using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Buddhadharma : Fall 2006
buddhadharma| 77 |fall 2006 now that we have so many books about women in Buddhism, it’s hard to recapture the urgency with which I first read I. B. Horner’s Women Under Primitive Buddhism back in 1981. I had just begun vipassana meditation practice with Ruth Denison, and I was intensely curious about this spiritual path called Buddhism. I was also very curious about how women had been involved init,andasfarasIknew,noonehad written about this subject. (Diana Paul’s Women in Buddhism had come out in 1979, but I hadn’t found it yet.) Then, in a used bookstore, I spotted the intriguing title, Women Under Primi- tive Buddhism. With great excitement I bought the book and hurried home to read it. In it I found fascinating accounts of women’s lives in fifth-century-BCE India, particularly of those who took monastic robes with the Buddha. Horner recreated the sociocultural context of India at that time, drawing vivid stories of individual women from the Pali canon, the later commentaries, Jataka tales, and other sources, including the Therigatha (“Psalms of the Sisters”). I. B. Horner was a much respected Pali scholar and translator of texts who served as president of the Pali Text Society from 1959 until her death in 1981. She pub- lished Women Under Primitive Buddhism in 1930. This is a scholar’s book, amply researched and footnoted, but it is also a feminist’s book, with Horner explor- ing issues such as respect for mothers, child marriages, and women’s reactions to polygamy. She notes that Buddhist widows were not required to mount their husband’s funeral pyre to be burned with the corpse. She describes the conditions of working women, such as slaves, enter- tainers, keepers of the burial grounds, and courtesans. And throughout these interwoven tales, she reflects on the kind of information that has been passed down to us, how much has been left out, and the distortions that may have resulted from patriarchal and other bias. Horner’s personality shines through. She was passionately interested in her subject, meticulously attentive to detail, and aggrieved at the blatant injustices she sometimes discovered, such as the dictum that a woman, no matter how far along on the path, could never become a buddha. She writes about the women seeking to take the robes and pursue a spiritual path, saying, “They were not so blinded by subservience and crushed by the unquestioning obedience of a sup- posed inferiority as to imagine that they were not so good as the men.” To make such an assertion about women who lived 2,500 years ago requires a strong advocacy and belief in her sex. In fact, Horner may be right, as those women refused to be discouraged when their peti- tions were refused, and persisted until the Buddha gave in to their wishes and estab- lished an order of almswomen (nuns). The book gave me a visceral sense of those ancient women, of their daily lives, spiritual aspirations, and attainments. I felt I had connected with a lineage. Horner tells the stories of the famous women teachers of the time, such as Sukka, Dhammadinna, and Khema, who are named in the Pali canon. She includes a long discussion of Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and disciple, who was popular among the almswomen and laywomen because he championed their interests and supported their cause. Horner also discusses the Buddha’s rela- tionship with women devotees. Those who care about the history of this path we’re on will appreciate Horn- er’s efforts to give a sense of how the order of monks and nuns began and how it was supported by the laypeople, describing the great reciprocal, mutually beneficial rela- tionship between the monastic and lay communities that has endured throughout the centuries. She also describes women’s lineages: how some of the nuns who achieved full liberation attracted female followers, forming groups in which a woman could take robes, study, and prac- tice, on her way to enlightenment. Horner also writes about distinguished laywomen disciples, like Visakha and Mallika, who provided food, money, and shelter for the monks and nuns. Visakha is described in the ancient texts as “ardent, liberal, and persistently thoughtful,” and her wholehearted devotion to the dhamma and close friendship with the Buddha are noted. These women often converted their servants, families, and friends. Women Under Primitive Buddhism allowed me to see how women’s spiritual paths in Buddhism grew out of the secu- lar and religious life of ancient India. It fed my hunger for information about the ancient roots of the practice in which I participate. Horner opened a world to me and offered a model for my own explo- ration in writing about the phenomenon of American women’s participation in the establishment of Buddhism in the West. As women practicing Buddhism, we take on the challenge of balancing the realities of our lives in the world with the boundless freedom of our deepest spiritual awareness. These women in ancient India were doing the same thing, and because of Horner’s excellent work, we all have the opportunity to learn from them. dharma classic sanDy BouchEr’s latEst Book is DancinG in thE DharMa: thE lifE anD tEachinGs of ruth DEnison. shE sErvEs on thE EDitorial BoarD of turninG WhEEl, anD lEaDs rEtrEats on MinD- fulnEss, DharMa anD WritinG, anD DiscovErinG kWan yin. a feminisT’s friend women under PrimiTive Buddhism By i. B. horner first published in 1930 by routledge & Kegan Paul; reprinted by motilal Banarsidass in 1975, and south asia Books in 1999 in Print reviewed by sandy Boucher