This line from Susan Griffin’s profound investigation into the ways our lives are interwoven through war has been echoing in my mind frequently in recent days, as we find our hearts breaking and outraged by a distant war. In the depths of our compassion, we ache with the suffering of families huddling together in bomb shelters, a birthing woman and her baby dying on a stretcher after a maternity hospital is bombed, the poignant strains of a Chopin etude played by a woman on her piano – the only thing to survive her bombed out home.
This truth of Griffin’s words echoes throughout ancient wisdom traditions — in the indigenous recognition that all our relations — animals, plants, water, earth, stone — are kin; in the African concept of Ubuntu — “I am because we are;” in the Buddhist precept of interdependent co-arising, which Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh called simply “interbeing.” As he described it:
Moderator’s Note: We here at FAR have been so fortunate to work along side Carol Christ for many years. She died from cancer in July, 2021. To honor her legacy, as well as allow as many people as possible to read her thought-provoking and important blogs, we are pleased to offer this new column to highlight her work. We will be picking out special blogs for reposting. This blog was originally posted March 26, 2012. You can read it long with its original commentshere. Carol mentions a book she was writing with Judith Plaskow at the time with the working title: God After Feminism. The book was published in 2016 under the title of Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embedded Theology. You can find it here.
Many women’s dreams have not been realized. How do we come to terms with this thealogically?
Although I am as neurotic as the next person, I am also really wonderful—intelligent, emotionally available, beautiful (if I do say so myself), sweet, caring, and bold. I love to dance, swim, and think about the meaning of life. I passionately wanted to find someone with whom to share my life. I did everything I could to make that happen—including years of therapy and even giving up my job and moving half way around the world when I felt I had exhausted the possibilities at home.
For much of my adult life I have asked myself: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I find what everybody else has? Even though I knew that there were a lot of other really great women in my generation in my position and even though I knew that many of my friends were with men I wouldn’t chose to be with, I still asked: What is wrong with me?
I attend Czech classes twice a week. This time of year the courses focus on Christmas. I’ve attended three different schools over the last five years, and all handle Christmas similarly. Even though the Czech Republic is only marginally Christian, for many Czechs being Czech and observing Christmas seem to go hand-in-hand. In fact, Czech customs around Christmas even figure into the citizenship exam.
In last Tuesday’s class, my teacher asked me how I celebrate Christmas here. She knows I’m Jewish. When I said that I don’t observe Christmas traditions in my home, she responded, “you don’t have to be a believer to do Advent-related and Christmasy things. Only 20% of Czechs are, and yet we all participate in Advent and Christmas.” It was part invitation, part assimilation request. However, the excited in-class discussion felt more like an attempt at conversion. Don’t you want to be a part of this amazingly joyful time? Continue reading “On My Invitation as a Jew to Participate in Advent and Christmas by Ivy Helman.”
I grew up within Christianity—one of the faiths that many religious scholars label as a Western tradition. It can be difficult at times to wrap my head around religious concepts and symbols labeled by those same religious scholars as Eastern traditions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam come under the rubric of Western traditions while Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism are categorized as Eastern traditions.
Years ago I came across Diana Eck’s book, Encountering God A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras. In the Preface, Eck writes: “I am a student, scholar, and teacher of the comparative study of religion. My academic specialization is the Hindu tradition….” Throughout her work, she explores the meaning of “God.” “What if,” she asks, “the names and forms of…God are many, limited only by our human capacity to recognize them?”Continue reading “Giving Up What You Do Not Have by Esther Nelson”
On July 4 countless people in the United States celebrated Independence Day and many enjoyed a long leisurely Independence Day weekend. While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating freedom and all that is good in your country, I’ve become increasingly nervous about any form of unchecked, uncritical nationalism. Lately in global politics there’s been a resurgence of nationalism, populism, and isolationism of the ugliest kind. The kind that says, “Our own people first,” and “We need to build a wall,” and “Let’s drive out the immigrants,” and “Let’s start a trade war with China.” In Europe this sort of nationalism manifests itself in political movements like Brexit and in right wing populist parties like Front National in France.
