Recent decades have seen a groundswell in the Buddhist world, a transnational agitation for better opportunities for Buddhist women. Many of the main players in the transnational nuns movement self-identify as feminists but other participants in this movement may not know or use the language of feminism. In fact, many ordained Buddhist women say they seek higher ordination so that they might be better Buddhist practitioners, not for the sake of gender equality.
Eschewing the backward projection of secular liberal feminist categories, this book describes the basic features of the Buddhist discourse of the female body, held more or less in common across sectarian lines, and still pertinent to ordained Buddhist women today. The textual focus of the study is an early-first-millennium Sanskrit Buddhist work, "Descent into the Womb scripture" or Garbhāvakrānti-sūtra. Drawing out the implications of this text, the author offers innovative arguments about the significance of childbirth and fertility in Buddhism, namely that birth is a master metaphor in Indian Buddhism; that Buddhist gender constructions are centrally shaped by Buddhist birth discourse; and that, by undermining the religious importance of female fertility, the Buddhist construction of an inauspicious, chronically impure, and disgusting femininity constituted a portal to a new, liberated, feminine life for Buddhist monastic women. Thus, this study of the Buddhist discourse of birth is also a genealogy of gender in middle period Indian Buddhism.
Offering a new critical perspective on the issues of gender, bodies and suffering, this book will be of interest to an interdisciplinary audience, including researchers in the field of Buddhism, South Asian history and religion, gender and religion, theory and method in the study of religion, and Buddhist medicine.
"Brilliant analysis of suffering in early Indian Buddhist literature, highlighting its basic connection with birth and the impact of this connection on the lives of Buddhist men and women. With suffering and birth equated, woman were cast as sources of suffering, which in turn gave away to Buddhist literature of disgust that transformed 'the beautiful sexualized and fertile female form into something ugly and repugant."
—Rory Lindsay, Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly
1: Suffering is Birth
2: Birth Narratives and Gender Identity
3: Disgust for the Abject Mother
4: The Inauspicious Mother
5: Fertile Ascetics
6: Female Impurity and the Female Buddhist Ascetic
Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism is a comprehensive study of the Buddhist tradition. The series explores this complex and extensive tradition from a variety of perspectives, using a range of different methodologies. The series is diverse in its focus, including historical, philological, cultural, and sociological investigations into the manifold features and expressions of Buddhism worldwide. It also presents works of constructive and reflective analysis, including the role of Buddhist thought and scholarship in a contemporary, critical context and in the light of current social issues. The series is expansive and imaginative in scope, spanning more than two and a half millennia of Buddhist history. It is receptive to all research works that are of significance and interest to the broader field of Buddhist Studies.
Some of the titles in the series are published in association with the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, which conducts and promotes rigorous teaching and research into all forms of the Buddhist tradition.
Editorial Advisory Board:
James A. Benn, McMaster University, Canada
Jinhua Chen, The University of British Columbia, Canada
Rupert Gethin, University of Bristol, UK
Peter Harvey, University of Sunderland, UK
Sallie King, James Madison University, USA
Anne Klein, Rice University, USA
Lori Meeks, University of Southern California, USA;
Ulrich Pagel, School of Oriental and African Studies, UK
John Powers, Australian National University, Australia;
Juliane Schober, Arizona State University, USA
Vesna A. Wallace, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Michael Zimmermann, University of Hamburg, Germany