Abstract: Misinterpretations of the Buddhist Texts and the Problem of Ordination of Women

by Dr. Shobha Rani Dash

Postdoctoral Fellow
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
Otani University, Kyoto, Japan

A number of Buddhist canonical texts suggest discrimination against women, such as the Buddha’s reluctance to allow women to enter the sangha, the sub-ordinate status of the bhikkhunis under the eight strict conditions (attha garudhamma), the inferior terms used for the women in the canonical texts, five obstructions of a woman, her incapability to become a Buddha etc. Based on these textual sources, even today a woman renunciant cannot become a bhikkhuni and a lay woman is treated as a polluted being. How these discriminatory expressions gradually became the hindrances to the ordination of womenfolk is discussed in this paper.

Here, the possibilities of the misreading of Buddhist texts have been examined. When reading a text, we sometimes consider the subject matter just from its ostensible meaning. This ultimately leads us into a quick mire. The problem does not lie in the scriptures themselves; rather it is our misleading interpretation that often grows out of nuances in translation. What has come down to us today as the problem of bhikkhuni ordination or gender discrimination, is possibly the outcome of misinterpretations that grew out of the socially defined realities of the times and the places where the texts were written and the linguistic demands of the target languages. It has been discussed by a close examination of key passages from Pali, Sanskrit and Chinese texts.