"She Seemed Like Someone I Could Trust": Reimagining the First Buddhist Nuns’ Order

dc.contributorMrozik, Susanne
dc.contributorSteinfels, Amina
dc.contributorAulino, Felicity
dc.contributor.advisorMrozik, Susanne
dc.contributor.authorMcIntosh-DeCiancio, Jacqueline
dc.description.abstractHow do we interpret in ways that elevate justice? This is a question posed by Buddhist studies scholar Karen Derris in her article responding to recent scholarship by Reiko Ohnuma; in her book, Ohnuma uses particularly misogynistic Buddhist narrative material to make a case for Buddhism’s widespread denigration and devaluation of mothers. Derris, troubled by the conclusions and implications of this work, suggests a new style of interpretation: the feminist-ethical hermeneutic. The feminist-ethical hermeneutic holds that Buddhist narrative tradition includes a vast array of material across cultures, languages, and times. Misogynistic material does exist, but so does material which elevates women and lauds their achievements. Derris suggests scholars have an ethical responsibility to interpret in ways that elevate justice—in ways that pay attention to the current status of women in Buddhism where women in the Tibetan tradition, for example, are denied monastic ordination at the highest levels. Derris invites scholars to see the implications of their interpretive work and recognize those whom it affects. She concludes her article with an aspiration that the feminist-ethical hermeneutic will “contribute to the diminishing of suffering.” My thesis holds as its foundation Derris’ feminist-ethical hermeneutic. I apply this hermeneutical style to my study of two collections of Buddhist verse—the Therigatha and the Theri-Apadana—preserved in the Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon of the Theravada Buddhist tradition. These texts, composed from the 6th-3rd centuries BCE and 2nd-1st centuries BCE, respectively, both claim female authorship and take as their subjects the lives of early Buddhist nuns—their past lives, their challenges, and their paths to enlightenment. My analysis presents the founder of the women’s monastic order as a determined woman with a desire for enlightenment (nibbana). Even when she alone is offered ordination, she refuses until all women may ordain. I further suggest that these texts show the creative ways in which women firmly stake a claim for their role in Buddhism going back aeons and assert their spiritual achievements. Finally, I make a case for the lived experience of these nuns, which often includes the tragic loss of children and the threat of sexual predation. I argue that the women’s order is a community in which women learn from and teach one another, heal from trauma, and foster vital friendships—friendships that carry them all the way to enlightenment.en_US
dc.rightsAttribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States*
dc.subjectfeminist-ethical hermeneuticen_US
dc.title"She Seemed Like Someone I Could Trust": Reimagining the First Buddhist Nuns’ Orderen_US
mhc.institutionMount Holyoke College


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