To counter these divisive trends, I believe we need a new global holiday and a global Declaration of INTER-dependence. Our stark reality is that we inhabit an increasingly densely populated and fragile planet with finite resources. All human and non-human life on the planet is facing the specter of climate change and other environmental factors that threaten the fabric of our very existence. We live in an increasingly interdependent global economy. If China crashes, we will all feel the repercussions. Russian interference tipped the 2016 US election. A war in Syria and wars and grinding poverty in Africa have flooded Europe with refugees, which, in part, gave rise to this right wing, populist, anti-immigration push back. But if people in the developing world continue to suffer the worst ravages of climate change and the resulting famine, war, and poverty, our global refugee crisis is only going to escalate. Continue reading “Declaration of INTER-Dependence by Mary Sharratt”
Mantras are not just the prescribed sound formulas or sentences found in Eastern religions, but they can also be thought of as the words or phrases that we continually repeat to ourselves. The word mantra comes from Sanskrit and its roots are manas-, meaning “mind,” and -tras, which can be translated as “tool.” Thus, mantra is a tool to protect the mind.
How often do we engage in negative self-talk like “It’s my fault” or “I’m to blame for what’s happened to me” or “No one loves me”? These expressions can become mantras, as we believe their messages from constant repetition. In hospice and hospital settings, one often finds patients who have convinced themselves that “This is God’s punishment” or “Everyone has forgotten me” or “I’m so scared.” These phrases, rather than protect the mind, become what is believed by the mind and may lead to increased anxiety, stress, and depression, and consequently the need for spiritual and emotional support.
Chaplains, as members of the care team in hospice and hospitals, provide spiritual and emotional support to patients and their families. Most often, chaplains attentively listen to patients and their caregivers (often family members) about the patients’ life story, their relationships, their dreams unfulfilled, and their wishes for those whom they are leaving behind. Chaplains take part in family meetings where decisions are made about patients’ care, sometimes interjecting to ask for clarification of medical terms and to ensure that the family understands. Sometimes, the chaplain will lead prayer with the patients and their families, and at other times, the chaplain will pull other tools from her toolbox such as mantra meditation.
For way too long, the only meaning I found in my life happened when peering through one specific, religious prism. Then I discovered what’s called the academic study of religion. Observing the many ways people find meaning through their own experiences with God (or their “ultimate concern”) shattered the tightly-sealed insulation around my worldview. Those things that comprise religion (stories, concepts of the holy, ritual, symbols, social structures), coupled with our individual experiences create a powerful reality affecting us individually and communally.
Some of my students identify as agnostic or atheist. They’re happy to have shed (or never put on) garments they perceive as obstacles. Rarely do they realize that religious “truths,” because they are taken to heart by people and implemented into the social fabric, shape the world they inhabit. When we discuss the ways religion affects women within society, they are far more likely to think about women’s lived realities in terms of human rights, not religious identity. Religion is seen as something superfluous (at best) or an impediment towards progress (at worst).
How the voices speak of what is and isn’t tastes of a superficial sauce I let drip from my lips. In the first dialectic of aging (harkening back to Marie Cartier’s helpful division of conversational foci), usually what is spoken about has little to do with our mental, spiritual, or emotional states. It is not a comment on perhaps what it should be: how evolved in consciousness or how mindful a soul is, how evolved in practices of discipline and surrender one is, how creative we have been in our attempt to ease the suffering of ourselves and others. It is not this because when people comment on age or how old someone might be, it is usually, in my recent experience, from one who knows not a person well enough to address any of these former possibilities nor in a situation where those in conversation have the luxury of mulling over such glittering, dazzling musings.
For indeed, let beings sit together on rocks or leather couches, playfully and perhaps seriously, discuss opinions on reincarnation, what has appeared in Tarot readings of current life stages and what the presence of what that Major Arcana card might represent as intuited by our subconscious. We might share stories of the messages we have lately received from trees, how they surrender so seemingly freely to their baldness as we might, with a few tufts of auburn leaves on a naked limb, how sometimes the bark is smooth and ghostly pale and how other times the trees that catch our communion are thick and rough like we are, tempting us to press our soft flesh into each other’s bark and feel how specks of wood and sap enter us, how we all bend and break and maybe rise up in another season with a flamboyant, hairy green bush, taking up all the space that we can, as we reach our arms in passionate ecstasy to the sun and moon, learning that sometimes we can best speak in silence and trembling. Continue reading “A Feminist Liturgy of Old and Age by Elisabeth Schilling”
Machig Lapdron, female Tantric Buddhist mystic and lineage founder
I’ve just returned from an illuminating trip to Bhutan, high in the Himalayas. Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom and the world’s youngest democracy.
On our last full day in this enchanting land, my husband and I drove with our guide over the nearly 4000 meter pass of Chelela and into the Haa Valley which doesn’t see that many tourists. Our goal was the Hermitage of Juneydrak, where Machig Lapdron (1055-1145 CE), the famous female Tantric mystic, master, and lineage founder, once meditated.
