When Womanhood Matters

Sex Essentialization and Pedagogical Dissonance in Buddhist Discourse

  • Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts
Keywords: early Buddhism, essentialism, gender, sacred feminine, sex-change, Theravāda

Abstract

This article further articulates Sponberg’s (1992) seminal identification of four distinct attitudes toward women and the feminine in Buddhism, by including a sub-typology of ‘essentialist misogyny’. Textual and institutional voices in the Buddhist traditions are traced that testify to a process of essentialization of the female sex or gender that is first constructed as an entity, ‘womanhood’, and then devalued. This trend is already documented in the early Buddhist texts, where it stands in contrast to the soteriologically normative nonessentialized view of femininity. The discourse develops with misogynist positions taken in medieval Theravāda works. It is further continued, albeit under an opposite agenda, that of the ‘Sacred Feminine’, in contemporary Western Buddhism. Such contemporary instances of an essentialized feminine exemplify how doctrinal and religio-historical tensions are renegotiated leading to the emergence of new incarnations of the Theravāda, and Buddhist in general, scriptural canon, which in turn overwrite previously emerged ‘practical canons’.

Author Biography

Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā, Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts

Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā is the Director of the Āgama Research Group. She studied Indology, Indo-Iranian philology and Tibetology at the University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’ and at the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Söka University (Tokyo), and obtained her doctorate in 2010 with a dissertation on the formative phases of Mahāyāna ideology in Khotan. Her main research interests are the early Buddhist discourses and Vinaya texts. She has published extensively in these fields and has edited several volumes.

References

Agostini, Giulio. 2015. The Ornament of Lay Followers: Ānanda’s Upāsakajanālaṅkāra. Bristol: The Pali Text Society.

Amarasinghe Risiman. 2015. The Authorship of Säla Lihini Asna and Other Articles. Colombo: S. Godage and Brothers. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0041977x15000634

Anālayo, Bhikkhu. 2009a. ‘The Bahudhātuka-sutta and its Parallels on Women’s Inabilities.’ Journal of Buddhist Ethics 16 (2009): 137–90. Republished 2012: Madhyama-āgama Studies: 249–88. Dharma Drum Buddhist College Research Series, 5. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation.

—2009b. ‘Yamakapāṭihāriya.’ In G. P. Malalasekera and W. G. Weeraratne (eds.), Encyclopaedia of Buddhism: Vācā–Zhong a-han: 8.776–77, fasc. 3. Sri Lanka: Department of Buddhist Affairs.

—2011. A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya. 2 vols. Dharma Drum Buddhist College Research Series, 3. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation.

—2013. Perspectives on Satipaṭṭhāna. Cambridge: Windhorse Publications.

—2014a. ‘Defying Māra—Bhikkhunīs in the Saṃyukta-āgama.’ In Alice Collett (ed.), Women in Early Indian Buddhism: Comparative Textual Studies: 116–39. New York: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1080/0048721x.2014.981100

—2014b. ‘Karma and Female Birth.’ Journal of Buddhist Ethics 21: 109–53. Republished: 2016. Ekottarika-āgama Studies. Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts Research Series, 4: 381–411. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation.

—2015a. ‘The Buddha’s Past Life as a Princess in the Ekottarika-āgama.’ Journal of Buddhist Ethics 22: 95–137. Republished: 2016. Ekottarika-āgama Studies. Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts Research Series, 4: 413–42. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation.

—2015b. ‘Appendix: The Itthipaṇḍaka,’ in ‘The Cullavagga on Bhikkhunī Ordination.’ Journal of Buddhist Ethics 22: 401–48 (439–43). Republished: 2017. ‘Appendix 1: Paṇḍaka.’ Vinaya Studies: 309–13. Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts Research Series, 7. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation.

—2015c. ‘The first Saṅgīti and Theravāda Monasticism.’ Sri Lanka International Journal of Buddhist Studies, 4: 1–17. Republished: 2017. ‘Saṅgīti (CV XI).’ Vinaya Studies: 201–19. Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts Research Series, 7. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation.

—2016. The Foundation History of the Nuns’ Order. Hamburg Buddhist Studies, 6. Bochum: Projekt Verlag.

—2017a. Buddhapada and the Bodhisattva Path. Hamburg Buddhist Studies, 8. Bochum: Projekt Verlag.

—2017b. ‘Māra.’ In K. T. S. Sarao and Jeffery D. Long (eds.), Buddhism and Jainism (Encyclopedia of Indian Religions): 749–51. Dordrecht: Springer.

—2018. Satipaṭṭhāna Meditation: A Practice Guide. Cambridge: Windhorse Publications.

