Women in Buddhism

Women in Buddhism is a topic that can be approached from varied perspectives including those of theology, history, anthropology and feminism. As in other religions, the experiences of Buddhist women have varied considerably. According to Bernard Faure, "Buddhism is paradoxically neither as sexist nor as egalitarian as is usually thought". He elaborates: "Like most clerical discourses, Buddhism is indeed relentlessly misogynist, but as far as misogynist discourses go, it is one of the most flexible and open to multiplicity and contradiction." [cite book|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=RvO0vO575owC|pages=3|title=The Power of Denial: Buddhism, Purity, and Gender|author=Bernard Faure|year=2003|publisher=Princeton University Press|isbn=0691091714|chapter=Introduction]

Scholars such as Faure and Miranda Shaw are in agreement that Buddhist Studies is in its infancy in terms of addressing gender issues. Shaw gave an overview of the situation in 1994:

In the case of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, some progress has been made in the areas of women in early Buddhism, monasticism, and Māhayāna Buddhism. Two articles have seriously broached the topic of women in Indian Tantric Buddhism, while somewhat more attention has been devoted to Tibetan nuns and lay yoginis. [cite book|last=Shaw|first=Miranda|title=Passionate Enlightenment::Women in Tantric Buddhism|publisher=Princeton University Press|location=New Jersey|date=1994|pages=p.27|isbn=0-691-01090-0]

Women in early Buddhism

According to Diana Paul, the traditional view of women in early Indian Buddhism is that they are inferior.cite book|title=Women in Buddhism:Images of the Feminine in Mahāyāna Tradition |url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=frJiFdKcHyMC|author=Diana Y. Paul, Frances Wilson|year=1985|Chapter=Traditional Views of Women|publisher=University of California Press|isbn=0520054288] Rita Gross agrees that "a misogynist strain is found in early Indian Buddhism. But the presence of some clearly misogynist doctrines does not mean that the whole of ancient Indian Buddhism was misogynist". [cite book|last=Gross|first=Rita M.|title=Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis and Reconstruction of Buddhism|publisher=State University of New York Press|date=1992|pages=pp. 43|isbn=0791414035|url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=4jg6EB--upsC&pg=PA40&lpg=PA40&dq=%22Diana++Paul+%22+buddhism+university&source=web&ots=4Hb4J6LGoM&sig=w0I2U2-8erW_bfzdc5N1LmQcUCM&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result#PPA40,M1] The founder of the religion, Gautama Buddha, permitted women to join his monastic community and fully participate in it, although there were certain provisos or "garudhammas". As Susan Murcott comments, "The nun's sangha was a radical experiment for its time" [cite book|last=Murcott|first=Susan|title=The First Buddhist Women:Translations and Commentary on the ' 'Therigatha' '|publisher=Parallax Press|date=1991|pages=p. 4|isbn=0-938077-42-2] The mix of positive attitudes to femininity with blatantly negative sentiment has led many writers to characterise early Buddhism's attitude to women as deeply ambivalent. [cite book|title=Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender|pages=3|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=4UJ8BJV78OgC|author=José Ignacio Cabezón|isbn=0791407586|year=1992] Some commentators on the "Aganna-Suttanta" from the Pali Canon, a record of the teachings of Gautama Buddha, interpret it as showing women as responsible for the downfall of the human race. However, Buddhist interpretation is generally that it shows lust in general, rather than women, as causing the downfall. [cite web|url=http://www.urbandharma.org/pdf/AggannaSutta.pdf|title=Aggana Sutta:On Knowledge of Beginnings of Human Kind|accessdate=2008-07-07] According to Diana Paul, Buddhism inherited a view of women whereby if they are not represented as mothers then they are portrayed as either lustful temptresses or as evil incarnate.

Women and Buddhahood

Although early Buddhist texts maintain that a woman can attain enlightenment, it is also clearly stated in the "Bahudhātuka-sutta" that there could never be a female Buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, the modern school based on the Buddhist philosophy of the earliest dated texts, Buddhahood is a rare event, happening only once in eons. The focus of practice is primarily on attaining Arhatship and the Pali Canon has examples of both male and female Arhats who attained nirvana. In Mahayana schools, Buddhahood is the universal goal for Mahayana practitioners. The Mahayana sutras, like the Pali Canon literature, maintain that a woman can become enlightened, only not in female form. For example, the "Bodhisattvabhūmi", dated to the 4th Century, states that a woman about to attain enlightenment will be reborn in the male form. According to Miranda Shaw, "this belief had negative implications for women insofar as it communicated the insufficiency of the female body as a locus of enlightenment". [cite book|last=Shaw|first=Miranda|title=Passionate Enlightenment:Women in Tantric Buddhism|publisher=Princeton University Press|location=New Jersey|date=1994|pages=p.27|isbn=0-691-01090-0] . However, in the tantric iconography of the Vajrayana practice path of Buddhism, female Buddhas do appear. Sometimes they are the consorts of the main yidam of a meditation mandala but Buddhas such as Vajrayogini, Tara and Simhamukha appear as the central figures of tantric sadhana in their own right. [cite book|last=Shaw|first=Miranda|title=Passionate Enlightenment:Women in Tantric Buddhism|publisher=Princeton University Press|location=New Jersey|date=1994|pages=p.27|isbn=0-691-01090-0]

Well-known female buddhists

Tina Turner

ee also

*Women in Christianity
*Women in Islam
*Women in Hinduism
*Women in Judaism
*Women in Sikhism

References

External links

* [http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3219&Itemid=336 Women and Buddhism at the Shambhala Sun Magazine]
* [http://www.geocities.com/zennun12_8/index.html Zen, Women, and Buddhism]


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