I watched this short video on facebook about Sisa, an Egyptian woman who spent forty years a man in order provide for her family. There is a longer version on YouTube. Sisa, a widow, decided to work to feed her children, and consequently grandchildren. In Egypt, a woman can only do unpaid jobs within a home. So Sisa had to pretend to be a man by wearing male clothing and head wear. She takes casual jobs, such as shoe shining or brick laying.
Then Sisa made the news and was honoured by governmental officials. There is footage in the report of Egyptian men watching that footage. Apparently, the men were impressed by Sisa’s efforts and they developed respect for her. One man, who knows Sisa personally, says for camera: “I treat her like a man, because she works like a man”.
The implication being, I assume, that Sisa is only worthy of respect because she acts like a man is expected to act. And another implication is that Sisa is an exception. He only prepared to treat her differently, as all the rest of the women in Egypt apparently cannot work as men.
We may ask: why should we be patient and kind while we are the ones who are being oppressed and wronged? I don’t have an answer for that, only that through history positive change has ever been affected only by people who made more effort than the ones who wanted to keep the status quo.
Recently I need to take a deep breath every time I glance at the news headlines. There are terror attacks and military conflicts. People kill each other and cause each other immense suffering. The worst thing is that so many of these conflicts are between people who have lived side by side for centuries: between related ethnic groups or neighbouring people.
I have found that often, while reading news items about tragedies and injustices, I often take sides. I seem to “naturally” support one warring party. This would depend on ideology, ethnicity, or culture that I share with one of the rivals. This is nothing new. People have been joining their brethren in war for the history of humanity.
However, our time is interesting in that we have access to many opposing views. In my life, every time I take a side, eventually I manage to find information or discover a point of view, which supports the opposite side.
As Po said in “Kung Fu Panda”: “I’m gonna get myself some Inner Peace… Inner piece of what?”
This basically lays out a path of spiritual work for most of us. We aim for peace, yet somehow we feel that we must do something in order to achieve it – rather than just be peaceful.
Another joke that captures this paradox perfectly is:
“My son started doing meditation. Well, that’s something. At least he’s not sitting around doing nothing.”
Sitting around doing nothing seems to be the worst sin in our society. Buddhism is quite radical in this regard. The path to Enlightenment leads through sitting around and doing nothing. Anything and everything else that we do to keep ourselves busy is determined by society, hence impermanent, hence not the truth. Continue reading “Internal Strife – External Conflict by Oxana Poberejnaia”
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. Continue reading “Ending Suffering for the Sake of Others by Oxana Poberejnaia”
I know a man who says to his daughter: “You should be ashamed of yourself” when he wants to imbue some good habits in her. One example would be not putting her dirty socks in the laundry basket. It might seem trivial, but I don’t think it is. I feel that shame is a toxic element of our personalities. I believe shame results in negative consequences, such as sabotaging oneself and health problems.
Many spiritual traditions, including Buddhism, perceive guilt as a trigger for moral development. The rational is, when we feel bad about something we had done, we will change our behaviour for better. The question is: how bad exactly are we supposed to feel, both in terms of quality and quantity of that feeling? Continue reading “The Burden of Shame by Oxana Poberejnaia”
One of the concerns of ecofeminism is the modern materialistic mindset of capitalism. Materialism in capitalism instills not just owning many possessions, but it also inculcates the “need” to own the newest innovation. In addition, materialism advocates a throw-it-away mentality. In other words, it is often cheaper to buy a new shirt or computer than to have them repaired. Similarly, it is not enough to have a cell phone. Rather, one must have the newest and best one! The environment pays the price.
One attempt to deny the hold of materialism is minimalism. The minimalist movement seems to run the spectrum. From the ideals of less is more, there seems to be some competition between mindful consumerism and extreme self-denial. Mindful consumerism suggests that minimalism is a journey of recycling, reusing and repairing combined with well-researched, well-considered, as-ethically-produced-as-possible purchases when necessary. Extreme self-denial advocates owning almost no material possessions. While I strive toward mindful consumerism, I have serious concerns about extreme minimalism. Continue reading “On Minimalism by Ivy Helman”
Viśākhā is often called the greatest female lay follower of the Buddha. She prompted the Buddha to give numerous teachings. She also donated generously to the Sangha (monastic order). Her crowning contribution was building a monastery called Migāramātupāsāda.
She is said to either die as a “stream-enterer” (a person who will definitely become enlightened, no matter how many life times it will take). Another account about her afterlife says that she would live for eons in happiness in one of the divine realms before achieving the final Liberation there and then.
