My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Voice of the Tibetan Feminine: Part 1

On the eve of the commemoration of 51th anniversary of the Tibetan women’s uprising in Lhasa, I will like to post two essays written last spring 2009 by two very gifted Tibetan women writers. These women had won first and second place positions in an essay competition held by the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA). The essay competition had two language sections I believe, one in English and one in Tibetan. These two essay writers are current students of Sarah College, and I was called one evening by my friend Tenzin Palkyi, who worked for TWA, to translate these two essays into English. When I asked how long I had to translate it, she said in a few days, like 3 or 4, I can’t remember exactly but it was a short enough time that I thought that I could not do it.

First of all, I have never translated anything major before and second, once I saw how incredibly well these women wrote their essays I knew that realistically, in order for me to do a good job at translating, that I would have needed a couple of weeks easily. Palkyi had spoken with Gen Karma la a staff member from Sarah to help me and so with him and one of authoress I was able to translate an essay in a night. And the next day with a different staff member Gen Norzang la, and the other authoress I finished translating the second essay. Our method was pretty simple, since I did not have the time to translate it word for word, I needed to get the essence of each paragraph, so Gen Karma la and Gen Norzang la with the authoress themselves explaining the most important points, I took notes down, then in my room with the original Tibetan text I preceded to translate.

I was doubtful that I would have been able to do it, but with our impromptu translation team it worked out just fine. These translated essays were published in TWA’s magazine. I was glad that my first, and so far only translation work, went toward bringing out the voices of the Tibetan feminine, which is hardly audible. I was surprised at many of the points made by these women, especially since I feel that their observation of gender inequality within their communities are indigenous to their own thought, and not bogged down with Western 3rd wave Feminist rhetoric, which would have been totally alien to these women.

So here I present you with the 2nd place essay, written by the nun Chablho Yodron from the U-Tsang province of Tibet who I have developed a lot of respect for. Both these women wrote in a beautifully poetic style with fluid prose and I am afraid that my translations comes no way near to illuminating the skill of these writers, but I hope this gives people a glimpse of the some of the voices represented in the Tibetan feminine. Tomorrow March 12, I will post the 1st place winning essay.


The Real Situation of Tibetan Women


The previous status of Tibetan women has been seen with us having our heads pressed down, but to have our heads raised up high is what is truly needed, in the same way that a path is built to overcome the steepness of a rocky crag. Like the snow god flower “gangs lha me tog” that grows at the top of Mt. Everest our path should remain steady regardless of any situation. To keep up with the changing times the responsibilities of Tibetan women needs to be completely practical; they need to be able to think critically, and to be able to achieve ones aspirations, and to not be like someone who is waiting for sky water, or who passes flatulence under water, one needs deep and subtle analysis to examine what the goal is.

Woman’s Rights and its Relation to Antiquity

This is being written in reference to a statement made by the Cabinet Minister of the Kashag on the 48th anniversary of Tibetan Democracy Day, “From ancient times up till the present the conditions of gender inequality have never existed in Tibet”.

In the 21st century, external activities, mainly materialism, has been developing at a fast pace as compared to internal or spiritual development. Since antiquity, Tibetan women have been viewed in extremely barbaric and demeaning ways. I was fortunate to not to have directly witnessed the kinds of discriminations and repressions that my Tibetan female ancestors have witnessed but by the simple fact that I am born female I carry and bare the marks of repression from those times. And also due to that reality, how can I believe the Cabinet Minister of the Kashag who has claimed that, “conditions of gender inequality have never existed in Tibet”?

I feel that it is my responsibility to be a reminder or even better, a messenger to show other Tibetan women that it is important to strive toward gaining opportunity and woman’s rights and not simply to argue about them. I will like to show that with the manner of how I am using this essay that I am striving and struggling for Tibetan woman’s rights and not solely debating about them. We are all witnesses to the repressions that has happened in the past and in the present and they should never be ignored, we should not built a crooked path but a straight and righteous one

In Tibetan history it is known that around the time of the Great Dharma King Songtsan Gampo there existed multiple terms for male and female, the proverb, “be remitting towards a wild slave but do not be attached to what comes out of a woman’s mouth” was prevalent, and when the time arouse for any sort of important or official gathering the women were completely barred from attending these functions and not only that they were barred also from the fields of militarism, economics, education, and politics, this barring is the reason why women were kept in the kitchens. This situation was also prevalent during the reign of the Sakya dynasty.

