Topic 7: Gender and Buddhism


Bhikkhu Cintita, “What Did the Buddha Think of Women?”

A New Beginning (video), on bhikkhunis (nuns) in America

Asian Traditions

  • Absence of Bhikkhuni Sangha in Tibetan, Theravada; thrives elsewhere
  • Common thesis that women less capable of attainment
  • Lay women generally more devout than lay men
  • Women rarely mentioned in Buddhist history

Western Buddhism

  • Gender equality imperative
  • Bhikkhuni Sangha being restored in Tibetan, Theravada
  • Some resistance from Asian traditions, on average, more difficult to be a Western nun than a monk
  • Many prominent women teachers, both lay and monastic

Early Buddhism

  • Bhikkhuni Sangha established five years after bhikkhu Sangha
  • Care to establish independent and secure bhikkhuni Sangha
  • Women clearly capable of Awakening (yet cannot become Buddha)
  • Some prominent women teachers, though less common than men
  • In a very patriarchal India
  • Garudhamma rules impose explicit (but symbolic) gender inequality
  • Fear that establishing bhikkhuni Sangha would undermine Buddhism
  • Bhikkhuni Sangha seems to have thrived at time of Ashoka










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