Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, based the religion on his teachings. He lived about 26 centuries ago in northeastern India, which is now known as Nepal. Siddhartha was eventually known as “the Buddha,” or the “awakened one.” This occurred after he experienced an extreme realization of the nature of life, death, and existence. In the Buddha’s teachings, he did not teach people what he had learned when he became enlightened, instead he taught people how to become enlightened themselves. He believed, and taught that spiritual awakening comes through one’s own experience, and not through beliefs. As time went on, Buddhism spread though out Asia, and became one the the dominant religions. The number of those who study/practice Buddhism is estimated to 350 million, making Buddhism the fourth largest of the religions in the world.
The teachings of Buddhism revolve around the “Four Noble Truths.” These truths are: 1. The truth of suffering; dukkha. 2. The truth of the cause of suffering; samudaya. 3. The truth of the end of suffering; nirhodha. 4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering; maqqa. Even though Buddhism has its emphasis on free inquiry, it is not whatever you want it to be. Buddhism should not be misunderstood as a discipline, and the teachings should not be accepted on blind faith. Instead one should understand the teachings of the Buddha. Although when viewed alone, the four truths don’t seem like much at all. Beneath the Truths, there are many layers of teachings on the nature of existence, the self, life, and death, not to mention suffering. One should not just believe in the teachings, they should instead explore, understand, and test them. Through the process, is what Buddhism is.
Buddhism is now split into two halves; Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada translated is “the Teachings of the Elders.” It is the oldest Buddhist school, and was founded in India. This teaching is mostly conservative, and is closest to early Buddhism. Traditionally those who practice this type of Buddhism can have the faith in the Buddha’s teaching and practice other minor things to hopefully gain some minor benefits. They can also investigate the experiences of the Buddha’s teaching by practicing the jhana. The other, Mahayana means the “Great Vehicle.” The term Mahayana is the second of the two main branches of Buddhism and also used for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. Like Theravada, Mahayana also originated in India. The Mahayana tradition is the larger of the two. Buddhist’s refer to Mahayana to the path of seeking complete enlightenment, the “Bodhisattva Vehicle.”
Women were not first a part of Buddhism, in it’s early years. Later on as time passes women wanted to be a part of it. It isn’t very surprising that women didn’t have a large role at first, considering the founder of Buddhism left his wife and son behind, to follow his own path of becoming enlightened. Later there came some academic speculation, if a female could become Buddha. Mahayanists took a forward step in this, while on the other hand, the Theravadan’s stand point on this matter is not as clear.
Many believe that all Buddhas have to be males, while others do not stand by that opinion.
The view of woman’s spiritual attainment varies from school to school, and tradition to tradition. Some feminist scholars have noted that even when a woman has a spiritual achievement, records of them may not be kept, or be kept in a non-gender specific language. Buddhism has
relentlessly been misogynist, which means there is a “hatred’ or dislike of women. In Buddhism, position of power are mostly reflected upon spiritual achievements of that individual. As Zen nun Heng-Ching Shih states, women in Buddhism have five main obstacles; making them incapable of being a Brahma King, King, Cakravartin, ‘Sakra’, or a Buddha. This is believed to be because of the Buddha’s teachings of the Majjhima Nikaya, that it is not possible for a woman to become any of these. In the Bahudhatuka-sutta, it clearly states that there can never be a female Buddha. The modern school of Buddhism, Theravada, Buddha-hood is very rare. In the Pali- Canon, there have been examples of both male and female’s who attained nirvana. Nirvana is the state of being free from any and all suffering. In the Mahayana style of Buddhism, woman may become enlightened. There is a catch is that they cannot being enlightened in female form. Which means, they must first be reborn into male form before doing so. However, there are other divisions of Buddhism where there are women Buddhas. For example the Vajrayana practice has many female Buddhas; student’s of Naropa reported only two hundred men and one thousand women to attain enlightenment.
Motherhood in Buddhism is seen traditionally in the perspective of dukkha, or suffering. In early buddhism, motherhood could have been viewed as an activity in its own right. Queen Maya, the mother of Gautama Buddha, died a few days after he was born. The Buddha was brought up in by his mothers sister, Mahapajapati. She became the first Buddhist nun. One attraction for women in the Vajrayana Buddhism following is the path of a yogini, the female form of a Yogi who is a practitioner of yoga, rather that of a bhikkhuni nun. This is because there is the opportunity to practice a family life with a husband or spirityal consort, and too have children. Another reason is that Yoginis do not have
to shave their heads, whereas nuns do. Generally speaking, Buddhism beliefs lay within the celibate lifestyle as the highest ideal, but it also recognized that marriage as a social institution is important. Marriage is one of the few concepts mentioned in the Sila, which is is the Buddhist’s core of their spiritual discipline. In early buddhism, the Pali Canon says that there is a great deal of respect that should be given to one’s husband/wife. There is a story where the monk Nanda, cousin of Gautama Buddha, has his marrage. Just after his marrage, on the same day, the Buddha persuaded to get monk Nanda to leave his wife to become a bhikkhu. Stories like those ones express that love is a part of an attachment to samsara, which is the endless cycle of rebirth. Meanwhile, in Vajrayana Buddhism, sexual relations with a spouse is viewed as a way to attain realizations and become enlightened.
In Buddhism, like many other religions, there are Buddhist nuns. In all Buddhist traditions there are nuns, but there status’ are different among various Buddhist countries. Completely ordained Buddhist nuns, otherwise known as bhikkhunis, have more patimokkha rules than the monks, or bhikkhus. All of the important vows are the same for both of them. Monks and nuns both have a large variation in dress and social conventions between the Buddhist cultures. Chinese nuns keep the full bhikkuni ordiantion, while nuns in Tibet do not. In Theravada countries, females are discouraged from wearing saffron robes. Thailand is a country which had never had a tridition of fully ordained bhikkhunis. There came a separate order called the Mae Ji, or non-ordained nuns. When the twenty-first century came around, Buddhist women in Thailand began to introduce the bhikkhuni sangha to their country, even though the public acceptance was lacking. In Taiwan, Buddhism expresses full bhikkuni tradition. This is due mostly to Master Chng Yen of the the Buddhist Tzu Chi. Chinese nuns
most likely receive more respect and are greatly supported by the general public than are the monks. The researcher Charles Brewer Jones has said that females have outnumbered male applicants by a 3:1 ratio. In Tibet a nun is alloud to receive bikshuni from another tradition in Vietnam. Because of this, many nuns in Tibet have been ordianated in another tradition before being able to revive gelongma ordiantion.