One of our nuns (Lhundup Damcho) has given a talk at Hamburg University, entitled “Hierarchy and Gender in Buddhist Monasticism.”
Here is the abstract for the talk:
The nature of Buddhist social organizations has been a topic of great debate and often of grave misunderstanding. Focusing on Buddhist responses to caste, many observers have found cause to celebrate Buddhism as promoting an egalitarian social order. However, even a cursory examination of Buddhist monasticism makes it clear that hierarchy itself is not discarded outright as an ordering principle. This talk draws on narratives from the Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya (MSV) that depict the life of the early Buddhist order, to explore the ways hierarchy is deployed within Buddhist monasticism, as a means of organizing social institutions but also as an integral part of personal training. Since gender is the single most important determinant of location within Buddhist monastic hierarchies—literally dividing Buddhist monastics into two distinct orders—this paper most directly addresses the hierarchical relation between men and women, or monks and nuns.
To that end, this talk will first describe the particular constructions of gender displayed in the MSV’s narratives. What we note is that Buddhist monasticism’s interventions in prevailing constructions of female gender benefited women greatly, yet mainstream constructions repeatedly re-inscribed themselves on Buddhist nuns’ lives and institutions. This talk will then explore moments of parity between the male and female monastic orders, along with the hierarchy that generally prevails between them. Finally, it will argue that the hierarchical relationship between the monks and nuns’ orders depicted in these stories is characterized not by unidirectional dominance of one over the other, but by asymmetrical reciprocity, with each encouraged to offer different forms of care to the other. The talk will conclude with some observations as to the implications of these care-taking responsibilities for the current debates on bhikṣuṇī ordination within the Mūlasarvāstivāda monastic code that is followed by Tibetan Buddhists.