By Yama Choezom

First, I would like to have you take note of what a woman in her seventies who came to India recently from Tibet told me on the fourth day of the Lamrim teachings at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in South India. I am neither willing to criticize, nor ready to blame her for her ignorance, but I was able to get a feel of how she had been raised and made to accept herself and all the women on earth as being born as inferior to the men.

I believed and still do believe that Tibetan women have better opportunities and more access to education than that of women belonging to many developing nations and the societies existing in those countries. But have you ever paid close attention toward the Tibetan perceptions as a society about about women?

The woman at the monastery, a grandmother in her 70s, told us– a group of monks, one teenaged girl, and myself– that women are born half and religiously doomed, that there is no scope for filling ourselves with pride. That we have to recognize hold ourselves as being in the lower position than the men, and especially the monks. She specifically addressed the two girls in the group (me and the teenager), saying that the youth should be advised and told about this ‘reality’, otherwise they will think highly of themselves. That they will be disrespectful to the monks and men. And that we should be regretting all the wrongs which we have already done so that we will be able to atone for the ‘sins’ we had accumulated so far by being ‘disrespectful’ because women are impure. She further added that she thought that the seating arrangement in the Lamrim teachings were extremely bad since the monks had to prostrate from a the lower seating than that of the women, which would increase the collective sins of Tibetan women.

Not a single monk in our group made an attempt to tell her that there was a conceptually wrong notion about what she had just said. Nor did I speak up against the elderly woman. I did not dare to speak against her because I thought she might carry the message to Tibet and convince my family that I am being unreligious and disrespectful towards monks.

Since then I have started sitting on lower seats, holding lower positions, and bending my head down a little when my monk cousins are around, especially in the presence of those who came from Tibet. I do this in order to leave an impression that I am as respectful and obedient as women in Tibet.

I agree that we have to respect the ordained monks more. They are morally better than laypeople because they have vowed to abstain from killing, from the consumption of narcotic and psychotic substances, alcohols, and sexual relationships—instead dedicating their whole lives to religious studies. I believe that they are more principled than the average layperson. Rationally speaking, they are legally and morally principled people.

But in that instance at the monastery, for the first time in my life, I felt that I was being considered inferior. Neither my parents nor my siblings have ever done that. Maybe it’s because I left them at a very early age when I was too young and tender to understand. These views held by elderly people are understandable, but it is high time for us to stop believing that Tibetan women have been guaranteed with every right that men enjoy. It’s clear that we are not equal in the eyes of our own society.

I wonder how my fellow women, sisters, are being treated in Tibet. I feel that the women in Tibet are so brave and fearless facing all these hardships, and that I am more fortunate than them for being educated in an egalitarian society under the guidance of the His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. But, at times, I wish that I were ignorant of all my rights so that I could be as accepting as the women in Tibet.

There are people who claim that Tibetan women have nothing left to fight for and struggle against. It is said that we are given all the opportunities and guaranteed all the rights. But what about our collective societal attitudes toward women? We say we are proponents of an egalitarian society, chanting it like a Mantra. Men argue that we have bigger struggles than empowering women. But, I wonder how we can just leave half of the population behind as we struggle for something else? Whenever and with whomever we, women, speak about addressing the misinterpreted conceptual and societal views towards women, why are the men always so reluctant to accept the truth? Why don’t they want their beloved sisters being respected instead of being blamed for all the evils of the world?

One of my fellow men recently argued that women should appear as popular as men in order to get equal respect. I replied by pointing out that there are more male leaders than female leaders in the world, and that have you ever given a second thought to the fact that women, like the people of Africa, have been downtrodden for centuries? It’s only in the most recent century that women were finally given some equal opportunities to men, despite the stereotypical view of women being inferior. The credit for equal opportunities and elimination of gender-based discrimination goes to lawmakers and those pushing for legislation to uphold and enact the principles of equality and the international conventions that obligate the same. It is now a matter of great shame for a nation that violates such universal agreements.

I have had many recent opportunities to interact with people who came from Tibet. They are sincere, straightforward and honest. But one thing that I came to know is that, at the beginning, they do not pay as much attention to women as they do men when we share our opinions about random debatable issues. Because they hold the opinion that women don’t have reasonable and meaningful things to say. And women are scolded for being too talkative if they participate in discussions. One reason for such pervasive attitudes is that the women in Tibet are hardly encouraged to join in discussions with men in the home, at social gatherings and at parties. Women are considered to be more obedient and good if they keep quiet in a group. They should let the men do the talking.

One of my cousins who came from Tibet told me that if women come home after noon, it is believed that she will bring evils and misfortunes to the home. But if a man came even in the middle of night, no one will say that he brought evils to the family. If something bad happens to a family that receives a woman in the evening, then that woman will be suspected to have brought misfortunes to the family.

Isn’t this discrimination? Do we simply have to bear and pass on these social misconceptions to our future generations? Do we want our daughters to be forever blamed for misfortunes just because she arrived late to your home?

How I wish that our society would emancipate women from the narrow, existing societal conceptions of our gender. We are born from a mother’s womb like every man. We are neither born half nor evil.

I urge my readers to remember that your sister is not the source of your misfortunes; she was born fully and purely a human being.

Author Bio: Yama Choezom was born in Tibet and raised in India. She was educated through the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) school system and is currently pursuing her law degree in India.


Comments 2

  1. A great piece, by Yama Choezom, on the discriminatory social attitudes and beliefs Tibetan women continue to face. A must.

    One thing that I disagree with the author – if I may – is concerning her assertion that “They [ordained monks] are morally better than laypeople because they have vowed to abstain from killing, from the consumption of narcotic and psychotic substances, alcohols, and sexual relationships—instead dedicating their whole lives to religious studies. I believe that they are more principled than the average layperson.” The claim of monks being morally superior than laypeople is a blanket statement and easy generalization; laypeople from across the cultural boundaries are as moral as ordained Buddhist monks. In fact, I think this whole business of moral judgment is the wrong tree to bark at and the root cause of all discrimination. If we want to become a humane society, we need to stop morally judging peoples, communities, groups, individuals from our own varying prejudiced moral stands. The discrimination against women – in the first place – existed and have continued to exist because of this business called moral judgment – that women are morally inferior to man according to some religious or theological bases, which is of course crap.
    Secondly, I disagree with Yama la’s assertion that “I agree that we have to respect the ordained monks more.” Why? Because they are morally better or superior than the laypeople? We, of course, have to respect ordained monks, not because they are monks and thus morally superior, but because they too are human beings. All human beings are to be respected, irrespective of their background.

    On the whole, a great piece for all to read. Thanks.

  2. Great article with personal narrative and observation. However, I must agree with Tashi Phuntsok that just because the monks are ordained doesn’t mean that they are morally superior. This empty statement or faith can be a barrier for addressing gender issues within religious institutions!

Leave a Reply