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women and religion: more buddhism November 17, 2006

Posted 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.



1. beepbeepitsme - November 17, 2006

Women following a male religious leader. Sounds remarkably familiar. Modern religions seem to be born in patriarchy. I wonder why? Well, actually, I have a theory on this which can be shot down in flames at any time should the desire to do so arise.

The Gods Must Be Crazy And The Gods Must Be Male

2. brad richert - November 17, 2006

I’ve always enjoyed that post of yours and I think that there is something very powerful about the relationship between sex (the act or the gender) and religion: of course Freud coined the whole Taboo and Totem idea which you can find a million and one books on the subject.

Be careful, however, about stepping into the myth of female supremacy. This is an idea that has been brought up by many neo-pagans with fairly poor evidence (of course, this is a conspiracy by the patriarchal institutions of the past and present they argue). I think your article stands by itself without speculating into the mysterious goddess worshipping. Archaeological evidence points in support of fertility goddesses and other ancient feminem deities that were usually just part of a whole arrangement of a pantheist structure. Very seldom, at never universally, was there a time – that we know of – in which man and woman worshipped a sole or dominant feminem deity.

Overall I am careful on my speculations for any sort of “grand narrative” type scheme which does sets a universal archetype of all religions – including how they come about. For the most part I believe that todays mainstream religions are inherently patriarchal as a very simple result of the patriarchal culture that they had been apart of – most of our religions are actually quite relatively young (ie. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam) and even others can be encapsulated into our known “history” rather than “prehistory” (although this is strongly debatable with Hinduism). One would have to speculate on how exactly the “male” part of our species came to dominate the “female” part in order to understand how our culture was developed.

A common theme I find as I study religion in relation to women is that the founder – male as a result of his patriarchal society – was often quite revolutionary and counter-cultural in relation to women. Once this “religious” movement becomes institutionalized, however, women are often the first target of oppression. This institutionalization often is secured in the form of the ruling government using religion to ensure its power. The “religious” movement then becames just another way that the government can control the people – ie. the opiate of the masses mentality. This is not to discredit any religion, but this is how a movement of truth can be hijacked by those in power – and those in power must stay in power through oppression of one or more section of the population (ie. women, prisoners of war, ethnic groups, poor, etc. etc. etc).

3. beepbeepitsme - November 18, 2006

RE: “Be careful, however, about stepping into the myth of female supremacy.”

I hope my post didn’t present a case for female supremacy or male supremacy. I basically think that the human creation of female gods(goddesses) was based on a false premise. That of the female being the sole creator of life.

I also think that when men became aware of their part in the biological process, that the human creation of male gods was also based on a false premise. That of the male being the sole creator of life.

It took until the mid 1800’s for biology to catch up with myth and we finally found out that to create biological life, both the male and the female need to contribute in order to create new life.

But by that time, patriarchy was well entrenched in many of our cultures, and the desire to hand over some of that economic, political and religious power was going to be extremely difficult. Afterall, there had been a couple of thousand years of male dominated culture to contend with.

So, I certainly don’t claim any position of supremacy based on gender. I think that both the creation of female and male gods was based on a lack of knowledge of biology. And where there is a lack of knowledge, there is inevitably a god concept to fill it.

RE: “For the most part I believe that todays mainstream religions are inherently patriarchal as a very simple result of the patriarchal culture that they had been apart of”

I agree. Religions indicate the socio-political construct from which they originate and the socio-political constructs are also influenced and moulded according to what constitutes knowledge for that time period.

So, if “the knowledge” of the time was that males were solely responsible for the creation of new life, (male humans and male animals), this would have been seen as evidence as to why males should, by this “special attribute”, have primary power.

If, for a couple of thousand years it is assumed that the male contributes ALL that is required to create new life, and that the female only provides the vessel for that new life, this would have been seem as a prima facie case for male supremacy.

And could have been a catalyst for systems based in patriarchy.

4. brad richert - November 18, 2006

I think we are in complete agreement. I suppose my comment was alittle confusing – I meant to point out that there is no historical basis for a supreme feminem deity ever being worshipped on a significant scale (which is the argument of many neo-pagan groups) or some sort of mysterious era in human history where man and woman lived in harmony before patriarchy.

I do think you have a great idea, I just think the argument is stronger if it was limited to the institutionalization of religions rather than an allusion to something intrinsic.

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