About Buddhism Topics - The Place of Women in Buddhism

Is There Gender Discrimination in Buddhism?

Is There Gender Discrimination in Buddhism?

In the Theravāda tradition, because of its emphasis on bhiksus [fully ordained monks], unconsciously there arose a tendency to discriminate against women. This tendency can be seen from the Buddha’s frequent warnings about the fearsome threat posed by the female body, which was compared to Māra and to a snake. In fact, treating men as superior to women might not have been the Buddha’s original intention, judging from the fact that both men and women have sexual desires. If we say the female body is to be detested by male practitioners, shouldn’ t we also say the male body is to be detested by female practitioners? In terms of their ability to achieve the fruits of enlightenment, men and women are equal. The only exception is that a female must transform her body into that of a male before she can become a Buddha. Other than that, men and women have equal potentials, and both can become arhats or bodhisattvas. For example, the bodhisattva Guanyin often manifests in a female body. And the characteristic disposition of women is closer to the compassionate bodhisattva spirit. What women often lack is strong, decisive vitality, and therefore the sūtras say that a universal sage-monarch (S. cakravarti-rājan) who unifies and rules the world will not be a woman.


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