*Somewhat squiky topic ahead*

Menstruating women are not allowed to go into temples. From Wikipedia on Culture and Menstruation: “In Buddhism (Theravada or Hinayana) menstruation is viewed as “a natural physical excretion that women have to go through on a monthly basis, nothing more or less”…but menstruating women are banned from attending temples.” I find this very interesting because different cultures view menstruation having different roles, especially in religion. I actually have a book of short story fiction of a girl’s first time menstruating. In certain cultures, women who are menstruating have a certain power and in the past, there were even males who imitated them through induced genital bleeding. Going back to religion, women who are on their periods are not allowed in the temples (buddhism, hinduism, etc) have a certain type of power despite the opposite view of being impure or unclean. They are kept away from the temples because they are capable of nullifying sacred mantras long practiced by Buddhism priests, because of which the men, to continue controlling the women, declared them unclean–a custom that was handed down through the generations, despite the fact that there is nothing in Buddhist teachings banning menstruating women from their place of worship. In fact, this practice is wrong in that they need more emotional support but ironically, they are refused. (Particularly in Thailand)

Inhumane Dismissal of Suffering: My mother always talked about how I must have done good in my past life to get an awesome brother that I have now. And what did she do in order to deserve a stupid daughter like me. Buddhism is similar to Christianity in this regard–that they write off suffering and considering it a necessity of sorts on the path of life. They teach their followers to accept pain and suffering and instead of fighting suffering, they are told to accept pain. I think it’s important to remember that we can do something about all the suffering in the world and I do think that the values of Buddhism don’t include helping others less fortunate than you as much as some other religions that I can think of. For example, there are many Christian charities that are dedicated to help end suffering and Islam have a clause that reserves 10% of their paycheck to alms.

Evidence: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/14/world/asia/14japan.html?_r=1

I’ve always been interested in Japan, especially in it’s culture. The Japan, the two main religions are Shinto and Buddhism. In the article above, Japan’s Buddhism beliefs are dying out because of several problems. One, the heads of Buddhist temples are not being spiritual enough and often, Buddhism is only strictly adhered to when performing funeral rituals. Otherwise, they are quite flexible in their religious practices. It’s also dying out because the head priests at their temples are having trouble finding successors for their family-run temples. They feel that they should not pressure their sons to take over the temple if they do not feel “free.” Many urban Japanese forgo religion altogether.

Also, many Japanese are, rather than inviting a Buddhist preist to their homes to conduct a funeral, are leaving the Buddhist funeral rites to funeral homes, which do not prominently feature a Buddhist priest. So it is partly economical circumstances.

Comparing Japan’s situation, Buddhism in NYC does not play a large role in my life. There are several temples, or places where I can go and worship with my family, but I do not believe that I will continue Buddhism with my own family in the future because I am not sure how it will go, especially because I still live in the United States. In China, religion is much more important. I might continue Buddhism with my own family because I find comfort in Buddhism rituals and values.

 

After researching, it turns out that my grandmother’s funeral was similar, but not completely the same as an actual Chinese Buddhist funeral rite. Here is a useful link that I found: http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_chinaway/2004-03/03/content_46092.htmmalaysian-lion-dance-world-champ

 

Chinese New Year, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a Buddhist traditon, but it’s something ever Chinese person celebrates–sort of like New Years in the States. However, there are religious undertones when we are celebrating it. For one, we go to the temple to pray for good luck and fortune for the new year to come and we set food offerings to our ancestors at home and put up incense. We go and visit family–all the sisters go and visit their brothers and everyone gets red packets from the married adults. We used to go over to my grandmother’s and burn copious amounts of paper and gold paper coins. For our family, before my grandmother died, we gathered at my grandmother’s home and visited the other matriarch in the family–my grand aunt. We’d eat tangerines (fortune) and pistachios (happiness) and other “good luck” food. We’d stay and chat for awhile because it’s one of the only times of the year where we gather and visit for a longer time. When we go home, we would all eat together, the whole family.The lion dancing in the street was the scare away the demons of the old year and welcome the new. The streets of Chinatown would be filled with confetti and the temple would always be filled. We would eat vegetarian food at the temple to cleanse ourselves.

