Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Humanities/Philosophies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (13 May 2023) | Viewed by 31955

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Guest Editor
Centre de recherche sur les civilisations de l’Asie orientale, 75005 Paris, France
Interests: Tibet; gender; religion; monasticism; comparative anthropology of Buddhism

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

In Buddhist monasticism, women are relegated to second rank, mainly for two reasons: first, they do not always have access to the same level of education as their male counterparts and are therefore not credited with the same learning (erudition); second, in some countries, they are excluded from one or all ordination rites. Thus, we have, on the one hand, full-fledged monks, and on the other, female religious practitioners who, in several Asian countries, are not ordained (Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand) or are only semi-ordained (India, Mongolia, Nepal and Tibet). As for Chinese and Korean monasticisms, there are fully ordained nuns, but they still have to respect traditional norms regarding gender hierarchy. The resulting asymmetry between ordained men and women is a facet of living Buddhism. This is a sensitive and much-debated topic, rarely approached from a scholarly perspective, which has caused debate over the last years among Asian and Western feminists, and also in the wider Buddhist monastic community. The upcoming volume aims to focus on the attitudes, perceptions, experiences and actions of the Buddhist nuns themselves while drawing on examples from Buddhist countries.

Prof. Dr. Nicola Schneider
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • Buddhism
  • Buddhist nuns
  • gender asymmetry
  • education
  • ordination
  • Asia

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Editorial

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7 pages, 233 KiB  
Editorial
Editorial: Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions
by Nicola Schneider
Religions 2023, 14(2), 285; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14020285 - 20 Feb 2023
Viewed by 1473
Abstract
Looking at early Indian Buddhist texts and inscriptions, we can generally find gender pairing within the terminology deployed, a situation which is replicated in many texts related to monastic discipline (Vinaya) and in teachings addressed by the Buddha to either his [...] Read more.
Looking at early Indian Buddhist texts and inscriptions, we can generally find gender pairing within the terminology deployed, a situation which is replicated in many texts related to monastic discipline (Vinaya) and in teachings addressed by the Buddha to either his male or female disciples (Skilling 2001) [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)

