Monday, April 17, 2023

Introspecting the Possibility of Aversion Therapy used by Buddhists

 " Nibbana is a realisation about the frailty and transience of beauty, the body, and emotions like desire, grief, anger, and attachment to anything that binds one in this life. Nibbana thus means to 'blow out' all emotions that lead to desire and attachment."  Snigdha Singh,  pg no. 263, Of Thieves and Theris, Potters, and Pativratas, Essays on Early Indian Social History for Kumkum Roy, the book presented to Prof. Dr. Kumkum Roy, on her Felicitation on 9th November 2022. 

In her scholarly and profoundly interesting article,  Dr. Snigdha Singha goes on to explain how the Buddhist Theras and Theris, monks, and nuns were guided to achieve Nibbana by practicing detachment following certain teachings/notions around the body per se and especially that of women. This is described in the Theragatha and Therigatha, poems composed by the senior monks and nuns.

Before I quote from her essay any further, let me remind my readers that I was taught, that The Buddha himself wrote nothing. All texts are the interpretation of his teaching by His disciples and thus must be allowed the concession of 'as they heard, seen The Buddha speak or do'. It is quite possible that The Buddha said something in some context, but his disciple heard and interpreted otherwise. Leave that as it may, we readers of such texts must be allowed the freedom to introspect on the Buddha's words as interpreted/inferred by his disciples. 

A few examples below should suffice:

" The Buddha says to Sundari - Nanda,

As with this body, so with thine, as with,

Thy beauty, so with this --- this shall it be 

With this melodious, offensive shape, 

Wherein the foolish only delight."

It is apparent from this verse that drawing attention to the body in Buddha's eyes was merely foolish, as this body does become a 'foul compound, diseased, Impure!' Hence, 'compel thy heart to contemplate'. 

If the position is such that the body must be viewed as loathsome, for the mind to single-mindedly pursue the path of Nibbana, then, we can infer that this is a strategy used by the Buddha to prove that the body is transient/impermanent. So, for this life to be meaningful, only the permanent must be sought after, which is Nibbana. 

In his discourse, the Buddha has used death and decay as a potent reason to seek a life above all changing matters. The problem arises when examples of decay are bodies of women and not men. The objectifying of women's bodies to drive home a point may cause a man to fight his desire for a woman, in search of that which never changes or decays, but the point remains that in both Theravada and Therivada poems the use of women's body as against the reference to men's bodies as also gross, bloating, changing and dying is never used in the same manner. Bringing our argument to a necessary query - 

- these references make us wonder about the patriarchal nature of Buddha's teachings which must be investigated further.  What is even more strange is both Theris and Theras indulge in degrading their bodies, men on women and women on themselves literally to escape the circle of death and birth by achieving Nibbana. My question is, why are the Theris not speaking the same way about male bodies as ugly, decomposing, deforming bodies which meet death as well, just as women do?

The point of introspection thus lies in this question - 

- if Theragatha is a collection of poems written by male disciples of The Buddha, is the Therigatha in some way edited by Theras and is not totally poems written by Theris only? Is there a male point of view woven into the text? 

The Buddha had only a male monastic order until under the request of his favorite disciple, Ananda, he admitted his foster mother Mahaprajapati Gomtami into the monastic order for females. And it continued after the Mahaparinirbanna of The Buddha. Even then, the female order came under the male order. It is only probable then, that the texts too could have been whetted out/ interpretations of the Theras which has made the patriarchal divide more prominent - the male body kept away from degenerative references, while the women have been exposed as the least desirable. 

Psychologists use what is called Aversion Therapy to de-addict a person from a substance of abuse by making the person associate the substance of abuse with something unpleasant in thought and visually thus creating an aversion to the substance. 

The Buddha is a Master Psychologist but could it be that so much of what is assigned to be his saying, might have been a Manusmriti authored by his Theras? 

Snigdha Singh teaches history at Miranda House, University of Delhi. Her article titled Beauty, Body, and Desire Gendered Voices in Buddhist Monastic Tradition, Chapter 13 can be found in Of Thieves and Theris, Potters, and Pativratas, Essays on Early Indian Social History for Kumkum Roy,

Note: Views expressed in this article are entirely mine, Julia Dutta 

Friday, January 13, 2023

Forever Friends

Vibhuti with her grandchildren (facebook)

A lonely pigeon feather has traveled back with me from Porbandar, from the balcony of my school friend, Vibhuti. Her neighbor's flat has pigeons who have nested there and fly across to hers, in vain, her balcony is covered with a net.

My New Year 2023 was the best ever, at least in a long time. I traveled from Narmadapuram to Mumbai, the city that never sleeps, and met my lovely friends Shals Mahajan and her partner, Chayanika Shah, both authors and activists in the Women's Movement.  And then I was at my dearest Debika's flat for 2 nights, the 31st being one of them. 

Debika lives with 2 cats, Auto, and Rick, and her nephew Anish in a cozy well kept flat with large windows through which her cats stare out, and eve's drop on conversations her neighbors have. When couples fight, Auto listens with added interest, even trying to peep into their flats. 

I was given the large cat's bed beside Debika in the bedroom. You can imagine what happened next! As night fell on at 12 midnight hour, the cats began to crawl around landing finally on their beds, one lying on my head, the other at my feet.

On the 31st night, as the clock struck 12, Mumbai burst into colors and crackers, loud sounds of jubilation filling the air. Sound, light, and stars were displayed in the brightly lit sky as we all also fell into a hug, the cats on Debika's lap. And the house resounded with Happy New Year!

I left for my destination the next day. Porbundar is a small town, partially lying in the recesses of yesteryears when Porbundar was a major port where ships trading between east and west thrived. Now the city remained active during the day and night, with shops selling every possible good you might want. 

In the midst of the ancient buildings, the bazaar is Mahatma Gandhi's birth house. Just behind that is Kasturba Gandhi's house. As would be the norm in those days,  marriages happened between people families knew and were usually in the neighborhood. 

I met Vibhuti in school in Mumbai. She was a boarder and I was a day's scholar, in different classes but we connected easily and bonded for a long time. Spanning the years, we have written to each other and shared photographs of our families, and even visited each other in Mumbai. Now she lives in another country, away from India, and visits India with her husband. They have a beautiful house and home in Porbandar where I was a lucky guest for 3 days. Bringing back with me the pigeon feather, sealed my New Year with love and friendship from both of us. 

The friendship has lasted through school friendship, pen-friendship, meetings at different stages of our lives, and now, via Facebook and WhatsApp. 

It binds us now for the next years we have on this earth. 

We may be at different stages of our lives, but what lies strong as school friends outlive anything else. 

The gorgeous Vibhuti in the school days

Click Here or the Porbundar Pictures