Feminism can be loud and in your face. Feminists can be unapologetic and radical in their statements. I could never bring myself to be abrupt with proponents of patriarchal views. Being a middle class Brit from a Soviet background, I withdraw from awkward situations and prefer to keep discussion within civil forms of defined discourse at conferences and letters to my MPs and to the BBC.
People who know that I practise Buddhist disciplines might say that this also plays a part in my avoiding direct confrontation. It is true but only up to a point. I do not rush into an argument mostly because of my training not to rush into anything, but to first become mindful and see where the impetus for my action is coming from: is it something worthwhile or is it some undigested trauma from childhood? It is usually the latter.
The historic Buddha, some people might be surprised to hear, was not a model of a saintly benevolence and kind words for everyone. In fact, if you read translations of the Pali Canon, in which the life and the Buddha and his community of monks unfolds, you will get glimpses of the character of the Enlightened One. The Buddha was more like His Holiness the Dalai Lama: not trying to appear holy. Quite cheeky, in fact. Definitely irreverent towards the spiritual authorities of his day.
There is a story in Sutta Pitaka, the Collection of Discourses, in the book Anguttara Nikaya, The Further-factored Discourses, 8:11. A Brahman of Veranja came to visit the Buddha with accusations mostly concerning his lack of respect for the existing spiritual mores. The Buddha gave him witty yet straightforward answers that could always be stand-up comedy, if we imagined that the Brahman was a heckler at a gig.
So, the Brahman says [Source: “The Life of the Buddha” by Bhikkhu Nanamoli, BPS Pariyatti Editions, Onalaska, WA USA, 1972, pp. 123-125]
“Master Gotama teaches nihilism.”
The Buddha replies: “There is one way in which it could rightly be said that the Monk Gotama teaches nihilism: for I teach annihilation of lust and hate and delusion and the many sorts of evil unwholesome things. But surely, brahman, you did not mean that?”
I especially like that “But surely, brahman, you did not mean that?”
Then the Brahman goes on with seven more similar attacks. According to him, Master Gotama:
- Is lacking in taste
- Has not sense of values
- Teaches that there is no ought-to-do
- Is fastidious
- Is one to lead away
- Is a mortifier
- Has missed his rebirth
To each of these heckles the Buddha answers with an exposition of the Buddhist Dhamma.
I thought that it was a lovely structure of having a feminist argument. Imagine some proponent of patriarchal values starts off:
“Feminists are lacking in taste.”
“There is one way which it could rightly be said that the feminists are lacking in taste: taste for distorting social world according to destructive principles, which are tied to the masculine gender. But surely, you did not mean that?”
“Feminists have no sense of values.”
“There is one way which it could rightly be said that the feminists have no sense of values: the value of a relatively short-lived patriarchal social order, which nevertheless managed to assume the appearance of a natural and eternal order of things. But surely, you did not mean that?”
“Feminists teach there is no ought-to-do.”
“There is one way which it could rightly be said that the feminists teach there is no ought-to-do: no one has to do anything that is dictated by the unfair worldview, where women and men are prescribed roles that limit their humanity and their ability to contribute positively to humanity. But surely, you did not mean that?”
“Feminists teach nihilism.”
“There is one way which it could rightly be said that the feminists teach nihilism: patriarchy must be annihilated, or, in the words of the Buddha: ‘rejected… cut off at the roots, made like palm stumps, done away with and no more subject to future arising.’ But surely, you did not mean that?”
“Feminists are fastidious.”
“There is one way which it could rightly be said that the feminists are fastidious: about any and every manifestation of patriarchy, whether in action, word, culture, politics, economy, fashion and child rearing, for every little thing either contributes to patriarchy or to its demise. But surely, you did not mean that?”
“Feminists are the ones to lead away.”
“There is one way which it could rightly be said that the feminists are the ones to lead away: away from oppression of women and moulding men into a distorted image of a human being, away from rape and violence, away from inequality, away from exploitation of human beings, animals and environment. But surely, you did not mean that?”
“Feminists are mortifiers.”
“There is one way which it could rightly be said that the feminists are mortifiers: for feminists work to eliminate all harmful modes of behaviour, speech and thought that hurt women, so that our children and grandchildren only learn about patriarchy from history books. But surely, you did not mean that?”
“Feminists have missed their rebirth.”
“There is one way which it could rightly be said that the feminists have missed their rebirth: feminists are not here to repeat the lives of their oppressed female ancestors. Feminists have to work out how the new world will work as we go along, the models for pre-patriarchal are not clearly visible in the pre-history. Feminists are making their way out of the shell of patriarchy with their own beaks. But surely, you did not mean that?”
Oxana Poberejnaia is a content writer at http://content4you.org. She 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 10th 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.