"A devotee of Truth may not do anything in deference to convention." —Mahatma Gandhi
Considering the length of this, eh, document, I've considered that maybe it should be posted on the Nippapañca website as an article; but considering the subject matter, this blog seems more appropriate. Besides, posting it here allows one the opportunity to express her or his indignation, if any, in the form of public comments. This is yet another post inspired by women.
When I was young, before I became a monk, the females I associated with tended not to be particularly spiritual in their orientation to life. Some were sensitive, artistic, and creative, and some were called to contribute to the general welfare of the world by being vegetarian, volunteering at shelters for the homeless, supporting the Green Party, etc., but none that I knew of were more religious than occasionally going to church, or sufficiently spiritually inspired to try to Wake Up or "see God face to face." In fact many of them were fairly wanton party girls who would chase me if I didn't chase them – by the time I had graduated from college I had acquired two doses of gonorrhea, plus herpes (not to mention at least one case of acute heartbreak).
After my ordination, and especially after moving to Burma, I began associating with a very different type of female: the type that a guy would practically have to marry in order even to kiss her. I deeply respected and admired the modesty and virtue of Burmese women, their dedication to Dhamma, and their quiet dignity; although at times of "chafing in the Holy Life" when I would consider dropping out and marrying a simple Burmese village girl, all it would take was a few moments of consideration to remind me that it probably wouldn't work out. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that we would live in radically different worlds, probably too different for our relationship to progress much beyond a superficial level.
So then I came back to stay in America after many years, and encountered yet another type, or group of types, of woman – a type that disapproves of dividing people into types because it is considered to be a "judgement." These women speak a language I was not accustomed to before, some important words in the vocabulary being "authentic," "connection," "empowerment," "healing," "heart-opened," "heart circle," and "the Divine Feminine," along with some language concerning astrology, yoga, gluten-free organic food, "cleanses," and much else besides. Although a few men have informed me that I missed the so-called "Feminazis" of the 1990's, I found myself interacting with a very different and more "feminized" culture than the one I had left.
This was partly because as a monk I've been moving in different circles than the ones I moved in as a long-haired, drunken university student, or afterward as a rather solitary fisheries biologist. But also it seems that, just as the Hippy movement was integrated into mainstream popular culture during the 1970's, so the New Age and other relatively "yin" movements have lately been integrating into the American liberal mainstream, and to some extent even into the conservative mainstream. Feminism speaks with a louder and more confident voice nowadays, sometimes even an arrogant one. I shouldn't blame American women for that, however, since we men, including myself, can be arrogant too. Quite recently a young Californian man in Rangoon told me that according to Enlightened, Politically Correct New Age Feminism (⇐ another judgmental stereotype), the patriarchal society of Western civilization will before long be replaced by a matriarchal one. Being a male isolated from twenty years of feminism, and not seeing how swinging to the opposite polarity would necessarily be an improvement, plus having a little fun, I said, "I hope not." Then he responded with, "That's the wrong answer, Bhante. That's the wrong answer."
One theory I've heard more than once over the past two years is that feminine wisdom, the wisdom of the Divine Feminine, has been suppressed in world culture, even outlawed, for many centuries. Presumably it died out or went underground in the West along with the Goddess cults of the pagan Roman Empire. However, I just don't see it. For one thing, the assumption seems to be that male wisdom has been predominant in world culture; but I don't see that any real wisdom, male or female, has predominated. Wisdom has long been (possibly always been) overshadowed by foolishness. Part of this misunderstanding may be due to some women (and men too) trivializing the Divine Masculine, equating it with such petty qualities as skillfulness at manipulating objects in the material world. But true wisdom in its masculine aspects is much more than this, and has been about as neglected in recent culture as its feminine counterpart.
But it seems to me that feminine wisdom has not really been outlawed at all, although it may have been much ignored or dismissed in worldly affairs and restricted mainly to the environment of the home. It appears to me, admittedly a relative newcomer and outsider to the scene, that perhaps the form of feminine wisdom that the New Age prefers hasn't existed since ancient times, or maybe even ever; but that the Divine Feminine has always been alive and well in society, if not in center stage. Mere mortals cannot really suppress it.
A typical yet beautiful example of the influence of feminine wisdom and its long-standing status as Alive and Well in society is Robert Frost's poem "The Death of the Hired Man" (a link to it is here). The harshness of the man's attitude is influenced and softened by the gentleness and compassion of his wife, and by his love and respect for her. Feminine wisdom may shine its brightest in a mother's care for her children, and most of us have been exposed to it plenty during the most important character-forming years of our lives. I'm reaching a bit here, but long ago I read about an incident involving chimpanzees at the Arnhem Zoo in the Netherlands. The chimps there have a large enclosure where they can roam about, and on one occasion the males got into an altercation. They were screaming in rage at each other and picking up rocks to use as weapons, when some of the females quietly sidled up to them, gently but firmly pried the rocks out of their fingers, and let them drop to the ground. This could be called a minor manifestation of the Divine Feminine even among fur-covered apes. These examples may not seem like much, but examples of the Divine Masculine in the world, especially lately, might not seem like much either. Foolishness, or at best mundane wisdom, has been running the show practically forever, even in religion.
