Gender Inequality in Buddhism (Week 3)
Well, fourth block is coming up on the end—where has the time gone? I feel like I was just moving my stuff out of storage, picking out an outfit for the Video Dance Party, and catching up with friends about their summers. Now here I am, packing up my stuff yet again, saying goodbye to friends, finishing up last minute details to get ready to leave for the rest of the year. It is a strange feeling that I won’t be at CC next semester, and will instead be in Spain…it’s both nerve-wracking and exciting. In addition to dealing with these both fun and stressful end of semester shenanigans, since the block plan never stops, of course class goes onward just the same.
The second half of the course has focused on Buddhism and prevalent themes throughout the tradition. It has been pretty eye opening to study Buddhism in an academic setting. I feel like in the United States, much of what people believe about Buddhism only touches on the surface of it, and there is so much more to know; there is so much more to Buddhism than prayer flags, yoga, and the Buddha.
A big theme that we, of course, studied in detail is the issue of gender inequality. As you should know by now, after reading even a sentence of any of my previous blogs, women in South Asia are considered completely inferior to men in every sense, so it should be no surprise that women are inferior in Buddhism.
One clear example that demonstrates the gender inequality in Buddhism comes from the example of monks and nuns. As much as one would hope that nuns and monks are equal, that is far from the truth. Part of this inequality comes from eight rules that the Buddha supposedly imposed. For example, in these rules, it is said that every monk is superior to every nun; the amount of time a monk has been ordained is irrelevant. In this way, a monk who was ordained yesterday outranks a nun who has been working as a nun for forty years; she must listen to everything he says and cannot question him. This rule is so absurd and frustrating; it makes absolutely no sense for a young monk to order around a nun who has been a nun for almost her entire lifetime.
In addition, it is extremely difficult for women to find economic support from their communities, which goes back to the concept of karma. The simple fact that these nuns were born as women and not men implies that they must have done something in their previous lifetimes to deserve this awful fate, and therefore they are not really worth giving to. By contrast, the monks find economic support easily. When nuns struggle to get a tablespoon of butter, monks receive full, elaborate meals from communities, living a life of luxury in comparison to nuns. Some of the details were pretty appalling, and the way nuns are treated is disheartening.
Another really interesting point we learned about this week is the practice of meditating on deceased women in order to help reach the next stage of life. You are probably thinking “WHAT!?” Yeah…let me explain. A main concept in Buddhism is the cessation of desires in order for growth. The reason for this idea is based on the fact that if you have desires, since everything in life is impermanent, your desires will never be fully satisfied, and you will inevitably suffer. Because of this, it is better to try to just not desire anything and realize the impermanence that is the world.
Of course, living without desires is easier said than done. In terms of monks, they are supposed to not desire women, and live the ascetic life. Of course, a lot of these men had problems not desiring women. In order to fix this, men would meditate on dead women in order to understand the impermanence of life and the disgustingness of the female body. After death, women’s corpses would be brought to open fields and all were told to come view the body. While viewing these women (except for one exception who actually became aroused while looking at the corpses…gross), men understood that there was really no reason to desire women, because the body is an impermanent thing and not something to desire. In this way, they were able to renounce the world and move forward spiritually, on the path to enlightenment.
Although this practice to me seems a bit gross, I can respect the fact that it helps men to understand the impermanence of the world through these corpses. However, what I cannot stand is the fact that male corpses were never used for the same practice, which enforces both a hetero-normative attitude (that men would only ever desire women and not men) and the idea that women cannot move forward spiritually.
As the block wraps up, I have learned so much about gender inequality in South Asia, as well as in the rest of the world. It is something that is always depressing, and Tracy even ended the class today saying something like, “Well…I’m trying to think of something positive to end the class with…” but it was impossible; the only positive she could think of was that there were free Jimmy John’s sandwiches at the religion majors lunch after class. However, despite the depressing feel this class has had and the constant readings about rape, beatings, women as impure, and SO MANY MORE HORRIFIC CONCEPTS, it has been a class that has taught me a lot of important information that applies to my life and every woman’s life out there. Not only has it showed me how lucky we are to live in the United States and the liberties we have in comparison to many others out there, it has also showed me how much more that needs to be changed in the future.