello, Turtle Woman, and thank you for your comment! Very interesting. So, we are getting all sorts of views here: We started with the reminder that pagans like the idea of reincarnation, and here we see that foe some this is not the focus of their spirituality at all. Earlier we heard that Buddhism can be considered as one of the Goddess paths, and here we see that for some women, Buddhism is just male mindbindings.

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