Masyanya’s Punk Buddhism by Oxana Poberejnaia

oxanaIn autumn 2001 I attended a youth workshop in Moscow, where I saw for the first time a brand new flash animation character who would accompany us in our young adulthood. Her name is Masyanya. She is a leader of a punk rock band. She does not take herself too seriously, but she means everything she says or does. I look up to her. She makes me laugh. And in one of the recent episodes Masyanya taught her male friend Lokhmaty (Shaggy) Buddhist meditation.

220px-Masyanya-Lokhmaty-Hryundel_from_cartoon_Russian_Punk_RockMasyanya is a creation of Oleg Kuvaev, a male Russian designer and animator. You can read his brief history of the project and watch episodes without dialogue here. On YouTube there are some Masyanya episodes with English subtitles, like this one, entitled “Women Triangles”.

What struck me about Masyanya immediately was her uninhibited embodied freedom. She does not care what people think about the way she looks or what she says, and whether she acts in a “womanly” way or not. Her mode of living can be compared with that of a lay Zen master: she eats when she is hungry, she cries when she is sad, and she does not take societal conventions for ultimate truth.

She imparts wisdom on her hapless boyfriend and friends. Once she sold her car to pay off her boyfriend’s debt. “It’s all rubbish, Hryundel’ (Oink-man): cars, money. Tell me, when you are on your deathbed, are you going to remember the money you had? No, mate. You are going to remember how we busked on commuter trains, and somebody threw a green cat at us, and remember how you got me that horrible horse-shaped piñata?”

Sometimes Masyanya gets depressed: “Everything is horrible. Everywhere is war, famine, and we just sit here, drinking”. She throws TV sets out of her window when she’s depressed (but she throws TV sets out of the window when she sees a pop music video on, so…) She then cycles to The Gulf of Finland, and sits there by night: “I have completely forgotten: we have a very real sea” and starts singing: “When the party is over, you’ve got no place to go” until she giggles and admits: “I am pretty crap at singing” and she goes home.

Once a burglar hit Masyanya on the head with a bottle and took all her money. Convinced that everyone is a bastard, she climbs to the roof of her block of flats and looks at the city from above. Her boyfriend follows her. Eventually they arrive at the conclusion that people are not evil as such, they are just idiots, which is treatable.

This is one of the central tenets of Buddhism: what we perceive as evil in this world is a result of humans’ greed, ill-will (anger) and ignorance (delusion). It can also be said that greed and ill-will originate from the fundamental ignorance, or delusion, of one’s separation from the rest of the world as a permanent self. The Buddha is seen as the shower of the path to eradicating ignorance, ill-will and greed, which will end suffering.

Masyanya also deals with human suffering directly: for instance, in an anime-inspired episode, Masyanya heads a secret Internet police which investigates crimes of spam and administers rotten tomatoes throwing at the perpetrators. Sometimes Masyanya takes on the role of the Hand of Karma: after Hryundel had bugged her with phone calls when she had a problem with her mouth and found it difficult to talk, she got better, took a hockey stick, hit him in the teeth and rang him to enquire about his health. “See, Hryundel, this is the tough truth: before doing anything first think of the consequences of your actions”.

Masyanya does not treat her womanhood as something separate from the rest of her being. Neither does she sees her feminism as something separated from her general love of freedom. She treats sex as a thing people do if they want to. She would not have sex out of sense of misplaced duty, especially if Hryundel’s hands are cold and ticklish. When Hryundel threatened her he might find other sex partners, Masyanya was not moved.

Did she change after becoming pregnant and then a Mother? Her behaviour has changed in that she started caring for the baby: feeding, dressing, and giving him emotional support. However, she did not see pregnancy or Motherhood as a sacred role, a curse, or as an inconvenience to her career growth. It was just something that happened her body and emotional life, with which she is dealing in her own individual way. When the tension of due date got too much she dressed up and performed “A Dance of a Pregnant Cyber Punk” in front of terrified Hryundel’ and Lokhmaty.

Masyanya explains Buddhist meditation as a simple and a natural thing, not an esoteric discipline that requiring special postures, or concepts of auras or chakras. As a modern woman to a modern man, she gives Lokhmaty (Shaggy) a computer metaphor: Buddhist meditation is useful like it is useful to clear your hard drive of broken files, which in a human can be: painful memories, traumas, unrealised longings and so on. Some Buddhist schools teach that human nature is in essence pure, albeit in life it gets polluted by defilements (kilesas) which I mentioned in the previous post.

Lokhmaty’s fast-track liberation programme also included ripping a backpack that he has worn for 11 years off his back – as a symbol for letting go of rubbish that only weighs you down in life. Another step was dressing him as a punk and sending him, equipped with a huge Nursery book cut-out, on a round trip on the underground – to teach him not to mind what other people think about him.

This, to me, is Buddhist practice. In addition, I believe, like Rita M. Gross, author of “Buddhism after Patriarchy.” does, that, when practised outside of patriarchal institutions that have arisen through Buddhist history, Buddhist is feminism.

Oxana Poberejnaia has recently been interviewed by Karen Tate on her radio programme Sex, Religion, Power and Politics talking about capitalist anti-Soviet propaganda and Goddess in Slavic paganism. Oxana 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   

Categories: Buddhism, Feminism, Humor, Media

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. Oxana: Dharma the Cat will soon have to move over to make a place for you (and now Masyanya…) I love your posts, and find them very “skillful.” :-) Thanks!


  2. Thank you very much, Onoosh! Your support means a lot. It is so difficult sometimes to face a blank page… Kind comments of the readers such as yourself keep me going. Thank you.


  3. There isn’t anything in your post, Oxana, that I don’t identify with — 1,000 thank you’s


  4. I love this post and Masyanya! It is so fascinating and so heartening when feminist characters turn up in popular culture – it shows that feminist values have begun to permeate the culture to some extent and is also a wonderful way of expressing feminist messages to people who might not otherwise encounter them. Masyanya brought back some memories – in the 1980s I was a “punk poet” in the East Village of NYC and some of her actions and words remind me of elements of myself and the people I knew back then. I had never thought of our way of life and thinking as being Buddhist – especially since I knew nothing of Buddhism back then – but I do see the connections now… thank you!


    • Great, Carolyn! Thank you so much for your comments! You were a punk poet, wow! This is one thing that I have not been yet and do not think I will take it upon myself (this is why I said that I look up to Masyanya). Yes, I know! I always say that spirituality and true freedom does not need to be esoteric, or detached from everyday life, or and especially – from humour!!!! Absolutely! I believe that a person who works hard at being free, at being their true self – is following a Buddhist and a feminist path, and I say it as a high praise, not as a way of attaching labels to people. Labels are not needed where there is truth.


  5. Thank you, Oxana, for introducing us to the character of Masyanya and her worldview, and way of being.


  6. Oxana — Could you please post the link to the exact episode where Masyanya teaches Buddhist meditation? Is it perchance one of the ones with English subtitles? I’m a freelance writer who covers Buddhism and modern culture. Thanks so much!


  7. Thank you so much for reading my article! Masyanya is a great role model for me and many of my contemporaries. All the best!



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