I have recently noticed an interesting thing: just like the Buddhist goal of ending suffering requires consideration of others, so often feminist change requires thinking about other women.
I often had conversations with people on both these subjects. I heard actual people say: “I do not want to end my suffering, the reason being…” And the reasons can differ. Some consider suffering to be part of genuine human experience, some find a spiritual advantage in having suffered. While some simply say that they are fine with their suffering; they are used to it; change would bring even more suffering.
Women in situation of dependence and oppression often would say that they don’t mind. For instance, a woman might be locked into a caring position for her mother while her brother does not help at all.
A woman then can shrug it off by saying “such are men.” She can see her caring role as a spiritual calling (a theme of the saviour Goddess, which I discussed in the last post a month ago). Finally the woman might say that although she is not happy with the situation, she can cope with this amount of suffering that befell her.
Nyanaponija Thera, a Theravadin Buddhist monk, says:
In aspiring to the extinction of suffering, we should think not only of our own affliction, but also of the pain and sorrow we inflict upon others as long as we have not reached the perfect harmlessness of a passion-free heart and the clear vision of a liberated mind. If we regularly recollect the fact that, on our way through samsaric existence, we inevitably add to the suffering of others too, we shall feel an increased urgency in our resolve to enter earnestly the path leading to our own liberation.
My suffering will eventually cause other people’s suffering and vice versa. This is the practical, down-to-earth meaning of Samsara (the never-ending circle of life, death and rebirth).
It can be counter-intuitive to consider that people can actively hinder any attempts to stop their suffering – whether these come from inside of them or from other people. It can be difficult to believe that people would choose suffering over happiness and would hold on to their suffering till death does them part.
Russia’s classic Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a revolutionary author precisely because he showed so many characters following this very path. In “The Idiot” pretty much every character revels in suffering. Two of them: Rogozhin and Nastassya Filippovna are so devoted to their suffering that it leads them to murder and death.
In their blindness to how their persistence in suffering affects others, these two characters bring Prince Myshkin, who loves them both and wants to help them both, to debilitating mental illness.
It is so often the case that individual women put up with individual injustices in their lives, perhaps hoping that these injustices would end in their personal lives. But they won’t.
Returning to the example of the woman stuck in the caring role. When she says: Such are men, so my brother cannot and won’t do his share, this woman reinforces the anti-feminist stereotypes and sets a bad example for her son, if she has one, and for her nephews. The stereotype of a woman carer will go on in this way.
Seeing her carer role as a spiritual path automatically closes all other spiritual paths for her. She could have been a hermit, or a spiritual teacher, or join a socially active spiritual organisation.
Saying that she can shoulder the suffering sets a bad precedence for other women. OK, maybe this particular woman can, but what if others cannot? What if, following her example, other women break under the load of care work: physically, mentally, spiritually?
It’s like in the song “None of Us are Free“:
None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.
It turns out that spiritual and feminist work calls not only for change from within, but also for careful consideration of the consequences our actions and words have on others.
Oxana Poberejnaia is a frame drummer, writer and an artist at http://poeticoxana.wordpress.com. She was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and had been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention. Oxana is exploring the Sacred Feminine through frame drumming, working with her menstrual cycle, and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Her frame drum band can be found here.