Women had no rights to make their own decisions, she had no rights to marry whom she desired as can been read in “snang sa ‘od bum gyi rnam thar” a famous Tibetan Opera. This is also clearly seen in light of the time around the 38th Tibetan King Trison Duetsan who in order to pay a tribute to Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava for a longevity prayer he offered him one of his wives. Now this should raise the question of, if that was the situation for a woman of royalty then what was the situation of a plebian woman? This should be thought about in depth.

If any women who are struggling for raising awareness for their fundamental rights lifted their voices towards the issues such as women’s livelihood and were depending on the government to instill any plan towards the attainments of these goals then that will only help instill a basis of partially that is meant to control women. It will be seen that our lives are not worth more than rubbish and that we will have no point in achieving a precious human rebirth.

From the vantage point of spiritual practice, it is generally known that any obstacles on the spiritual path are one’s own and that they come from within the practitioner themselves. But when seen particularly from the view of a male practitioner women are always presented as the main obstacle to his enlightenment, to his spiritual realizations. Women are then seen as completely unclean with horrid descriptions of her body, and that they defile the male practitioner. There is no mention made as to the reverse situation. But this does not seem to point to the original source of his obstacle to enlightenment not being women but his own mind.

It has been recorded that male and female practitioners who have reached high levels of spiritual realizations possess certain “elegant qualities”. If a person, male or female, does not achieve these realizations then these elegant qualities are said not to exist. But if the decline of a kingdom is blamed on women, if the loss of freedom that fell on to an entire society was blamed on women, then these words which talk about these elegant qualities are a treasury filled with non-virtues. If this is the case then how can there be any elegant qualities for women regardless of them having spiritual realizations or not?

If we look into the home life of Tibetan women we will see that she is totally bounded by her circumstance. She must suffer simply due to the wimps of her husband. When the husband arrives home intoxicated, his is ready to use any object with in reach to beat his wife. When he has wagered all of his money in gambling he will without bashing an eyelid wager his wife thus treating her not like a human being but like a commodity. Some women are so terrified of their husbands that they runway from home to join a nunnery. This shows that these degenerative views towards women are the habituation of savagery. These thoughts are similar to the yoke used on a pair of plough-oxen that presses down onto the neck of women. If one tried to lift their head up against the yoke the driver will immediately kick one in the rear, but I believe that this situation must be overcome.

From the many sources that the Chinese Government has published, it has been mainly stated that Tibetan women enjoy more rights and equality now than they ever did in the past. But the plain reality is that Chinese women suffer so much and the situation is even worst for Tibetan women. There is no change in the educational system. When a Tibetan woman marries a Chinese man, she is made to pay a really heavy dowry, because of this many women runaway to live on the streets and eventually turn to prostitution since they have lost meaning in their lives.

In the prisons the situation is even more deplorable with the worst kinds of torture imaginable. Woman’s body are extremely sensitive to pain, even just the tap of the hand on a needle is painful enough. Tibetan nuns go through extreme tortures, so how can it be said that women have more rights and equality now than in the past. The world needs to raise it voice against the Chinese government so that true gender equality can be achieved in Tibet.

Religion and its relation to woman’s rights

It is not only the lay female’s responsibility to fight against the antiquated notion that “men are superior, women are inferior”. For as a nun, I believe that nuns too have full responsibility to eliminate this notion. As brilliantly stated by Lord Buddha, “Oh monks and scholars examine my teachings just as a goldsmith examines the purity of gold by scratching, cutting and rubbing it, not by faith to me alone”, we as nuns need to take this advice from Lord Buddha and apply it to the old ideas that view women with inferiority.

Since the Teachings of the Lord Buddha flourished in Tibet the vows of the “dge slong ma” or fully ordained nun has declined and we have completely lost this lineage. His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama has stated that we must examine the reason for the declination of the “dge slong ma” tradition and search for it.

