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Aspects of the Higher Evolution of the Individual

by Sangharakshita

Aspects of The Higher Evolution of The Individual

Men's study group leader Q/A session.
Present:- The Venerable Sangharakshita Dharmapriya Buddhadasa Abhaya Tejananda
Sanghapala Sudhana Suvajra Subhuti Kulamitra Padmavajra Mahamati Tejamitra Vairocana
Susiddhi Virananda Ratnaguna
Abhaya: This morning we listened to the first lecture and then we studied. There are a few
questions, we have got thirteen, possibly fifteen questions.
We start with Buddhadasa who has got a question about your terminology in the title, 'The
Higher Evolution of Man'.
S: Though the title of this series is 'The Higher Evolution of the individual', isn't it.
Abhaya: Yes, the question is to do with the phrase 'the higher evolution of Man'.
Buddhadasa: In this lecture series, which is in fact 'Aspects of the Higher Evolution of the
Individual', which you gave sixteen years ago, the word 'man' and the word 'he' occur
frequently. Also such terms as 'the new man', and 'individual man'. If you had to give this
same lecture again today, would you modify your terminology for an audience almost
inevitably influenced by current feminist thinking and attitudes?
S I think I probably wouldn't. I think, partly because I am not inclined to make any
concessions to feminism as such, and also because I don't really see what other word there
would be. One could, I suppose, speak in terms of the Higher Evolution of human beings, but
somehow it doesn't sound quite the same. I think I would continue to insist that 'man' covered
both men and women, as the dictionary says it does. I think that would be my short answer.
That wouldn't, of course, in a sense, solve the problem, one might say. In the sense that you
would probably upset quite a few people. But even though one does want to communicate the
Dharma to as many people as possible and to people of as many different outlooks and
attitudes, I think one can go quite a long way with people who have got honest difficulties. I
think in the case of some of the more militant feminists, who are the sort that are likely to
raise these difficulties, the questions that you have in mind, I think it is very doubtful whether
the problems they [2] raised or gave expression to, would in a way be honest ones that one
could deal with in a rational sort of way. So I think I would prefer, if I gave the talks again, to
use my original terminology.
We can follow this up a little bit if you like, if you want to go a bit further into it.
Subhuti: Do you think there is anything in the feminist argument that for a woman to hear the
expression 'man', applied to the human race in general, makes her feel excluded?
S: I can understand the argument logically, but it seems rather surprising that it is only just
very recently, that women have, in fact, started to feel in that way. Of course it is a minority
of women who have started feeling in that way, and one might say, an exceptionally vocal
minority of women. I think still in this country, at least, the majority of women are not
bothered by this. They understand that 'man', when one speaks of mankind, it includes men
and women.
I notice, for instance, when I look up my dictionary, the one that I generally use, that is
Webster's New International, which I have for the last thirty odd years, 'man' is defined
initially, the primary definition is 'a human being', the secondary definition is 'a human being
of the male sex'.
In more recent dictionaries the order is reversed. Which is rather interesting. So how has that
come about? Because, clearly, originally, man was understood, by everybody apparently, to
include both male and female. So how come, within some twenty or thirty years that sort of
change has taken place?
I add a little rider here, a more amusing note. A woman Order Member did tell me some time
ago that on a retreat they decided to alter, women' s retreat, all the male personal pronouns to
female ones in the Dhammapada readings. So, I think, on a women's retreat, no doubt this is
quite valid. But they got a bit of a shock, because a reading which they had, I forget the exact
wording but it was somewhere along the lines of in their version, 'She who does such and
such will go to hell', and it had never occurred to them that a woman might go to hell'. So she
said that it did certainly bring it home to them, much more strongly, that they could go to hell,
the women present could go to hell if they behaved in that particular unskilful way.
Subhuti: Would that not support the case that the use of the terminology, man, he, etc., for the
whole of the human race did make women feel excluded, or they didn't feel so cogently.
S: But this was of course FWBO women on a women's retreat, where, perhaps, the use of the
'he' quotations of the scriptures might stand out more, so to speak.
But I think that women as a whole, that is women outside the FWBO and less, perhaps
educated and less vocal, aren't bothered by that sort of thing.
Subhuti: Just to continue to play devil's advocate, wouldn't the feminists argue that this was
simply because the majority of women were not sufficiently aware of their own reactions. For
instance, women didn't press for the vote until relatively recently.
S: After which they voted, usually, for the same party as their husbands voted for.
[3]
One can always argue in that way. One could say that the majority of men are unaware that
they need to stick up [for] their rights more and keep women in subordination. One could say
that, if it is a question of arguing from a present state of unawareness in that sort of way.
V: But there do seem to be two things that can get confused. One is our response to feminism,
and the other is a response to individual women who say that they find that the material does
not have the same impact, as you said in that case, as if it included a 'she'. I noticed that in the
lecture today the use of man here was entirely consistent throughout. Do you think there
might be a case for making an effort to include women by making sure that they understood
that the individual applied to them as well?
S: I do that, I do that from time to time if I think it is in doubt. Because sometimes a slight
ambiguity is possible. If I think it is in doubt, whether women are included or not, I always
say 'men and women'. In fact you might have noticed I have done that in the Ten Pillars,
because in a few places, if I had said only 'men', in view of present usages, it would have
remained a bit ambiguous. So in those cases I have said men and women.
But I think, if one speaks of The Higher Evolution of Man, I think, despite the feminists, any
impartial person, just going by the ordinary dictionary meaning of the term, would understand
by that the evolution of individuals of the human race, both male and female. So in that sort
of case I think the feminists are making a point for the sake of making a point, not because
they don't understand what you are saying.
Sanghapala: Do you have any comment, Bhante, to the thing about, whereas Webster's
defines man as human being first and secondarily as the male sex and modern dictionaries
have the reverse?
S: Well some modern dictionaries, I don't know whether all have, but certainly some that I
have seen have reversed this.
Sanghapala: It might be grounds for an argument that language does change and therefore it
should be changed.
S: Yes, I agree with that, language does change, but there is such a thing as natural change
and change which is brought about quite artificially as a result of pressure by minorities, and
which does not, in fact, reflect general usage.
I mean, theoretically the dictionary represents general usage. Where, I think, a change of that
sort probably does not reflect general usage but is made on ideological grounds by the
particular compilers of those dictionaries.
I don't think in those days, it was fifteen years ago I gave those lectures, I don't think there
were feminists of that sort around, not in England, that I recollect. I don't remember anybody,
any woman saying that she felt left out because I had spoken in terms of the higher evolution
of man. But I believe in some quarters there are all sorts of extraordinary developments, even
suggesting introducing quite new words. Neuter and unisex, presumably, personal pronouns. I
consider this as quite important and quite dangerous. I think people don't understand it [4]
sufficiently, because it represents the imposition of what is, in fact, a minority point of view
on the whole community. I had much the same feelings when Britain went metric, you
remember that probably, you are all old enough to remember that. I really don't like the idea
of substituting metres for yards. I tried to talk about this in a discussion group once I think it
was in New Zealand, but I was virtually shouted down. It was considered so outrageous that I
should be so reactionary, unprogressive and backward looking etc., etc., as to regret the
substitution of the old fashioned system for the metric system. I tried to explain but, as I said,
I got really shouted down, people just didn't want to listen, one or two women in particular. It
was really extraordinary, the vehemence of their reaction and it was nothing to do with
feminism it was just this particular point. But what I was trying to say was this, was that the
word 'yard', where does it come from, what does it represent? It represents the length ...

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