Despite being Buddhist, I do not know much in the way of Buddha. My basic instinct is to follow whatever my mother does, as mentioned before. However, I got wind of how complicated all the ceremonial formalities can be, not that it is simpler in any other religion, when I attended the funeral of my grandmother. She wasn’t the first in my family to die but it was the first funeral that I’ve ever participated in and it certainly was an interesting experience, to say the least.

It took place at a funeral home, attending to mostly Chinese customers and was located in Chinatown, ironically across the street from a children’s park. We were given two things in advanced–black bands and hairpins. Blue for the granddaughters and extended family and white for the daughter-in-laws and daughters. There was a special room with rows of chairs, seperated–one side for immediate family and the other for friends and extended family. There was a very specific pattern to the way we sat. As follows, it was my grandmother’s oldest son, his wife, second son, his wife, third son (my father) and his wife (my mother), daughters and their husbands, oldest to youngest grandsons with the last name of Poon and their wives, oldest to youngest (me) granddaughters and their husbands, grandsons with the last names other than Poon and finally granddaughters without the last name of Poon.

My grandmother was laid down in her coffin, a well-charred bin ready for use. There were two Buddhist priests or monks there to perform a short ceremony that lasted for about an hour and a half. We were allowed to sit for part of the ceremony, but the sons stayed standing for certain parts that they had to do. In the order mentioned, prayed, placed incense, and burned paper houses, cars and money. We walked up to our grandmother and bowed, and we turned our backs when they closed her casket. After a time, we headed up to the ceremony in black funeral cars, with a large stick of incense protruding from my oldest uncle’s car (to lead grandma’s spirit). We arrived along with Grandma’s casket and watched it lowered to the pre-dug hole. Bowed and kowtowed several more times, then standing in a line, threw our hairpins and flowers inside the hole. Headed back to Chinatown and ate at an all-vegetarian resturant.

On a later day, we went to a Buddhist temple to send off our Grandmother’s spirit in a more formal ceremony than the one at the funeral. Everyone who was able to come that day of the immediate family went (my father was absent because of work). We were all given seats at desks covered with red sheets. We started, with the five or so temple residents and monks reading from their book of scriptures while I tried my best to follow. My Chinese is not that great at all and I could barely keep up, losing my place more than actually following the words. We read for about 3 hours straight, took a break and resumed after about half an hour. There was a part where the sons and daughters walked to the more sacred place of the temple, a carpeted area right in front of the ivory Buddha, lead by the priests, walked and chanted for about half an hour or so. Went back to their seats and there was the one part that I was able to follow: Nam mo a me ryo to fo…and after another 3 hours, the endless droning came to a stop. We stretched and my mother who offered to take care of the collecting the money gave out red packets to everyone including the priests.

Next post: Actual research on Chinese Buddhist funerals and how I celebrate Chinese New Year in New York City.

Evidence:

On Sailor Moon: “What I find fascinating about the series is that it really is girl power in action. It does not take traditionally “masculine” action tropes and simply gender swap them, no, and it does not deny or condemn the attraction of the pretty princess fantasy. Instead, it takes all the “feminine” girly stuff like frilly princess dresses and pink unicorns and makes them into implements of power. The hypothetical girl in the audience is being told that she can be as girly as she likes – and still dream of growing up into power and responsibility. Feminine articles are not shackles or playthings to be eschewed, or tools good only for obtaining the approval of men – they are treated as cool and desirable things, in and of themselves.

Boy craziness is even part of this, in the way they make the knightly romance fantasy an active one. The girls wanna be swept off their feet by a handsome knight, and, damn it, they’re gonna go out there and find that handsome knight and make sure he does it.” commented by Shadowjack on rpg.net forum.