Research

Jump to: Editorial

9 pages, 208 KiB  
Article
Gender Conflicts in Contemporary Korean Buddhism
by Eun-su Cho
Religions 2023, 14(2), 242; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14020242 - 13 Feb 2023
Viewed by 1907
Abstract
Scholars have observed that Korean Buddhist nuns have a relatively high social status compared to nuns of other Asian countries, much like their sisters in Taiwan. It is a source of great pride for many Korean bhikṣuṇīs that their community operates with [...] Read more.
Scholars have observed that Korean Buddhist nuns have a relatively high social status compared to nuns of other Asian countries, much like their sisters in Taiwan. It is a source of great pride for many Korean bhikṣuṇīs that their community operates with a high degree of autonomy, bringing them to an almost equal standing with their male counterparts. However, this claim of equal status is challenged once the nuns step outside their own communities and into the hierarchical system of the Order, an institution dominated by male monastics. This paper aims to report on the gender disparity between male monastics and Buddhist women, both nuns and laywomen alike. I will first explore Korean Buddhist nuns’ experiences of gender discrimination imposed by the current institutional and cultural practices of the Buddhist Order, and their battles to challenge the legitimacy of this power structure. Next, I will introduce various episodes, including the Buddhist administration’s conflict with progressive women’s groups, to showcase the gender dynamics and current status of women in Korean Buddhism. Ultimately, my argument is that the conservatism and misogynism of traditional religion continue to influence Korean Buddhism today, despite societal efforts to heighten gender awareness and sensitivity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
37 pages, 1051 KiB  
Article
The Embodiment of Buddhist History: Interpretive Methods and Models of Sāsana Decline in Burmese Debates about Female Higher Ordination
by Tony Scott
Religions 2023, 14(1), 31; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14010031 - 23 Dec 2022
Viewed by 2675
Abstract
The mid-twentieth century was celebrated in Theravāda civilizations as the halfway point in the five-thousand-year history of the Buddha’s dispensation, the sāsana. Around this time in Burma, fierce debates arose concerning the re-establishment of the extinct order of Theravāda nuns. While women [...] Read more.
The mid-twentieth century was celebrated in Theravāda civilizations as the halfway point in the five-thousand-year history of the Buddha’s dispensation, the sāsana. Around this time in Burma, fierce debates arose concerning the re-establishment of the extinct order of Theravāda nuns. While women were understood as having a crucial role in supporting and maintaining the sāsana, without a sanctioned means of higher ordination, they were excluded from its centre, that is, as active agents in sāsana history. In this paper, I explore what was at stake in these debates by examining the arguments of two monks who publicly called for the reintroduction of the order of nuns, the Mingun Jetavana Sayadaw (1868–1955) and Ashin Ādiccavaṃsa (1881–1950). I will show that both used the enigmatic Milindapañha (Questions of Milinda) to present their arguments, but more than this, by drawing from their writings and biographies, it will be seen that their methods of interpreting the Pāli canon depended on their unique models of sāsana history, models which understood this halfway point as ushering in a new era of emancipatory promise. This promise was premised on the practice of vipassanā meditation by both lay men and especially women, the latter who, through their participation in the mass lay meditation movement, were making strong claims as dynamic players in the unfolding of sāsana history. The question of whether the order of nuns should be revived therefore hinged on the larger question of what was and was not possible in the current age of sāsana decline. Beyond this, what I aim to show is that mid-twentieth-century debates around female ordination concerned the very nature of the sāsana itself, as either a transcendent, timeless ideal, or as a bounded history embodied in the practice of both monks and nuns. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
17 pages, 908 KiB  
Article
The Rise of Vietnamese Nuns: Views from the Buddhist Revival Movement (1931–1945)
by Ninh Thị Sinh
Religions 2022, 13(12), 1189; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13121189 - 5 Dec 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3791
Abstract
In this article, with the aim of better understanding the development of Vietnamese Buddhist nuns, the period of the Buddhist revival movement is investigated. This event is considered a turning point for Vietnamese Buddhism. In addition, it will help to shed light on [...] Read more.
In this article, with the aim of better understanding the development of Vietnamese Buddhist nuns, the period of the Buddhist revival movement is investigated. This event is considered a turning point for Vietnamese Buddhism. In addition, it will help to shed light on the status of Vietnamese nuns. In this article—which is mainly based on archival documents kept in the National Overseas Archives (the French colonial archives held at the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer) and the National Archives Center I, Buddhism periodicals, and memoirs—the status of Vietnamese women during the French colonial period is clarified, as well as the positive effects of the colonial regime in regard to the change in women’s perceptions. Then, the differences in the nuns’ situation in three regions are analyzed. Finally, an exploration is conducted into the rise of nuns during the revival movement and the emergence of reformist nuns. Indeed, it is reformist nuns that have shaped the image of modern Vietnamese nuns. Moreover, they also created a direction by which the following generations could continue along, as well as playing an important role in the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