Appleton, Naomi. 2011. ‘In the Footsteps of the Buddha? Women and the Bodhisattva Path in Theravāda Buddhism.’ Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 27 (1): 33–51. https://doi.org/10.2979/jfemistudreli.27.1.33

—2014. Narrating Karma and Rebirth, Buddhist and Jain Multi-Life Stories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/cbo9781139523998

Appleton, Naomi, and Sarah Shaw. 2015. The Ten Great Birth Stories of the Buddha: The Mahānipāta of the Jātakatthavaṇṇanā, Translated and Introduced. 2 vols. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.

Batel, Susana, Patrick Devine-Wright, Line Wold, Helene Egeland, Gerd Jacobsen and Oystein Aas. 2015. ‘The Role of (De-)essentialisation within Siting Conflicts: An Interdisciplinary Approach.’ Journal of Environmental Psychology 44: 149–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2015.10.004

Bingenheimer, Marcus. 2008. ‘The Bhikṣuṇī Saṃyukta in the Shorter Chinese Saṃyukta Āgama.’ Buddhist Studies Review 25 (1): 5–26. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsrv.v25i1.5

Blackburn, Anne M. 1999a. ‘Looking for the Vinaya: Monastic Discipline in the Practical Canons of the Theravada.’ Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 22 (2): 281–309.

—1999b. ‘Magic in the Monastery: Textual Practice and Monastic Identity in Sri Lanka.’ History of Religions 38 (4): 354–72. https://doi.org/10.1086/463556

Bodhi, Bhikkhu. 2000. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta-nikāya. The Teachings of the Buddha. Boston: Wisdom Publications. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsrv.v31i2.313

—2012. The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya. The Teachings of the Buddha. Boston: Wisdom Publications. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsrv.v31i2.313

—2016. ‘A Mahākassapa for our Time.’ In Chittapala (ed.): Pure Inspiration: 22–43. Colombo: The Quality Printers (digital edition: http://ven-nyanavimala.buddhasasana.net/texts/pure-inspiration.pdf).

—2017. The Suttanipāta: An Ancient Collection of the Buddha’s Discourses together with its Commentaries. The Teachings of the Buddha. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Brown, William Norman. 1927. ‘Change of Sex as a Hindu Story Motif.’ Journal of the American Oriental Society 47: 3–24.

Burlingame, Eugene Watson. 1929. Buddhist Legends: Translated from the Original Pali Text of the Dhammapada Commentary. Harvard Oriental Series, 29. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Cabezón, José Ignacio. 2017. Sexuality in Classical South Asian Buddhism. Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Chandavimala, Rangama. 2016. Heterodox Buddhism: The School of Abhayagiri. Colombo: The Quality Printers.

Chittapala (ed.). n.d. (2016). Pure Inspiration. Colombo: The Quality Printers. Digital edition: http://ven-nyanavimala.buddhasasana.net/texts/pure-inspiration.pdf

Cole, Garry. 2016. ‘Existential Dissonance: A Dimension of Inauthenticity.’ The Humanistic Psychologist 44 (3): 296–302. https://doi.org/10.1037/hum0000035

Collett, Alice. 2009. ‘Somā the Learned Brahmin.’ Religions of South Asia 3 (1): 93–109.

—2016. Lives of Early Buddhist Nuns, Biographies as History. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Collins, Steven. 1993. ‘The Discourse on What is Primary (Aggañña-sutta): An Annotated Translation.’ Journal of Indian Philosophy 21: 301–93. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf01089255

Cowell, E. B. (ed. and trans.), and W. H. D. Rouse (trans.). 1907. The Jātaka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births. Vol. 6. Cambridge: University Press.

Dhammadinnā, Bhikkhunī. 2015. ‘Women’s Predictions to Buddhahood in Middle-Period Literature.’ Journal of Buddhist Ethics 22: 481–531.

—2015/2016. ‘Women’s Aspirations and Soteriological Agency in Sarvāstivāda and Mūla-sarvāsti-vāda Vinaya Narratives.’ Journal of Buddhism, Law & Society 1: 33–67.

—2018. ‘Karma Here and Now in a Mūlasarvāstivāda Avadāna: How the Bodhisattva Changed Sex and was Born as a Female 500 Times.’ Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University / Sōka daigaku kokusai bukkyōgaku kōtō kenkyūjo nenpō 創価大学国際仏敎学高等硏究所年報 21: 63–94.

—2019. ‘Soreyya/ā’s Double Sex Change: On Gender Relevance and Buddhist Values.’ Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University / Sōka daigaku kokusai bukkyōgaku kōtō kenkyūjo nenpō 創価大学国際仏敎学高等硏究所年報 22: 9–33, with plates 1–2.

