Are women the same in Buddhism

Dippawan Dusha: Theravada Buddhism from a feminist perspective. International Symposium: Women in Buddhism, 7.-9. February 1997, Frankfurt am Main. Journal of Religious Culture / Journal für Religionskultur No. 27-08 (1999)

Journal of Religious Culture
Journal for Religious Culture

Ed. by / Ed. by Edmund Weber
Institute for Irenics / Institute for Scientific Irenics
Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main
ISSN 1434-5935- © E. Weber


No. 27-08 (1999)

Theravada Buddhism from a feminist perspective

Tippawan Dusha

1. The teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of cause and effect

Buddha says, "Whoever understands dependent arising understands Dharma, whoever understands Dharma understands dependent arising". Dharma is the teaching of the Buddha. Dharma means "truth", "lawfulness", "natural law". All of Buddha's teaching is about people, about us and about nature.

Another time the Buddha said, "The teaching on dependent arising is very profound and subtle". We cannot "understand" it only with the intellect. Words are unfortunately only a linear intellectual resource, which is limited.

The following is the Buddha's world view of nature: The natural systems in this world and the universe are linked. All living beings are meant. One cannot exist without the other. If one dies in the chain, the other dies. The rule of not killing in Buddhist terminology therefore includes all living beings, not only all humans and all animals, but also plants.

To clarify this worldview, I would like to quote Buddha from the book "The Life and Work of Buddha": "The birth and death of every single dharma is linked to the birth and death of all other dharmas. The one contains the many, and the many contain the one. Without the one, the many cannot be. Without the many, the one cannot be. If you look deeply into the nature of all dharmas, you will be able to overcome all fear of birth and death You will break the cycle of birth and death. The links in the chain consist of many layers and levels, but four areas can be distinguished: 1. main causes, 2. contributing causes, 3. the immediately preceding moment as cause and 4. object as causes

A primary cause is the critical, prevailing condition necessary for a phenomenon to arise. For example, for a rice plant to grow, the existence of a seed is the main cause. Contributing causes are supportive conditions. In the case of the grain of rice, they include the sun, rain, and earth. They enable the seed to grow into a rice plant.

The immediately preceding moment as the cause denotes an uninterrupted process that acts as the underlying condition. Without this ongoing process, the rice plant would stop growing before maturity. Objects as cause refer to objects of consciousness that make the existence of the rice plant possible. They cannot be separated from consciousness. Mind is a fundamental condition for the existence of all dharmas.

Suffering exists because there is life and death. What causes birth and death? Ignorance. Birth and death are first of all concepts and ideas. They are products of ignorance. If you look carefully and penetrate the causes of all phenomena, you will overcome ignorance. Once you have overcome ignorance, you have transcended all thoughts about birth and death. When you have transcended all thoughts of birth and death, you will overcome all fears and all sorrow. There is an idea of ​​death because there is an idea of ​​birth. These misconceptions are based on a wrong view of the self. There is a wrong view of the self because there is grasping. There is grasping because there is desire. There is desire because one is not looking into the true nature of the sensation. One does not look into the true nature of sensation because one is trapped by the contact between the sense organs and the sense objects. One is trapped by the contact between sense organs and sense objects because one's mind is not clear and calm. Your own mind is not clear and calm because there are driving forces and impulses. These driving forces and impulses are conditioned by ignorance. The twelve links in the chain of existence are all interconnected. In each link you can see the other eleven. If one of the links is missing, the others will also be missing. The 12 links in the chain are: ignorance, driving forces and impulses, consciousness, name and form, the six sense organs, touch, sensations, desire, grasping, becoming, birth and death.

All 12 links in the chain of existence are based on ignorance. By contemplating the nature of dependent arising, we can banish ignorance to transcend all fears, all sorrow. An enlightened person walks across the ocean of birth and death without drowning in it. An enlightened person uses the 12 links of existence like the wheels of a car. An enlightened person lives in the midst of the waves of life, but is never inundated by them. Don't try to run away from life and death. You just have to get beyond them. Transcending birth and death is a mark of sublime beings "

In another discourse, the law was presented abbreviated in verse: What is the law of dependent arising and perishing?

