Category Archives: Born Woman

Tibetan Women’s Issues

Random on Women

Standard

I am so inspired by Raka Ray that my mind is in an overdrive after what seems like an entire age of lost creativity. For the life of me I couldn’t write a single sentence though constant reading ensured that everywhere I went, so did my colorful monologue. I have always been a bit neurotic and on days when the read gets the better of me my mind twirls in circle with arguments and counter arguments, as if fornicating in an endless tussle. It is a dark retreat.

Although I admire intellectual work by men and women I find that as I grow older I am more drawn towards those that are authored by women. It is not surprising given that my bodily and psychological experiences have more in common with them and because the personal is political (to use a cliché) I am much more affected by what happens to women, their fate and their voice. Therefore as a reader I loved Ray’s Fields of Protest: Women’s movement in India (1999).

The title is self-explanatory, however this isn’t a book review so I will not go into great lengths about it. I leave that for a time when I have more energy to write. All I can say is that I loved the complexity of issues the book touched and the depth in which it dealt with Calcutta and Mumbai women’s struggle against social and economic poverty because what I know of these cities are half-mashed concoctions from films, novels and individual accounts, not to dispute the validity of such views but who can compare against the breadth and depth of a well planned study?

After finishing the book I had a strong impulse to grab my ever-so-read-and-mentioned A Room of One’s Own by Wolf. Of course there are lots of fine essays written on women’s issues but Room of One’s Own is closest to my memory. I was in a literature class. It was no small coincidence that it happened to be my first day amongst a bunch of white Caucasian literature students. Me, the only Asian face, arrived a week ago from exotic Tibet, dealing with wounds and issues that seemed larger than life at the time. That class was my therapy and Wolf’s words jumpstarted my road to recovery.

Like all good works that stand the test of time and interpretation, the below lines fit our context even now despite the fact that some things may have improved since the time Wolf wrote the essay. “For it is (still) a perennial puzzle why no (Tibetan) women wrote much of that extraordinary literature when every other (Tibetan) man, it seemed was capable of a song or a sonnet. What were the conditions in which (Tibetan) women lived?” (Chapter 3, A Room of One’s Own). The inserts are all mine. Pun very much intended.

Happy Tibetan New Year!

Standard

Just a short and sweet Tibetan New Year greeting for fellow bloggers and visitors! Have a wonderful  year of the Hare! Will have a post on Losar soon. Happy partying and indulge in chura, mar dhang tsak-sha. I know the original lyrics of the song says”yak-sha” but I think the right term is “tsak sha”. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Random Losar thought of the day: I’d rather be Draupadi than Sita.

Song of Namo Yangkyi Wangmo

Standard

Lu ala lamo ala len

Lu thala lamo thala len

Sa dhi yi sa ngo ma shen na

khawa ghangchen jong yin

Nga da nga ngo ma shen na

nga namo Yangkyi Wangmo yin

In countries west, I hear the holy book speaks of you and your sin. How could you not resist an apple sister?  It wasn’t as if you were tempted with a feast! If I talk about you in my village, the women will surely laugh at me. Even cross-eyed Dhetso, who lives atop Phari and sired six bastards from wandering neighbors, wouldn’t have understood your fate.

In this land of snow, meat and barley, no women would risk the wrath of gods for a lowly fruit! To think your karmic energy still claims the daughters of your clan though times have changed and they are told to eat an apple everyday! What happened sister? What became of your life and where did you travel? The others talk about you but I want to know. There must be more… I live with men.

During chu sum jhi weh kag (the thirteen year) my father took me on a pilgrimage to Lho. I saw the tiny cave where our ancestors met. I climbed the steps of Aemalung and stayed the night at Samye. I wearied my soul enroute to dusty Sheldrak and in Lhamo Lhatso desperately searched for a vision. Yet for all the prayers, in the end I was married to my khyib-dung escapade.

You must know not all daughters on earth are created equal. Some are small ponds, others are lakes and few are the vast sea. My features put to shame the banks of a dry river and my hands suffered every winter’s frost. With every child birth youth became a fluttering dream and this losar my chupa remained unchanged.

