Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Orgyan Chokyi

"I have good reason to write a few words on my joys and sufferings," I said some time ago. "Therefore I pray of you master, write it down."
When I said this [the master] said, "There is no reason to write a liberation tale for you--a woman."
And thinking on this woman's words he added, "You must be silent!"
Many tears fell from my eyes, for I did not myself know how to write.
"If I knew how to write," I said, "I would have reason to write of my joys and sufferings."
Later, when I was dying, amazing omens of my death arose, and I thought, "I have been struck with the spiritual instruction of the dakini."
The impediment of not being able to write disappeared, and I wrote.

The Life of Orgyan Chokyi is the oldest known autobiography by a Tibetan woman. Orgyan Chokyi lived from 1675 to 1729 and was a Buddhist nun. Her autobiography is thought-provoking in its depiction of the woman's intense compassion for all living things and her depression over the innate sufferings of life. I particularly find interesting her perspective on gender roles: She seems to believe that women (mothers especially) naturally suffer more than men, and prays time and again that all women and female creatures be reborn as men.

When I ponder our female bodies
I am sorrowful; impermanence rings clear.

When men and women couple--creating more life--
Happiness is rare, but suffering is felt for a long time.

May I not be born again in a female body.
May the mare not be born as a mare.

The tales of her studies in meditation make me want to delve deeper into my own meditation practice. Occasionally Chokyi's words are humorous to a modern reader. Take, for instance, the subtitle of chapter two: "Chapter Two relates how at age eleven I became a goatherd and suffering arose for me."

The Life of Orgyan Chokyi is a quick read, and I recommend it to anyone interested in Buddhism or gender studies.

No comments:

Post a Comment