My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Friday, March 12, 2010

Voice of the Tibetan Feminine: Part 2

Today on the commemoration of 51th anniversary of the Tibetan women’s uprising in Lhasa, I would like to present to 1st place essay written by a Tibetan woman from the province of Amdo in Northeastern, Sung dü kyi. I hope that you enjoyed yesterday's essay and that you will enjoy this one even more.


From past to present: Did the condition of gender inequality exist in Tibet?


Usually, when a girl was born in Tibet the parents had a sense of the unfortunate-ness for having given birth to a daughter as compared to the birth of a son. I would like to elaborate on the reasons why this sad situation, of having such resentments toward the birth of females and of the situation of females in general, exists in Tibet.

Section 1: Women in General

From the term “skye dman” low birth as used in the Tibetan language to designate women it can be seen that women in general have no rights of their own. The general situation in Tibet, especially those from nomadic families is that the man is granted a lot more freedom of movement as compared to the woman. He is allowed to go and do as he pleases while the she is expected to stay at home, watch over the livestock, clean, cook and nurture the children and since there is little education illiteracy is very high and thus their learning is extremely confined.

Section 2: Women’s Rights

From the Tibetan historical annals there is sufficient evidence of women’s activities in the field of writing, but thus to the viewpoint that “Men are superior and Women are inferior” the mention and the importance of their scholarship has seriously declined. It is said that one of the wives of the Great Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo wrote that “one should support governmental or royal activities”, but her views as to the rights of women were suppressed. These archaic views as to the rights and equality of women are still prevalent and hard to eliminate, even in this day and age were the ideologies of old has been replaced by more scientific points of view.

As for the aspect of romantic love, if a Tibetan woman wanted to express the desire that she was in love with a certain suitor or that she wanted to marry someone that she was in love with, it would not have been permissible for her to do so. But on the other hand if a suitor inquired in to the family of a girl that he desired that girl would be viewed in the same manner as articles for sale in a store. She would have no say in the matter, it will be totally decided on her behalf and she will be seen as a piece of property. And in this way lies the fate of Tibetan Women.

In the religious sphere, the differentiation between monks and nuns as far as their devotion and practice are concerned are more or less similar. But if a monk, nun or a lama passes away, the monks and not the nuns are called to reside over of the death ritual ceremonies even though from the point of view of religious practice there is little difference between them. In this way too lies the fate of Tibetan women.

Section 3: Women and Their Relation to Society

If we look at the Tibetan word for society “spyi tshog” we see what the intended meaning is. “Spyi” pronounced “chi” means general or common and “tshog” pronounced “tsho” means group or gathering, and thus we come to the meaning of general group or common gathering. It is related to all things and property that are utilized by all in a collective sense. But lets takes us, women and our rights; we respect all individuals but in Tibetan society in general respect for the individual is not pervasive.

Now looking at religious terminologies such as “las rgyu ‘bras” actions and the principles of cause and effect, “btang snyoms” equanimity, “drang bden” honesty, “rang dbang longs spyod” the leisure of enjoyment etc, are found only as folk quotations from scripture and are very rarely put into practice.

In Tibetan history it is known that the great lama meditator Drokpo had four female students and three male students who were studying under him for the achievement of spiritual realizations. In the same vein, the Great Yogi Milarepa had with him in his mountainous retreat eighteen males and nine females as students. Still regardless of this information that there were great women writers, yoginis, and scholars in the fields of politics, economics, the five traditional studies “rig gnas” and religion, who commonly held the sacred Tibetan cultural tradition together, still the deeply engrained mental implication that “Men are superior and Women are inferior” is very prevalent.

Is it that we as women are incapable of thinking or of preparing a method for improvement or that women themselves prove that these archaic viewpoints are correct? For most of us it is our very environment that suppresses us and it is because of this that our society is unable to involve itself in the movement for the betterment of women’s situation. But generally even though it is seen that rights and responsibilities do not belong together, we have to decide that they belong together. Without the opportunities to achieve woman’s rights the gender gap will increase without rights and responsibilities. We as Tibetan women need to be proud of our naturally inherent qualities such “snying rje” compassion, “bag yod” conscientiousness, “tshul mthun” ethicality, “nyam chung” humility, “khrel yod” modesty, “lhun chags can” one who possesses elegance.

As beings born in this human realm it is most important that we develop: firstly, a strong and steady character and secondly, a strong and steady standard to be able to move towards an ideal of betterment because it can and will be achieved. If we do as those women from the western and northern nations have done in regards to woman’s rights and freedom then from generation to generation we need to be clear that we do not want to bend of under pressure and that we do not want suffering. If we want freedom, we will be able to create the freedom needed for us.

In the histories we have seen that women had a degree of freedom and a high standard and we can again achieve and even surpass those standards. But if we are bound by the iron shackles of archaic ideologies and deplorable environments then how can we rise to a level of freedom and equality. Similarly from the position of inferiority is it not possible that we can think that we possess the distinctions of superiority? How can this be achieved? We need education to be able to rise above archaic ideologies. It might seem like an unreachable goal, similar to how the stars in the sky seen from the earth appear unreachable.


To my most cherished Tibetan mothers who reside with in depths of my heart. We who are known as “skye dman” low birth; do we not have “‘gran sems” competitiveness, “gdeng tshor” confidence, and “nga rgyal” conceit? With these qualities it might seem that we are inferior to our male counterparts. We must eradicate these archaic views toward women for we can not wait and depend on men to give us freedom and equality.

Our time moves very swiftly and we mature rapidly, but with out an open mind, what is the response as to whether our minds are capable or incapable of bondage and liberation? The response to this question is that we can not think in this way. Freedom and equality are our responsibilities. The 21st century is the time for us to achieve our rights. It is in the precious value of human life therefore that possess our path and our method in which will undo the bind on our minds and move to higher avenues of thinking.

A Tibetan Proverb thus states:

“If the inside is inauspicious”

“It is said that outward meaning is unattainable”

From this proverb I believe that if we all stand together with unity and friendship against archaic ideologies, we will be able to move forward, crossing boundaries to greater possibilities and that we will never be defeated.

College: Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies

Class: First year rig gnas

Name: gzung ‘dus skyi

Written: 2008/ 12/ 26

1 comment:

Stirling Davenport said...

Fantastic. Well written and instructive. I like the way your studies of Tibetan classics have become interwoven with your own unique views. Carry on, dude. I remain an admirer.