women and religion: more buddhism November 17, 2006Posted by Brad Richert in religion, sexism.
(Also see “women and religion: buddhism“)
Buddhism, Eva K. Neumaier (Women in the Buddhist Traditions, “Women and Religious Traditions“) states, is one of the religions that begin with a historical founder and presents itself in the form of dialogue. Since the dialogue is within a cultural context it portrays itself as a contrast to the contemporary socio-religious framework of its day. Much of Siddhārtha Gautama’s responses towards women were counter-intuitive for the people of his day. An oft-used example is the general ascetic lifestyle. Ascetics in the Indic subcontinent were always male for females who wandered around would be considered shameful. As Gautama allowed women to follow him, they naturally took up this ascetic lifestyle, and furthermore was given allowance to do so by the Buddha. Neumaier points out, however, that despite this matter of respect in the new Buddhism that the women enjoyed dissipated in the later centuries.
It is apparent in many of Buddha’s teachings that he did not attribute much to sex differentiation, as that would only be part of the illusory realm. However, it is recorded that he was hesitant with installing a female monastic order and added subordination to males as a rule. The reasons have been interpreted in many different ways throughout history. Nevertheless, as the centuries progressed and Buddhism became institutionalized women’s equality within the Sangha degenerated to the point that they’re virtually obliterated from written history. Whether this was caused be the patriarchal interpretation of the text is arguable. The discrepancies between Buddha’s intentions and the institutionalized Sangha could be seen as being caused by the tension between orthodoxy and othopraxy in Buddhism. Unlike religions like Christianity and Judaism where discussions of orthodoxy (right belief) are prime, Buddhist discussion is centered on othopraxy (right practice). Since doctrine is not central to Buddhism, patriarchal politics is able to fill in the gaps left by the lack of a strict set of guidelines.
Many contemporary Buddhist women are attempting to reclaim what they say is the historical teachings of Buddha. The alternative to a patriarchal Buddhist society would understand early Buddhist teachings as an opportunity for women to develop spiritually as well as culturally. Early Buddhist teachings included the idea that a women could also attain the same spiritual development as males since sex differentiation is an earthly illusion. They easily disregard the Buddha’s subordination of the women’s monastic orders as either a latter installation of doctrine or as the Buddha’s understanding of male’s sexual weakness in a celibate order.
Contemporary women fight the so-called affinity to the desires of nature by emphasizing the compassionate and caring feminist nature of Buddhist ideals. Some female orders, such as the Mothers of the Ten Precepts, have stressed the emphasis on orthopraxy in order to gain a long-term credibility within Buddhist society. The concentration for this group is on the behaviour and practice rather than on politics and doctrine. This has given this particular order a special status within the Buddhist community, as they are not viewed with suspicion of corruption or spiritual immaturity. Other groups concern themselves with the reclaiming of the historic women monastic orders of full ordination. This again depends on the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings, as many of their male counterparts are concerned with the institutional doctrine of the subordinate ordination of women under men.