Friday, April 22, 2011

Stir It Up

When an article is titled "Women, sexuality and Buddhism" you have to expect some stirrin' up to come. This morning I received such an article. It is full of inaccuracies; I'm not going to link to it here, you'll have to use Google for that. Here is my attempt to set things aright (I submitted this as a comment on their site, we'll see if they publish it):

I'm sorry to do this, but there are some serious flaws with this article... where are you getting your facts from?

"It was the Buddha who ordained the first mae chii"
- This is confusing. The word "Mae Chii" (a Thai word) refers to bald, eight-precept keeping white robe wearing lay women, not female monks (bhikkhuni).

"offerings made by the lays—an act considered with highly meritorious value and practiced mostly by women who have no special opportunities as men for merits making."
- it may be true in Thailand that women offer more to monks than men, but not in places like Burma or Sri Lanka. Either way, what sort of merit making do men do that women don't? The meditation centres in Thailand always have more women in them than men. Most men become monks as a custom, and accomplish far less merit than the women who just go to meditate.

"The religious order of Buddhism does not allow for ordination of mae chii" - if you mean "the Thai monastic government does not allow mae chii to ordain as bhikkhuni", then you are correct. But the religious order of Buddhism has always allowed the ordination of women, and continues to do so today.

"Their lack of ordination makes secular offerings for mae chii of lesser meritorious value"
- this is not true, of course. I think what you mean to say is "makes offerings *perceived to be* of lesser value". The value of the gift depends on many factors, mostly morality, not ordination status.

"A lay or laity cannot achieve nirvana in his/her lifetime"
- absolutely false. The scriptures themselves are full of examples of lay people who achieved nirvana in their lifetime, even becoming arahants.

"they cling unto their sons’ robe during ordination"
- I have never seen such a thing, nor is it in line with the monastic code to allow a woman to cling to a man's robe (or vice versa, of course).

"But only nonconforming behaviors may make mothers or grandmothers sexually attractive to their sons or grandsons. Others suggest that the tradition simply underscores how lowly women are viewed in a Buddhist society. A mere physical contact with them can cause a monk some steps backward in his pursuit to achieving enlightenment." - Do you know that Gandhi himself gave up sex after massaging his father's leg aroused him and he left and sought out his wife - by the time he returned, his father was dead. Since men are not allowed physical contact with ordained females, I don't know who the "others" you refer to are, unless they are those who are looking to destroy Buddhism.

"Then woman Senator Rabiaprat Pongpanit, who was denied entry into one temple during a pilgrimage in 2004" - Also false. She wasn't allowed into the inner area of the Doi Suthep Cetiya. I lived there for two years and was never allowed into that area either (I never asked, of course); most people never get the chance, even if they did ask. Her request was out of place, not because of her relationship as a women to the temple, but her relationship as a women to the monks. In order to ensure moral purity in such sacred places, inner monk-only parts of the monasteries in Northern Thailand are off-limits to women; they are off-limits to men for the most part as well. Call it a silly custom, but don't misrepresent the facts - thousands of women visit Doi Suthep temple every year.

"a Buddhist—lay, mae chii and monk alike—has one simple question to answer: “What do I want to be in my next life cycle?”" - a Buddhist should never ask such a question, nor concern themselves with future existences at all. The Buddha taught us to understand the reality of the present moment. The only simple questions Buddhists should answer are "what is the truth of suffering", "what is the cause of suffering", "what is the cessation of suffering", and "what is the path leading to the cessation of suffering".

Some parts of this article are appreciated; I have not commented on them here, but I appreciate the research, quotations and information about Thai society, and the article is overall well-written. But the above flaws seriously diminish its credibility.