Within the Judaic, Christian and Islamic traditions women and or nuns have been treated worst as compared to Tibetan nuns. On the other hand, as compared to Korean nuns, Tibetan nuns are rather backward. In Korea the lineage of the “dge slong ma” still exists and in order for a nun to become fully ordained the nun must successfully pass several formal educational and age requirements before she is even considered eligible for the full ordination. But Tibetan nuns are barred their full ordination because of age and lack education.

In the northern border regions of Nepal and India, where people of Tibetan ancestry live, such as Dolpo, Mustang, Lahaul, and Spiti, families typical send their sons and daughters to monasteries and nunneries not out of belief in any kind of spiritual ideals that they find within Buddhism, but they send them solely because they can not financially support them. I believe that this view is in conflict with the purpose and goal of becoming and being a monastic. In order for there to be good monks and nuns, the monastic institutions need to provide both spiritual and secular training, as has been made mandatory in the Korean Buddhist tradition. Of course spiritual training should take precedence over secular training, but that should be done at the discretion of the individual monastic.

Leaders of Great Persistence and Future News

It is very important for all Tibetan women to remember the great women leaders of the past and of the present. Those great women who have stood and fought against the “men are superior, women are inferior” myth and have achieved many positive results towards that end. We should not follow these women blindly but intelligently we should follow their example. For examples of Tibetan women who were innovators in the political sphere I think that Ma ma gro skyi brling ma the Queen of the 7th century Tibetan King ‘Dags khri btsan po, Khar chen bza’ mtsho rgyal and mChims bza’ lha mo btsun etc, should be thoroughly investigated. For examples of Tibetan women who were innovators in the religious sphere, I think that Ma gcig lab sgron, mKha ‘gro ye shes mtsho rgyal and rDo rje phag mo etc, should be thoroughly investigated. For modern examples I suggest A ma rJe btsun pad ma, dPa’ mo A ma a skyi and the authoress Tshe ring skyi, should be investigated. Our eyes must look to them as our example. For our progression we must first recognized the faults within ourselves, work on overcoming them and start to truly work for the well-being of others.

It is in the 21st century that Tibetan women will struggle and strive for woman’s rights and gender equality, but those women who are not engaged in the struggle should not mock and criticize those who work hard in the struggle for such actions are damaging the very meaning of the word freedom. It is most important that all women stand together for we are one powerful force as it says in a proverb, “The powers and capabilities of women have the ability to hold up half of the world’s sky”.


Traditionally Tibetan women throughout their lifetime continuously pray to be born in a “more auspicious” male form in the next life. I think that it is better not to pray in this way, if women themselves are thinking in this manner implying that their current state is inferior then men will reinforce this idea. But if we pray like Female Buddha Tara who stated, “For the purpose of all sentient beings I desire to be reborn in a woman’s body” then we will instill within ourselves power and courage. We should pray and aspire to be reborn in a female body, that can live and learn with the times, that can benefit all life, that has control, intelligence, and physical strength, so that we can live a life of meaning. In these prayers we must be like Buddha Tara who was self-reliant. We must use our own effort and our own energy.

The rich Tibetan cultural heritage is extremely amazing and admirable, but we should not think that because this is so that we can not learn from other cultures, that they are lower and less important than our own. Tibetan women should strive to learn from the neighboring countries and expand to a global perspective. We need to eliminate the worst from our culture and take the best from others.

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama has stated numerous times, “if you are unable to work for the happiness of others, then at least avoid harming others” and with this view you should carry out your goals and aspirations. This needs to be done with scientific exactitude, with reason. Although the past was completely backward and that we must remember the past, at the same time we need to venture forward towards development.

The violent and calm streams pass by way of various routes but reach the same vast ocean regardless of whatever obstacles that stood in their way. In the same way, there are different types of Tibetan women, some violent and some calm, but all regardless of the challenges that lay before them are able to overcome any obstacles with pride and courage. Like Anne Frank who shared with the entire world her sincerity, and honestly, despite of the immediate dangers that surrounded her. From her example Tibetan women should learn and grow.

It is my deepest and sincerest prayer and hope that all the women of the future will easily be able to differentiate the good from the bad and attain a fruitful result.

Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies

First year rig gnas

By chab lho g.yu sgron given on 2008/ 12/ 21.

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