- Examine the role and status of women in Theravada Buddhism...
Examine the role and status of women in Theravada Buddhism, and examine how this contrasts to how Theravada Buddhism is practiced in the west
Theravada Buddhism is the oldest surviving form of Buddhism and
the most traditional, initially practiced mainly in Southern Asia -
predominantly Sri Lanka and Thailand it is now practiced in the
west and throughout the world. This essay will look at the role of
women in Theravada Buddhism then, now and in the west.
The status of women in Theravada Buddhism has changed throughout
the history of the religion from its foundations (approximately 5
BCE) to today. At the time of the Buddha's existence women lived a
life of sub-ordinance; obeying and serving their families and
husbands and civil rights such as divorce were only instigated by
the husband. Therefore women had little power in Asian society.
Willis states that women were second-class citizens, inferior to
men in all situations (Willis 1985: 61).
A consequence of this cultural exchange has led to the Sri
Lankan government's aim to support the development of Theravada
nuns and many women have taken the 'Dasa-Sil-Maniyo' order - the
mothers of the ten precepts. These women live monastic lifestyles
without being ordained and this order has spread throughout the
world into the west. There are meditation centres and temples in
the west where these women and others like them can live and work
and there are women who have undertaken special training and become
Theravada Buddhist trainers of meditation techniques and
From this discussion it is apparent that the role of women in
Theravada Buddhism is not clear-cut. The scriptures are clear on
the elevation and possible state for the women in Buddhism but
social and governmental control has for a long time controlled the
development of women in Asia. Now that Theravada Buddhism has
spread throughout the world the role of women in the religion has
been questioned and is adapted depending on the social constraints
within each particular country, paying observance to the
traditional role of women in the religion. The teaching and
practicing of the dharma remains the paramount issue but the ways
in which it is transmitted always remain and important point for
discussion. There appears to be a cultural exchange between
Buddhism and western society. Where Buddhism brings forward new
religious thought and practice, the west is encourages the
elevation of women in the religion and from this, the two different
worlds are learning and enriching one another.