Buddhism and Women-The Dhamma Has No Gender

By Sirimanne, Chand R. | Journal of International Women's Studies, November 2016 | Go to article overview

Buddhism and Women-The Dhamma Has No Gender


Sirimanne, Chand R., Journal of International Women's Studies


The evolving influence of Buddhism in the West

The increasing influence and relevance of Buddhism in its various forms in the global society of the 21st century have given rise to a vibrant and evolving movement, particularly in the West, loosely called Socially Engaged Buddhism or the Fourth Yana with its roots in traditional Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand (Queen 2000). From a Buddhist perspective, the mind is the forerunner and source of everything in existence, and Buddhism is best described as an ethico-psychological system rather than a religion in the conventional sense of the word (De Silva 1992). Therefore, its ethical framework is inextricably interwoven with its meditative practice and its salvific Path. While its more compassionate and inclusive system of ethics is embraced by the ecological and feminist movements, its meditative practice has come to have a significant impact on Western psychology. Thus, as yet the influence of Buddhism in the West is somewhat fragmented and in the case of meditation, specifically mindfulness has been adapted, largely disengaged from its original Buddhist source.

As Buddhism becomes more influential in the West, many practitioners, academics and activists look to Buddhism for answers to two of the most urgent and crucial issues of our time the protection of the planet and eradicating discrimination against half its population. Recently a Buddhist declaration on climate change was made as a result of a book, (A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency), and in a pan-Buddhist response to the many contributions to it, The Time to Act is Now. A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change was formulated in an attempt to create a global and non-sectarian awareness and response to what some scientists call the greatest threat to human life (Loy, Bodhi & Stanley, n.d. para. 5):

   There has never been a more important time in history to bring the
   resources of Buddhism to bear on behalf of all living beings. The
   four noble truths provide a framework for diagnosing our current
   situation and formulating appropriate guidelines-because the
   threats and disasters we face ultimately stem from the human mind,
   and therefore require profound changes within our minds. If
   personal suffering stems from craving and ignorance--from the
   three poisons of greed, ill will, and delusion-the same applies to
   the suffering that afflicts us on a collective scale.

Over the last few decades Buddhism, environmentalism, the ecological movement and feminism have been the subject of much interdisciplinary work. Buddhist philosophy, ethics and its system of meditation have found common ground with the movements known as Eco-Buddhism and Deep Ecology with the core acknowledgement of the interrelatedness of all beings and their intrinsic value for the health and survival of the planet and all its inhabitants. Macy in her book, World as lover, world as self (2003) makes a case for integrating Eco-feminism and Buddhist perspectives for a transformation that would lead to a more compassionate attitude and protection of the planet. In her chapter 'Acting with Compassion: Buddhism, Feminism, and the Environmental Crisis', Kaza (2014) explores several areas where American Buddhism and feminism intersects. As they and several other scholars point out, first and foremost is experiential knowledge gained through both the cultivation of the mind and interactions with others. The second is the observation of the conditioning of the mind pertaining to one's attitudes, emotional barriers and assumptions. The third is the understanding of how everything is interconnected in terms of society, nature and the planet. Kaza (2014) also examines the emotional energy gained through reflection, its therapeutic potential and also the key role that interacting positively with society plays in wellbeing.

Buddhism and women

Gross (1993) in her Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism makes a crucially important and extensive study of all the main sects of Buddhism from a cross-cultural, religious and feminist point of view stating her principal objective as "a feminist revalorization of Buddhism", analyzing the key Buddhist concepts and attitudes that shape its world view. …

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