Quote from D. Kantowski (1994: 34-35):

The formations arise from ignorance as the cause;
Consciousness arises from the formations as cause;
Mind and body emerge from consciousness as the cause;
The six sensory areas (gates) arise from mind and body as the cause;
the touch arises from the six sensory areas as the cause
sensation arises from touch as the cause;
thirst arises from the sensation as the cause; (desire / tanha)
clinging arises from thirst as the cause
from clinging as cause there arises;
from becoming as a cause birth arises;
birth as the cause gives rise to old age and death, pain, sorrow, suffering, sorrow and despair. In this way the origin of the whole mass of suffering comes about. "

In the middle of this chain of arising, delusion, hatred, and greed are intertwined. Since ignorance is the main cause of suffering, only knowledge can break this chain. Ignorance of Buddhist terminology does not mean that one has not had a school or university education. It means ignorance of the four noble truths.

What are the four noble truths?

1. The Buddha sets the first basic truth exactly where we humans are at home then as now: With the inadequate and the suffering (dukkha).
"Birth is unsatisfactory, decay is unsatisfactory, illness is unsatisfactory, death unsatisfactory; it is unsatisfactory to be with the unloved, it is unsatisfactory to be separated from loved ones; it is unsatisfactory not to get what one desires. In short: the five appropriation groups are painful through attachment. "(Samyutta Nikata 56.11. In: Detlef Kantowsky (1994: 32))

The 5 appropriation groups or accumulation groups are the 5 parts that humans are made up of: body, and 4 aspects of mind. There are: 1. The feeling, it includes sensations and emotions. According to Buddhist teaching, there are three categories: pleasant, uncomfortable and neutral feeling; 2. the perception; 3. the thoughts or mental formations and 4. the sense consciousness through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin and thinking. These organs create contacts between the "inside and outside" area.

Why is the 5 piling groups suffering? The starting point is the insight into the three basic characteristics: 1. All formations are perishable (anicca); 2. All formations are subject to suffering .; 3. All elements of reality have no fixed and unchangeable core.

From the Buddhist point of view, the so-called person who thinks, says and does, is a process of physical-mental change in becoming, in which an independent ego can neither be determined from a selective nor holistic view.

I-like processes of identification with the body, feelings, perception, thought-forming and consciousness as well as sensory activities of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking are the causes of wrong views and lead to suffering or dissatisfaction. These self-affirmation processes go so fast that one cannot consciously perceive.

To avoid misunderstandings, I would like to explain the worldly terms "happiness and suffering" from a Buddhist point of view: The supposed worldly happiness (sensual desires, wealth, power) is inherently impermanent and because people constantly hunt for it and want to hold onto it, it creates suffering , Fear, sorrow. So happiness is very close to suffering.

To be or not to be, that is not a question in Buddhism. Both terms reflect the dualistic way of thinking that leads to attachment and extremes and should be overcome. This is handicap for freeing the mind. There is therefore no soul that lives forever. Everything is changing.

The first noble truth is not a metaphysical statement that says that everything is suffering. Noble truth is a truth that woman must reflect on; it is not an absolute and it is not the absolute. It is not a dogma. It is often a misunderstanding by people from the West to believe that this is a metaphysical truth of Buddhism (Ajahn Sumedho 1992: 15)

2. There are causes of dissatisfaction and these depend on three types of desire / greed: desire or greed for sensual pleasure, desire to become, and desire not to become.

3. There is the cessation of dissatisfaction through the complete abandonment of this greed and desire.

4. There are ways that lead to an end to dissatisfaction. There are 8 paths that can be divided into theory, practice and method.

A. Theory or wisdom (panya)

1. Right knowledge means understanding the other 3 Noble Truths.
2. Right aspiration (intention, attitude, goal) to truth

B. Practice or instructions in everyday life

3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
That means we take responsibility for what we say and do and for our own bodies.

C. Meditative method or the heart

6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration (concentration)

The 8 waypoints are not a linear, but a holistic process. This means that we do not say: First comes No. 1, then No. 2 and so on, but that we practice all aspects at the same time.

Insight meditation is not about regulating or controlling the breath. The natural breath is observed much more, and women achieve clarity of knowledge about physical processes, the observation of feelings, the observation of the mind and the observation of mind-objects.

The knowledge relates not only to pure intellect, but to intuition. So it is not "learnable", but "can be experienced".

Goals: There are three possible final goals for the Theravada schools: From an Arahan to Buddhahood. An Arahan is the one who is freed from the cycle of existence, that is, from greed, hatred and ignorance.

In the historical scriptures we can see that very many women, lay followers and fully ordained bhikkhunis have attained the Arahanate.

2. Position of women in Buddhism

2.1 Women in religious practice

Buddha identified four groups in society that are important for receiving the Dharma: Bhikkus and Bhikunis: male and female ordained and Upahsok and Upahsika: male and female lay followers. The Buddhist scriptures show important equal roles of lay followers alongside followers. Compared to Brahmanism, which does not allow women to perform religious rituals on their own, Buddhists have the freedom to go on spiritual paths independently of men. The rules for lay followers are identical, there is no gender-specific distinction in religious rules. I will not go into detail here on lay followers, but will make the point here and concentrate more on the role of the bhikkuni, the fully ordained women.

