Phongkon Weerpiput — Analysis of Students’ Understanding the Femininity in Mahavessantara Jataka, Maddi Sermon

Mahavessantara Jataka is the religious literature, aiming to teach about Vessantara’s height of liberality. Vessantara sacrifices his wife and children and properties for becoming the Buddha in the next life. Maddi Sermon is the ninth sermon of 13 sermons. As you can see the name of this sermon, Maddi, a woman may be the main character. The male characters―Vessantara, Indra God, one lion, and two tigers― influence on the idea and the role of the woman. Moreover, the review of this sermon by the Thai literature specialists in the textbook of the Thai subject of the grade 11 focuses on Maddi’s love and concern on Jali and Kanha, her loyalty to Vessantara, and the esthetic language of the context expressing Maddi’s mourning and suffering which are given by Vessantara and the nature. According to the review of the Thai literature specialists, the woman directly and indirectly resides in the masculine power.

Irigaray mentioned the relation between a mother and a child, which is broken off by a father in ‘Thingking the Difference: For a Peaceful Revolution’ presents the myth of Demeter Irigaray turns to Greek mythology. This myth is consistent with Mahavessantara Jataka Maddi Sermon; Vessantara gives his children to Jujaka, which Maddi does not know such event. These two stories are the masculine power between men and men, which they do not know that they stab women to the heart. According to the Greek mythology, Irigaray describes the gap of the relation between a mother and a child because the mother has no chance to take her child’s leave, and no right to decide anything and so does Maddi. In fact, the objective of the myth of Demeter might be to explain the winter solstice in Europe, but Mahavessantara Jataka aims to explain giving in the great charity of Bodhisattvas.

Irigaray points out the issue about solving the social problems in Europe in “Teaching How to Meet in Difference”. If the politics is used as a vital variable, it is considered as out-of-date. Thus this issue is essential to be studied (p.204). In Thailand, the solution of the social variation such as women rights, the ethnic diversity, as well as wealthy and poverty chronically happens because the politic policy is the drive of the solution. However, the literature instruction involves the politic process because the textbook of Thai literature of the secondary students is determined by Ministry of Education and emphasizes patriarchy because the most of authors are the man, and women in the story of the Thai literature are mostly treated.

The female and male students’ attitudes and opinions are based on the story and the review in the textbook. When I asked the students about the feeling of Maddi in each situation, the answers mostly were that they take a pity on Maddi. The second answers were they admire and praise Maddi. The reasons of expression of the feeling of Maddi mostly were: 1) because Maddi loves and care for her children more than everything. 2) She is an ideal of the good wife and mother. 3) She has to be separated from her children immediately.

Moreover, the female and male students’ attitudes and opinions in the attitude and opinion tests on Maddi revealed that the male students rarely gave the opinion like the female students. The most answers of the male students reflected that Maddi is a weak woman, has loyalty to her husband, and is the good mother. Therefore, the viewpoints of the male students show that the femininity is the weakness which is looked after and cared by the man. Meanwhile, the woman may not be right to fully express her courage or hardihood unless she is not allowed from the man. In other words, the male students seem to look the femininity from their masculinity, which is consistent with Irigaray’s study, “In the boys’ world, there is no place for a girl or woman.”

Furthermore, the female students’ attitudes and opinions, although they are based on the story, reflect the understanding of the femininity through Maddi. However, the students are deficiently practiced thinking critically, which causes them to be unable to profoundly describe their understanding about the femininity, introducing to the current event; for example, the answer “Maddi is the family matriarch because she cares for and take responsibility for her family like a man despite a woman.”, or the reason “Vessantara should tell the truth because Maddi is clever.” Although the answers are “Students take a pity on Maddi.” and “Students feel affecting to the event occurring with Maddi.” the reasons of the students’ feeling are still based on the story rather than their own idea, in which Maddi is imaged as themselves in the context. Therefore, the students have to actually understand the femininity before. However, students can refuse or do like Maddi because it is the individual viewpoint.

Irigaray stated that the ‘sexual difference’ the human beings study is insufficient. We usually pose the questions of comparison of the conflict of each sex, but not pose it about the difference of such sex; we try to struggle for equality. This is ignorance of sexual difference and becomes biological and sociological. So, we are out of subjectivity which is important to “Relational life”. The important medium between the relational lives is the language which expresses intuition and wish rather than conveys the meaning to attract readers. Irigaray (Key Writings, Chapter: Towards a sharing of Speech, London: Continuum, 2004, pp. 77-78). According to the answers of the female and male students, they are the battle of their own sex under the masculine power.