Monday, September 28, 2009

The Elephant in the Dalai Lama's Room

Apparently, the Dalai Lama calls himself a feminist because he "fights for women's rights."

For those unfamiliar with Tibetan Buddhism:

"According to Buddhist belief, the current Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a past lama who decided to be reborn again to continue his important work, instead of moving on from the wheel of life....After the death of a Dalai Lama it has traditionally been the responsibility of the High Lamas of the Gelugpa Tradition and the Tibetan government to find his reincarnation. The High Lamas search for a boy who was born around the same time as the death of the Dalai Lama."

No word on whether the current "feminist" Dalai Lama will suggest that it's okay for the High Lamas to search for a little girl to ever be Dalai Lama.

Or, perhaps reincarnation transcends matters of "women's rights."

I render this criticism with all due respect to the Dalai Lama. There is no religious/spiritual system that I relate to and appreciate more than Buddhism. Yet, just as some Christians reject the ordination of women because Jesus was a male, it is simply taken as a given that each successive reincarnating lama will take the same male sex as their successor.

One of the many aspects that I appreciate about Buddhism is its emphasis on the essential emptiness of ego. One of the paths to enlightenment, it is said, is the complete transcendence of identification with the personal ego, or the characteristics of self. For that reason, I find it sad and ironic that Tibetan Buddhism remains fixated in the identification of sex/gender as an essential attribute of the Dalai Lama. Buddhism, like all religions, should know better than to fall into the all-too-human trapping of sexist thought and the perpetuation of the idea that males inherently possess higher spiritual capacities than women.

Like religious scholar Rita Gross, who wrote about this in Buddhism After Patriarchy, the male-only Dalai Lama institution is an unfortunate ego-fixation within a religious/spiritual system that promotes egolessness.

Update: The Dalai Lama is open to his successor being a female. Let's hope the boys in charge of selecting the next Dalai Lama, if the institution continues, agree. There's just something so Vaticanny about the process as it stands.

Next up, the Vatican.

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