Thursday, February 3, 2011

Monk dodging

Listen, monks. If you can't be bothered to slink slightly sideways when you see me approaching on the street, then neither can I. You're the ones with rules to follow, after all.

Monks aren't supposed to touch women. Women aren't supposed to touch monks, too, I suppose, but I think the first rendering is the more important one. It's easy to be overly charmed by the Buddhism here--the saffron robes, the chanting and drumming, the age of all the sacred manuscripts, the seeming asceticism, the living on charity. There's certainly a lot of it that's aesthetically and philosophically beautiful. But Buddhism has a lot of the same problems as any organized religion: Women are often discounted. Boys are abused in monasteries. Certain monks and certain temples enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. Wars are fought.

With that in mind, it becomes very easy to swing to the other side: who the hell are you to suggest that there's something unclean about me? But that's not the point either, I don't think. It's not that the monks will be somehow contaminated by coming into contact with a filthy fraulein; it's that their thoughts and their actions are supposed to remain pure. If a monk was to touch me, it would be both cause and perhaps effect of his own failure to remain detached from te pleasures of the world. It's not that he'd get dirty--it's just that it might lead him astray. That, I think, is the point.

So I'm not necessarily offended by the rule, as a woman. I give the monks a wide berth. But most of these monks are farmers' kids from faraway villages who have come here because it's the only way for them to be educated and continue to eat. They're no more holy and celestial than any other 11 year old--and I've been a teacher of 11 year olds, and I like to give respect back in the same measure as it is received. So you shuffle one way, boys, and I'll shuffle another--or we will end up meeting in the middle.

And, for once, that is not the goal.

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