Enchanting, powerful, horrific, beautiful, wise, deadly, compassionate, seductive. Women in Buddhist story and image are all these things and more. She takes the signs of the ancient goddess – the lotus, the sacred grove, the serpent, the sacrifice – and uses them in astonishing new ways. Her story is one of suffering and great trials, and through it all an unquenchable longing to be free. This beautifully illustrated work is as layered and subversive as mythology itself. Based directly on authentic Buddhist texts, and informed with insights from psychology and comparative mythology, it takes a fresh look at how Buddhist women have been depicted by men and how they have depicted themselves.
Generations of scholars, from the inception of the modern study of Buddhism, have established a long-lasting and relatively stable consensus regarding the texts and history of early Buddhism. While inevitably subject to the usual kinds of uncertainty, incompleteness, and evolution, this consensus has provided a framework for the positive development of our understanding of the Buddha, his teachings, and his community. This consensus has been challenged by the prominent Amercian academic, Gregory Schopen. His essays have been the most influential reassessment in the history of Buddhist studies. Many of his ideas are regarded as virtually canonical in modern academia, and have permeated far beyond the normal reach of Buddhist academic work. However, his arguments are far better regarded among non-specialists than among those who actually study early Buddhism. This essay shows a number of flaws and problems with Schopen’s work on early Buddhism, by implication supporting the traditional consensus.
Devadatta is depicted as the archetypal villain in all Buddhist traditions. Reginald Ray has argued for a radical reassessment of Devadatta as a forest saint who was unfairly maligned in later monastic Buddhism. His work has been influential, but it relies on omissions and mistaken readings of the sources. Ray’s claim that ‘there is no overlap between the Mahāsaṅghika treatment [of Devadatta] and that of the five [Sthavira] schools’ is untrue. On the contrary, the manner in which Devadatta is depicted in the Mahāsaṅghika is broadly similar to the Sthavira accounts. Such differences as do exist are literary rather than doctrinal. The stories of Devadatta’s depravity became increasingly lurid in later Buddhism, but this is a normal feature of the mythologizing process, and has nothing to do with any antagonism against forest ascetics. In any case, the early sources are unanimous in condemning Devadatta as the instigator of the first schism in the Buddhist community.
The Buddhist monastic codes (Vinayas) include a provision for a training period of two years for candidates for bhikkhuni ordination. This is one of the few aspects of bhikkhuni ordination that has no parallel in the ordination for monks. The sikkhamana training period is controversial, and is often not followed in modern practice. Santipada undertook a research project to bring together, translate, and analyze the major passages from all Vinayas that deal with the sikkhamana. While incomplete, this project still comprises the largest resource available on this topic.
The Buddha’s words exemplify peace, teach us peace, and lead to the ultimate peace of Nibbana. It is a sad thing that in the complexities and contradictions of Buddhist history, peace has sometimes been sacrificed on the altar of Buddhist nationalism. By asking the hard questions and accepting the answers fearlessly we can arrive at the essential, the true state of peace, for the sake of which all Buddhist ethics, meditation, and wisdom are taught.
While the Satipaṭṭhana Sutta is often claimed to be the most important of the Buddha’s teachings, close textual analysis reveals that it is a composite text, with substantial differences between the many existing versions. The use of the fundamental term dhamma in fact reveals the text to be part of the early Abhidhamma movement.
The depiction of women in Buddhist texts is deeply ambiguous. We are told that women can become fully awakened; and then in the next breath, that they will destroy Buddhism. This ambiguity is deeply revealing. Even though we traditionally see our texts as the products of pure awakened beings, the reality is far more complex, and hence, far more interesting.
Through careful attention to the earliest Buddhist teachings, preserved in scriptures in Pali, Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit, we can not only come closer to the Buddha’s original message, but can discern the teachings shared among all Buddhist traditions.
Fifteen hundred years ago, Buddhist nuns from Sri Lanka braved the long sea voyage to China in order to introduce the authentic bhikkhuni ordination lineage. Here are their stories, translated from the ancient Chinese histories.