It’s been hard to get to my writing. It’s just the sheer overwhelm of our planetary crisis underwritten by a crazed patriarchal, misogynistic, oligarchic, war mongering fiefdom who plot to have and control it all.
It’s the staggering daily venomous assault from the White House’s diseased diatribe. The mind boggling, inane English Tory cul-de-sac circling my homeland down the drain. The heart breaking callous death march of an unrepentant fossil fuel industry. The billions of animals suffering torture and sadistic killings in agro-factories. “Cry the Beloved Country” South Africa not having enough tears to heal the trauma, overturn corruption, or staunch the violence. The vile pedophilia of the Catholic Church. And, closer to home, the crumbling refuge in the Dharma for many who experienced betrayal at the outing of predatory male Buddhist teachers these last months. The litany goes on. The culmination being Kavanagh’s raging misogynistic elitism; his snarling, uncooperative belligerence in full contrast to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s dignified, impeccable, truth telling. That, finally, got me to this page.
The urgency of dethroning patriarchy, including Buddhist patriarchy, is clear. Both its external systems and, regardless of gender, our own internalisation of its de-sacralising, wounding impact. It’s time for those who keep the wheels turning, including our own allegiances, to step down and give over. If we had any illusions that patriarchy is beneficent, that is over. It’s unfettered display is clear. The curtains are pulled back on its misogynistic, patronising, predatory, raging, bankrupt and bankrupting underbelly in all its delinquent, exploitative, criminal, deadly, violent, greed and fear ridden paucity. You doubt that? Then read “Trump Administration to Polluters: Earth is Doomed, So Go Hog Wild” here:
What is clear is that our worst human narcissistic impulse, now emboldened and given free reign over colossal political, legal, economic and broadcasting powers, is crushing all in its path, grabbing what it can while it can. Screw the children and grandchildren. The only focus is domination, receiving accolades, accumulating untold wealth, and for some, (you know who), to sadistically exact revenge and enact cruel abuse. For others, to establish Gilead’s theocratic rule. This has to be stopped, because either patriarchy falls or our ability to survive falls.
To decolonise ourselves from the imprint of patriarchy, it may be helpful to visit our long allegiance to the warrior archetype, or more exactly, the devolved warrior who is intent on conquering and domination. In its purity, the warrior impulse has clarity of intent, the hallmarks of which are compelling. The warrior has purpose, works to harness intention, energy, and force, has courage, determination, detachment and discipline. The warrior is also loyal to a cause, an ideal, a tribe. However, if not informed by wise consideration, empathetic resonance, and self reflection, the warrior can devolve into a blunt drive for power and use of violence compelled by a deep seated need to prove fealty to patriarchal tribes that serve shadow kings.
The monastic school I trained in for twelve years, the Thai Forest School of Ajahn Mun and Ajahn Chah, lionised the warrior path to enlightenment. It was a lifestyle based on renunciation and a demanding discipline, a rigorous daily schedule, weekly all night meditations, the observance of an intricate set of rules, and a life honed life to complete simplicity. The intention of the life style is to focus the mind inward to create the optimum context for awakening. While effective, bearing enduring fruits, it also, like all patriarchal religious systems, generated a number of complex shadows. In particular, the split between the “world” and “enlightenment.” This split goes back into the mists of time.
The Buddha, from the Kshatriya warrior caste, became the founder of one of the primary Axial Age religions that emerged in about 800–200 BCE in India, China, the Middle East, and Greece— all of which have seeded present-day religions. Axial age philosophy focused on individual salvation that merged with divinity and aimed for otherworldly transcendence. The idea that an individuated person could be divine or be saved by a divinity was probably radical in its time. It lifted consciousness from an earth bound tribal identity that was at the mercy of the caprices of nature whose threatening forces needed constant appeasement and sacrifice. Instead the Axial age of personal enlightenment enticed men to heights of the divine far from the confines of being a mere mortal.
However much a glorious promise, axial age religions seeded a profound split within the psyche due to the tendency to posit “salvation” and “nirvana” as apart from this world. While Buddhism dissolves this fundamental divide in texts like the Heart Sutra, this duality is still deeply embedded in a philosophical template that sees the world as samsara and therefore seductive and corrupting, rather than understanding samsara is generated from ignorance within the mind. This fundamental split, and the rise of a patriarchal —earth and female-averse— religious doctrine, set the template for our perilous situation where we now stand poised on the collapse of human civilisation and the destruction of our eco-systems.
Imprinted deep in the psyche is the view that the “world” is lesser, tempting, vulgar, or even as one of my male monastic teachers put it, a cesspit. Picking up the challenge, the warrior is one who reaches for the ethereal, while undertaking the heroic battle of bringing the body under control and very often, bringing women, the receptacle of men’s desire, under censure. The vaulted task of purging spirit from the temptations of the flesh and the world eventually led to a horrific and far reaching persecution and subjugation of women, who in medieval Europe came under the published Bull in 1485 of Pope “Innocent” VII Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of the Witches. The torture, burnings, hangings, disinheritance, inquisition, systematic degradation of women’s knowledge and healing capacities over hundreds of years has left a devastating legacy.