Dimitrov, Dragomir. 2004. ‘Two Female Bodhisattvas in Flesh and Blood.’ In Ulrike Roesler and Jayandra Soni (eds.), Aspects of the Female in Indian Culture: Proceedings of the Symposium in Marburg, Germany, July 7-8, 2000. Indica et Tibetica, 44. Marburg: Indica et Tibetica Verlag. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10783-008-9082-1

Dixon, Joy. 2001. Divine Feminine: Theosophy and Feminism in England. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/108.3.914

Drewes, David. 2017. ‘The Idea of the Historical Buddha.’ Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 40: 1–25.

Engelmajer, Pascale. 2015. Women in Pāli Buddhism: Walking the Spiritual Paths in Mutual Dependence. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315752389

Garling, Wendy. 2016. Stars at Dawn: Forgotten Stories of Women in the Buddha’s Life. New York: Shambala Publications.

Gethin, Rupert. In preparation. Mapping the Buddha’s Mind; A Study of Buddhist Systematic Thought in the Theravāda, Sarvāstivāda and Yogācāra Abhidharma.

Godakumbura, Charles Edmund. 1955. Sinhalese Literature. Colombo: The Colombo Apothecaries.

Gombrich, Richard. 2009. What the Buddha Thought. London: Equinox.

Gooneratne, Edmund R. 1884. ‘The Telakaṭāhagāthā.’ Journal of the Pali Text Society: 49–68.

Gornall, Alastair, and Aleix Ruiz-Falqués. 2018. ‘Verses of a Dying Arahant: A New Translation and Revised Edition of the Telakaṭāhagāthā.’ Journal of the Pali Text Society 28: 55–100.

Griswold, A. B., and Prasert ṇa Nagara. 1969. ‘The Asokārāma Inscription of 1399 A.D., Epigraphic and Historical Studies, No. 2.’ Journal of the Siam Society 57 (1): 29–56.

Hansen, Anne. 2003. ‘The Image of an Orphan: Cambodian Narrative Sites for Buddhist Ethical Reflection.’ The Journal of Asian Studies 62 (3): 811–34. https://doi.org/10.2307/3591861

Hazlewood, Ann Appleby. 1983. ‘Saddhammopāyana.’ MA thesis, Australian National University.

—1988. ‘Saddhammopāyana Translation.’ Journal of the Pali Text Society: 65–168.

Hinüber, Oskar von. 1996. A Handbook of Pāli Literature. Indian Philology and South Asian Studies, 2. Berlin and New York: W. de Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0041977x00016074

—Forthcoming. ‘The Buddha as a Historical Person.’ Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 42.

Horner, I. B. 1963. Milinda’s Questions: Translated from the Pāli. Sacred Books of the Buddhists, 22. Vol. 1. London: Luzac.

Ichimura, Shohei. 2015. The Canonical Book of the Buddha’s Lengthy Discourses. Vol. 1. BDK English Tripiṭaka. Berkeley, CA: Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai America.

Kieffer-Pülz, Petra. 2015. ‘Review’ of Agostini 2015. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 78 (3): 632–33.

—2018. ‘Sex-change in Buddhist Legal Literature with a Focus on the Theravāda Tradition.’ Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University/Sōka daigaku kokusai bukkyōgaku kōtō kenkyūjo nenpō 21: 27–62.

Lagirarde, François. 2006. ‘The Nibbāna of Mahākassapa the Elder: Notes on a Buddhist Narrative Transmitted in Thai and Lao Literature.’ In François Lagirarde and Paritta Chalermpow Koanantakool (eds.), Buddhist Legacies in Mainland Southeast Asia: Mentalities, Interpretations and Practices: 79–112. Études thématiques, 19. Paris and Bangkok: École française d’Extrême-Orient, Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre.

Lamotte, Étienne. 1981 [1949]. Le Traité de la Grande Vertu de Sagesse de Nāgārjuna (Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra). Publication de l’Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, 26. Vol. 2: Chapitres XV–XXX. Louvain: Université de Louvain, Institut Orientaliste. Reprint, originally published Louvain-la-Neuve: Institut Orientaliste, 1949. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0035869x00137062

Law, Bimala Churn. 1933. A History of Pāli Literature. Vol. 2. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner.

Luce, G. H., and Bohmu Ba Shin. 1961. ‘Pagan Myinkaba Kubyauk-gyi Temple of Rājakumār (1113 A.D.) and the Old Mon Writings on its Walls.’ Bulletin of the Burma Historical Commission: 277–416.

Mackenzie, Vickie. 1998. Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman’s Quest for Enlightenment. Bloomsbury: New York.

