Non-Self, Agency, and Women: Buddhism’s Modern Transformation

In The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Chinese Philosophy and Gender (London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic). pp. 331-356 (2016)
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In “Non-self, Agency, and Women: Buddhism’s Modern Transformation,” Ann A. Pang-White argues that “non-self (anātman 無我)” and “emptiness (śūnyatā 空)” necessarily entail nonduality. Buddha nature is neither male nor female. Nonetheless, conflicting teachings are found in various Theravada and Mahayana texts. The more conservative texts have historically resulted in long-standing patriarchal practices: Buddhist nuns receive much less respect and financial support than monks, often facing the possibility of extinction. In Taiwan, however, in a complete reversal, Buddhist nuns outnumber male monks in an astonishing 75 percent to 25 percent ratio, with the largest number of Buddhist nuns in the world. Many Taiwanese nuns are highly educated and socially engaged activists. Nonetheless, to assert one’s autonomy to become a nun is extremely difficult in a Confucian society. How do Taiwanese women, society, and Buddhism mutually transform each other? In addition to an analysis of selected essential Buddhist texts, Pang-White investigates two Buddhist communities of women to shed light on Buddhism’s modern transformation. She concludes that to reform Buddhism from within is not only theoretically possible but also practically achievable.



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Ann A. Pang-White
University of Scranton

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