Soteriology, Asceticism and the Female Body in Two Indian Buddhist Narratives


  • Douglas Osto Massey University



Indian Buddhist Narrative, Female Body, Narrative Devices


This paper makes a number of observations on soteriology, asceticism and the female body in two Indian Buddhist narrative. The first story examined is about the enlightenment of the Buddhist saint Yasas from a collection of verses know as the Anavatapta-gatha, or Songs of Lake Anavatapta. This narrative graphically describes a rotting female corpse and associates this physical corruption with the female body in general. The second story is about a mythical girl from the ancient past found in the Mahayana scripture, the Gandavyuha-sutra. The female protagonist is described as exceedingly beautiful and her beauty functions as a sign of her spiritual superiority and as a means to aid beings. After a summary of these two tales, their soteriological presuppositions are discussed. Next,the effect of Buddhist soteriology upon the construction of gendered bodies in Indian Buddhism is considered. The author argues that the first story represents an ascetic soteriology that sees the female body as corrupt, while the second story displays an alternative devotional soteriology that extols female beauty as linked to virtue and as efficacious for religious development. The paper concludes with the suggestion that the narratives employing the image of the corrupt female body were meant for a male monastic audience; while the Gandavyuha with its devotional soteriology may have been composed with a royal female audience in mind. Thus target audience should be considered when studying Indian Buddhist narratives.

Author Biography

Douglas Osto, Massey University

School of History, Philosophy & Politics Massey University New Zealand


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How to Cite

Osto, D. (2007). Soteriology, Asceticism and the Female Body in Two Indian Buddhist Narratives. Buddhist Studies Review, 23(2), 203–220.