In some ways, Enlightened, Politically Correct New Age Feminism reminds me of theoretical Communism (including Socialism) a hundred years ago or more, before any country had officially converted to it. Both systems began/begin with lofty ideals which most wise, sensitive people, male or female, would approve of – like equality, universal brotherhood and sisterhood, and the sharing of resources in such a way that everybody has the right to security and dignity. On the other hand, both systems had/have few if any precedents or clear success stories to go on, so before they were/are adopted by a large society, they are mostly untested and merely theoretical. Furthermore, both systems seem to be based on theories which may ignore or deny fundamental qualities of human nature. Finally, both systems have proponents who, recognizing the aforementioned lofty ideals as obviously true and good, consider the entire system to be obviously right – so much so that they may embrace the system with the same profound, unquestioning faith that one may find in an evangelical religion, and may go about it with the same feelings of righteousness. The attitudes of many progressive liberals in WWI-era Russia, post-WWII China, and post-Cold War America seem similar in these respects, although very different in others.
19th-century Communist/Socialist theorists had little knowledge of empirical psychology to work with, and naively assumed that we humans are – potentially at least – governed by reason, with no instinctive animal drives to speak of. They considered human suffering to be an artificial by-product of unenlightened social and economic systems. They believed that if industry were socialized, the workers controlled the means of production, etc., then almost automatically a Utopian Golden Age would follow. By the oversights of their theories they grossly underestimated the power of human greed – they failed to perceive that the average man, regardless of propaganda, will instinctively be inspired to work harder for his own personal benefit, and that of his immediate family, than he will for some more or less abstract society of Comrades. Largely because of this deep-rooted indifference to the ideal of Share and Share Alike, Communism, when actually put to the test, could not compete economically with greed-oriented Capitalism. The USSR eventually went back to being Russia, and communist China is now undermining its own communism and out-capitalizing the West. Ironically, the one thing that I suspect could have made true Communism viable, i.e. spirituality, was dismissed by the Marxists as "the opiate of the masses" and was virtually banned, with the new systematists insisting upon "enlightened" Dialectic Materialism. If the Bolsheviks had embraced the Russian Orthodox Church and endorsed the truly communistic lifestyle of the earliest Christians as described in the Acts of the Apostles; and had they not even tried to compete economically with the USA, going with the Biblical idea that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to attain the Kingdom of Heaven; then they might have set such an example that the rest of the world could have followed them. (Except maybe for us Americans.)
21st-century Feminist theory as I have encountered it on the west coast of the USA reminds me of the same kinds of issues. It has undoubtedly very high ideals, but of uncertain feasibility. Its politically correct humanist psychology strongly resembles the psychological theories of a hundred years ago, going with the idea that our behavior, mental as well as physical, is a matter of cultural conditioning and – potentially at least – of deliberate choice. We are not animals. And thus, according to the theory, after liberal political correctness dominates the earth a new Golden Age of peace, equality, etc., will arise almost automatically. Or something along those lines.
Ever since reading Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape as a teenager, I've been struck again and again by the (to me) obvious fact that we humans are just as laden with animal instincts as any other creatures under the sun. For example, consider what happens when we are suddenly surprised: Our eyebrows go up and our mouth drops open. Why? Liberal humanism may not guide us much on this issue, but consider Darwinism. Let's say a cave-dwelling hunter-gatherer is walking through a forest a hundred thousand years ago, and suddenly a twig snaps in the bushes nearby. He freezes. His eyebrows automatically go up to help him open his eyes more widely, thereby increasing his peripheral vision and his ability to see potential danger. And his mouth drops open to allow him to stop breathing through his nose and start breathing through his mouth, which is quieter in humans and allows him to hear potential danger more clearly. Or, why do people tend to prefer sweet food to bitter? Well, up until we became "civilized" sweet foods, naturally occurring mainly as ripe fruit and berries, were nutritious, while the most common plant poisons are bitter alkaloids. Also: Why do we grin stupidly after doing something embarrassing in public? It is the human equivalent of a dog crazily wagging his tail to show that he's friendly and to avoid being attacked. Most people don't give a moment's thought to this sort of thing, but virtually all of our behavior is deeply conditioned by it. It's just human nature.
