Women in Pali Buddhism
Walking the Spiritual Paths in Mutual Dependence
Routledge – 2013 – 208 pages
The Pali tradition presents a diverse and often contradictory picture of women. This book examines women’s roles as they are described in the Pali canon and its commentaries. Taking into consideration the wider socio-religious context – drawing from early brahmanical literature and epigraphical findings – it contrasts these descriptions with the doctrinal account of women’s spiritual abilities.
This book’s critical investigation focuses on the internal relationships and dynamics of one tradition and employs a novel methodology, which the author calls "critical sympathy". This assumes that the tradition’s teaching is valid for all, in particular that its main goal, nibbana, and the path leading to it, is accessible to all human beings, whatever their present status and circumstances. By considering whether and how women’s roles fit within this path, the author examines whether women have spiritual agency not only as bhikkhunis (Buddhist nuns), but also, and importantly, as wives and mothers. The book offers a new understanding that focuses on how the tradition construes, and gives meaning to women’s traditional roles within an interdependent community.
1. Introduction: The scholarly study of women in Buddhism 2. A Buddhist theory of gender: What is a woman? 3. A woman’s traditional career: From daughter to wife 4. Mothers: Dhamma as the repayment of the filial debt 5. Motherhood as salvation 6. The four assemblies and the place of Bhikkhunis 7. Conclusion: The Buddhist family: A spiritual path for women
Pascale Engelmajer teaches in the Theology and Religious Studies Department at the University of Bristol, UK.