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.
(Read more: Solomon Burke – None Of Us Are Free Lyrics | MetroLyrics)
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.
4 thoughts on “Ending Suffering for the Sake of Others by Oxana Poberejnaia”
Wow. You just described myself and my mother. I’ve been trying to understand why she seems to go out of her way to not help herself. I was a budding Buddhist and very drawn to Kwan Yin almost 15 years ago. I married a man who claimed to be a Buddhist, then verbally beat me up for not conforming to his version of Zen Buddhism when he was well aware before we married that I was drawn to Tibetan Buddhism. He was no Buddhist of any sort, I know now, just a sick person distorting a spiritual practice to his own ends, but I still get almost physically ill at the mention of Buddhist practices. It was hard for me to read this post, but I’m glad I did. And I’ve never read The Idiot, but I’m going to now. Thank you.
Thanks, Oxana. I think what you say about setting an example for others is very important. A woman who gives up her time, her life, her interests in devotion to caring others–when the men around her do not even consider doing the same–is setting a very bad example. And not only a bad example for other women, she is also not insisting that men care for others too. She may even feel that she–only she–can do the work that is needed, because as you said, she is the Savior Goddess. Caring for others is not a bad thing, in fact it is a good thing, but it should be shared in community, and equally by males and females.
All of this sounds very good in theory, but what do we do when the men in our lives do not volunteer to help? Do we sacrifice ourselves? Do we stand aside and see what happens? Maybe someone else will step up, but what if they don’t? What if they say: I cannot risk losing my job, but yours is less important, less well-paid, etc.?
I do agree with you, but I wonder how women can and should negotiate the dilemma of taking care or risking that no one will–when life and death are involved. Maybe the most we can say is that women should insist harder and longer that the job should not be only theirs–and uncompensated at that!
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This was incredibly good. Your perspective, knowledge and obviously open mind are amazing. I don’t even recall how I stumbled upon your page last week, but I’m so glad I did.
Recently I have had a recurring thought: there is no virtue in being the last to leave hell. Attachment to suffering gains no merit; it is just another attachment to samsara, and to ego.