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31 pages, 1251 KiB  
Article
The Fragmentary History of Female Monasticism in Thailand: Community Formation and Development of Monastic Rules by Thai Mae Chis
by Martin Seeger
Religions 2022, 13(11), 1042; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13111042 - 2 Nov 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3393
Abstract
A major challenge in the historical study of female monasticism in Thailand is the paucity of texts written by or about Thai Buddhist female practitioners prior to 1950. Biographical and autobiographical texts and other substantial Buddhist texts authored by Thai female practitioners emerged [...] Read more.
A major challenge in the historical study of female monasticism in Thailand is the paucity of texts written by or about Thai Buddhist female practitioners prior to 1950. Biographical and autobiographical texts and other substantial Buddhist texts authored by Thai female practitioners emerged arguably only in the 20th century and are generally relatively rare, with only few notable exceptions. In this paper, I will utilize some of the earliest available Thai texts that allow more detailed insights into female monasticism and soteriological teaching and practice, the creation of female monastic spaces and the interrelationships between male and female monastics. Thus, I will examine sets of monastic training rules that, even though based on Pali canonical precepts and teachings, were created in the early 20th century. In addition to monastic code texts and the narratives of foundation stories, other important sources for my study include the biographies of monastic and female lay practitioners, important benefactors of female monastic communities and prominent male monastic supporters of female monastic and spiritual practice. I will also draw on sermon texts by female and male monastics. Here, I will focus only on the lives of those individuals and histories of female monastic communities that I regard as representative of larger issues, trends and challenges in the history of female monasticism in 20th century Thai Buddhism. Given the scarcity of sources, the present study cannot aspire to provide comprehensive accounts of the history of female monastic communities in Thailand and their interrelationships. Nor will I be able to reconstruct exhaustively the history of their monastic codes of rules. However, based on the sources that are available I will trace the history of attempts to create a blueprint for the organisation of Thai Buddhist female coenobitic monasticism. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
9 pages, 323 KiB  
Article
Fully Ordained Nuns in Fourteenth-to-Seventeenth Tibetan Hagiographical Narratives
by Fan Wu
Religions 2022, 13(11), 1037; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13111037 - 30 Oct 2022
Viewed by 1499
Abstract
Many contemporary efforts have been put to (re-)establish the order of fully ordained nuns in Tibetan Buddhism. Those who are in favor of such practice often refer to premodern Tibetan hagiographies to claim the existence of indigenous fully ordained nuns in the past. [...] Read more.
Many contemporary efforts have been put to (re-)establish the order of fully ordained nuns in Tibetan Buddhism. Those who are in favor of such practice often refer to premodern Tibetan hagiographies to claim the existence of indigenous fully ordained nuns in the past. A series of female practitioners, indeed, appear as fully ordained nuns in such narratives dating from approximately the fourteenth century to the seventeenth century. Their monastic identities as such, however, are contested by Tibetan Buddhist masters because the methods of their ordinations, seemingly conferred by the male saṃgha alone, do not strictly follow the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya tradition, which is observed by the Tibetan Buddhists. In an effort to investigate as to how these female practitioners were fully ordained and the purposes of composing such narratives about their ordinations, this article revisits relevant hagiographies with particular reference to The biography of Chokyi Dronma, the Third incarnation of the WisdomḌākinī Sonam Peldren (Ye shes mkha’ ‘gro bsod nams dpal ‘dren gyi sku skye gsum pa rje btsun ma chos kyi sgron ma’i rnam thar) and a detailed exposition of The biography of Shākya Chokden (Shākya mchog ldan gyi rnam thar zhib mo rnam par ‘byed pa). It suggests that depicting these personas as fully ordained nuns serves the purpose of highlighting the hagiography subjects’ outstanding spiritual performance, while the recognition of monastic identity as such may not go beyond the context of these writings. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
16 pages, 3569 KiB  
Article
Female Education in a Chan Public Monastery in China: The Jiangxi Dajinshan Buddhist Academy for Nuns
by Daniela Campo
Religions 2022, 13(11), 1020; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13111020 - 26 Oct 2022
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2012
Abstract
The Great Chan Monastery of the Golden Mountain (Dajinshan Chansi 大金山禪寺) is a large monastic complex for nuns located in Jiangxi province in southeast China and belonging to the Chan meditation school. The Jiangxi Dajinshan Buddhist Academy for Nuns (Jiangxi foxueyuan Dajinshan [...] Read more.
