Monday, 2 February 2015

Female Meditators in Burma: Point, Counterpoint



Individuals within a particular category or grouping may react any number of ways to a similar situation. This is certainly true of female meditators in Myanmar. The same situation may frustrate one woman, cause no reaction in another, and become a learning experience for a third. With this in mind, we share two contrasting experiences of foreign women who chose to live at monasteries for some time in Myanmar. 

First, a Mexican female meditator shares her thoughts:
“Myanmar is organized by a system of hierarchies where the monks are at the top and young lay people at the bottom. So the treatment is very different between the level of attention that monks get and the level of attention that everybody else gets. The religious organizational system is a patriarchal... The first time I came to [a monastery] I was surprised to see the difference in treatment among monks and Sayalays. Sayalays spend much of their time taking care of monks: they clean, cook, organize the monastery, and take care of the female yogis. They offer all the time things to monks and from an outsider’s point of view, or at least the way I saw it, Sayalays role’s is more like been at the service of monks... in reality some Sayalays are cooking and cleaning the monastery continuously and they also give the food to the monks every day.
For me this radical treatment among men and women, not only in the religious environment but also sometimes in daily life, was radically new. I was told by a lay Burmese man that I have all the conditions present in order to practice, the only thing that I was missing was to be reborn as a man! In some Buddhist commentaries, this Burmese man continued, it said that one of the conditions for enlightenment is to be a man. So therefore, according to him half of the population of the world cannot get enlightenment! As a good Latin women, I immediately reacted and told him that he was wrong and he need to prove those statements before saying them.
For me all this aspects were incredible shocking... I find it a massive contradiction because it is against the teachings of compassion and Metta. It also against the teachings of non-self. Why should the form matters if in the core there is no form? The process that happened in the mind is the same."

Then, a Chinese woman shares the following:

“These issues [concerning gender matters in Myanmar and relations with monks] are not new to me since I got to know them either from talks, information online or my own observing. I did not feel so much culture shock as a result. Well, as I am trying to learn more, I feel like I know less or nothing sometimes! So I become more and more inclined to ask questions and listen carefully. The thing is that I am not always intelligent enough to see the whole picture so that probably there is lack of insight present on my part. Sometimes I see things on the service level, but do not have enough insight to penetrate the subtle level; or say the hidden blessings. For example, based on Western culture, we can say that Burmese females are treated inferior to males. But at the same time, women can gain merits by serving monks, male foreigners and so on, which can go on to benefit their Paramis. Some people may say if these women don't invest as much time on their daily duties, then they can make better progress in their meditation. But as far as I observe myself, when I experience Dana of any kind, I felt wholesome mental states arise. But if I asked for this for that, many times I get disappointed. If I could have been giving without so much greed to gain since I was born, probably I could have made a faster progress! I am not sure if women exerting effort to strive for equality is actually a sort of craving. For me the best way is to observe and have patience. Things are changing. There is Dhamma.”