Religious patterns in India have developed over a long period of time and over a vast geographical area. Several strands converge, merge, seemingly disappear, and re-emerge to form a tapestry of diverse texture, color, and stark imagery. Suffering and sorrow stand along side of bliss and ecstasy. Pleasure is embraced as well as asceticism. The ups and downs of historical conditioning and cruel destinies are recognized as well as the need for compassion and non-violence. The rich texture of religious development in India is displayed from its very beginnings to its contemporary expressions.
Whereas it is useful to see Hinduism as a development of a physiological metaphor, Buddhism is decisively psychological in its expressions and representations. In a sense, Buddhism is exportable Hinduism, having dropped, however, many of its distinctively orthodox traits such as the authority of the Vedas and the caste system. The analysis of the human condition as bound in samsara and the desire to release people from the cycle of rebirth propels Buddhism out of its original cultural setting to become one of the first and longest lasting missionary movements of all time.
Thus the Historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, becomes the most popular yogi/guru of all time. His life and teachings set a pattern for later developments in the many schools and branches of Buddhism.
The role of women in Buddhism is ambiguous, ambivalent, and at times flatly at cross-purposes with Buddhist metaphysics. On one hand, the Buddha seemingly elevated the status of women over their roles in Hinduism. In allowing them to found an order of nuns, he demonstrated their potential for enlightenment.
The Therigatha (Psalms of the Sisters) gives accounts of over 70 women who reached enlightenment among the first nuns. Further, early Buddhist metaphysics, particularly, the non-duality of all things, make...