The other day I dared to impugn the feminist credentials of a global religious leader, head of state complete with palace and throne, and internationally revered dude whose every antic goes virtually unquestioned by the entire world. I caught a little flak for this impugnment.
The impugnment to which I allude, of course, is that of the Dalai Lama. I said “he is no feminist,” and I meant it, by gum.
The Dalai Lama, successfully marketed to “spiritual” Western iconoclasts as a god among men, is problematic from a radical feminist viewpoint. I have already explained why this is so, but I don’t mind repeating myself. The Dalai Lama is 1) a global religious leader, 2) a head of state complete with palace and throne, and 3) an internationally revered dude whose every antic goes virtually unquestioned by the entire Western world. These are three dude-qualities that without exception spell, and have always spelled, trouble for women. Why feminists think it’s OK to overlook these in the case of the ridiculously enpedestalized dudely Dalai Lama I cannot say.
What I can say is that Buddhism, the Dalai Lama’s ism of choice, is just as goofy and fucked up as any other dude-invented religion. I mean, reincarnation? Seriously? What a load.
You know, no jokey essay on Buddhism would be complete without a fond remembrance of delusional ex-movie star tough guy-turned-reality TV Deputy Dork Steven Seagal, who came out as a reincarnated lama, evidently having paid his personal guru-monk to ordain him.
Anyway, while those moments when spinster aunts may be observed to endure gasbag Christopher Hitchens are as rare as feminists on TV, it is difficult to suppress a chuckle at Hitch’s assessment of Buddhism, from his infamous 1998 Dalai takedown, as “the sinister if not indeed crazy belief that death is but a stage in a grand cycle of what appears to be futility and subjection.”
Even if you are, for some reason, okay with Buddhism’s fairy tales of magic and rebirth and ascendance, you may consider it useful to know whether or not your religion hates you. One way to divine the attitude toward women of any given venerable institution is to inspect its power structure for evidence of female representation. So how many Buddhist lamas, tulkus, monks, or poobahs are women?
They got nuns, though. Long-suffering nuns (is there any other kind?):
“[Nunnery founder] Shugseb Jetsun Rinpoche was particularly known for holding a lineage of Chöd, the meditation practice of offering one’s own body for the benefit of others.”
Here is a list, handed down by the Buddha Himself, of the crap (the Eight Garudharmas) that nuns are expected to endure on accounta they are members of the sex class:
1. A nun who has been ordained (even) for a century must greet respectfully, rise up from her seat, salute with joined palms, do proper homage to a monk ordained but that day.
2. A nun must not spend the rains in a residence where there is no monk.
3. Every half month a nun should desire two things from the Order of monks : the asking (as to the date) of the Observance day, and the coming for the exhortation (of a monk).
4. After the rains a nun must invite before both the Orders in respect of three matters; what was seen, what was heard and what was suspected.
5. A nun, offending against an important rule, must undergo manatta (discipline) for half a month before both the Orders.
6. When, as a probationers, she has been trained in the six rules for two years, she should seek ordination from both the Orders.
7. A monk must not be abused or reviled in any way by a nun.
8. From today admonition of monks by nuns is forbidden, admonition by monks is not forbidden.
The Buddhist website from which I swiped the above list claims that these gender-based injunctions are not intended to control women, but are actually for the nun’s own protection.
Women are, in fact, specifically prohibited from attaining Enlightenment, period. Per El Buddho himself: “It is impossible that a woman should be the Universal Monarch/King of Death/Brahmaa.”
Yes, women are the sex class, yes, even for those chill, enlightened Buddhists! Busy Buddhism-mocking spinster aunts on the go are nothing if not shoddy scholars, so here’s a little blurb supporting my argument from — I say it loud and proud — Wikipedia.
“According to [professor of Buddhism at Stanford] Diana Paul, Buddhism inherited a view of women whereby if they are not represented as mothers then they are portrayed as either lustful temptresses or as evil incarnate.”
I was eventually able to transcend Wikipedia to turn up a paper authored by this same Diana Y Paul which contains this unpleasant but hardly surprising revelation concerning Buddhism’s elemental misogyny:
“If a woman is acknowledged as having the spiritual potential of becoming a Bodhisattva, then she has access to the way of enlightenment. If she is denied this capacity, she is denied the religious goal of Mahayana Buddhism. Some texts, such as the Pure Land Sutra, deny women birth in the Pure Land unless they despise their female nature. Despising the female nature results in rebirth as a man in the Pure Land. Vows to be reborn as men were seen as acts of piety performed by devout Buddhist women. In texts of this kind, the female sex is subordinated to the male sex as inferior — as defective and impure in body. Only through denial of one’s feminine body in this lifetime is there spiritual attainment in the next. While men too were to deny their sexual and bodily needs in order to gain rebirth in the Pure Land, there was never a specific vow for them to despise their own body. Sexual transformation from female to male is taken literally — that is, a women dies and is reborn as a man.”
Paul is quick to suggest that not all Buddhist sutras reflect this high-grade misogyny. However, she acknowledges that such “liberal portraits of women a religious beings” comprise an “extremely small percentage” of these religious texts.
“Men-to-men and women-to-women is generally considered sexual misconduct,” he asserts.
And here he’s just blatantly buttering up the faithful:
“To have sexual relations with a prostitute paid by you and not by a third person does not constitute improper behavior.” But if your best man buys you a hooker for your bachelor party, karma gonna get you. You’ll probably be reincarnated as one of those poor body-offering nuns.
The Dalai Lama, it turns out, is just another liberal dude in a gaudy toga, imbued with misogynist dudeliness, like all liberal dudes.