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Thread: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

  1. #1
    Senior Member Daijo's Avatar
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    Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    I did a search and nothing came up, so I do apologize if this topic exists elsewhere.

    So, this has been causing me a fair amount of frustration lately. I've come to understand the "infamous" 8 precepts as a cultural necessity for the time and place they were created. It still bothers me however that the Buddha's enlightenment didn't come with a way to work that problem out.

    The reason it bothers me now though, is that it seems to still be the norm throughout the Dharma world (outside of western circles). I got into a pretty lively discussion over the weekend with the abbot from the Chinese Monastery, and several lay practitioners. My thoughts were that these extra precepts for women (and the Chinese have more than 8 of them) are simply "traditions", they are impermanent constructed customs, and are not dharma. In the discussion, there was a lot of resistance to change, because it would "cause to much uproar".

    Now, I know we don't practice these "separate but semi equal" rules here. But it's causing me much confusion regarding Buddhadharma in general. It's a barrier for me, and I know I should let it go, but I need some help doing that....

  2. #2

    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    hi Chuck,

    can you please clarify what you mean by ""infamous" 8 precepts"?

  3. #3

    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    IMHO I think the best course of action is to sit. Focus on your practice. Their practice is their practice and your's is your's.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Daijo's Avatar
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    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Certainly, I'm speaking of the 8 additional precepts required only of women when ordained. The 2 that seem to be the most bothersome are the 1st and 8th. Which seem to clearly place women in subordinate roles.

    1 ) A nun who has been ordained even for a hundred years must greet respectfully, rise up from her seat, salute with joined palms, do proper homage to a monk ordained but that day.

    8 ) From today, admonition of monks by nuns is forbidden.

    And yeah, I know what I should do but I keep hanging on this. I'm not "trying to" or "trying not to".

  5. #5

    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Practice. No separation. The sky is everywhere.

    Gassho

    W

  6. #6

    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Hi Chris,

    I think it impossible to see the "Buddha's Truths" as ever played out anywhere but on the stage setting of the times and culture where people lived ... ancient, agricultural, class based societies of India, China, Thailand, Tibet, feudal Japan. Now, as Buddhism comes to the "modern, post-industrial, democratic West" we play it out with our current values.

    Yes, in the original Suttas and Vinaya, the Buddha either (like most men of those times, and he was a hu-man of his times) actually personally saw women as somehow lesser than men ... or perhaps he thought that social equality and "co-ed mixing" would just cause sexual and other disturbances in the Sangha. However, he made rules that kept men and women separate, and the women often (in fact, and sometimes in theory too) behind the men. At first, he did not even wish to include women in the Sangha, and had to have his arm twisted!

    The historical Buddha's most famous statements on women came about when his stepmother and aunt, Maha Pajapati Gotami, asked to join the Sangha and become a nun. The Buddha initially refused her request. Eventually he relented, but in doing so he made conditions and a prediction that remain controversial to this day. ... Pajapati approached her stepson and asked to be received into the Sangha. The Buddha said no. Still determined, Pajapati and 500 women followers cut off their hair, dressed themselves in patched monk's robes, and set out on foot to follow the traveling Buddha.

    ...

    Ananda sat at the Buddha's side and argued on behalf of the ordination of women. The Buddha continued to refuse the request. Finally, Ananda asked if there was any reason women could not realize enlightenment and enter Nirvana as well as men.

    The Buddha admitted there was no reason a woman could not be enlightened. "Women, Ananda, having gone forth are able to realize the fruit of stream-attainment or the fruit of once-returning or the fruit of non-returning or arahantship," he said.

    Ananda had made his point, and the Buddha relented. Pajapati and her 500 followers would be the first Buddhist nuns. But he predicted that allowing women into the Sangha would cause his teachings to survive only half as long - 500 years instead of a 1,000.

    ...

