Buddhism after Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism

By Rita M. Gross | Go to book overview

1
Strategies for a Feminist Revalorization of Buddhism

This essay grows out of a complex, unique, and personal blending of three perspectives--the cross-cultural, comparative study of religion, feminism, and Buddhism. Though each perspective is well-known and widely used individually, they are not usually brought into conversation with each other. Even more rarely are they blended into one spiritual and scholarly outlook, as I have sought to do in my personal and academic life. Throughout these pages, I will illustrate the dense, mutually illuminating interplay of these three perspectives as they weave a coherent and uplifting vision. I could tell the story of how these three orientations became allies in my system of understanding and orientation. However, unlike Carol Christ and Christine Downing, 1 I choose not to focus directly on my story, on my personal intersection with these three perspectives, but on the sometimes tension-laden synthesis which I have conjured up out of my studies, my suffering, and my experience.

My primary task in this book is a feminist revalorization of Buddhism. In feminist theology in general, the task of "revalorization" involves working with the categories and concepts of a traditional religion in the light of feminist values. This task is double-edged, for, one the one hand, feminist analysis of any major world religion reveals massive undercurrents of sexism and prejudice against women, especially in realms of religious praxis. On the other hand, the very term "revalorization" contains an implicit judgment. To revalorize is to have determined that, however sexist a religious tradition may be, it is not irreparably so. Revalorizing is, in fact, doing that work of repairing the tradition, often bringing it much more into line with its own fundamental values and vision than was its patriarchal form.

My strategies for this revalorization involve first studying Buddhist history and then analyzing key concepts of the Buddhist worldview from a feminist point of view. Utilizing the results of those studies, I finally pursue a feminist reconstruction of Buddhism.

In the chapters on Buddhist history, I will survey the roles and images of women found in each of the three major periods of Buddhist intellectual

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