The Great Chan Monastery of the Golden Mountain (Dajinshan Chansi 大金山禪寺) is a large monastic complex for nuns located in Jiangxi province in southeast China and belonging to the Chan meditation school. The Jiangxi Dajinshan Buddhist Academy for Nuns (Jiangxi foxueyuan Dajinshan nizhong xueyuan 江西佛學院大金山尼眾學院), established at the monastery in 1994, is one of the few institutes for nuns in China to be especially axed on Chan studies and practice. What are the pedagogical goals and agenda of the Jiangxi Dajinshan Buddhist Academy for Nuns? What are the specificities of this academy as compared to other female academies, and to academies for monks? Why do nuns enroll at Dajinshan Buddhist Academy? What does this case study tell us about the gender balance in Chinese Buddhism today? This paper, based on fieldwork, will try to answer these questions by especially considering enrollment and scale, students and personnel, and curricula and schedule of the Jiangxi Dajinshan Buddhist Academy for Nuns. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
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18 pages, 2118 KiB  
Article
Embodying Legacy by Pursuing Asymmetry: Pushou Temple and Female Monastics’ Ordinations in Contemporary China
by Amandine Péronnet
Religions 2022, 13(10), 1001; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13101001 - 21 Oct 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1782
Abstract
This paper focuses on ordination procedures specific to women in Chinese Buddhism, and on the positions adopted by bhikṣuīs regarding the procedures’ asymmetrical nature in contemporary China. Dual ordinations, according to which aspiring bhikṣuīs must [...] Read more.
This paper focuses on ordination procedures specific to women in Chinese Buddhism, and on the positions adopted by bhikṣuīs regarding the procedures’ asymmetrical nature in contemporary China. Dual ordinations, according to which aspiring bhikṣuīs must present themselves in front of both an assembly of fully ordained nuns and of monks in order to be “properly” ordained, were restored by Longlian (隆莲 1909–2006) in 1982. Śikṣamāā ordinations, which postulate that women should train for an additional two years before receiving full ordination when their male counterparts do not have to, have also become increasingly common since the 1980s. Based on fieldwork conducted between 2015 and today, both on-site and online, this paper asks whether asymmetry should be considered similar to subordination with regard to ordination procedures. It looks into Rurui’s (如瑞, 1957–) position on the matter, as Longlian’s student and one of the most influential bhikṣuṇī of her generation. While recent survey data will be useful in addressing the issue of representation, qualitative data will question the role of vertical networks in perpetuating a teacher’s legacy, ultimately leaving us to wonder if asymmetry might not be actively sought after by contemporary Chinese Buddhist bhikṣuīs in order to improve their status. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
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23 pages, 1127 KiB  
Article
Reading Equality into Asymmetry: Dual Ordination in the Eyes of Modern Chinese Bhikṣuṇīs
by Ester Bianchi
Religions 2022, 13(10), 919; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13100919 - 30 Sep 2022
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1995
Abstract
The “Dual Ordination” (erbuseng jie 二部僧戒) is a Vinaya-based ordination procedure introduced to China from Śrī Laṅkā in the fifth century; in the late imperial period it came to be included in the main ordination system. It stipulates that full ordination [...] Read more.
The “Dual Ordination” (erbuseng jie 二部僧戒) is a Vinaya-based ordination procedure introduced to China from Śrī Laṅkā in the fifth century; in the late imperial period it came to be included in the main ordination system. It stipulates that full ordination for nuns is to be carried out first in front of an assembly of bhikṣuṇīs and then another assembly of bhikṣus. However, contrary to this stipulation, ordinations have mainly been conferred to women by bhikṣus alone in China since the tenth century. The Dual Ordination procedures became a topic of discussion during the Republic of China (1911–1949) with the result that it was eventually reintroduced on the Mainland at the beginning of the 1980s, mainly due to the efforts of bhikṣuṇīs Longlian 隆蓮 (1909–2006) and Tongyuan 通願 (1913–1991). The article traces the roots of the restoration of Dual Ordinations during the Republican era and provides an account of their history since the 1980s. Finally, Longlian’s views about bhikṣuṇī ordination are discussed. The objective is to probe the historical and ideological context for the reestablishment of this ordination system in modern and contemporary China, which ultimately strengthened the role and position of Chinese bhikṣuṇīs. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
14 pages, 865 KiB  
Article
Khmer Nuns and Filial Debts: Buddhist Intersections in Contemporary Cambodia
by Trent Walker
Religions 2022, 13(10), 897; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13100897 - 23 Sep 2022
Viewed by 2351
Abstract
Cambodian Buddhist nuns, including the white-robed ṭūn jī, occupy a fraught confluence of competing cultural and religious narratives. Chief among these narratives is gratitude to mothers, among the most powerful structuring forces in Khmer Buddhist culture. By ordaining as nuns, Khmer women break [...] Read more.
Cambodian Buddhist nuns, including the white-robed ṭūn jī, occupy a fraught confluence of competing cultural and religious narratives. Chief among these narratives is gratitude to mothers, among the most powerful structuring forces in Khmer Buddhist culture. By ordaining as nuns, Khmer women break no explicit moral rules, but violate implicit conventions to bear children for their husbands and care for their parents in old age. To explore how this tension plays out in the lives of individual nuns, I draw on public statements and social media posts of two of the most prominent nuns in Cambodia today, Chea Silieng and Heng Kosorl. The two nuns have taken a divergent approach to filial debts, with Silieng emphasizing freedom from her birth family, husband, and children and Kosorl frequently posting about acts of devotion to her parents and grandparents. Both approaches reveal the profoundly gendered dimensions of filial piety and the complex intersection of such narratives with the growing stature of nuns as Buddhist leaders and teachers in Cambodia. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