    Further, according to the canonical texts, before the Buddha allowed Pajapati into the Sangha, she had to agree to eight Garudhammas, or grave rules, not required of men. These are:

    A Bhikkuni (nun) even if she was in the Order for 100 years must respect a Bhikkhu (monk) even of a day's standing.
    A Bhikkuni must reside within 6 hours of traveling distance from the monastery where Bhikkhus reside for advice.
    On Observance days a Bhikkhuni should consult the Bhikkhus.
    A Bhikkhuni must spend rainy season retreats under the orders of both Bhikhus and Bhikkhunis.
    A Bhikkhuni must live her life by both the orders.
    A Bhikkhuni must on two years obtain the higher ordination (Upasampatha) by both Orders.
    A Bhikkhuni cannot scold a Bhikkhu.
    A Bhikkhuni cannot advise a Bhikkhu.

    http://buddhism.about.com/od/buddhisthi ... twomen.htm
    When I was recently in China at a monastery, the men walk Kinhin near the Buddha, and the women walk and sit on the outside (that's me in the background, no women in the picture) ...



    ... yet it is considered a radically modern monastery by Chinese standards for allowing (to some degree) lay and ordained, male and female to even practice in the same room! In Thai Buddhism, the great Australian Bhikkhu and translator Ajahn Brahm was expelled from his order recently for daring to fully ordain women!

    http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php ... 61,0,0,1,0

    In Japanese Buddhism, including Soto Zen, there came to be formal equality for women for the first time during the 20th century. However, in actual fact, Japanese Buddhism and Zen is still a "male dominated world", with all the real authority and all but a few high positions held by male monks. It is only in the Western countries that, for the first time, we are seeing so many female teachers, all taking no "back seat" to the men.

    In the Buddha's Realm, there is no male vs. female, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, up and down. Yet, we live in a realm of male and female, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, up and down. How those two "fit together" ... and sometimes the frictions that exist nonetheless ... is the Great Koan we live.

    My advise is, if practicing with a more "traditional" group such as that Chinese temple ... take a "when in Rome, sit as the Romans sit" attitude, and be very hesitant to impose your cultural values on theirs (at least, in their house ... you can do as you wish in your house). In fact, maybe a few centuries down the road, or even now when viewed with others' eyes, folks will chuckle at how "backwards and narrow" we still are here in our "democratic" cultures! :shock:

    Gassho, J

  7. #7
    Senior Member Daijo's Avatar
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    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Gassho Jundo

    Everything is as it should be. I sometimes forget to extend my practice beyond the cushion.

    Gassho

  8. #8

    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Quote Originally Posted by chuck13
    Now, I know we don't practice these "separate but semi equal" rules here. But it's causing me much confusion regarding Buddhadharma in general. It's a barrier for me, and I know I should let it go, but I need some help doing that....
    As a woman, I ran up against this doubt often within my first few years of figuring out practice. I realized though that this doubt was only an intellectual sticking point - practice, for me in this sangha, had nothing to do with how women were treated historically and/or in other cultures.

    When we sit in zazen we drop off body and mind, including all the concepts around the body, around gender, and around male vs. female. These coats of paint give way to a beautiful hardwood floor underneath, the foundation of our practice.

    I would not be able to practice with any sangha that enforced inequality between men and women. Luckily, Jundo, Taigu, and the other priests in training are unconcerned with gender.

  9. #9

    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Quote Originally Posted by chuck13
    Gassho Jundo

    Everything is as it should be. I sometimes forget to extend my practice beyond the cushion.

    Gassho
    I would say that "everything is as it should be at this point". What happens next is up to us. As Jundo mentioned many times that "this perfect moment as is" doesn't mean that there's no suffering or injustice in the world. The inequality of women and men practitioners in traditional Buddhist cultures you refer to is just another example of that from our point of view.
    In my home country (Ukraine) there's a holiday called "Women's day" when men give women presents and flowers help them with house chores, and being extra nice overall. It happens on March 8 and it's a nice holiday, signifying spring, beauty and so on. In the West, however, this holiday is seen by many as something very demeaning to women, because they're treated differently just because they're women. Yet in my country this holiday is loved by men and women alike. So it's just a matter of perspective which is based on your own karmic circumstances.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Chuck,

    Thank you very much for starting this thread. Yeah, maybe we should just sit with it, but it's also good to bring up things that trouble us.