Carrying the cellular memory of such deeply negative projections onto her as well as the terror arising from this persecution, it has been immensely difficult for women to find their voice and their true role in society and for men to overcome their fear and distrust of, and even their contempt for women.
Anne Baring — Misogyny: The Origin & Effects of the Oppression of Women, from The Dream of the Cosmos, A Quest for Soul.
The war on women never stopped. On this day of writing, September 27th 2018, the witches hammer of venal, decrepit Republican patriarchs is being brought to bear against a lone, courageous, vulnerable woman, Dr Ford, who gives testimony to the ancient story all women know, that of being held hostage to the humiliation, violence and sexual abuse of men. While the man in question assumes his entitlement to rage with arrogant belligerence, displaying an inability to control his temper while arrogantly resisting cooperation, especially when questioned by women. He paints himself as the victim even as he uses his power to abuse. He is angry to be held accountable, and splutters with the injustice he feels that anyone should question his right to sit on the highest court in the land. It is a torturous, sickening spectacle, worthy of the inquisition, directly harking back to the the Papal Bull of the 1400’s.
Nature too, has not escaped the wrath, rape, extraction, and vindictive ire of man in his free reign to extract and dominate the Earth. The complete lack of respect for the rights of Mother nature is something we’ve all been party too. Every day, it goes without question that nature and her myriad species are at our service. This view harkens back to the 16th Century, with philosopher Francis Bacon and the ascendence of the rational and scientific mind.
Nature, bound in service, hounded in her wanderings, put on a rack, must be tortured for her secrets.
— Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626
The warrior that enables the hounding of nature, has an extraordinary dynamism, without it we would not have survived, brought about the comforts of our modern life, excelled in the fields of medicine, technology, exploration, or had the will to strive to fulfil our human potential. However, it has also thwarts us, where more often than not there is pressure to conform and contribute to patriarchy. For men, the price of belonging is the evisceration of sensitivity, the shaming of emotion and feeling, and loyalty over and above everything else. For women, acquiescence, silence, a suppression of creativity, power, and intelligence are mandatory. For all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, the patriarchal duty saps our life force and exacts a never payable debt. For the planet and her species, they are under sentence of death.
The shadow-warrior, divorced from nature, fearful of women, distorted in their relationship to Eros, competitive and desiring to dominate, not only plays out in religious metaphors of old but has shaped our family, social, educational, political, and economic systems over millennia through the establishment of power pyramids: God (the god of our projections) over man, man (father) over women (mother), whiteness over colour, humans over nature and animals. At the top of the pyramid sits the lonely, stunted patriarch, the abusing priest, lama, teacher, the conniving shadow king or corporate oligarch guarding his obscene wealth, who humiliates others, who envies those who have joy and happiness, and who becomes dependent on sycophants.
The loyal warrior, who once desired to serve truth from a great sense of devotion and purity, is so easily hijacked by patriarchal “kings” who do not love, and do not care, and so use people as pawns in their games of acquisition. Powerful people, who initiate illegal wars, like in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and are responsible for the deaths, injury and displacement of millions. They profit from obscene wealth and influence, while veterans from those same wars commit suicide because they can’t live with the internal desolation they experience on return home, when, in their agony, they are abandoned by the very state that was a predator of their youthful energy. In a devastating suicide note, Iraq veteran Daniel Somers said:
My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day, a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body, it is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I cannot laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again.
The compelling need for belonging, and the need to be seen, accepted and blessed within the patriarchal dynamic, is an impossible loyalty. It mostly leads to abandonment. Instead of dutifully following these old well-worn pathways of loneliness and disconnection, it’s time to engage a loving imperative that doesn’t seek to conquer but to connect, empathise and nurture.
These days, as the air is sucked out by the march of death-dealing merchants of power who seem unstoppable, there is a radically different drum beat sounding persistently, clearly and beautifully in our hearts and souls. We hear the urgency in the air, the deep need to forgo a transcendent, abstracted metaphor that, while compelling, holds us to a desolate road where we throw away the world like an old rag. We want so badly to let go of our inner desolation compensated by a cannibalistic predatory capitalism that has brought Mother Nature to her knees.
The shift is happening. In the midst of our planetary calamity, a new world is being birthed. A world grounded in the sacred feminine, which respects and cooperates with nature, that understands interdependence, that is fast moving into a green economy and seeks creative, collaborative partnership rather than endless wars. A society that works for humans and is humanising, that puts empathy and social justice as central. A spirituality focused on the immanence of divinity, that works for collective awakening, that is engaged and responsive rather than overly focalised on the heroic individual and his personal transcendent enlightenment.