Mahalingam, Ramaswami. 2003. ‘Essentialism, Culture, and Power: Representations of Social Class.’ Journal of Social Issues 59: 733–49. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.0022-4537.2003.00087.x

Matsumura, Junko. 1992. The Rasavāhinī of Vedeha Thera; Vaggas V and VI: The Migapotaka-Vagga and the Uttaroḷiya-Vagga. Osaka: Toho Shuppan.

Meisig, Konrad. 1988. Das Sūtra von den vier Ständen: Das Aggañña-Sutta im Licht seiner chinesischen Parallelen. Freiburger Beiträge zur Indologie. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0035869x0010958x

Milligan, Matthew. 2019. ‘The Economic Power of Women in Early South Asian Buddhism.’ The Indian Economic and Social History Review: 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/0019464618817367

Morris, Richard. 1887. ‘Saddhammopāyana.’ Journal of the Pali Text Society: 35–98.

Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu. 1982. The Path of Purification: Translated from the Pāli. Translation Series, 43. London: The Pali Text Society. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0035869x00137797

Norman, K. R. 1983. Pāli Literature: Including the Canonical Literature in Prakrit and Sanskrit of All the Hīnayāna Schools of Buddhism. A History of Indian Literature, 7.2. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0041977x00027336

Obeyesekere, Ranjini. 2001. Portraits of Buddhist Women: Stories from the Saddharmaratnāvaliya. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0041977x02410361

Oikawa, Shinkai. 2002–2003. Publication Committee for Buddhist and Indian Studies in Honour of Professor Dr Sodo Mori/Kokusai Bukkyōto Kyōkai 国際仏教徒協会 (ed.), Buddhist and Indian Studies in Honour of Professor Sodo Mori/Mori Sodō hakushi shōju kinen bukkyōgaku indogaku ronshū 森祖道博士頌寿記念・仏教学インド学論集. Hamamatsu: Kokusai Bukkyōto Kyōkai: 67–78. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10783-005-2186-y

Pruitt, William. 1999 (1998). The Commentary on the Verses of the Therīs (Therīgāthā-aṭṭhakathā, Paramatthadīpanī VI) by Ācariya Dhammapāla. Oxford: Pali Text Society. Reprint with cor­rections, originally published 1998.

Saddhatissa, Hammalawa. 1965. Upāsakajanālaṅkāra: A Critical Edition and Study. London: Luzac (for the Pali Text Society).

Santacitta, Bhikkhuni. 2014. ‘Gift of the Sacred Feminine.’ Published 06.01.2014, Awakening Buddhist Women, http://awakeningbuddhistwomen.blogspot.com/2014/01/gift-of-sacred-feminine.html

Sasson, Vanessa R. 2018. Yasodhara: A Novel about the Buddha’s Wife. Delhi: Speaking Tiger Publishing.

Sponberg, Alan. 1992. ‘Attitudes toward Women and the Feminine in Early Buddhism.’ In José Cabezón (ed.), Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender: 3–36. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Surrey, Janet, and Samuel Shem. 2015. The Buddha’s Wife: The Path of Awakening Together. New York: Atria Books.

Thanissara. 2015. Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for our Earth – the Buddha’s Life and Message through Feminine Eyes. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Tsultrim Allione, Lama. 2018. Wisdom Rising, Journey into the Mandala of the Empowered Feminine. New York: Atria/Enliven Books.

Visigalli, Paolo. 2016. ‘The Buddha’s Wordplays: The Rhetorical Function and Efficacy of Puns and Etymologizing in the Pāli Canon.’ Journal of Indian Philosophy 44: 809–32. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10781-015-9286-3

Waldschmidt, Ernst. 1970. ‘Fragment of a Buddhist Sanskrit Text on Cosmogony.’ In Jayadeva Tilakasiri (ed.), Añjali: Papers on Indology and Buddhism; A Felicitation Volume Presented to Oliver Hector de Alwis Wijesekera on his Sixtieth Birthday: 40–45. Peradeniya: The Felicitation Volume Editorial Committee/Colombo: University of Ceylon. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0041977x00108079

Walshe, Maurice. 1987. Thus Have I Heard – the Long Discourses of the Buddha: Dīgha Nikāy, Translated from the Pāli. London: Wisdom Publications.

Young, R. F., and G. P. V. Somaratna. 1996. Vain Debates: The Buddhist-Christian Controversies of Nineteenth-century Ceylon. Publications of the De Nobili Research Library, 23. Vienna: University of Vienna. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1356186300010786
Published
2019-10-18
How to Cite
Dhammadinnā, B. (2019). When Womanhood Matters. Religions of South Asia, 12(3), 274-313. https://doi.org/10.1558/rosa.39890
Section
Articles