When I was 12 years old, I met a charismatic youth minister who helped me to see Christianity in a way that felt relevant to me, and I jumped into born again life head first. A few years later, I discovered my church's views on homosexuality and everything in my gut told me I was rolling with hatemongers. So, painful as it was, I left.
When I was 18 years old, I was attuned to Reiki by a woman named Moonstar. My friends and I later noticed some discrepancies in her performances she called "channeling ascended masters," and some things she predicted simply never came true. So I stopped practicing Reiki.
At 19, I fell in love with Bhakti yoga and the happenings at my local Hare Krishna temple. I figured spending the rest of my life singing and dancing for the divine was a pretty savory move, so I shaved up, donned some white Indian garb, and moved into the ashram. Some months later I discovered that female-bashing was a "method of maintaining celibacy" employed by many of the celibate dudes I was hanging with. I packed my bags and turned the other way.
20 years later, I still walk the path, but in a way that's less extreme than my former years. I stopped looking for some sort of ultimate truth and started practicing teachings that put me in touch with the truth of my humanity as a prerequisite to all else.
So when the news surfaced yesterday that the world-hero-status Dalai Lama made comments about if his reincarnation were female, saying she'd have to be "very pretty," or suffer not being listened to - and that there'd be "no point," if she wasn't -- part of me wasn't surprised. I’m no stranger to experiencing such discrepancies from people I hold in high regard.
Now, I could point to the contextual fact that the Dalai Lama does not come from a culture where beauty standards are propped up by society to the insane and life-threatening extent that they are in ours (where eating disorders are the most deadly of all mental health concerns). And I could also mention that being considered attractive is a sign of auspicious karma in Tibetan Buddhism, a doctrine conceived of well before the advent of plastic surgery and the demoralizing capitalist advertisement machinery.
But pointing these things out, as I did in a colleague's comment thread yesterday, smacks too hard of defending his comment. He's a world leader. He should be held accountable for his ignorance of the matrix of socio-political factors that are informing the righteous outrage about this.
The truth is, what the Dalai Lama has done that is truly controversial is he's exposed his humanness, his intrinsic fallibility. The fallibility that lies side by side with his Buddha nature, same as it does for the rest of us.
His Holiness has blindspots! He has work left to do on himself! Wouldja look at that.
An important defense mechanism to understand from psychoanalysis is called "Idealization/Devaluation." It points to our tendency to prop up people (ideas and experiences, too) as ultimates, as superlative versions of themselves; an act that can only be followed by disillusionment and a denouncing of our projected heroes, when they turn out to be complex and flawed just like the rest of us. The places this is most commonly practiced is in intimate relationships and with iconic figures. And it’s called a defense mechanism, because this is actually a subconscious means of avoiding intimacy - with both the person in question and the nature of life itself.
If we stay stuck in an impossible cycle of seeking an ultimate and then being met with disappointment, well then we never have to learn to accept that people are really uncomfortable and even crazy-making to relate to. Staying in the idealization/devaluation dance also means we can continue to hope that something’s going to save us, that enlightening truths will always sound sweet and never ever challenging to our ears, and that there is some way out of suffering other than to go through it. When we idealize someone, once that person invariably becomes devalued, the tendency is to continue reaching for a new ideal, ever convinced that he/she/it must exist somewhere out there.
Hello, samsara. The endless cycle of anxiety that comes from thinking this world has something in it that will satisfy us, as opposed to starting from within.
So, thank you, Dalai Lama, for this most important teaching about the flawed humanness in which we all share. I pray that you meet with the right conditions to reflect upon your comments and attitudes as well as the cultural context in which they were spoken. And if you don't come back from this with words indicating you’ve corrected your views to be more aligned with evolved perspectives of gender, I will continue to denounce your remarks - but will not denounce you as a person or leader. Because I never expected you to be perfect on all accounts anyhow. Because these sexist ideas are all around us, and it is impossible not to become infected by them. Because we are in this thing together, you and I and the rest of us, and I can only locate sexism in you because it is borne in me as well. And because I know by now that bullshit comes with the terrain of awakening when awakening is practiced in the midst of samsara.
Everything and everyone here has room for growth, room for further awakening. Because awakening is endless, and we will never be done.