After the examination by Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsing, a Thai philosopher and religious scholar, was Buddhism, the first religion in the world to establish a community of ordained women. This was an act that aroused many objections from men, including bhikkus. They were and are still partly caught up in their patriarchal patterns of thought and behavior. When the Buddha established the independent religious community of women, he knew very well that a dispute would arise, and that dispute is still ongoing. That's why he hesitated at first to give ordination to women. This hesitation has often been used by men / bhikkhus to interpret them as it suits them: The Buddha did not want women to enter ordination. According to the book about the life and work of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh, a respected Vietnamese bhikkhu, the Buddha only hesitated because he was not yet sure how he could open the religious community to women without the painful conflict. So it was not a discriminatory intention.

Under the circumstances of the social, cultural and societal norms of the time, the Buddha placed the independent women's order under the protection of the men's orders, like a sister to a brother. It is the eight rules that women can see as discriminatory, which at that time would be necessary to meet social resistance in order to be able to open the gate for women in the first place. An example of the rules:

A bhikkuni must always show devotion to a bhikku, even if she is long established or older.
- When a bhikuni breaks a rule, he must confess to both the bhikhunis and the bhikhus.
- A bhikkhuni may neither criticize nor blame a bhikku.
- A bhikkhuni is not allowed to give lectures in front of any bhikkhus group.

Buddha did not doubt the ability of women. When asked if it is possible for a woman to attain enlightenment, he replied, "Yes, without any doubt it is possible".

As I mentioned before, these rules are meant to act as safeguards, not suppression. Unfortunately, history has shown that many bhikkhus, because of their Brahmin origin, have used bhikkhunis as subordinates or servants. As long as the Buddha was alive, he made provision for the bhikkhunis community. The fact that the women's community received less support from the laity than the men's community worried him greatly. This is clearly seen in the regulation which provides that the robes should be evenly distributed among bhikkhunis and bhikkhus.

But after his death, the leadership of the Sangha, an order of women and men, was taken over by the community of men, with the corresponding consequence:

- At the first council, bhikkhunis were expelled. It was three months after the Buddha's death.

-The council accused the bhikkhu Ananda of allowing the bhikkhunis to pay homage to the Buddha. Another harsh criticism of him was his advocacy for the ordination of women.

Despite the Buddha's doctrine of equality, such an attitude continues in some circles to this day.

In other countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Nepal there never seems to have been a bhikkhunis sangha. However, there are women who want to lead a religious life even though they do not have access to full ordination.

In Thailand there is "Mae Schie" who lead a life under eight rules, while the bhikkhunis of the Theravada tradition have to observe 311 rules. The Mae Schie used to live mainly in the monastery of bhikkus, where they were sometimes abused for service and had little time for meditation exercises. They wear white robes and shaved heads as a sign that they have left worldly life behind. But they do not enjoy any social recognition. With their unexplained status, they live in no man's land: They belong neither to the Sangha community nor to the lay followers. Their right to vote is denied to them with this status. Even if some women adopt 10 rules, they do not have novice status. The novice status is for the period prior to full ordination. This was because 50 years ago some women took the bhikkhuni rules without the participation of the bhikkhuni sangha. It is then forbidden for bhikkhus to give novice and bhikkhuni ordination to women.

For some years there have been more and more independent Mae Schie monasteries that live and practice independently of bhikkhus monasteries. Whoever wants to join the order receives the rules from the Mae Schi, who runs the monastery. Women can call this a break with tradition.The Thai Ministry of Religious Affairs has estimated that there are approximately 20,000 Mae Schie in Thailand.

However, there are women who are not satisfied with their existing status. In 1957, five women were ordained; like male novices, they adopted ten rules and wear brown robes. Their center is in Bangkok. There are several other groups who wear and practice brown robes. And there is a Thai bhikkhuni who received full ordination in Taiwan. She is fighting for her ordination to be recognized. The objection of the Sangha Committee that the Bhikkhuni Sangha in Taiwan belongs to the Mahayana school, which supposedly has a different discipline (Vinaya) school, is, according to Dr. Kabilasingh, who did a comparative study, just a pretended reason. The fact is that the Chinese vows belonged to the Dharmagupta school, a branch of the Theravada school.

