Comparing the Feminist Poetry of Rupi Kaur to Buddhist Chants

Comparing the Feminist Poetry of Rupi Kaur to Buddhist Chants

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Poetry, while a controversial form of literature, is a crucial element in forming written emotions. In Julia Cassaniti’s book Living Buddhism: Mind, Self, and Emotion in a Thai Community, she writes about Buddhist chants and how they compare to English-language poetry. As someone who analytically reads books to review them, I am well-versed in the poetry (and other forms of literature) English speakers tend to read. Specifically, I want to analyze and compare the poetry of Rupi Kaur (a Canadian poet) in her book Home Body, to the Buddhist chants mentioned in the introduction section of Living Buddhism. The comparison between Kaur’s poetry in Home Body and the Buddhist chants described in Cassaniti’s Living Buddhism highlights the diverse cultural influences on the themes of grief and impermanence.

First, it’s important to mention the quote that sparked the idea for this short paper. While reading Living Buddhism, the appearance of Buddhist chants caught my eye but the quote that drew my attention to this paper topic explained this; “If found in a book of English-language poetry, such lines could easily be interpreted as despair, or served as a lament or dirge—yet Gaew read them in almost a relaxed, calm, and casual way” (Cassaniti, 19). Buddhist funeral chants about impermanence, grief, and depression instantly reminded me of a poetry book that I had read last year on the topic of recovering from grief and taking control of one’s life: Rupi Kaur’s Home Body.

The concept of impermanence, while new to me, was visible in both books. In Cassaniti’s book, she writes about the Buddhist funeral chants, going along the lines of, “nothing is stable. Nothing says the same” (19). Impermanence is described in this chant, showing just how much of a notion impermanence is in Thai life. Similarly, Kaur writes a line in her poetry that “nothing lasts forever” (10). These quotes describe impermanence because both women understand the idea of letting go of something and understanding that life is unsatisfactory.

Both women describe the impermanence of things in life, knowing that everything that comes into their lives must leave at some point. Cassaniti quotes a chant that explains this, writing “that which rises is bound to cease” (18). This quote is directly about death because it is a funeral chant, but taken out of context, this quote still describes impermanence in all concepts of life. Kaur writes about impermanence indirectly explaining that everything is “always evolving” (93). This is relevant to the theme of impermanence because evolution is the coming and going of characteristics, changing and making something different than before.

The Buddhist idea of unsatisfactoriness is also described in comparison with impermanence in both books. Quoting one of the chants, Cassaniti writes that “all of us beset by birth, decay and death, by sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair… by dukkah, obstructed by dukkah” (29). Everything is impermanent meaning that even the things that bring unsatisfactoriness into one’s life still end up leaving. This unsatisfactoriness is also shown throughout Kaur’s entire book, as she is unsatisfied with gender roles, capitalism, religious battles, her mental health and so much more.

Lastly, the concept of acceptance is explored in both of these authors’ books. Cassaniti writes that “in life, many people can and do try to hold on to a sense of permanence. But at death, the irrevocable truth of change becomes harder to ignore” (19). People accept impermanence when they experience it firsthand, making it to be taken more seriously after a loss. Similarly, Kaur writes about acceptance and grief, writing about “the way we rise from every sorrow in life” (92). Acceptance of impermanence allows people to take control of their own lives and to have balance in power.

Overall, this comparison between Buddhist chants and English-language poetry shows the powerful impact of cultural influences on the concepts of impermanence and grief. The idea of change, evolution, letting go, and acceptance are inherent in both texts, showing that impermanence is a part of everyone’s life. Analyzing the overlapping concepts between contemporary English-language poetry and Buddhist funeral chants allows readers to explore how art and religion express shared human experiences.

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