    Gassho

    Jen

  11. #11

    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    I ran into this issue when I was considering ordaining with the Taego Order. They have the following restrictions:

    Ordination Requirements for IBS students:

    The following standards are currently (June 2011) in effect if one is considering ordination as either Dharma instructor or monk in the Korean Buddhist Taego Order, Overseas Parish:

    - The candidate must be no older than 55 years at the time of samanera/samaneri (novice monk) ordination; there is no upper age limit on Dharma instructor ordination;

    - Gays and lesbians may be ordained into either clergy status including samanera/samaneri, however, bhikkhu/bhikhuni (full monk) ordination is currently not permissible;

    - Ordination into either clergy status is not permissible for those already in, or considering, legally recognized homosexual relationships;

    - Ordination into either clergy status is permissible for men and women, however, bhikkhuni (full monk) status is not permissible for married women:

    - Since samanera/samaneri ordination occurs in Korea, the candidate must be physically capable of handling the four weeks of intensive training in Korea just prior to ordination.

    All requirements only effect in the overseas parish of Taego order however other Taego orderís parishes in South Korea use the original constitution.

    Moreover, any one wish to get a qualification to become a Taego monk or Dharma instructor then he (or she) must attend protocol retreat at least once a year (conduct by Dean and other faculty members)
    Source: http://www.ibs-usa.org/en/studium/index.html


    This came as a shock to me since it clashed with my preconceptions of Buddhism (only my IDEA of Buddhism). It's still not clear to me how common this sort of thing is outside of the "West" and whether the only difference is that we actually know about it as far as the Taego Order is concerned.

    Either way, I can't in good conscience ordain with an order that discriminates in that way. Although, I have considered going through their seminary program just for the training and not seeking ordination when I complete it. I have mixed feelings about it though.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Daijo's Avatar
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    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Distinction leads to difference, difference leads to separateness, which leads to even more troublesome areas. I think what my trouble stemmed from was this sort of big flashing red sign that said "THIS IS A DISTINCTION". Ultimately this is only a part of a constructed "ism" and not "dharma". I should not attach to it, leave my ego at the door so to speak.

  13. #13

    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Quote Originally Posted by SonofRage
    This came as a shock to me since it clashed with my preconceptions of Buddhism (only my IDEA of Buddhism). It's still not clear to me how common this sort of thing is outside of the "West" and whether the only difference is that we actually know about it as far as the Taego Order is concerned.

    Either way, I can't in good conscience ordain with an order that discriminates in that way. Although, I have considered going through their seminary program just for the training and not seeking ordination when I complete it. I have mixed feelings about it though.
    I felt the same way when I learned that a lot of Buddhist organizations outside the US have rules like this. That's why Zen (and Treeleaf) are my home. I'm getting ready to take Shukke Tokudo here in the spring, and I'm very content in the knowledge that my queer female perspective will be embraced and respected by my brothers, while at the same time content that all of this distinctions should and can drop away.

  14. #14

    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Quote Originally Posted by chuck13
    Distinction leads to difference, difference leads to separateness, which leads to even more troublesome areas. I think what my trouble stemmed from was this sort of big flashing red sign that said "THIS IS A DISTINCTION". Ultimately this is only a part of a constructed "ism" and not "dharma". I should not attach to it, leave my ego at the door so to speak.
    We can push for reform and change of wrongs and injustices in this world ... all the while knowing simultaneously, At Once As One, that there is no "thing" in need of change and all is constant change.

    We can resist some values or perceived biases that we believe are wrong ... so long as we see that folks with other values may not perceive them as biased or wrong in their view ... and so long as we keep looking in the mirror at our many own faults, narrow views and biases. None of us is free of that.

    And remember, in a Buddha's world ... nothing in need of change even amid constant change ... no faults or biases or wrongs or injustices, no "this vs. that" ... even amid a world of this vs. that and so many seeming faults and biases and tragic wrongs and terrible injustices to be fixed. All True At Once. Not Mutually Exclusive Views.

    Gassho, J

  15. #15
    Senior Member Daijo's Avatar
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    Re: Historical inequality of women in Buddhism

    Thank you Jundo.

    Gassho

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