So it should be no surprise if a million years of human evolution, plus many millions of years of prehuman evolution, have left their mark of Cain on us – and for the overwhelming majority of several million years our ancestors lived in male-dominated societies. Some of this may be merely circumstantial: for example, during the course of the existence of the human race there may have been any number of peaceful, harmonious, female-led (or otherwise feminized) Utopias; but all it would take is one horde of warlike, male-dominated barbarians to sweep through, kill the nonviolent, easily-massacred men, rape and enslave the women, and thereby but an abrupt end to the Utopia. Similar events not necessarily involving feminized Utopias have occurred countless times, and are even mentioned, even endorsed, in more or less historical documents like the Old Testament. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the main reason why men apparently have dominated women for a million years, and why male anthropoid apes apparently have dominated female anthropoid apes for many millions of years, is simply because we have evolved that way, physically and mentally, male and female.
This is of course straying into the realm of extreme political incorrectness. I have been told that at least one high-profile behavioral scientist who had the gall not only to point out fundamental differences in male and female psychology, but to back up his statements with hard scientific data, actually received death threats because of it. It seems that sometimes truth must be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness hysteria. Regardless of all this, though, it is readily apparent that men tend to be attracted to youth and beauty in women (mainly because they're biologically more likely to bear many healthy babies); women tend to be attracted to power and potential security in men (for reasons not hard to fathom); and my father, who was somewhat of an authority on women, told me long ago, "A woman wants to be dominated by the man of her choice." Other male "authorities on women" have reiterated this idea to me over the years, one of them recently even being a New Age guy. I doubt that American feminists would object to the statement that men are instinctively more violent than women; but the other side of the very same coin may be found very unacceptable: that women are instinctively more fearful and insecure than men. (I assume this is one of Nature's ways of ensuring that women accept an aggressive mate: desire for protection of herself and her children.) It may not be entirely coincidental that as Western culture has gradually become more feminized over the past century, it has also become more fearful and insecure, even though actual danger to life has become less, illustrated by the fact that we have longer average lifespans now. Men also have been infected by the pandemic, learning to fear essentially the same threats that their more "masculized" ancestors accepted with some degree of macho stoicism. Now we live in a less overtly violent world, but a more fearful one, with many of our freedoms being democratically voted away out of craving for security, for our own good.
There are exceptions to every rule, and there are men not attracted to young, beautiful women and/or not violent, and women not desiring to be dominated by the man of their choice and/or not fearful. These are just generalities (like the generality that men are taller than women). Some of the latter group mentioned just now would prefer to believe that male domination is purely cultural, not programmed into male and female DNA; but biological evidence seems to indicate otherwise.
All this doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to transcend our programming – certainly not – but it does suggest that we will be attempting to rise above our own inherent nature, and, as has been pointed out already, the prevalent theories on how we should go about this are relatively untried, and may prove to be embarrassingly unrealistic.
I think we should acknowledge the likelihood that the world just cannot continue with the consumeristic status quo for very much longer without it resulting in a global collapse of political and economic systems, plus maybe a global population crash as well. We in the world simply cannot continue to increase consumption, urged on by insatiable capitalists who manipulate public opinion (through advertising agencies and the mass media) out of insistence on becoming as wealthy as at all possible. Even these trends in the status quo are phasing out age-old human archetypes, thereby, in my opinion, impoverishing the human condition in the process. The archetype of the woman being the center of the home, the center of warmth, love, service, and beauty, and being the adored and respected queen and/or goddess of the family, is a very sweet one, and I hope it will not become totally obsolete. On the other hand, the archetype of the man being the brave provider and protector of the family, and the leader in the cold world outside the home, seems to be falling by the wayside. This is partly because Capitalism (which ironically makes the same mistake as Communism in underestimating human greed), seemingly incidental to Feminism, has increasingly turned both the man and the woman into providers in order to allow them to make enough money to live up to a socially-endorsed "high standard of living." Also, modern society has been striving to create a kinder, gentler world not requiring much protection, or much bravery either.
Further to add to this welter of complicated considerations on the feminizing of the world, my 18 years in Burma have shown me pretty clearly that Burmese village women, in general, are less emotionally challenged and obviously less unhappy than are American women – again, speaking generally – despite the plain facts that they live in a culture that traditionally considers women to be inferior, that they probably have little or no conception of "empowerment" or "the Divine Feminine," and that they live in a physically poor and relatively uncomfortable environment ruled (until recently perhaps) by a brutal and incompetent military dictatorship. This is not to say that they are less unhappy than American women because of these circumstances, although they may live a more "natural" existence, and their poverty may make virtue and a clear conscience more easy. They simply have fewer desires; and as the Second Noble Truth points out, all suffering is caused not by inequality or poverty, but by desire. The main reason why I point out this situation is to expose the Great Lie, the mental illness, of Western culture, namely, the belief that our external environment determines whether or not we are happy. Seriously, whether we are happy or not does not depend upon social equality (laudable as it is), much less on wealth, but is a matter of attitude.
(to be continued...)