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Buddhist Women and Social Justice

Ideals, Challenges, and Achievements

Karma Lekshe Tsomo

Publication Year: 2004

This book on engaged Buddhism focuses on women working for social justice in a wide range of Buddhist traditions and societies. Contributors document attempts to actualize Buddhism’s liberating ideals of personal growth and social transformation. Dealing with issues such as human rights, gender-based violence, prostitution, and the role of Buddhist nuns, the work illuminates the possibilities for positive change that are available to those with limited power and resources. Integrating social realities and theoretical perspectives, the work utilizes feminist interpretations of Buddhist values and looks at culturally appropriate means of instigating change.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series, Feminist Philosophy


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pp. iii


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pp. v-vi

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INTRODUCTION. Family, Monastery, and Gender Justice: Reenvisioning Buddhist Institutions

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pp. 1-19

Buddhist women have actively worked for more than two millennia to implement Buddhist social ideals, yet rarely have their stories been told. Through the tarnished lens of history, men’s achievements have dominated the narrative of Buddhist scholarship and practice...

Part One: Theoretical Foundations for Buddhist Social Action

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1. Buddhist Understandings of Subjectivity

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pp. 23-34

Buddhist materials speak of a subjective intelligence other than reason, for example, one that is associated with intense mindfulness, one that is not a matter of information accretion, but which focuses on another area of subjectivity altogether. The mind-body paradigm has governed much of Western...

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2. Reflections on Buddhism, Gender, and Human Rights

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pp. 35-43

From 1999 to 2002, I worked at the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), based in Hong Kong, as the program officer for human rights education. AHRC is a nongovernmental organization that has historical links with the Christian Conference of Asia, but has been developing independently...

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3. Is the Bhiksuni Vinaya Sexist?

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pp. 45-72

Feminists generally assume that Buddhism is detrimental to women. Despite the Buddha’s spiritual egalitarianism, they cite certain Buddhists’ claims that female rebirth is inferior to male rebirth and references to women as being inclined to lust, aversion, and craving like Mara’s...

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4. Transforming Conflict, Transforming Ourselves: Buddhism and Social Liberation

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pp. 73-88

The world community has become increasingly interdependent. War in one region destabilizes not only neighbors, but the global commons as well. Problems of weapons proliferation, human trafficking, poverty, and disease know...

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5. Redefining and Expanding the Self in Conflict Resolution

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pp. 89-99

In the seventh chapter of the Lotus Su

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6. Integrating Feminist Theory and Engaged Buddhism: Counseling Women Survivors of Gender-Based Violence

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pp. 101-116

In 1995, along with over 30,000 women and a few men from more than 180 countries, I attended the NGO (Nongovernmental Organization) Forum on Women, in Beijing, China. The Forum was held concurrently with the United Nation’s more official End-of-the- Decade Conference on...

Part Two: Women Transforming Buddhist Societies

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7. Reclaiming the Robe: Reviving the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka RANJANI DE SILVA

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pp. 119-135

S´akyamuni Buddha first began ordaining women in India in the sixth century BCE. His foster mother, Queen Paja patı Gotamı¯, was the first woman he ordained. She became the first...

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8. Dharma Education for Women in the Theravada Buddhist Community of Nepal

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pp. 137-154

Dharma education for women of all ages has been a central feature of the Therava

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9. Buddhism, Women, and Caste: The Case of the Newar Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley

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pp. 155-163

It is natural for modern observers and interested Western Buddhists to ask, “How did caste get into Buddhism?” It is perhaps equally natural for scholars of Buddhism, and especially for an anthropologist, to be tempted to deconstruct this question...

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10. Trafficking in Buddhist Girls: Empowerment through Prevention

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pp. 165-172

Trafficking in human beings is so incomprehensible to many people that it is almost beyond their power to conceptualize.1 Yet if we cannot conceive of the extent of the problem, it will be difficult to conceive of solutions....

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11. Khunying Kanitha: Thailand’s Advocate for Women

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pp. 173-191

The first time I met Khunying Kanitha was during the Second Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women, which was held in 1991 at Thammasat University in Bangkok. I wanted to send five nuns from Jamyang Choling, our monastery in India, to attend a meditation course...

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12. Crisis as Opportunity: Nuns and Cultural Change in the Spiti Valley MARGARET COBERLY

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pp. 193-204

In this chapter, I describe several of the innovative religious education programs for women that have been introduced into the north Indian Himalayan region of Spiti. In particular, I analyze their potential impact on constructs of gender identity among Spiti women and on the reconfiguration of traditional...

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13. Spiritual Piety, Social Activism, and Economic Realities: The Nuns of Mantokuji

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pp. 205-218

While much is known about the daily lives of Buddhist monks in premodern Japan, relatively little is known about the lives of nuns, particularly Jishu

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14. The Infinite Worlds of Taiwan’s Buddhist Nuns

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pp. 219-231

Since the mid-1980s, Taiwan has experienced a large-scale religious revival, not only within the traditional popular religious sphere, but also within institutionalized Buddhism and Daoism. This profound cultural phenomenon, heretofore overshadowed by worldwide scholarly and media attention to...

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15. Resistance without Borders: An Exploration of Buddhist Nuns across Cultures

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pp. 233-252

When I began my research on Buddhist nuns, I was excited to explore the links between Asian Buddhism and Western feminism. As a Western Buddhist and a student of women’s studies, this seemed a likely topic for me. I was expecting to write mostly about the ways that Buddhism has...


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pp. 253-264


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pp. 265-268


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pp. 269-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780791484272
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791462539
Print-ISBN-10: 0791462536

Page Count: 286
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: SUNY series, Feminist Philosophy

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Feminism -- Religious aspects -- Buddhism.
  • Social justice.
  • Buddhist women -- Social conditions.
  • Buddhist monasticism and religious orders for women.
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