2.2. Buddhist women in Thailand

About history

The Kingdom of Thailand came into being around 700 years ago. Taken from history, lay followers practiced alongside one another on an equal footing. There was no bhikkhunis sangha, only the bhikkhu sangha existed. Probably because women did not seek ordination and not because it was not allowed. The kingdom was only shaped by Buddhism.

That changed after 200 years. In the Ayuttaya era, the kingdom attacked the Khmer, now called Kambosha, and adopted Brahmanism by placing women in a lower position. The ruling class, king and nobility, needed Brahmanism to legitimize their power. And they were the ones who made the laws and which had a legal consequence for women: they could be sold by their husbands. Aristocratic women in particular were controlled by patriarchal ideology and had less freedom.

The simple women, who were mostly farmers, enjoyed more freedom. Because at that time simple men had to leave home for six months in the service of their feudal lords, their wives managed their belongings and therefore led a relatively autonomous life. The women are still responsible for the family and manage the money to this day. They work just like men in the field. Your position in the family is respected. In the traditional family in the north and north-east of Thailand, the matrilineal tradition prevailed and still prevails: This means that it is not the first son, as usual, but the youngest daughter who inherits the parents' court. Men were married into the woman's family. Before he could marry her, he had to do the job well in the family yard of his beloved or he would have no chance of marrying her! Hence the term "Chao Bao", the bridegroom, which means "the servant".

In addition to production in agriculture, the common women worked and still work as traders between the villages and in the market.

To believe

In addition to Buddhism and Brahmanist ideas and tradition, there are forms of belief in ghosts in Thai society. People believe that there are spirits in every house, tree and property that protect people if they are treated correctly, e.g. through offerings. The spirits can also be very evil if that is not heeded. They are male and female. Therefore, a haunted house can be found in almost every property in central Thailand, where this belief is most widespread. Elementary foundations of peasant society such as the earth and the river are called goddesses.

It was also noticeable that women play the most important role in the "medium process": They are medium. The medium process means that the spirit is received through a person and speaks to people.

These traditions have nothing to do with the teaching of Buddhism.

In addition to their legal status, women have been disadvantaged in the field of education in the past. As I said, there has never been a female ordination in Thailand. Before the school system existed, the monastery played the role of an educational institution where simple men had an opportunity to learn to read and write. According to tradition, men were and still are ordained at least three months at a time in their lives in order to devote themselves to religious practice. This privilege remains to this day: working men have a vacation entitlement once in a lifetime for this purpose. It is traditionally interpreted that a son can transfer his religious merits as an ordained bhikkhus to his mother. And because she and her daughters are excluded from ordination, ordination of the son has a special status.

The role of the Sangha in the Theravada tradition: Bhikkhus are not allowed to own anything except 2 robes and an alms shawl and have to lead a simple life. They only eat one or two mornings a day and are not allowed to have any money. These are examples of the hundreds of rules they live by. They live on alms from lay supporters. Bhikkus provide spiritual guidance to the congregations. Male and female lay people can also practice together with the Sangha in the monastery if they observe 8 rules. This process works without money. This description does not apply to all monasteries.

At that time this path to education in the monastery was closed to women. Even for women in a higher position, it was frowned upon by male-dominated ideology to write: They could write a love letter and damage the family's honor. Nonetheless, there were some poets from the old days. This situation persisted until compulsory schooling for boys and girls was introduced at the beginning of this century. Thailand was never formally colonized. But it was forced to integrate its economic system into the world market system, which was determined by the colonial rulers. In this case it was England. In the course of capitalist modernization based on the western pattern, women from the upper and meanwhile growing middle classes benefit from the educational opportunities and the economic upswing. They make careers, especially in the area where women have always been strong, in business. The losers in the global economic structure are women from the lower classes.

This explanation serves to make it clear that "pure" Buddhism is in the minority in Thai society. My further statement is: So far, religion has always been functionalized by the rulers in order to maintain and secure power. This has nothing to do with the content of religion.

3. Spirituality and Feminism

Buddhism is characterized by a high degree of rationality and critical thinking. Erich Fromm formulated the following: "At its core, the doctrine states that greed and hate - and thus suffering - can be overcome through complete awareness of reality. It is a philosophical system that is based on observable statements about the existence of the People came to groundbreaking norms. " (Fromm, 1990: 72ff)

Unlike other world religions, for Buddhists there is no god, no gods. The Buddha was human, was neither the Messiah nor the Son of God, nor did he have psychic power. What he has achieved can theoretically be achieved by anyone, i.e. man and woman, regardless of their status. Woman / One does not have to be ordained to be "enlightened". But it is not easy, it requires your own efforts and your own decision. There is no such thing as enlightenment through "initiations" or "esoteric knowledge" that can be bought or passed on.

