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Family Matters in Indian Buddhist Monasticisms

Shayne Clarke

Publication Year: 2014

Scholarly and popular consensus has painted a picture of Indian Buddhist monasticism in which monks and nuns severed all ties with their families when they left home for the religious life. In this view, monks and nuns remained celibate, and those who faltered in their “vows” of monastic celibacy were immediately and irrevocably expelled from the Buddhist Order. This romanticized image is based largely on the ascetic rhetoric of texts such as the Rhinoceros Horn Sutra. Through a study of Indian Buddhist law codes (vinaya), Shayne Clarke dehorns the rhinoceros, revealing that in their own legal narratives, far from renouncing familial ties, Indian Buddhist writers take for granted the fact that monks and nuns would remain in contact with their families.

The vision of the monastic life that emerges from Clarke's close reading of monastic law codes challenges some of our most basic scholarly notions of what it meant to be a Buddhist monk or nun in India around the turn of the Common Era. Not only do we see thick narratives depicting monks and nuns continuing to interact and associate with their families, but some are described as leaving home for the religious life with their children, and some as married monastic couples. Clarke argues that renunciation with or as a family is tightly woven into the very fabric of Indian Buddhist renunciation and monasticisms.

Surveying the still largely uncharted terrain of Indian Buddhist monastic law codes preserved in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese, Clarke provides a comprehensive, pan-Indian picture of Buddhist monastic attitudes toward family. Whereas scholars have often assumed that monastic Buddhism must be anti-familial, he demonstrates that these assumptions were clearly not shared by the authors/redactors of Indian Buddhist monastic law codes. In challenging us to reconsider some of our most cherished assumptions concerning Indian Buddhist monasticisms, he provides a basis to rethink later forms of Buddhist monasticism such as those found in Central Asia, Kaśmīr, Nepal, and Tibet not in terms of corruption and decline but of continuity and development of a monastic or renunciant ideal that we have yet to understand fully.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

This book has taken shape over many years and through the kindness and generosity of many, not all of whom are mentioned here. One person in particular, however, deserves special mention. To Professor Gregory Schopen I owe a profound debt of gratitude, both scholarly and personal (for among numerous other things, his gallant, albeit ...


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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xvi

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Chapter One The Rhinoceros in the Room: Monks and Nuns and Their Families

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pp. 1-36

This series of four rules introduces monastic legislation to accommodate any pregnant nuns who give birth to baby boys within Indian Buddhist nunneries. Translated here from the Mahīśāsakavinaya, an Indian Buddhist monastic law code (vinaya) preserved in a fifth-century C.E. Chinese translation, the narrative recounts how...

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Chapter Two Family Matters

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pp. 37-77

The present chapter establishes a foundation for our inquiry into the place of family in the narrative landscape of Indian Buddhist monastic law codes. In Section 1, I survey the corpus of Indian Buddhist inscriptions. The epigraphical record is our earliest datable evidence...

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Chapter Three Former Wives from Former Lives

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pp. 78-119

In the preceding chapter, I suggested that for the authors/redactors of Indian Buddhist monastic law codes, embarking on the religious life did not require the severance of all familial ties. Indeed, numerous monastic narratives are predicated on the assumption that monks and nuns would have continued interaction with their families. Moreover,...

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Chapter Four Nuns Who Become Pregnant

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pp. 120-149

We begin our discussion of monastic motherhood, in Section 1, by looking at what the authors/redactors of the extant monastic law codes have to say about the ordination of pregnant women. Taking our cue from work on modern legal theory, we will examine the nature of these rules, and this will allow us to identify...

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Chapter Five Reconsidering Renunciation: Family-Friendly Monasticisms

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pp. 150-170

The picture that emerges from this study stands in stark contrast to much we have been told about the familial and marital relationships of Buddhist monks and nuns in India. Buddhist monks and nuns, we are told, went forth from home into homelessness. Scholars have generally understood this literally. World renunciation has been...


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pp. 171-228

Works Consulted

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pp. 229-262

Index of Texts

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pp. 263-266

Index of Authors/Subjects

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pp. 267-276

About the Author, Production Notes, Back Cover

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pp. 277-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780824840075
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824836474

Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 870969970
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Family Matters in Indian Buddhist Monasticisms

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Buddhist nuns -- Family relationships -- India.
  • Buddhist monks -- Family relationships -- India.
  • Monastic and religious life (Buddhism) -- India.
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