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Historical approaches to Buddhist history

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  1. Introduction
  2. Scholarly interpretations
    1. Horner
    2. Schuster Barnes
    3. Sponberg
  3. Historical analysis
  4. Conclusion
  5. Biliography

In the past three decades Buddhism has become increasingly popular in the West and has had a major impact on Western religious thought and practice. That tradition, however, comes with baggage about the roles and position of women that is reminiscent of the baggage in other the major traditions already established in the West, such as Christianity and Judaism.The response of Western Buddhist scholars has been to apply some of the historical techniques used in recent decades to evaluate biblical history to study the authenticity and nature of Buddhist scriptures. Use of these techniques in both contexts tends to run up against a particular bias. If the scholars are themselves practitioners and have assumptions about the ?goodness? of the founder, whether Jesus, Buddha, Moses, or some other, then the scholars may make the mistake of projecting their own ideas about ?goodness? on the historical figure, instead of relying on an objective historical analysis to evaluate texts.This paper will look at how leading Buddhist scholars have exposed this kind of bias when studying the authenticity of Buddhist sayings about the nature and practice of women.

[...] She attributed some responsibility for changes such as a greater acceptance of female children, the option for women not to marry, and a decreased emphasis on a father choosing his daughter's husband to Buddhism.[1] Horner does admit that a few unpleasant (to many twenty-first century people) attitudes toward women, like the assumption that women will wait on men, were not wiped out by early Buddhism.[2] Horner portrays Buddhists as social reformers who were trying to alter women's position,[3] while other authors, such as Gross, argue that early Buddhist were not trying to make social changes.[4] The story of the founding of the nuns' order is a good example of how Horner used her assumptions. [...]


[...] The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction, fourth edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company Schuster Barnes, Nancy. ?Buddhism.? In Arvind Sharma, ed. Women in World Religions. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press Sponberg, Alan. ?Attitudes toward Women and the Feminine in Early Buddhism.? In José Ignacio Cabezón ed. Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press Wilson, Liz. Charming Cadavers: Horrific Figurations of the Feminine in Indian Buddhist Hagiographic Literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press I.B. [...]


[...] There is little in the early canonical literature to conclusively refute that interpretation of inclusiveness, and indeed much to reinforce it, as we shall soon see.[19] All versions of the scriptures say Buddha taught the same teachings to men and women and considered women capable of attaining nirvana. This does not necessarily mean that he was egalitarian in the modern sense of the world. He may have agreed with the attitudes about sexual hierarchy that were prevalent in his time. [...]

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