An awakening that radiates into all spheres of life with a blessed healing touch, that experiences the sacred within all beings, all mountains, rivers, forests, oceans, cities, peoples, each breath, all materiality. That works to uplift the whole. For this vision to be fully realised in all spheres, the shadow kings need to be toppled and the dedicated and loyal warrior needs to forgo the temptation of power and instead enter the path of love.
From Shadow-Warrior to Lover-Nurturer
Archetypes are shared collective energies that are transpersonal, but which focalise around powerful ideals that interact with the personal. These energies are held in the unconscious as well as in our individual and collective psyches. When we move into archetypal roles, for example parenting, leadership, teacher, we engage an energetic dynamic that taps a force beyond ourselves. It’s like we put on a mantle, for good or bad, which intensifies the personal through a collective charge. We can’t avoid archetypal energies, as they are continually interacting with our personal self. Once we touch into an archetype, the resonances of that transpersonal energy are available to us.
There are many different archetypal forms; understanding some of the primary ones can help us chart our journey. The template of Queen/King, Teacher, Warrior, Nurturer-Lover is useful for understanding the path of integration. As our awakening matures, we need to enter the realm of the lover-nurturer in order to move beyond the power fixation of the warrior. We will need to resolve our trauma and aversion with regard to the world and our embodiment, heal early relational wounding, and overcome distaste for the so-called mundane—and instead embrace the relational field in order to learn the difficult road of love.
But first, we have to be honest enough to recognise that our current path is not working. Something has to change. When we pause at that place of uncertainty, in a meditative and prayerful way, there’s a prompting from our inner intuitive intelligence. When we authentically align with this guidance, there is a response. This is a living and responsive universe. Signs will come, books or people, or an event we feel drawn to attend. The important thing, especially with the lover energy, is to stay open, inwardly soft and receptive.
The lover is not necessarily romantic or sexual love—though that is often a powerful doorway, nor love for one’s own, which is a good place to start—but the love that feels life deeply and cares for it, weeps for our callous disregard, and knows ultimately that life and our selves are one and the same. Often we open into deep love when the strategies of the mind soften, or even collapse, and we find ourselves vulnerable, as in illness or death or when we are in real need of help.
Once, when on pilgrimage around Mount Kailash in Tibet, I found myself suffering from a bout of serious altitude sickness as I neared the Dolma Pass, which is 19,000 feet. It was a dangerous situation where another another step was impossible with no way out. Unexpectedly, a young man showed up bringing a yak. My friends unceremoniously hauled me onto her back. As the yak and I ascended the pass together, I tuned in to her every breath. I felt myself merging with her body, her spirit and life force. Each breath was a miracle. As we neared the top, a flood of gratitude toward this patient brown shaggy haired yak completely flooded me. I vowed that I would be there, in any lifetime, if she needed me. Gratitude, real gratitude, is a sign that the lover energy is present.
In South Africa, warrior-turned-lover energy transported a whole country, through the presence of Mr. Nelson Mandela. He is someone who, embodying the wholesome male, moved through the warrior to embrace the lover, and in so doing become a benevolent and powerful teacher-king. Such was his regal power that he moved a whole nation through the excruciations of apartheid and its dismantling, into a level of consciousness rarely seen on the international stage.
In smaller ways, the lover energy appears to us in everyday experiences, not as something we buy, command, control, or manipulate, but often through the spontaneous and unexpected. It is not about who we are, what we’ve done, or whether we deserve to be loved. It is freely offered. The lover is the abundance, beauty, and nourishment of nature; the first daffodils in spring, the scent of a rose, the majesty of an ancient tree, the music that moves our bodies and gives wings to our souls. Whenever we are touched and find ourselves softening and connecting with a sense of faith in life, the lover is there. It appears in the cherished companionship of friends, our smiles and laughter, the innocence of animals, the need to write a poem.
If the process of awakening is not informed by the energy of the lover, then those stunted at the warrior level are still caught conquering life. They will never really confer blessings on others and the world around them. The ability to truly bless comes to its fruition when we understand the pathway of release is through the sacred feminine. Here, we allow our self to feel our vulnerability and broken-hearted tenderness. We feel with others, the poignancy of their pain, and so cease to compete with them; instead we seek to befriend and help them, unlike the immature warrior who is attached to the power of control and aloofness of independence.
While control gives the warrior the illusion of being immune from the pain of the world, ultimately they are thwarted when stuck in an immature dependency on inauthentic affirmation, or as enablers of shadow kings. They become King Théoden of Rohan, in The Lord of the Rings, under the influence of Wormtongue. Alas, too many of our leaders are like this, outwardly grandiose and inwardly too feeble to really take the risks that the lover and nurturer takes in order to protect life. In the spiritual realm, they can be cardinals, lamas, priests, guru’s who brush aside pedophilia, sexual scandals, and the abuse of power, while ensuring the system they depend on is immune from valid criticism.