Viśākhā appears in numerous Suttas of Theravadin Canon. From the modern feminist point of view, the content of these discourses reinforces patriarchal gender stereotypes. In particular, Viśākhā is portrayed as a caring Mother for her relatives, Bhikkhus (Buddhist monks and nuns), and other people.
The sense of separate personal identity is elusive. It is difficult to observe, find and bring to the surface of consciousness where, according to Buddhist beliefs, it dissipates naturally, like a bubble of foam popping. In the same way patriarchy is entrenched in so many different ways and on so many different levels in society that it is as difficult to reach out to it and weed it.
There is a Sutta in Theravadin Canon called “Khemaka Sutta” (About Khemaka). The main character in the Sutta, Buddhist monk Khemaka explains his understanding of the “lingering residual ‘I am’ conceit, an ‘I am’ desire, an ‘I am’ obsession.” Khemaka says that it is as difficult to capture and wash away as the remaining scents in clothes that have been washed over and over again.
In Western psychology, there is a notion of catharsis: allowing one self to experience previously repressed emotions. For instance, ancient Greek tragedies like Oedipus are seen as these psychological journeys for the audience. The spectators initially refuse to admit they have certain forbidden impulses. However, through empathising with the protagonist they unwittingly allow themselves to experience those. Healing happens as a result.
I once heard an educated non-feminist say that it would not matter if women came into positions of power. He gave examples of Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and other women and pointed out that once in power they started wars and engaged in other aggressive tactics, just like men politicians.
Firstly, the obvious logical mistake is that not every woman is a feminist, in the same way as not every man is an agent of patriarchy. Secondly, when talking about systems and key positions within these systems, one can see that these posts will play the role that is predetermined by the system.
It would not matter if a head of a patriarchal organisation is a feminist or not. She or he will play a role of a head of a patriarchal system. That is, unless she changes the system altogether and it ceases to be patriarchal.
This reminded me of verses from The Dhammapada, a collection of ancient Buddhist verses, which speak about having no home and leaving no trace. By behaving thus, we remain independent of the dominant systems and give our opponents no opportunity to control us.
There are days I find myself so overwhelmed with sadness concerning the state of our world that I break down crying. Last week, I saw an episode of Mars, a scripted documentary shown on the National Geographic channel about human colonization of the red planet in 2033. One of the astronauts “interviewed” prior to leaving was asked why she was taking such a risk to inhabit Mars. She said something like, “We will give everything for this.” Why not give everything for Earth?
If we would give everything for the planet we evolved on, then we might immediately transition to a life where we would be self-sustainable, build greenhouses in our backyards, give up our carbon-emission- producing cars, and abandon all the unnecessary businesses that are only there to fill our loneliness and boredom. The idea on the psuedo-documentary was that humans are putting this planet in danger, so it might be smart to have a backup. Isn’t that insanity’s way: trash one place and then find another place to live? The insurmountable amount of money we spend on space expeditions could be spent healing our own world. This is not the time for luxuries. Continue reading “Lotus in the Mud: A Metaphor for Humanity on our Darkest Days by Elisabeth Schilling”
I suddenly felt sad. Not depressed, but low and sorrowful. I realised that it must have been because I had just exploded and answered my husband in an angry, tense voice. He had said something and I reacted in this overblown manner. What he said could have been construed as an encroachment on my rights as a woman and a human. Whether this was the case or not, I was saddened by my own violent reaction.
How did that happen? Earlier that very day I was walking outside, quietly surveying autumn scenery of the North West England. The leaves were starting to turn in earnest. The birch trees sent their yellow carved leaves to the other side of the road, which did not have birch trees. I was in a state where my “I”, my “Ego” was relaxed and not constricted to just the confines of my body. I became conscious of this fact and a thought arose: “Here we go, finally I am getting close to Liberation.”
When my students read about the Buddhist concepts of non-resistance, non-attachment, and living in the present, one of the first protests I end up addressing is how these ideas seem to negate progress, goal-setting, or success. What my students don’t yet see is how clinging to a particular end can hinder creativity and the pleasure of the journey to a degree that sometimes compromises success.
For instance, when writers create for academic purposes, they/we can feel desperate to finish a project. We can feel overwhelmed by the need for perfectionism or by the fear of failure. Perhaps even the hard work it takes layered with the uncertainty of really getting anywhere is what stirs feelings of resistance. Writing seems to transmit the energy frequencies of the writer, and what I do not want is for any reader of mine to feel that kind of struggle. Instead, I hope for narratives with at least some level of warmth, compassion, and generosity.
Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, zen spiritual practitioner and author, says that we know we have done something well when we have been nourished by the experience of the doing. Wow. I love this. Yet how forgetful I can be when getting to that sticky spot in my own writing, when I could pause to take a deep breath or walk around the neighborhood or do whatever it might take to refresh and reset my mind. Continue reading “Hard Work without Getting Anywhere by Elisabeth Schilling”
What is, would you think, one of the foremost problems that my Russian friends and relatives mention to me? Economy? Politics? Personal and family issues? Nope. It is immigrants in Europe. I hear genuine concern and aversion when my friends mention the number of Muslims in the UK or the fact that there are predominantly black arrondissements (city districts) in Paris.
This mystified me. I sensed that although they were talking about countries foreign to them, they perceived the situation as a personal threat. Why should this be so?
I postulate that it is my old frenemy, identity (or “ego”, or “self” – whichever you prefer) that is at work here. I also realised that the same mechanism works wherever people protest against feminism, contrary to all and any rational arguments. Very often, even women protest, to their detriment.
Recently I have come across several stories of women’s fringe spiritual movements or practices. This made me think about the role of outsiders’ or minority views in religions and society.
Patriarchy pushes women and their issues to the margins of society and religion. It seems that there women sometimes invent their own spiritual practices. These allow women to stand their own ground in religious matters, to preserve self-respect and to keep the hope of the highest spiritual attainment.
Quite often these beliefs and practices seem shocking in their bizarreness and their stubbornness not to accept orthodox norms.
I have entitled this post O Tempora o mores after a sentence by Cicero, meaning “Oh what times! Oh what customs!” I would like to discuss how some of the messages we get from religious writings are defined by the age in which they were written.
As a result, I argue that it is wiser to pay more attention to the overall message of a given spiritual tradition, rather than to subject our view on a single quote.
One of the most popular texts in Thai Buddhism (which is of Theravada tradition) is called Phra Malai Klon Suat, “Chanted Version of Phra Malai.” It was reproduced copiously in the 19th century, with the earliest version dating from the 18th century. However, its origins are believed to be more ancient, coming from the original Indian Buddhism.
In the TV film about American suffragists “Iron Jawed Angels” Alice Paul (played by Hilary Swank) says to a psychiatrist who came to prison to assess her mental state during her hunger strike:
You asked me to explain myself. I just wonder what needs to be explained. Let me be very clear. Look into your own heart. I swear to you, mine’s no different. You want a place in the trades and professions where you can earn your bread? So do I. You want some means of self expression? Some way of satisfying your own personal ambitions? So do I. You want a voice in the government in which you live? So do I. What is there to explain?Continue reading ““Suchness” of inequality vs. the “story” of patriarchy by Oxana Poberejnaia”
While Buddhism generally encourages investigation, it is still easy for a Buddhist practitioner to become complacent. This complacency can be caused by the feeling of safety that your particular school of Buddhism provides. How your mind works, how the world works are all explained, all is well, just keep practising in the assigned paradigm, there is no need for thinking outside the box.
However, Buddhists often forget that it is exactly outside the box where the Buddha has been pointing with his every teaching, ever since he got liberated. When a Buddhist practitioner is stuck, the vigour of Feminism can provide inspiration. Feminists simply never stopped, do not intend to stop now.
At the time of climate change and crises of capitalism we need to drop our sense of entitlement to comfortable life or even to life at all. Nature will not spare us just because we are humans. When the meltdown of economic and environmental systems occurs, we are all going down: humans and non-humans, women and men, spiritual or not. We have almost run out of time.
Victor Pelevin, my favourite contemporary Russian author, has a novel called “The Sacred Book of the Werewolf“. I love it in part because, like Kill Bill, it is a rare creation by a male author, which manages to capture the female warrior spirit.
It starts with the main character, a Chinese Buddhist Were Fox who lives in present-day Moscow, consoling herself: “What else (or What the fuck) did you expect from life, A Huli?” A Huli is her name, supposedly meaning Fox A in Chinese. It is also a swear phrase in Russian, meaning “What the fuck?”
There 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.
A former monk and hospice worker Rodney Smith, now the Founding teacher in Seattle Insight Meditation Society uses the phrase: “Be complete in incompleteness” quite a lot.
When applied to Feminism, to me it means a couple of things. First, I find it hard, but I have to accept the fact that I will not probably experience the fullness of triumph of Feminism in my lifetime. I am of the “I want it all and I want it now” variety, but in this case I will have to come to terms with the fact that even my closest loved ones might not be fully feminist.
Only recently a woman close to me criticised Angela Merkel for her masculine style of clothing. I honestly thought that we had stopped judging politicians based on their gender or the clothes we think appropriate to that gender.