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Wed Apr 19, 2017, 06:45 AM


Ancient Buddhist texts reveal shifting perspectives on women

USC scholar studies the ideal of gender roles within Buddhism, focusing on the women and religious texts of fifth-century China

Provostís Postdoctoral Scholar Stephanie Balkwill is a member of USCĎs Society of Fellows in the Humanities. (Photo/Courtesy of Stephanie Balkwill)

BY Laura Paisley APRIL 14, 2017

Itís an interesting aspect of Buddhist tradition: Women were prevented from fully participating in Buddhism by the mere fact of having female bodies. That circumstance, and how views of it evolved, piqued the interest of Stephanie Balkwill.

Iím interested in the ways in which Buddhism, when it came to China from India and Central Asia, offered women new opportunities for social and religious practice that they didnít have before,Ē said Balkwill, Provostís Postdoctoral Scholar at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. A member of USCís prestigious Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Balkwill has studied the lives of women, particularly Buddhist women, in fourth- through sixth-century China in depth.

According to the Buddhist tradition, women cannot ascend to the status of a Buddha ó one who is awake, enlightened and emancipated from samsāra, the cycle of birth and death ó because their bodies grow and give birth to children. That ties them metaphorically to samsāra.

To attain Buddha status ó the ultimate goal of the religion ó a woman must become a man, by dying and being reborn. But in many Buddhist texts, an advanced practitioner of Buddhism might miraculously change her form, in this life, at her own will.


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