Continuing on from the preceding post, two more exhilarating moments from The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out:
As for myself, I am a Khampa, but I do not like to take an aggressive stance or oppose others at all. People who watch out for my interests sometimes advise me to be less earnest and to go on the offensive more. They caution me against being so open and trusting. They warn me that people can have all sorts of different motivations and ulterior motives, and may be out to deceive me or use my name for their own ends. Even though I have heard this advice clearly, I cannot change. Actually, I don’t want to.
In this era of global communication and weapons of mass destruction, rather than impose our will on others by force, we urgently need to find ways to accommodate divergent wills. It has been a long and gradual process, but I believe the world is slowly coming to realize that what we need now is not the ability to make assertions, but the ability to listen. Especially with the unthinkably destructive power of the weapons we have at our disposal, it seems clear that we need to sit down to dialogue, and not stand up to fight.
The times call on us to look at others with the attentive and loving eyes of a mother, rather than with the hostile eyes of a warrior in battle. If we are going to divide up qualities as masculine or feminine, I think we have to say that the qualities we need today are qualities more often described as feminine. We need communication and sensitive listening to others’ needs – qualities that are likelier to be identified as feminine than masculine in most societies.
It is time we truly recognize that the era of the hunter is past. This should be a more “feminine” era…
The previous post here talked a bit about the Karmapa’s new book The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out. The chapter I find the most remarkable of all has to be the one on gender – “Gender Identities: It’s All in the Mind.” This is so because Tibetan culture, as is true of traditional cultures in general all over the world, has maintained a strongly gendered view of psychology and society.
Nothing in this chapter hasn’t been said by various western teachers of buddhism, and stray remarks can be found – increasingly so in recent decades – coming from other Tibetans, but this chapter surely represents the most direct and sustained presentation of the emptiness of gender from within the Tibetan world. As such I feel it to be a genuinely epochal moment.
A couple of examples:
Gender identities permeate so much of our experience that it is easy to forget that they are just ideas – ideas created to categorize human beings. Nevertheless, the categories of masculine and feminine are often treated as if they were eternal truths. But they are not. They have no objective reality. Because gender is a concept, it is a product of our mind – and has no absolute existence that is separate from the mind that conceives of it.
(©bodhiimages — Tim Buckley)
Societies take the distinction between masculine and feminine qualities very seriously indeed. Whole industries reinforce gender ideals, such as, for example, boys should be brave and girls should be sensitive. Society promotes the idea that people with Y chromosomes should exhibit only “masculine qualities,” and people with X chromosomes should exhibit “feminine qualities.” This holds us back, limiting men and women to socially constructed boxes, and causing a great deal of suffering for everyone [my emphasis].
In my own personal case, I do not always feel clear about this distinction between masculine and feminine qualities. People have told me that I have more feminine qualities than masculine. I do not know quite what that means. I have a sense of what these qualities feel like, but I have no labels of “feminine” or “masculine” to go with the feelings. I simply experience them.
For me personally, knowing how to define and categorize such things is not important. What matters to me is being able to connect with others heart to heart, with real feeling. What I value is the ability to speak from my heart, and to be tender and caring. I hope I have some of these qualities. Certainly these are the qualities I aspire to have. It does not strike me as at all relevant whether they are categorized as feminine or masculine.
I’m very grateful for the new book by the 17th Karmapa, The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out.
I first became aware of him via his “Aspiration for the World“. Not long after, he issued an edict mandating vegetarianism in all centres within the Kagyu lineage – of which he is the head. (Many people assume buddhism to require vegetarianism of its practitioners, but this isn’t so, particularly within Tibetan buddhism.) These statements appeared when he was twenty or so, around 2006.
The Karmapa lineage is one of the oldest reincarnating lineages within Tibetan buddhism, older than the Dalai Lamas by a couple of centuries, and the current Karmapa’s immediate predecessor – the 16th – was one of the most revered buddhist teachers of modern times.
So, I began to take note of him. However, honestly it had been some time since I’d been able to feel hopeful about institutional Tibetan buddhism. Long story, but suffice it to say, for those lacking experience in this area, that power does seem to corrupt everywhere, and the greater the power, the greater the danger of this. So even a certain amount of despair had set in with me regarding the question. (Cf. even the Karmapa controversy itself, there being two rivals – though all of the lamas whose teachings I’m acquainted with, including the Dalai Lama, recognize this one, whose name is Ogyen Trinley Dorje.)
I must say, though, that this book truly heartens me. I feel that with the 17th Karmapa we have our first fully 21st-century lama. Have a look at some of the chapter titles: “Social Action: Caring for All”; “Environmental Protection: Cultivating New Feelings for the Earth”; “Food Justice: Healing the Cycles of Hunger and Harm”; and, most startlingly from a Tibetan teacher, “Gender Identities: It’s All in the Mind.”
Of course, it’s not a political book, reaching far deeper, but the point is that the Karmapa represents the first Tibetan lineage holder I’ve come across whose mind seems fully at home in the ecological View, who sees our predicament and understands that there is no room anymore for any kind of duality between personal practice and practice for our Earth and for the world.
The talks in this book in fact came out of meetings with American college students. It’s funny to remember too: back in 2006 I participated in a week-long program with the great Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and one of the things he said in one of the question-and-answer sessions was that powerful teachers manifest and develop in particular ways in the world in part due to our aspirations, so that if, for example, we yearn hard enough for “an ecology buddha” (his words), someone who will be of special benefit in this way, we might get one. And it was around this time, in fact, that the 17th Karmapa began to come into his own distinctive voice as it were.
