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Lives of Early Buddhist Nuns

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About the Book Based on new translations of Pali texts and rare sources, Lives of Early Buddhist Nuns analyses the portrayal of women in the Pali canon and commentaries. Focusing on the differences between canonical and commentarial literature, the author goes beyond the practice of using the commentaries to merely enhance the understanding of the Pali canon; she emphasizes the differing social and historical milieus out of which these genres of literature were born. Assessi...
About the Book

Based on new translations of Pali texts and rare sources, Lives of Early Buddhist Nuns analyses the portrayal of women in the Pali canon and commentaries. Focusing on the differences between canonical and commentarial literature, the author goes beyond the practice of using the commentaries to merely enhance the understanding of the Pali canon; she emphasizes the differing social and historical milieus out of which these genres of literature were born. Assessing each genre on its own terms, the work demonstrates that the Pali canon, contrary to how it has been presented previously, is more favourable to women.

The first part of the volume contains biographies of the six best-known Buddhist nuns who were considered to have been direct disciples of the Buddha. These biographies throw light on gender relations as they evolved in the early centuries of Buddhism in India. The life stories also serve as the foundation for discussion of Buddhist women in the second part. From notions of beauty and adornment to family, class, and marriage, various themes in the biographies are explored in this work, and through this exploration the changing form of Buddhism in early India is captured.

About the author

Alice Collett teaches in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, York St John University, UK. She has published several articles and book chapters on women in early Indian Buddhism, and her edited volume, Women in Early Indian Buddhism: Comparative Textual Studies, was published in 2013. She is the co- editor of Buddhist Studies Review. She is currently working on a new project on women in early Buddhist inscriptions.


The scholarly study of Buddhist women was arguably born at the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists in 1892, where two young Pali scholars delivered what I believe were the first-ever pro- fessional papers dedicated to the topic. Inspired by the still-recent (1883) edition and publication of ancient Buddhist poems (in Pali) ascribed to the accomplished monks and nuns of the Buddha's own community (the Theragatha and the Therigatha, respectively), and by advanced copies (it was published in 1893) of the Pali commentary on the Therigatha (by Dhammapala), composed about a millennium later than the poems themselves, these two young scholars, Caroline Augusta Foley (later Rhys Davids, 1857-1942) and Mabel Haynes Bode (1864-1922), had come to a shared discovery that this biographical tradition represents an extraordinarily rich and valuable record of women's lives, hopes, and achievements in a particularly and compellingly Buddhist idiom.' With lengthy translated excerpts and excited anticipation, Foley and Bode independently announced their discovery to the Congress, in the explicit hope of inaugurating a comprehensive study of-as each titled her paper-The Women Leaders of the Buddhist Reformation'. Today, more than a century later, these biographies remain a major stimulus to and a source for scholarship about Buddhist women, thanks especially to the much-republished (under various titles and in differing formats) translation of the original Therigatha poems, with synopses of major commentarial contributions, by Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids (1909; now supplanted by the more reliable but non-poetic 1971 translation by K.R. Norman). This provision of widespread access to the primary evidence through translation was dearly part of the future study anticipated in the 1892 papers. Though it took a century to appear, Dhammapala's commentary is also now available in English translation (by William Pruitt, 1999 [1998]).

But their titles, frameworks, and interspersed comments make clear that Foley and Bode wanted to catalyse more than that. They saw and wanted to champion Buddhism as having given women an unusual degree of freedom, equality, and agency for an ancient (or even modem) religion, not only liberating them from gendered oppression but welcoming them as equal co-participants in a Buddhist 'Reformation'. Both went on to produce important contributions to Pali and Buddhist Studies, but the unpacking of this insight-that the Pali texts bear important witness to Buddhist women's comparative well-being-was left to their younger colleague, and Foley Rhys Davids' later successor as President of the Pali Text Society, Isaline Blew Homer (1896-1981). Homer's monumental Women under Primitive Buddhism ([1930]1990) processes this whole biographical literature and indeed all the major early Pali texts into an argument in extenso that, by and large no matter what their station, Buddhist 'almswomen' (nuns) as well as laywomen (she devotes separate chapters to 'The Mother', 'The Daughter', 'The Wife', 'The Widow', and 'The Woman Worker') were better off than their non-Buddhist counterparts in ancient India, and in fact lived 'under' a remarkably open-minded and egalitarian 'Primitive Buddhism'. As careful to note discrepancies and counter-examples as it is comprehensive, and like Foley Rhys Davids' Thengatha translation-much-republished and widely cited in subsequent scholarship-I think it is fair to say that Homer's book has remained the standard authority on ancient Indian Buddhist women to this day.