On Wonder Woman: “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” –William Moulton Marston

On Brat Pack: “In Rick Veitch’s Brat Pack, Moon Maiden subscribes to this idea. As she teaches her sidekick Lunar Lass, emotion and weakness are one and the same to warrior women. Attachments and relationships are for little girls and weaklings. When Lunar Lass gets pregnant, Moon Maiden freaks and speechifies about how a warrior woman needs no one, especially not a child. So she forces her to give herself an abortion with a wire hanger because she can’t be a strong or respectable woman if she has a baby.”

Reflection: I never actually seen any of these shows despite them (with the exception of Brat Pack) being iconic girl superheros. I have read and heard scathing reviews about how Sailor Moon is the show that is against all things feminist and how the heroines of both Sailor Moon and Wonder Woman have rather revealing attire. But growing up, it’s nice to know that certain things are not always anti-feminist because the shows have stereotypes of females. Shadowjack nicely sums up what I think. It doesn’t always have to be like Brat Pack and heroines should not always be attacked as being weak if they decide to show weakness. People applaud the female heroes because they are strong and decidedly un-feminine but if they decide to show their womanly side, the same people attack her for being feminine.

Projection: Why shouldn’t femininity be considered something to be desired and something that is strong?  What is a “straw feminist”? What are shows that are aimed at girls in particular and what are their good and bad traits?

Evidence: I know it is a bit repetitive for me to keep talking about asian-oriented issues or asian culture, but it does interest me very much because I want to feel closer to my cultural heritage because even though I was born in America, I consider myself still Chinese. But onto the actual inspiration.  I’ve seen other seniors’ projects and some of them really intrigued me. Some of them are: the differences between Asian and Western Rap, the differences between Eastern and Western Modern Medicine.

Reflection: I would like to, following my previous post about Buddhism, explore about the other Eastern Religions and compare it to the Western religions.  I feel that they are so fundamentally different and would like to do more research about each of their roots and how they gained followers and believers. Raised in the United States, it’s inevitable that I would eventually encounter religions like Judaism, Chrisitanity–Protestants and Roman Catholics to be the two major ones, I think.  Eastern religions include: Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, etc. I also think that it’s very interesting that there is a holy book such as the Bible but Buddhism does not. Rather, because Buddhism is not based on the worship of a single god, but more like a way of life for the follower. The transcribings of the teachings of Buddha is called the Tripitaka and two other volumes. The smallest is actually the same size as the Bible.

Projection: What else is different–there are many similarities in certain religions, such as Judaism, Islam and Christianity such as the fact that they have the some of the same heavenly figures–how did they evolve seperately, even with the distance seperation? Which is older? Where are these religions still practiced and how much of an impact do they have on the general population? (Myamara/Burma monks are considered very important in their culture, etc) Are there any “collisions” in the United States? What is Falong Gong–it has been in the news?

Evidence:  My mom talked to me about my heritage, and she’s pretty superstitious when it comes to certain things.  I had never considered myself very religious and it was only recently that my family installed a shrine in the top corner of our one-room apartment.  I argued that all that existed of Buddhism inside of me was the fact that I followed my mother’s examples–kowtowed when she kowtowed, lit inscense when she lit inscense, etc.  There were even some traditions that I didn’t even learn from my mom, but rather my friend! 

Reflection:  My mom told me that I was Buddhist, and she had the certificate to prove to me that I officially belonged to a Buddhist temple.  I feel that Buddhism is a lot different from some of the mainstream religions in the United States, even though there is no official religion, but most, I believe, are either Roman Catholic, Protestant, or some other sort of Christianity.  Buddhism isn’t a majority here in the United States to say the least.  Religion may not seem like a large part of my life maybe because of the fact that in order to pray for something or just to pray, I have to be at a temple physically, with an offering or inscense or fruit.  Another thing is that my family also prays to our ancestors alongside with our gods(Yes, gods, as in more than one god).

Projection: What is it like growing up in New York City Buddhist?  How often does one visit a temple anyway? How do first-generation immigrants, like myself, deal with being Buddhist growing up American?  How do Eastern and Western religions clash?  Primary differencese between Eastern and Western religions?

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