Women in Buddhism: Questions & Answers


What is the unique characteristic in American Buddhism which might interest a feminist?



Americans came across Buddhism during the Second World War through the work of Ven.D.T.Suzuki, a Japanese priest. The unique characteristic of Zen Buddhism fit in well with the spiritual vacuum in the USA at that time while many Americans were critical of the conservative institutionalised church and found satisfactorily the same matching spirit in Zen Buddhism.

Later there were many other forms of Buddhism i.e. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Tibetan. Among the Theravadin propagators, Sri Lankan and Burmese monks gained the upper-hand being equipped with better access to English. American Buddhists became aware of the need to sift the essential teaching from various cultural cloaks.

An Important factor one may find in Buddhism is the Indian cultural baggage which tends to suppress women. Critical American Buddhists became more aware of the need to do away with unnecessary cultural burdens and by so doing they have, to a great extent freed Buddhist women from suppressing elements. A unique characteristic of Buddhism in the US is the strong participation of women in Buddhism.

In Asia, women have limited opportunity both in their role and responsibility toward Buddhism. This not only bars women’s participation in Buddhism but also prevents the natural growth of Buddhism as a whole.