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Aspects of the Higher Evolution of the Individual

by Sangharakshita

... of a
man's arm. So these more traditional measures are closely connected with our actual
experience of life, the foot is the actual length of the foot, just as the yard is the length of the
arm, and so on. These terms are not only closely related to our own bodies and our actual
experience of life, but they are embedded in our thought, in our literature, in our poetry.
Whereas, where does the metre come from? The metre, as far as I recollect, is the
circumference of the earth.
Subhuti: Isn't it the distance between Paris and the North Pole.
S: Ah, divided by. In other words it is a quite abstract mathematical concept, to which we
cannot directly relate. And to me, the substitution of that, for the traditional kind of measure
is a symptom of our alienation from our own experience. But the metre has been made to take
the place of the yard and so on and so forth, for purely utilitarian and, one might say,
ideological, reasons.
So in much the same way, I think, people who are involved in feminism, or feminists, both
male and female, who often have the ear of the media or even have the media under their
control, are trying to impose an ideology on the rest of the population in making these sort of
changes. And I do object to that very much.
V: Personally I understand that in any situation when you are running a public centre with
beginners, in different ways they are bound to react to certain things that they dislike about
the people, or this or that, but what do you feel about Mitras, and even Order Members who
say that they still find that this terminology, they say, alienates them to some extent from the
material, and to that extent I feel they are also saying, from you?
S: But do they feel alienated when they read, say, Shakespeare or Milton or Dickens?
V: I don't know?
S: If they feel alienated, I would say the problem is theirs, and I don't think we solve it by
trying to share their alienation.
But do they really feel alienated or do they think that [5] they feel or do they think, for
ideological reasons, that they ought to feel alienated and therefore succeed in convincing
themselves that they do feel alienated.
V: I don't know, they just claim that they feel alienated, I don't know what it is. I find it very
difficult to understand from an Order Member.
S: Yes, when one uses the word alienated, or if anyone uses the word alienation, I think one
should be on one's guard, because it is a word that is used very, very loosely. It is a quite
strong term and perhaps sometimes people don't realize what a strong term it is.
I've come across some quite ridiculous instances of the feminist distortion of language. For
instance in one book I was reading some time ago I came across some such sentence as this
'Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and all the other great men and women artists of the Italian
Renaissance'. (laughter) Because, presumably the author, or the sub-editor, put in, 'and
women' to include the ladies so that they shouldn't feel left out or alienated from that
particular content. So you see how ridiculous it can become.
V: That's when you, you start to actually get, almost, a rewriting of history with something
like that, don't you. You have something that Orwell envisaged, starting to develop,
S: I think this is what we are seeing, it is in fact a variety of Newspeak. If, of course,
spontaneously, the whole population changes linguistic usage in this respect, clearly the
dictionary must reflect that and it will become generally accepted. But I think, as I said
before, that the people who have the ear of the media, or even the control of the media, are
people with these sort of ideological axes to grind. And they exercise an influence, I think,
entirely disproportionate to their actual numbers.
So I would say, yes, if in a particular context, if there is any doubt whether women would feel
themselves to be included or not, by all means spell it out and say 'men and women', there is
certainly no objection to that. I think one should not make any concession to pure feminist
attitudes which are being plugged just for the sake of plugging them, or advanced just for the
sake of advancing them.
V: If in doubt spell it out.
S: If in doubt spell it out, but if you are in doubt, if you are preparing your material, writing
your talk or an article, and if you are concerned just to make it completely clear, you think it
might not be, in that case, yes, spell it out. But no concessions to militant feminism. If a
woman is sincerely in doubt whether something does apply to her, whether she is included,
that is quite a different matter, go more than halfway to meet that. But don't compromise
where militant feminists are concerned.
Another general point is, when we are speaking of Buddhism we should use the language of
Buddhism, as far as we can make it intelligible. Supposing you are talking to a communist,
have you got to speak in terms of class warfare? Have you got to speak in terms of 'running
dogs of imperialism' and all the rest [6] of it? Do you see what I mean, when we don't share
that point of view why should we use that language? In the same way, we don't share the
feminist point of view, why should we use their language? When I speak of feminist, of
course, I mean the extreme militant feminist, not simply those women who are concerned that
women should have, so to speak, the same opportunities for personal development as men,
that is quite another matter. I sometimes speak in terms of Feminism with a capital 'F' and
feminism with a small 'f'. Feminism with a small 'f' is quite compatible with Buddhism, but
with a big 'F' isn't.
Is this becoming a problem around centres, militant Feminists?
Kulamitra: I think, your definition of feminism with a small 'f' and Feminism with a large 'F',
it was a very difficult one for people to individually make.
S: Oh. Well some women are half way between, but extreme instances are quite easy to
Kulamitra: Yes. I think, in terms of really extreme instances, I don't see a lot of real problem.
But what I see is that a lot of women are influenced by the extremists, and they mix up a
certain amount of what you are calling feminism with a small 'f' with a certain amount of
Feminism with a capital 'F'. And it is quite difficult for them and other people to disentangle
which is which.
S: Hmm. But then you have to try to help them to do that.
Dharmapriya: Another problem which I have noticed coming in is women who are, in a
sense, getting over their own feelings of insecurity, are doing it through a feminist model.
One example of two women from Germany who visited Khadiravani for a working retreat.
They really enjoyed, in one case, specifically doing plumbing, because it is like showing that
a woman can do it too, it wasn't just a man's thing. She used very much a feminists language
to describe it. It was, sort of 'woman power', sort of thing, in a letter to us. Like it was
obviously in terms of getting over feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
Sanghapala: I see fear and doubt in young men, Bhante, in this area, and that is a bit of a
worry, actually.
S: Say a little more. I'm rather out of touch with young men these days.
Sanghapala: Fear of being ideologically unsound, and guilt about... actually genuinely being a
wee bit ideologically unsound anyway. They don't really believe it. And also how quickly
they have to, relatively speaking, let go of those views, feminist views, which are just totally
taken on because of the weight of peer group pressure, at college.
S: Yes, I think it is simply that in many cases. It is not easy to be an individual. And even if
they identify with the FWBO as a group, to some extent, the society at large is a much bigger
group, and to that extent exerts a much more powerful pressure.
So, no, I don't think I would change my language, I think that is the short answer. I would still
speak of 'the higher evolution of man', I wouldn't speak in terms of 'the higher evolution of
man and woman'. I wouldn't speak in terms of 'the higher evolution of human beings', because
you could say human beings, even though it is actually a different word, isn't it. But a feminist
might object even to that, because it is M A N. She is not to know that it is just the end of a
Latin word and not simply an Anglo-Saxon word. Their objections are very often not rational.
Sanghapala: How about the word 'humanity', Bhante?
S: That's a Latin word, humanity. The man in it has, as far as I know, got nothing to do with
the Anglo-Saxon man.
Sanghapala: Well presumably that could be put forward as a substitute term.
S: I would say no. I would say there is a world of difference between 'man' and 'humanity'.
'Man', is Anglo-Saxon, 'humanity' is Latin, and generally speaking in the English language all
Anglo-Saxon words are more concrete words, they are close to your actual experience. Latin
words are more abstract words, more learned words, more intellectual words. So there is a
definite shade of difference between them. You find some writers habitually combine a word
of Latin origin with a word of Anglo-Saxon origin. Milton does this, I don't know if anyone
can think of an example off hand. For instance the prayer book does it, for instance in one of
the Collects, written by Cranmer, it goes like this. 'We have erred and strayed from thy ways
like lost sheep and there is no health ...

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