I remember hearing somewhere also that Thrangu Rinpoche, his personal tutor, said of him around this time that he’d thoroughly mastered everything he had to teach him. And within Tibetan buddhism this is an extraordinary thing to say of someone of that age, given the immensity and depth of philosophical learning on the one hand, and actual practices on the other.
My feeling, and that of many others, is that the 17th Karmapa may well become a world leader in the decades to come, comparable to the Dalai Lama today. Judging by this book, which I am about halfway through now, he has much to say that we desperately need to hear and work with.
May as well try to “measure” music in order to say it’s one “thing” or the “other.”
Music, of course, has multiple layers/dimensions – four major ones: rhythm; melody (to one degree or another); timbre; and (in all but monophonic music) harmony. (Each of these in turn are multi-layered: melody can be contrapuntal to any degree of complexity, timbral possibilities are infinite, and so on.) We can’t simply take and reduce it as a phenomenon to just one of those, then reduce that to a choice of two dots.
Of course, that’s what Stalin’s cultural goons did, according, apparently, to Shostakovich: they at one point started counting the number of major and minor harmonies in a piece, and those whose ratio was too skewed to the minor got their composer condemned for insufficient revolutionary joy!
But of course even harmonies can’t be reduced to two. They exist within larger systems of key. And then, even major and minor keys are only two of seven traditional Western modes. The music of other cultures encompasses a great variety of modes also, including microtonal ones. And then of course there is modulation into other keys, and atonality too: neither major nor minor nor modal in any other way.
Sexuality, like music, is multi-dimensional. Immeasurable.
However, these days we have become so locked within an extraordinary – not to mention extraordinarily dogmatic – paradigm that it is almost impossible even to discuss “sexuality” in the true, vast meaning of the word. For various historical and cultural reasons, our vision has become utterly one-pointed, and grotesquely disfigured, in this regard.
And just how much pounding on square pegs to get them to fit into round holes thus has to go on can be demonstrated every single day with new material. Today, for example, there is this report on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, beginning: “We’re slowly getting a sense of how many TGBQLX people there are in America. I.e. how many homosexuals, lesbians and transgenders there are in the population.”
That “i.e.” is revealing. What comes after an “i.e.” of course is meant to be a definition or exemplification of its antecedent, so here Sullivan is saying the following: 1) transgender identity is practically speaking congruent with “sexual orientation,” like the “L” and “G” categories. He makes this clear by the next sentence: “When I was a newbie gay, the mantra was 10 percent.” But of course when he “was a newbie gay,” that meaningless 10 percent figure was meant to relate just to the categories of “L” and “G.” People weren’t talking about the other ones.
And 2) we can simply ignore the “B’s,” “Q’s,” and “X’s,” because they too are really the same basic “thing” as the “L’s and G’s” (and, of course, “T’s”).
So, all the usual problems apply. Firstly, those who identify as trans have innumerable “sexual orientations,” and these are not possible to map onto the ones we have: if one biological male becomes a woman and then invests her sexual life exclusively (for the sake of simplicity) with men, clearly she is in not the same but the very opposite category of “sexual orientation” as the biological male who becomes a woman and then invests her sexual life exclusively with women. One of those two categories has to be considered – according to the logic we have harnessed ourselves to – as precisely “straight.” In other words, transgender simply can’t be used to bolster figures of “sexual orientation.” At all.
Secondly, the categories “Q” (by which is usually meant “queer,” an explicit rejection of the system as a whole), and “X,” which I’ve never seen before in this context but which can only be referring to something like “none of the above,” actually have nothing logically to do with the idea of “G” and “L.” But if one wishes to think that they (along with “B” of course) are really just variants on “L” and “G,” then of course the former can, and practically speaking are, more or less always ignored.
They’re even mentioned at all, in that case, so that wishful thinking and a desire for hygienic, stable, absolute categories can feel as if it is being true to “diversity,” while at the same time resolutely closing its eyes to it at every turn.
For it is precisely those “B’s,” “Q’s,” and “X’s” – amongst many other phenomena internally contradictory within our constructs of “gay” and “straight” themselves – which reveal the instability of our contemporary regime of “sexuality.”
In a time when the category of race has finally come to be understood – by more and more at least – as ultimately incoherent, that of something we are calling “sexuality” gets more reified, reductionistic, and rigid every year.
And of course there are a number of cultural reasons for this, about which … much more over time!
From an interview published yesterday (my emphases).:
“The men in Chabon’s books all come in pairs … in every possible permutation: fathers and sons, business partners, collaborators, lovers…. These permutations interest him mostly because, in real life, men have so few options for how to relate to one another. ‘It’s your buddy or your business partner or your romantic partner,’ Chabon says. ‘Or your enemy. That’s it. That’s all we’ve got.’
“Chabon envies women’s relatively greater emotional freedom, he says. And he believes that ‘a lot of the things men feel in terms of confusion and frustration and lack of emotional connection and fulfillment is because the accepted possibilities are so paltry.’ With his books, he says, ‘ultimately the question I’m asking is: What does it mean for two men to love each other? Do male friends love each other? And if they do love each other, what kind of love is it? Do they say they love each other? Do they even know they love each other?’
“Chabon does love men. He has written, in his nonfiction, about sleeping with one man and falling in love with another, and although he’s close to many women, he says his mental category of ‘best friend’ is, by default, male. (‘If I were casting the part, I’d call in men.’) But he is profoundly frustrated by how men behave, or rather by how they misbehave, a problem he sums up as ‘dickishness.'”