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Reviewed by:
  • Buddhismus, Geschlechterverhältnis und Diskriminierung: Die gegenwärtige Diskussion im Shin-Buddhismus Japans
  • Joseph S. O'Leary
Buddhismus, Geschlechterverhältnis und Diskriminierung: Die gegenwärtige Diskussion im Shin-Buddhismus Japans. By Simone Heidegger. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2006. 500 pages. Softcover €39.90.

This lucid, comprehensive, and quietly impassioned book deals first with discussions of canonical texts on the relation of men and women, and then with the status of women in Shin Buddhism today. In her survey of Buddhist tradition about the need for a woman to transform into a man before she can attain buddhahood, Simone Heidegger notes that even in Mahāyāna texts that radically undercut the distinction of male and female, the exalted and enlightened feminine figures—the Goddess in the Vimalakīrti Sutra, Vaidehiamacr; in the Meditation Sutra, Queen Srimīla—are never explicitly called buddhas; meanwhile some commentaries on these texts ask if these figures are really women or have really attained a high grade of enlightenment; women continue to be associated with sexuality, whereas men are associated with asexuality and with the overcoming of sexuality and sexual differentiation. [End Page 178]

Shinran cannot be disengaged from these sexist currents in Buddhist tradition. His marriage is vaunted as an emblem of the full integration of women in Shin Buddhism, but in confiding his denomination to priests and their wives (bōmori or temple-keepers), he actually set up a strong hierarchy of male and female. Some see the dream in which Kannon assured him of her presence in his sexual life as still presupposing that women are sinful and unclean, and as urging them to perverse self-sacrifice. One apologetic strategy is to claim that Shinran's "problematic statements" are corrected by the essential core of his teaching—much as people play off the spirit against the letter of Pauline texts, citing Galatians 3:28 ("there is neither male nor female") as a feminist charter. Heidegger does not contest the centrality of such texts as Shinran's Kōsō wasan "Hymns of the Pure Land Masters") 94: "Man and woman, high and low, all are included when Amida's name is uttered" (quoted, p. 89). But she does ask, at the end of the first half of her work, how Shinran's spiritual egalitarianism concretely bears on social distinctions, hierarchies, and discriminations.

Heidegger's discussion of the laws, institutions, mentality, and everyday life of Jōdo Shinshū today takes its start from the impact of the buraku liberation movement in raising consciousness of the issue of discrimination. In 1932, 85 percent of burakumin were Shinshū believers. In their critique of the denomination, the Suiheisha, founded in 1922, appealed to Shinran. Initial reactions from both Nishi Honganji and the Ōtani branch of Shinshū were judged insufficient, and the Suiheisha became more generally critical of religion. Only in the late sixties did the formal buraku complaints begin to have a substantial impact. The word dōbō, meaning comradeship in Buddhist practice, became the slogan of a movement for return to the authentic faith of Shinran and for democratic reform of Shinshū. It was inspired on the Ōtani side by the ideas of the reform-minded thinker Kiyozawa Manshi (1863–1903), unwelcome in his lifetime, but kept alive by his disciples. It met strong resistance from the Ōtani family, whose role was reduced in a new constitution in 1982. In Nishi Honganji things proceeded more peacefully, and the notion of dōbō was seen as referring less to Buddhist community than to society at large.

The author follows separately the discussion on women's role in the two branches of Shinshū. In the Ōtani branch the requests of women's groups resulted in some changes in the two complex ranking systems and a 1991 ruling that women could be temple leaders when a suitable male successor could not be found; there were twelve female temple leaders at the end of 1994. Objections to the limits of this recognition of women were countered with the assurance that it could be a first step to further developments, and indeed gradual progress is afoot.

The Nishi Honganji branch has accepted female temple leaders since 1946, yet they are...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 178-181
Launched on MUSE
2008-07-24
Open Access
No
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