But the standard itself belonged to a very different era from our own, dominated by proudly unapologetic colonial administration, imperialist rumination, Orientalist 'Othering', 'kings and battles' historiography, philological determinism, Christian mission, patriarchy, and other practices and presuppositions so far from twenty-first century academic culture as to render increasingly in need of explanation the fact that scholars of the day embraced (or rejected) them so concertedly (or even at all). Foley, Bode, and Homer were women of their day, who not surprisingly spoke to it and within its idiom.

Thus, for example, their shared title placed Foley and Bode's original contributions firmly within a very particular (and peculiar) reconstruction of Buddhism as a 'Reformation' of ancient Indian religion. This 'Reformation' supposedly entailed missionary zeal and self-sacrifice on the part of Buddhists to convert Hindus (and others) to the new-founded revelation; social and political recon- figuration in the direction of egalitarianism and enlightened ruler- ship; self-deprecation of 'vile' customs (especially, in this context, gendered ones), even to the point of abandoned loyalty to family and forebears. The striking parallelism here with then-contemporary Christian self-understandings and, in particular, Christian missionary writings about then-contemporary India, was of course no accident.


The Therigatha and Apadana are the basis and beginning of the biographical tradition that records and recounts lives of female disciples, and although these are part of what is sometimes considered the more minor collection within the Pali canon, their value to the historian of religion is far from inconsequential. These works prove crucial in providing insights into the potential lives of women in early Indian Buddhism. And that we have these records at all might be considered a stroke of good fortune.

The Pali canon consists of five collections, or sections, called nikayas in Pali and agamas in other traditions. These are:






The collection of long discourses The collection of middle-length discourses The collection of connected discourses The collection of numerical discourses The collection of miscellaneous discourses The Therigatha and the Apadana are part of the Khuddaka-nikaya, and although the formulators and preservers of the Pali canon decided to rank the Khuddaka-nikaya as canonical, this was not the decision of the formulators and preservers of other Buddhist canons. In extant Chinese works, only the first four agamas are preserved-the Dirgha, Madhyama, Sarrtyukta, and Ekottarika. In the Sanskrit canon of the Sarvastivadin tradition, the evidence and information from the Ksudraka-agama is utilized and referenced in the other four agamas, as if the side-lined Ksudraka had once been considered canonical in some way or other. Given the precarious position of the Ksudraka-agama in other traditions, it may come as no surprise to know that there are, unfortunately, no extant parallels to the Pali Thengatha.2 Neither are there any direct parallels to the Apadana, although the genre-apadanaJ in Pali and avadana in Sanskrit-branched out in its own right in texts connected to other traditions and flowered into a full and rich genre.

Dating the texts of the Pali canon is notoriously difficult, and remains a subject of controversy. According to intra-traditional accounts the canon was 'closed' to additions in the first century BeE, but within modern scholarship there is a spectrum of responses to this. One end of the spectrum would be Schopen's ([1985]1997, 23-4) assertion, some time ago, that it is not possible to know anything definite about the Pali canon prior to the time the extant commentaries were compiled, as the commentaries delineate the form of the canon when they reproduce it to comment upon it. Alternate to that is the view of Analayo in an article that criticizes Schopen, in which he concludes that it 'seems ... reasonable to consider the Pali discourses as fairly closed, in doctrinal terms, by the list century BeE .. .' (2012, 246).5 My own view is that the Pali canon consists of layered texts, such that some parts or sections of each text are ear- lier and others later. As an example of this, scholars such as Witzel (1997) and Quintanilla have used archaeological evidence to assess the way towns and cities are conceptualized in the Pali canon.P For example, Quintanilla notes that although Mathura is recognized in Buddhist literature as an important city, archaeological excavations reveal that it 'did not emerge as a cultural and economic center until the third century BeE at the earliest', and that prior to that it was 'a hamlet of little consequence' (2007-1). The evidence of such excavations does certainly demonstrate that in relation to particular locations such as Mathura, the sections and passages of text on them in the extant canon can be dated to later periods-but it does not necessarily follow that any entire sutta that then ensues should be called into question," Schopen, elsewhere (2004, 194-208),

**Contents and Sample Pages**

Item Code: NAQ385 Author: Alice Collett Cover: HARDCOVER Edition: 2016 Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi ISBN: 9780199459070 Language: English Size: 8.50 X 5.50 inch Pages: 307 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 0.5 Kg
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