Pause, Stop and Re-evaluate your place within patriarchy and capitalism by Oxana Poberejnaia

oxanaThere are three vicious circles: patriarchy, samsara and wanton destruction of environment. All three lead ultimately to annihilation of life. All three are incredibly difficult to escape. One of the reasons for this difficulty is that there are pay-offs. Someone or something benefits from keeping the cycles going.

Men and Mothers-in-Law seemingly benefit from patriarchy. However, the privileges granted by patriarchy are based on a pyramid scheme of tyranny. You get to bully people who are below you on the patriarchal pecking order: women, men of the lower status, daughters-in-law. Everyone at the higher level gets to bully you. The top man lives in constant fear of de-throning.

Once my friend’s husband who served in the Russian army told her that he did not mind bullying that he suffered in his first year of service, because he got to bully junior soldiers in his second year. In fact, he said he missed the army for the sense of certainty it provided.

The wheel of samsara

The wheel of samsara

In Buddhism the chief perpetrator of all vicious circles is ego, the sense of I, the sense of identity. This “I” craves definition and expansion. It wants to know where it stands. Within patriarchy, this is achieved through the certainty of one’s place in the pecking order. The “I” also wants for this order to be all-embracing and eternal.

The whole cycle of suffering, dukkha, is caused by this “I”. It clings to the order of things that gives it a place, a purpose, a meaning. Patriarchy and climate change are no worse than any other system, because they provide the framework that creates the “I”, and that is all it wants.

Human-caused climate change provides us, the middle class in the Global North, with the pay-off of a more than comfortable life. From the point of view of Buddhism, it is not the downsizing as such that scares us. It is the loss of our familiar identity: our habits, our way of life, our world-view.

ChristmasWaste“What do you mean Christmas presents create more waste than they bring joy?” Christmas is not Christmas without presents!” It is not the joy brought about by gifts that our ego wants, it is recreating familiar ways of life and assuming a position of a “Gift-giver”, and therefore, a loving, caring, even “normal” person in the context of a predominantly white “Christian” culture.

To pause, to stop, to reflect on these tendencies in ourselves that go against life is a Buddhist path.

Lesya Ukrainka (1871-1913)

Lesya Ukrainka (1871-1913)

In the late 19th-early 20th century there lived a poet and writer whose pen name was Lesya Ukrainka. I have recently started reading her works and I find her insight into the problems that have reached their life-and-death potency in our age exceptional. In her drama Forest Song she explores with lucid clarity the problems to which capitalism and patriarchy have been leading us.

In Forest Song, a forest nymph Mavka lives out the values of equality between men and women. When confronted by patriarchal view that a woman should not be forthright in love and with a capitalist view that a young wife is no more than a spare set of hands for the household, she rejects them. Lesya Ukrainka, apart from being a gifted author, was also a Ukrainian national freedom activist, a Feminist and a Marxist.

Mavka’s beloved Lukash betrays her and marries an industrious widow from the village who would not stop at reaping a forest meadow before time, although the Field Sprite longs to enjoy more summer days, and who chops down an ancient oak tree for profit.

Lesya Ukrainka thus demonstrates how difficult it is to stop in the tracks of patriarchy, capitalism and destruction of nature. It is difficult for Lukash, as he is the man and he cannot be seen taking orders not to harm the forest from a female Mavka.

It is difficult for Lukash’s Mother, as she needs a “normal” daughter-in-law for the sake of economic security. It is difficult for Lukash’s new bride, who has carved a place for herself within the oppressive system of capitalism and patriarchy and who is not prepared to give it up.

However, it does not end well for any of the characters of Forest Song. The forest spirits have their revenge on Lukash’s family for disrespecting the forest and killing the oak. Evil Starvelings enter Lukash’s house bringing Famine and Want. Lukash dies after having found out that he could not be happy at the expense of nature and that life is worthless without love.Overwhelmed_Flood_sign,_Upton-upon-Severn Even a decade or so ago this all might have sounded like “romanticism” – fairies and all. However, nowadays this romanticism becomes hard realism.

Today, we really have to talk individually to every tree in the forest and find out how it can helps us, for instance, holding the soil in place. When we fail to do so, things like the recent English floods happen, in which tens of thousands of homes and thousands of businesses were affected.

Today, it is time to drop the fear of being seen as “funny”, and “not normal” by capitalism or patriarchy. It is time to pause, stop and re-evaluate the stance that our “I” wants to assume. And if this stance is contrary to continuation of life on earth and equal rights for everyone, we should find ways to alter this situation.

Finally, since, according to Marxist theory, under capitalism governments defend the interests of capitalists, we should be wary of any “optimistic” environmental solutions originating from governments. For instance, the recent Paris agreements to hold the global temperature increase below 2 degrees C are lies, as it is based on the now non-existent mechanism of capturing CO2.

Oxana Poberejnaia is a content writer at 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.


Categories: Buddhism, Ecofeminism, environment, Foremothers, Women's Voices

Tags: , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. A imagem ficou como se parecesse a continuação das letras por causa do reflexo da água, achei muito legal isso.


  2. I think what you write is especially true here in Southern California, We’ve had disputes (a milder word than what really happens–discussions sometimes turn into small wars) about clear cutting our northern forests…and California north of the Bay Area is supposed to be more in tune with nature than we are down around Los Angeles. Read Starhawk’s 1993 novel The Fifth Sacred Thing for a vivid picture of what this difference looks like. I’m going to see if I can find Forest Song in English so I can read it.

    Thanks for writing such a clear–and painful–post! BTW, I like all the winter holidays. Any excuse to exchange gifts!


    • Thank you, Barbara! Yes, will read The Fifth Sacred Thing. The Forest Song is right here.

      I know – I love thoughtful gifts and like giving people what they like and need.


  3. Oxana, This is a great post. Capitalism and environmental destruction go hand-in-hand. The almighty dollar overrides any thought of the future, even in terms of resources — and of course, nature is much more than lumber and coal, diamonds and gold. For me as a pagan, it is the Goddess, the interconnected web of all existence, of which we are all a part. So harming nature is harming ourselves.

    Where I diverge from your opinions is when it comes to the ego. I used to believe that — especially for women who are taught they should be selfless in patriarchy — that we needed to develop a strong ego before we let go of it. But lately, it seems to me the ego is a tool, just like any other part of the self. It needs to become well-honed, so that it isn’t arrogant or have low self-esteem or addicted. But when well-integrated, It is simply the part that makes plans and has desires that it wants to fulfill in the future — and for a feminist that means desires to create a world that’s more egalitarian or for an environmentalist, desires to protect our natural world. Of course, we will be disappointed sometimes when we can’t accomplish what we want, but as Jalaja Bonheim says in “The Hunger for Ecstasy,” “to consistently resist the future-oriented thrust of desire is to suppress an important manifestation of our creativity. In every moment, the real and the possible dance together within the ground of our being, and out of this dance the future is born. This creative dance of desire is essential to our nature and deserves to be given a place of honor within our spiritual practice.”

    I agree with you that ego can get out of balance and want to control everything, but life teaches us that we are only part of the web of life, and can’t control it all. Our egos allow us an inner authority that makes it possible for us to do what we need and want as women in a patriarchal world. Appropriate ego gives us a strong sense of confidence, something women need just to survive. A strong, well-integrated ego gives us the strength to make decisions from our deepest values and act on them with integrity.


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