Back in the year of the snake, I caught him with another woman. She ran in shame and slid outside our ba. I caught a glimpse of her flowing hair and knew I’ve lost the battle. Still roused in anger, taunted by dying hope and pride, I screamed and lunged at him. He slammed me on the floor and covered my mouth. I struggled with all my strength.

That night old mother came to comfort me. She said this is the way of the world and the will of Gods. Some things never change unless you travel the ascetic’s path. Pons from obscure valleys will have a lofty place but from the empress Trimalo Triteng to you Yangkyi Wangmo, women will remain hidden. Silence binds us in an eternal knot. Accept and live in peace.

Since then sister, he returned home. I tend the nor and keep the tea warm on our stove. The first dawn light opens my eyes and in the night the sounds of a sleeping house rests my head. I wipe my children’s tears telling them stories of bygone heroes, even those that often talk of women’s evil designs. But I know better now and remain quiet, like you did. Why ruin a perfect fairy tale?

Yet sometimes demons breed insidious thoughts. If I was a bard, I’ll sing of women who were not consorts of saints or wives of kings. Why should beauty and perfection become our bane? Sing of women born on ordinary days, the lifetimes spent in household toil, tending babies, men and yaks. Oh sister! I should stop before people start to whisper namo Yangkyi Wangmo has horns on her head!

Responses for “Thangka”

Standard

I have been scrambling around the last few days so I apologize for the delay in responding to your comments regarding my poem “Thangka”. Better late than never so here it is…

Isn’t it interesting that the way we are conditioned, make us unquestioningly belief things that others would raise more than just their eyebrows…it would be interesting to do a study on how far belief systems can suspend rationalism and critical thinking amongst believers of faith. Yesterday I was at the inauguration of a new monastery and a guy came up and said very earnestly that one of the volunteers discovered that a Buddha statue had changed its position and he was quick to point out that the event stuck awe within the heart of the foreigners who witnessed it! Fascinating… that he believed the statue turned its head in the first place and more so the way in which he sought an impartial “witness” to this supernatural event, a foreigner, who would have little to gain from making up such a story and therefore a much better witness than an insider. Now if someone had told us the same story about Jesus and there are lots of ‘eye witnesses’ accounts, I am not sure if we would run to believe it. So what is it that makes us suspend disbelief and why is dharma not sufficient by itself that we seek voodoo to justify its existence?

One common thing I have observed about such beliefs is that it seems to extend only within one’s own religious framework but doesn’t go beyond it. A simple nomad living in the remotest part of Tibet will not buy the story of God’s creation of the universe in seven days and that there was Eve and Adam in the garden of Eden. Turn it around the other way and no Christian will believe that Buddha was a Bodhisattva in his previous life or for that matter any of the beliefs propagated by Thekchen (Mahayana) and Thekmen (Hinayana) schools of Buddhist thought. The same goes for other religious traditions too. Related to this issue, is Dawa la’s comment on Mahayana and Hinayana HISTORY- that “Buddha was born with incredible store of merit from his past lives” or that he was “ many many lifetimes ago a great Boddhisattva but not fully enlightened”. These are beliefs not history. Historical claims are supported by evidence and till date there are no studies conducted either by Buddhalogists and/or historians who had established that Buddha had past lives. Rebirth unlike evolution is a belief. What historical evidence tells us is that he was a prince who became a spiritual teacher. The time of his birth and death are still contested. Moreover when historians study Buddha’s thought, Mahayana accounts are not considered primary sources of information since those were developed much later.

Minax: My personal opinion is that Buddhist teachings were egalitarian in a broad sense since the sanghas had both nuns and monks and were open to all races, classes and free of caste system. But logically speaking, the converts were still products of their time and bound within a larger socio cultural context that was patriarchal in nature. Therefore even if obvious discriminatory practices against women may have stopped, the more submerged behavior and attitude against women are bound to have existed even during its inception.