In recent decades, as Buddhism has gained popularity in the West, Western scholars have begun to apply principles of historical analysis to Buddhist scriptures. One main purpose of this kind of scholarship is to try and determine which of the sayings attributed to Gautama Buddha in the scriptures are likely to have been said by him. This is very similar to biblical scholarship that seeks to authenticate sayings of Jesus.Ancient Buddhist scriptures have been preserved in two places: Sri Lanka and China. The texts in China were taken there from the great Buddhist universities in northern India before those universities were destroyed by Turkish invaders in the eighth through eleventh centuries. If the sayings attributed to Buddha do not exist in all the scriptures, it is possible that they were added later by one school of Buddhism and not known or accepted by other schools. This is particularly true if the disputed sayings are inconsistent with other sayings that appear in both sets of scriptures.This paper will look at the way the sayings attributed to Gautama Buddha by Buddhist authorities have impacted the lives of Buddhist women through the millennia and the historical evidence for the authenticity of those sayings.
[...] Wealthy Buddhist women also gave support, and queens provided buildings, land, and money for the community during Buddhism's first 800 years in India. The ability to reach enlightenment was also not limited to nuns; laywomen could become enlightened or reach advanced spiritual states. Some laywomen were reported to be arhats, and at least two housewives were mentioned as having achieved the state of non- returners.This description of Gautama Buddha's relationship with women is hard to reconcile with the picture painted in other parts of the Pali canon. [...]
[...] This perspective had a dramatic effect on the treatment of nuns, attitudes toward women and the feminine, and the role of women in Buddhism and Buddhist cultures. IV.Women in Mahayana Buddhism Around the first century of the current era, when Buddhist texts were being written down, several schools of Buddhism were arising. One group of schools was opposed to the monastic emphasis of early Indian Buddhism, and emphasized spiritual practice in ordinary life instead. They called the older way Hinayana, or the small vehicle. [...]
[...] In recent decade the nuns' order has been restored in a small way in a few places like India and Sri Lanka, often after both pressure and support from Buddhist women in the West. Women from other Theravada countries can now travel to India to receive full ordination as nuns. As this reemergence of women in the Theravada tradition has barely begun, women have not yet discovered what role they will play in the future of Theravada Buddhism. The predominance of monks and their control over all religious rituals and education is entrenched, so changes can be expected to happen slowly. [...]
[...] Women need to seek to be freed from the impurities of the woman's body and to obtain the “beautiful and fresh body of a man.” To this day, many female Buddhist practitioners in many areas of the world focus their spiritual practice on seeking rebirth as a male so that they can advance on the spiritual path. There are repeated admonitions in Mahayana texts that women should learn to despise their female nature in order to transcend it. One woman character is an Indian sutra, Queen Srimala, was said to be an advanced Bodhisattva in a woman's body, but some ancient commentators explained that away by saying that she must have really been a lower-stage Bodhisattva or a man pretending to be a woman. [...]
[...] This belief was interpreted in many schools of Mahayana Buddhism to mean that women could not become enlightened and that the female body was not a suitable vehicle for enlightenment. This had a very real impact on the lives and spiritual practice of Buddhist women. According to the Lotus Sutra, one of the most popular Mahayana scriptures, women cannot be high-level or irreversible Bodhisattvas, and they cannot be Buddhas. Also, the Pure Lands—places created by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for people to go after death to continue their spiritual development—are all male. The thirty-forth vow of a Bodhisattva in the Pure Land Sutra is a vow to cause women to despise their female nature and to be reborn as male. Early Mahayana texts often used male terms for the sacred and female terms for the profane or imperfect. [...]
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