High Peaks Pure Earth presents an English translation of a short piece on women and the status of Tibetan nuns that was published on WeChat on August 11, 2021 (original WeChat link: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/ZfrTTtMkgvHkxZV39rO_PQ).
The author “Tsoe” (meaning antelope) appears to be writing under a pen name and there is no biographical information on them. However, from the piece, it is apparent that Tsoe has strong opinions about the condition of women in Tibetan society, in particular the status of nuns and a rousing message for them.
The notion that nunhood might be an escape from sexism in Tibetan society is presented here. In Pema Tseden’s short story and film “Balloon” the character of the nun sister has renounced society for unexplained reasons. A good resource on women in Tibetan society remains 2005’s “Women in Tibet” edited by Janet Gyatso and Hanna Havnenik and published by Columbia University Press. It includes an essay on nunhood and gender in Amdo by Charlene Makley.
Thank you to Bhuchung D. Sonam la for this translation.
“On the Gap Between Women and Nuns” By Tsoe
Some men have a strong pho-chok mo-men (literal meaning male-superior female-inferior) outlook, they celebrate when a boy is born but if the baby happens to be a girl, there is no such merriment. Furthermore, they consider girls only good for kitchen work. For example, when it comes to sending children to school, the family let the boys go but never even think about girls going to school.
It is not right for women to be considered good only for household and miscellaneous chores. Throughout Tibetan history, there have been many women who accomplished great things. Human beings anywhere in the world have to depend on their mothers’ milk for survival when they were born and to grow up. The first word they uttered was perhaps taught by women. Our very first teardrops sunk into a woman’s patience and it is most likely that we will take our last breath in the presence of a woman.
If there are no women in this world, then from the beginning of our conception, we lose the fundamental support system; in our youth we are denied joy and pleasure and in old age we would be without the source of our mental solace. Therefore, there should be no discrimination against women and they should be considered something very precious.
Today most of the nuns don’t know who they are following and are not aware of the reasons for becoming nuns. Why they are considered as rubbish and are judged as the worst of human beings in this day and age is not because we’ve denied them their rights or because of their maroon robes. The reason is because there is no nun who is worthy of respect, honour and veneration today. Even in the past no nun had left behind any treatise or single volume of text that is a touchstone.
What you need to accomplish is neither to take away the rights from monks nor to remain silent assuming that you are incapable of achieving anything. You need to take your rights in your hands and to stand on your feet to let people know that you are able and that you can stand with others in the society. Then the general public will pay attention to you.
Only nuns can change the fate of nuns and no one else can do it. However, this will depend on your competency and the level of education. Most nuns are ignorant about both religion and secular affairs and lack education. This is why the existing outlook towards nuns persists.
There are many nuns who are neither in nunneries nor in school. Failing to recognise their goals, a large number of nuns busy themselves with household chores and end up not even knowing how to write their own name. There are others who may be in nunneries but end up performing only ritual services throughout their life and do not engage in contemplation and meditation. The time has come for you to stand on your own feet with confidence and inner strength and to do everything possible to accomplish something. When I say that you have to do ‘everything possible’, it does not mean that you break the vow you took from lamas or discard your burgundy robes to do household chores, dig out worms or collect wild sweet potatoes. It certainly does not mean that you sit in an empty room and perform endless ritual services. What I am saying that we can stand as equals and engage in studies with joy and to explore the vast amount of Buddhist philosophy left behind by our ancestors.
Whether you are a woman or a nun the one thing that you must realise is that your rights are not in the hands of men. You have to acquire and claim your rights with your strength and capabilities. This is what I think.
Note: The gap between women and nuns sleeps invisibly in this article.