24 pages, 412 KiB  
Article
The Fragility of Restoring Full Ordination for Tibetan Tsunmas (Nuns)
by Darcie M. Price-Wallace
Religions 2022, 13(10), 877; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13100877 - 20 Sep 2022
Viewed by 2476
Abstract
Drawing from interviews with tsunmas (Tib. btsun ma, nun) living and practicing in Geluk, Kagyu, and Sakya institutions in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, and Uttarakhand, India, between March 2017 and February 2019, this case study foregrounds tsunmas’ heterogenous insights into [...] Read more.
Drawing from interviews with tsunmas (Tib. btsun ma, nun) living and practicing in Geluk, Kagyu, and Sakya institutions in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, and Uttarakhand, India, between March 2017 and February 2019, this case study foregrounds tsunmas’ heterogenous insights into the most ideal and acceptable ways for restoring gelongma (Tib. dge slong ma, Skt. bhikṣunī, fully ordained nun) vows. I argue that fragility, the quality of being breakable, underlies the history of gelongma vows in Tibet. Fragility, however, can also be generative. In this regard, fragility also signifies the possibility of restoring gelongma ordination for some tsunmas who are interested in receiving gelongma vows in India. This article examines Tibetan and Himalayan tsunmas’ perspectives on the possible ways of restoring gelongma ordination for women in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Since the lineage of gelongmas ceased in Tibet, some tsunmas see this fragility as prohibiting restoration of gelongma ordination unless there is a way to re-establish these vows through the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, the monastic code adopted in Tibet, whereas other tsunmas perceive this fragility as an opportunity for other possibilities for gelongma vow restoration through innovative ritual practices such as dual-Vinaya ordination. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
10 pages, 632 KiB  
Article
Taiwanese Nuns and Education Issues in Contemporary Taiwan
by Yu-Chen Li
Religions 2022, 13(9), 847; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13090847 - 13 Sep 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2257
Abstract
In this article, I discuss the Buddhist educational profile of nuns in contemporary Taiwan by introducing the development of monastic education for women. Taiwanese women’s mass ordination created a Buddhist renaissance after postwar Taiwan, a national ordination system based on monastic discipline, as [...] Read more.
In this article, I discuss the Buddhist educational profile of nuns in contemporary Taiwan by introducing the development of monastic education for women. Taiwanese women’s mass ordination created a Buddhist renaissance after postwar Taiwan, a national ordination system based on monastic discipline, as well as the revival of monastic education. Both ordination and monastic education are very strong institutional settings for women’s monastic identity. Its findings, firstly, shed light on how the increased opportunities for women’s education in Taiwanese Buddhism have continuously attracted young female university students. Secondly, these so-called scholarly nuns come to Buddhist academies as students and eventually become instructors. These scholarly nuns elevate the standards of their Buddhist academies and use their original academic specializations to expand the educational curriculum of their school. The role of scholarly nuns in contemporary Taiwan exemplifies that Buddhism provides educational resources for women, as educational resources enhance women’s engagement in Buddhism. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
18 pages, 1633 KiB  
Article
A Revolution in Red Robes: Tibetan Nuns Obtaining the Doctoral Degree in Buddhist Studies (Geshema)
by Nicola Schneider
Religions 2022, 13(9), 838; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13090838 - 8 Sep 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2222
Abstract
In the past, Tibetan nuns had no access to formal monastic education and thus could not obtain the two main diplomas and titles that are common in Tibetan Buddhism: the khenpo (mkhan po) degree in the more practice-oriented Nyingmapa school and [...] Read more.
In the past, Tibetan nuns had no access to formal monastic education and thus could not obtain the two main diplomas and titles that are common in Tibetan Buddhism: the khenpo (mkhan po) degree in the more practice-oriented Nyingmapa school and the geshe (dge bshes) degree in the scholastic curriculum of the Gelukpa school; this essay traces the introduction of the Gelukpa study program in different nunneries based in India and Nepal in recent times; it addresses the question of gender asymmetry by showing the different hurdles that had to be overcome and the solutions, which have been found to allow nuns to become geshemas—the female form of geshe. Finally, I propose the first glimpse into the impact that the opening of higher Buddhist education to nuns has had and what this means for the future of the position of women in the religious sphere, as well as for Tibetan monasticism more generally. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gender Asymmetry and Nuns’ Agency in the Asian Buddhist Traditions)
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