Buddhism: Case Study - Power and Gender in Buddhism.

Essay by natalieportelli June 2003

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"Power and gender in Buddhism"

After visiting the Nan Tien Buddhist Temple in Woollongong (Unanderra), and studying further power and gender in Buddhism, I have learned that although Buddhism and the Buddhist doctrine are not extremely strict in the formation of hierarchies, there are some variations in status within the Sangha (Buddhist community). Also I have found that although equality between the sexes is regarded as a Buddhist belief, it is not necessarily practiced within the Sangha.

Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) was an ordinary Indian man of no special supernatural qualities who felt that questions needed to be asked and true meanings be told, that a person must live a moral and truthful life in order to reach enlightenment, or Nirvana. In the beginnings of the movement, Buddha opened his teachings to members of all castes, denying that a person's spiritual worth is a matter of birth. This, however, has not quite survived the some 2500 years since Buddha's time, and Buddhism today indeed has some system of hierarchy.

After studying Buddhism I have found that there exists an order in which members of the Sangha are defined. At the top of this order is the Buddha himself; seemingly followed by the head of one Buddhist sect, the Dalai Lama (though the Dalai Lama gains this status mostly because of his popularity worldwide); followed by monks, then nuns, then lay people. The lay people are those who practise Buddhism but are not teachers, eg. Tourist guides. The monks and nuns are the teachers, usually serving in a temple or monastery. Here is where the inequality of the sexes within today's Buddhism is evident. Monks (male) are considered superior to nuns (female) simply because of their sex. Monks are able to instruct the nuns, but nuns are not able...