Women in Indian Buddhism

Buddhist Nuns Yango Rangoon Myanmar Burma

The Numata Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of Hamburg are running a free online course titled ‘Women in Early Indian Buddhism‘ with some leading academics are providing the course content. The details are the following:

Course Outline

The course begins with a focus on early sutta and Vinaya material, in particular setting the situation of Buddhist women in its context through comparison with the Jain and Brahminical traditions. Then the situation as reflected in Mahayana and commentarial literature will be explored, followed by rounding off the study of written records by turning to Indian art. The final lecture will summarize the topics presented during the course and take a closer look at scholarship on women in Indian Buddhism in general.


16 April Analayo: Women in Early Buddhist Discourse

23 April Amy Langenberg: Female Virtue in Two Sanskrit Vinayas

30 April Mari Jväsjarvi Stuart: Women in medieval Buddhist and Jain monasticism

7 May Nalini Balbir: Women in the Buddhist and Jain traditions

14 May Ute Hüsken: Women in the Theravāda Vinaya and the Brahminical Tradition

21 May Reiko Ohnuma: The Nun Thullanandā

28 May Shobha Rani Dash: Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī Narratives

4 June Liz Wilson: Hagiographic Buddhist Texts on Women

11 June Rita Gross: Women in Mahāyāna Sūtra Literature

18 June Alice Collett: Women in Early Buddhist Inscriptions

25 June Naomi Appleton: Women in the Jātaka Collection

2 July Monika Zin: Buddhist Women in Indian Art

9 July Petra Kieffer-Pülz: Summary and Outlook on Scholarship on Women in Buddhism

Registration details are available on the website.


A few years ago at the University of Sydney we held a one day conference on gender issues in Buddhism:





Understanding ‘engaged Buddhism’


An article I wrote that appeared in the Myanmar Times on 16 February:

In 1963, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term “engaged Buddhism”. He did so in order to describe a phenomenon in Buddhism in which one is not simply advised to withdraw from the world in solitary meditation but to combat social and political injustice. Engaged Buddhism is a politically active form of Buddhism.

The full article can be read online here.

Buddhist monk in hot water?


This image is doing the rounds on social media. It shows a Buddhist monk in Isan, in Northeast Thailand. He is presumably displaying the powers of his concentration in meditation, related to the notion of iddhi, and the power of the Buddha’s teachings to protect him from harm.

Whether such displays are permitted by the Buddhist monastic code is open to debate.

Mummified in Meditation


As reported in a number of places the mummified remains of a 200 year old Buddhist monk has been discovered in Mongolia. The remains of the monk is seated in meditation.

Initial speculation is that the mummy could be a teacher of Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov. Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, born in 1852, was a Buryat Buddhist Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, best known for the lifelike state of his body.

Such ascetic practices would be highly revered in some Buddhist traditions. To die in this position, while in meditation, is an act of extreme discipline and would accrue much merit. There is a Japanese Buddhist practice of sokushinbutsu in which one observes austerities to the point of death while in meditation:
For three years, the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls. This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and–most importantly–it killed off any maggots that might cause the body to decay after death. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, wherein he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day, he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed.
It would not be uncommon for other Buddhist traditions to venerate a someone who dies in meditation. In many cases these would be venerated as ‘relics’ (Śarīra).

Image of the Buddha on low currency banknote prompts protest in Cambodia


It is reported in The Phnom Penh Post that a new low currency Cambodian banknote has caused protest from some Buddhist groups. A group of monks have suggested that the new 100 riel banknote, the smallest currency note worth about 2 cents, containing an image of the Buddha, is offensive to the Buddha.

Bo Samnang, chairman of National Culture and Morality Center commented:

‘A 100 riel note is the lowest currency in Cambodia and Buddha is of the highest status, higher than the royal king; this is unacceptable to have his photo on the currency.’

Venerable Lorm Loeum of Tomnak in Siem Reap suggested that:

‘This is awful, as normally people keep money in pockets and even their bras for women. This is very offensive to the Buddha. I urge the government to consider this and withdraw that Buddha picture from currency.’

Sitagu Sayadaw ‘unconditionally’ condemns violence against Muslims in Burma

More on the recent meeting in Iran between Muslims and Buddhists. This news report includes Sitagu Sayadaw (Ashin Nyanissara), one of the most influential Burmese monks, unconditionally condemning violence against Muslims in Burma, asking for ‘forbearance, forgiveness, selflessness and compassion for the establishment of peace and harmony’.



Sitagu Sayadaw in Iran


Sitagu Sayadaw arrived in Tehran on 29th December at the invitation of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization of the Iranian government:

Sitagu Sayadawgyi has arrived at Teheran, Iran at the invitation of Islamic Culture and Relations Organization of Iran government for the purpose of exchanging views between Buddhism and Islam last night.

Today, Dec 29, the meeting between Buddhist leaders and Islamic Leaders met at the head quarter of Islamic Culture center and Sitagu Sayadawgyi delivered a keynote speech on regarding multilateral dialogue between Buddhism and Islam. After morning secession, Sitagu Sayadawgyi was interviewed by several Iranian Television Networks.

In many ways this is positive news that the most prominent Sayadaw in Burma has undertaken such a visit to explore ways to open dialogue between Buddhists and Muslims.

More on this story with the headline ‘Muslim, Buddhist Thinkers Condemn Violence, Extremism‘.