In response to a recent blog on Buddhism and feminism by Oxana Poberejnaia, I stated that while I would agree that “clinging” to an identity is a cause of suffering, I am not in favor of “giving up” identity altogether.
Oxana replied that “if you are not suffering,” then you do not need Buddhism. I responded that for the most part I am not suffering because years ago I gave up “having to have” certain things in my life. I added that I often wondered if that made me “kind of a Buddhist.”
One of the things that I gave up was the notion that I “had to have” a lover and life partner. The other was the notion that I “had to have” the job teaching graduate students in women and religion–for which I was eminently qualified.
Not having these “things” that I thought I deserved (and why not?) caused my younger self a great deal of suffering. In fact, it often seemed to me that a life without a partner and lover simply was not worth living. My suffering was so great that I considered suicide—more than once.
As a result of my first Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (a story I told in Odyssey with the Goddess), I finally realized that I really could not control all of the conditions of my life–not through hard work, not through desire, not through mental focus, not through magic. This realization led to a major transformation in my life.
Instead of focusing on what I did not have, I began to focus on what I did have. I realized that though I did not have a life partner, I had many good friends who loved me a great deal. And though I did not have the job I thought I deserved, I had the great good luck to have written books that changed the lives of thousands of women.
I recognized that I had given up exactly the kind of “clinging” to ideas about life that Buddhists say create suffering.
At the same time, I was not drawn to the Buddhist path. I could never accept the fact that Buddha considered his wife and child an impediment to his spiritual path. Nor was I ever drawn to give up my “ego” or “identity” altogether. Later, I would write in She Who Changes that all paths of spiritual “rebirth” seemed to me to be based upon “matricide” which I defined as the idea that birth through the body of a mother into a life that includes death “just isn’t good enough.”
I consider this life to be a gift. For me a life that includes death is the only life we have. Although I too suffer the loss of those I love, I accept this as part of life. I do not expect that “I” should live forever, and in fact I consider the idea that “I” should be immortal or reborn, to be the height of folly. I do not seek to escape what Buddhists call the “cycle of birth and death” but rather to affirm the cycles of “birth, death, and regeneration.” For me it is enough to know that life will continue: I do not need to imagine that “I” will live forever.
My comment to Oxana that “I am not suffering” was belied in the days after I wrote it. I have been suffering this week as a result of the thought (and most likely fact) that I have been “cheated” by the man who sold me a new computer and promised to reinstall all of my programs and documents so that the new computer would work exactly like the old one.
This afternoon I was told by the technician who failed to turn up for several appointments that I should not contact the man who sold me the computer again, because he has my money and does not intend to fulfill his part of the contract. The technician said he would finish the work “for me” even though he would not be paid by the store owner.
I was so angry, my stomach tensed and I feared that I would fall victim to the stress for which I have been under doctor’s care in recent weeks. I was about to call the man who sold me the computer to read him the riot act, but instead called a friend to ask what I should do. She said she had also heard stories about the man who sold me the computer. We agreed that we live in the countryside with people who don’t have any idea of how to run a business.
After I hung up the phone, Oxana’s words “if you are not suffering” came into my head.
I realized that I was suffering because of the idea that because I am a person who should not be cheated or lied to. As soon as that thought came into my mind, I let go of it. I accepted that the young man who sold me the computer – whether out of ignorance or out of cunning – had cheated and lied to me. I still think I am a person who should not be cheated or lied to, but I gave up the idea that therefore, being cheated or lied to would not happen to me. I decided to pay a technician to finish the work, even though this was not the agreement I had made.
My suffering ended.
Carol P. Christ is looking forward to the spring Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she leads through Ariadne Institute—space is still available on the spring tour. Carol can be heard in a recent interview on Voices of Women. Carol is a founding mother in feminism and religion and women’s spirituality. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.