The Feminine Voice of What?

Dharma: What do we even mean by this?

As in any lexicon, words shift and shape into multiple meanings. Lets unpack the origin, and evolution of a word or phrase we use interchangibly and effortlessly, throughout this blog.

ध: Dha

Firstly, the aspirated letter is “A name of Bhrama” or “Virtue, moral merit.” This is the first place to begin. With the word, concept, and noun.

According to Monier-Williams, dharma was first seen in the Rig Veda, as “that which is established or firm, steadfast decree, statue, ordinance, law”…moving into a usage that is more about “customary observance, or prescribed conduct, duty; right, justice.” Then moving along in the Atharvaveda becoming “Law or Justice personif(ied) sic.” So in the early days, pre-Buddhist the term, was more concerned with law, and interaction with one’s duty. In an Upanishad it then starts to become more of “associating with the virtuous; religious abstraction, devotion.” This is were we see the confluence between law, and religious devotion, and virtuousness. As in, ‘following the spiritual path as personal duty’.

With the formation and codification of the Pali Cannon, the term ‘dharma’ becomes; “the law or doctrine of Buddhism (as distinguished from the sangha or monastic order).” So when speaking about “The Dharma” it becomes “the teaching” of the Buddha, that one then takes refuge, (“the Dharma, the Sangha, and the Buddha”).

This blog concerns itself with the women in history that have studied, practiced and taught “The Dharma” of Buddhism, in addition to those women who have followed their dharma, spiritual purpose, or personal law to their fullest extent. In this context, we all have our dharma, as included in the universe of things. The universe itself has its own dharma, and we are also included in that. Neither of which are mutually exclusive of each other

Hopefully, as we move forward it now that makes more sense. Ultimately, there is a lot of wiggle room here for us to explore within this context as we learn about these insightful and dedicated women, and a ways to go to learn from them, hopefully in their own words.

 

Happy International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day!

I’ve taken the opportunity to launch this blog on this auspicious day for two reasons.

  • It’s a day to celebrate women from all over the world, and the population of women who have dedicated their lives to the dharma is incredibly global.
  • It’s also a day that we have the opportunity learn something about the lives of women we may never had previously known.

Now that it makes sense, why this blog?

There are many academic circles discussing the topics that I want to address here in this blog. There are a few that even cover the same topics. The Sakyadhita blog (http://awakeningbuddhistwomen.blogspot.com/p/home.html) is a great place to go for more information) but few commentaries on this topic are written in a way that is accessible to everyone.

 

Backstory

Women have always been the corner stone of both Buddhism and in Hinduism. Form the beginning of Buddhism, women were lay practitioners, benefactors and supporters of the movement. Then when the Buddha finally allowed women to become ordained, and did so giving eight more rules for them to abide on top of the rules for monks they became teachers, and prominent among the laity.

We see similar stories among women who dedicated their lives under a Hinduist, spiritual philosophy or belief. (I use the phrase Hinduist because of the incredible diversity which fall under Hinduism, and prescribe to types of philosophies.) Of course there were women who shaped these thoughts and beliefs as saints, and mystics. The issues here are the lack of awareness about these women, and the sets of constraints they encountered from the beginning leading up until this day.

I hope to uncover these obscurities, bringing their voices forward from the ancient to the modern, from the sidelines into the front. As we scholars learn more about the roles that women did play, it informs the culture and these roles moving forward. That’s the story that I want to tell here.

Its amazing how little is known about the rich history of spiritual achievement and contribution that women throughout thousands of years (thousands yes!). When I teach classes on this topic, students are always blown away by this. My hope is that you will join me in this journey too.

Political and Social Ramifications

Another reason for this blog is to bring to light some of the complexities in the discussion around women and these two religious domains. In both contemporary women who have followed in the the footsteps of these amazing predocessors still don’t receive equal respect, or economic support, as their same male monastics. This inequality has been exposed and will continue to be exposed, but the basis is rooted from the ignorance that women never played a role. In order to change the embedded inequality we must first uproot these  antiquated notions. Women have always been there along side men, teaching, supporting, making spiritual strides as devoted practitioners, and adepts. 

Female Juna Acara at the Maha Kumbha Mela 2012 Photo by the author