Buddhism does not require "belief" but "reflection". We are not supposed to believe him until we have checked and reflected for ourselves. He saw himself as a teacher and guide. He always asked people who wanted to be his students straight away, if they had thought it over and checked everything well.

"Not clinging" is another principle, not even to himself. His last advice was: "Be your own refuge". In his time and a few hundred years later, there were no statues of Buddha or portraits of him. When India was under Greek influence a hundred years later, the first statues of Buddha were created.

Self-redemption by letting go of the ego delusion cannot be done by Buddha on behalf of us. We have to do this work ourselves by trying to overcome the dualistic view between the self and all living beings. On this path Buddhists should develop compassion, compassion, loving-kindness and equanimity so that all living beings can co-exist peacefully, so that non-violence and tolerance can grow. Buddha realized that there can only be "one world" and "oneness". And through understanding we can learn to "love".

In my opinion, the fact that in the countries where Buddhism is recognized as the state religion is not always renounced all forms of discrimination, e.g. that of women, shows that people, especially powerful men, did not understand the teachings of the Buddha and understand, and not be guided by it. It may go into their heads. But not in their hearts. When one literally translates the word "understanding" into Thai, it means "enter the heart".

In my view, not all women are equally oppressed: sexism is not the only oppressive structure in the world. Not all women are affected by discrimination based on class and ethnic group; some may even be accomplices and co-profiteers. In German colonial history it became clear how white German women were made mistresses and black women were made slaves. The

Buddhist spirituality does not mean isolation from the world, but rather "seeing" the world as it really is. It's not about security, it's about freedom and independence. The ability to think critically, to give and to love is in demand. This means a radical change in our character, which, according to Fromm, a deceased social psychologist and analyst, was socially and socio-economically conditioned. For me, awareness therefore means not only referring to internal processes, but also to social structures. These two liberations - spiritual liberation from narcissism and socio-political liberation from structures of oppression - are intertwined.

We can only express and develop this ability to love, to give and to think critically if we relate to others. Self-knowledge always presupposes knowledge of the other.

Buddhism looks at people in a dialectical way: he / she is universal and at the same time a unique individual.

"Only a paradoxical way of thinking - as it is central to Eastern logic - can express the whole reality: the human being is a unique individual - and at the same time the individuality of the human being is deception and unreal. The human being is" this and that ", man is “neither this nor that.” The paradoxical fact applies: the deeper I experience my own individuality or the unique individuality of another, the more clearly I see through him and myself the reality of the universal man, free of all individual qualities "(Fromm: 1990)

Transcending or transcending is a central concept in Buddhism in the liberation of worldly and spiritual illusions.

I interpret it in a worldly way that Buddhism advocates transcendence for the common sense of humanity, without at the same time pleading for "equalization". Isn't it time to transcend the current self-centered narcissism of nations, males and bourgeois classes, to recognize the rights of "others"?

4. Outlook

Buddhism advocates the value orientation of being as a possible solution to the have-oriented world in which we live. Women can regard these values ​​as one of the "countercurrent" of the real existing "mainstream values" of complete exploitation and marketing. The have orientations relate to our attitude towards life, both materially and spiritually. Does mainstream western feminism get caught up in this attitude of having? Is the goal of this feminism, as in actually existing socialist states that collapsed 7 years ago, to "have" more than to "be": rule in reverse? Isn't it about dominating rather than sharing, leading into addiction, rather than being independent? Isn't this a way of curing symptoms rather than tackling the problem at the root? This question also goes to mainstream spiritual feminism? Now, in the wake of economic globalization, this orientation towards having has spread at breakneck speed at the expense of nature, social and gender equality. What chance does mankind - men and women - have to save itself from the "consumer ideology"?


Buddhism: D. Kantowski, 1994 Aurum Verlag
Daughters of Buddha, Diederichs Verlag 1991
The Four Noble Truth, Ajahn Sumedho, Amaravati Publications 1992, UK
Old Path Weisse Wolken (Life and Work of Gautama Buddha), Thich Nhat Hanh, Theseus Verlag 1991
From having to being-ways and wrong ways of self-experience, 1990 Beltzverlag, Weinheim
A Tase of Freedom, Ajahn Cha, International Monastery Publication 1993
Buddhism in Thail Life, Funny Publishing Ltd. 1981
Living Dhammas, Ajahn Cha, The Sangha Bung Wai Forest Monastery 1992
Buddhist Philosophy (in Thai), Porn Ratanasuwan, 2509 (1966)

Tippawan Duscha 1997 ©

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