Decentralising our internal controller initiates us into the lover energy. Here, we open to life and allow ourselves to be deeply undone so we know the mind is not in charge. The heart is. This happens when we fall in love, which can be like liquid lightning that cracks open the heart. While we still have to mature that love, an important journey has begun. There are many ways into the heart. Whatever way, when we open to the Eros energy of life, its initial intoxication has to then be matured into a global and less personally focused compassion. If the integration of the lover energy as it matures into compassion is not undertaken consciously or successfully, then there’s the tendency to seek constant affirmation from those around, or be caught in compulsive behaviour, whether the drive to acquisition or more shadowy and harmful addictions and obsessions, or through invasive acts of sexual violation and abuse of power.
In Buddhist structures, when the relational field lacks psychological health, maturity, and safety, it can be rife with projective dynamics between monks, laywomen and nuns. The same in lay sanghas between teachers and their community. The feminine in her lack of authentic integrated power will seek attention and direction from the immature masculine, onto whom she’ll project un-lived needs. He, in turn, won’t be able to let those women be empowered, as this would eclipse his subtle control of their projections, off which he feeds. Including his feeding from their emotions, and in some cases, their bodies. There can also be a dynamic around elevated monks, lamas, or priests, who have no real, lived relationship with women. They nurture female disciples but would never allow them to take an equal, public seat of spiritual power. At the same time, women who court such relationships sometimes diminish their own potential and ability so as to preserve the fragile ego of immature men, who they manipulate, keeping them as boy-men.
Why does it take so long to ‘out’ these dynamics and especially abusive spiritual teachers? Clearly it’s not so simple to see. It’s also scary to speak out when there is collusion and co-dependency. There’s often fear, confusion, delusion, complex needs, idealisations, and secrets at work. Those who stand up first to speak out are often shammed or marginalised. It’s a thankless task. But speak out we must if we are to enable the Dharma to transition to the next generations free from these immature and abusive dynamics.
What we have witnessed in religious tradition, including contemporary spiritual transmission, and in the distorted and immature relational dynamic between the masculine and feminine in the Buddhist tradition –(this can also be applied to secular political, work and home life, where men and women interact)– is an inability to access the wholesome energy of the lover who has overcome their fear of the world, of women, the feminine, the body and its sexuality, feelings, emotions, and the complexity we meet within the personal field of relationship. This is not about blame, or “them,” but about us. About our painful journey into healing and maturity. About owning our fear of the Eros energy and the distorting ways we try to access it. It’s about learning to move beyond unhealthy dynamics and deconstruct systems that diminish and thwart us personally and collectively.
Re-enter the compassionate warrior.
Offering safe passage through the lover’s journey of maturation, is the seasoned warrior who informs the need for discipline, boundaries, respect, and is able to sustain the long haul of awakening built on the precept to doing no harm. The true warrior has humility. Where there has been harm, there is the ability to authentically acknowledge and apologise while seeking amends. Why is he willing to do that? Because he feels deep empathy, recognises when harm is done, and is willing to sacrifice the benefits of patriarchal belonging, a belonging which demands silence and complicity. The principle of truth and the active support of the feminine and women, who have been abused, can and must overcome allegiances to an ancient system of entitlement, which works to cover the tracks of abusers and sanctify them as heroic, misunderstood victims.
If we fail to mature the lover and warrior into nurturer-protector, we will be susceptible to ambivalence, passive aggression, deflection, and cynicism. We will be unable to transmute the narcissism of personal love into the energy of fierce compassion needed to protect a sustainable Earth. Without the strength of the warrior, we will be unable to sustain the tremendous undertaking of waking up in these immensely challenging times. Without the lover, we will be unable to feel and respond to the urgency of our times. Together, the warrior’s strength of focus, discipline, purpose, clarity, courage and determination combined with the lovers compassion, intuitive intelligence, deep resilience, passion, undying commitment and willingness to leap beyond conventions will provide wings to traverse the enormous territory ahead, eagle eyes to see precisely, and the enduring, stubborn persistence of an ox.
As we grow into balance and wholeness, healing the ancient wound of being ripped from the Sacred Feminine, which is long denied in patriarchal religions, we will find our authentic energy needed to serve life. We will be able to fully embody beloved community in order to meet the storms of our times. Like Mr. Mandela, we will be able to say with confidence, “it always seems impossible, until it is done.”
This piece is the first of future ‘Patriarchy Must Fall’ pieces to follow. It has drawn from my book Time to Stand Up, A Buddhist Manifesto for the Planet – A feminine view of the life and teachings of the Buddha. While using basic constructs from the book, this piece is updated.