September 10, 2007

Gender and Philosophy

I have a question that may not easily be answered, and more than likely requires someone with a serious background in Buddhism to do so. I've been reading a book by the Dalai Lama, and one of the central themes in the book is the Buddhist conception of 'emptiness' or the lack of inherent existence in all things (Note: This is not the lack of existence at all, but the lack of a specific type of perceived fundamental existence--confusing, I know) including one's own conception of 'self'. Because the 'self' does not exist in the way that it appears to exist to the everyday mind, it would seem to imply that there is no such thing as gender, or at least that the trained mind can function outside of gender's conceptions and limitations. At the same time, this may or may not be complicated by the inevitable changes in the conceptions of gender and sexuality that have occurred since the time of Buddha. Most of the stuff in this book makes a tremendous amount of sense, so I'm just trying to wrap my mind around the true ramifications of this notion of 'emptiness'. I would really appreciate it if anyone could provide some insight into this issue.
Much love,


icarus said...

what is the name of the book you're reading?

Yao said...

I kinda of agree.
I can provide one example.
Avalokiteśvara or Avalokiteshvar, अवलोकितेश्वर (Sanskrit, lit. "Lord who looks down") is the bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. He is the most widely revered bodhisattva in Buddhism.But since female figure usually represent compassion and sympathy. In East Asia, Avalokiteśvara is known as 觀音 Guan Yin or Kannon/Kanzeon and is generally represented as female.

Anonymous said...

Hi - "emptiness" is perhaps the most challenging concept in all of Buddhist thought. There are many different readings of it, since there are many different Buddhisms out there.

I hope the following rubric will be helpful; it comes mostly from a mainstream Tibetan perspective and so should tally with what the Dalai Lama writes about. Claim (1) is that we go through our lives habitually imputing "substantial existence" to everything around us, not to mention within us. Substantial existence means basically that something is, just exists, simpliciter. It is "given", out there. (Or in here, depending.) Claim (2) is that this is dead wrong, completely wrong. If we investigate the world, and how it appears to us, we find that everything does indeed exist, just not in the "substantial" sense we thought it did. Instead of being "given", it is "contingent" or "dependent" on myriad factors. Next to emptiness, one of the basic Buddhist concepts is the universality of "dependent origination"--in other words, objects, perceptions, thoughts, selves, and so forth all depend on each other and on myriad conditions before they can appear at all.

Buddhist practice (including rational argumentation) can be seen as a method for making us realize, really understand, or *instinctually* be aware of this universal co-dependence of reality. It's essential to distinguish superficial awareness from deep-running, instinctual awareness. Buddhist practice aims to change the *deep* level, far beyond the level where we simply accept or reject a proposition. Hence, it may be easy to "agree" that everything is dependently originated, but what distinguishes a beginner from an advanced practitioner is how instinctive and total this "agreement" has become.

As to gender, I think it may be important to distinguish between (1) the indeterminacy of gender as postulated by contemporary gender theorists, and (2) the indeterminacy of gender that a Buddhist perspective would advocate. To a Buddhist, gender is contingent, or empty, or what-have-you, in the same way that EVERYTHING is, including time, perceptions, and the self.

garçon-fille said...

The name of the book is "How to See Yourself as You Really Are", by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D.

I'm fairly certain the book follows Anonymous's 'Claim 2' (see previous comment).

Thanks to everyone for your advice/input/clarification. ^_^