In my overview of the “Women in Tibet” reading it is made clear that the concept of female monasticism in Tibetan villages such as Labrang is largely viewed as unnatural and is in stark contrast with many of the established Tibetan gender roles that have existed for the region for the better part of it’s history. However, with the imposition of Chinese communist rule, and the societal changes that came with the Cultural Revolution of the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s, it would seem that despite the continued conservative mindsets of many Tibetans the position of nun is becoming much more open to the women of Tibet.
One point that I found interesting was how the imposition of Chinese rule indirectly led to the loosening of gender positions in rural Tibet. This trend followed a pattern very similar to that of the industrial revolution in Europe in the eighteenth century. The transition of the industrial revolution largely involved the migration from rural areas into newly formed urban centers due to the availability of new wage paying jobs. Meanwhile in post-Chinese Tibet many women were encouraged to migrate from a rural background to a more urban environment. While the symptoms of both migrations may have been the same, the causes for both were quite different. Due increased state repression of religion in the region and the imposition of property taxes led to a large percentage of Tibetan families being unable to maintain their landholdings. In most areas of Tibet women were liberated from their assigned gender role due to the need to find wage paying jobs in order to support themselves and their family. However, in regions that there was still a Monastic presence such as Labrang, many women turned to a the monastic vows in order to find some sense of stability and a guaranteed meal (Gyatso 267). The reality of the Chinese occupation of Tibet is that is has been a brutal and oppressive regime. However despite this, the Chinese reforms did more for gender equality than centuries of Buddhist teachings of compassion ever did.
One other interesting point I noticed in this reading was the description of how karmic rebirth can play a role in the establishment of gender roles. Being born as a female, while still with the advantage of a human birth is deemed to be a lower form of birth than being a man, summed up by “males have more merit from past lifetimes and thus enjoy great social advantages in this lifetime” (Gyatso 269). The implications of using karmic rebirth to justify social, political, or economic inequalities are highly dangerous to any possible ideas of progressivism or social progress. Justifying a particular group’s persecution whether it be racial, sexual, or otherwise based on their misdeeds in a previous life may make karmic sense, however given an amoral approach to Buddhist teachings, this could easily be used as a means for further persecution of that particular group. In a way the justification of karmic rebirth as a reason for one’s suffering is no better than the idea of scientific racism. Factors beyond one’s control in a Buddhist sense must be carefully monitored to prevent further oppression in a secular sense.