In the Footsteps of the Buddha?: Women and the Bodhisatta Path in Theravāda Buddhism
Although a woman can achieve the state of awakening known as arahatship, Theravāda Buddhist tradition states that a woman cannot achieve full and complete Buddhahood. More than this, a woman is unable to successfully aspire to Buddhahood, or progress on the path to it—in other words she cannot be a bodhisatta. In this article, Appleton explores the origins of the doctrine that excludes women from the bodhisatta path, as well as its effects on the outlook of women in Buddhist societies. She begins by outlining the bodhisatta path as it is presented in Theravāda texts, and tracing the role of jātaka stories—stories about previous lives of Gotama Buddha—in codifying this path and excluding women from it. She then examines the striking absence of stories about changing sex between births, and the possible influence of this upon the understanding that a bodhisatta is always male. She finishes with an assessment of the relationship between the exclusion of women from the bodhisatta path and other ideas about the social and spiritual incapacities of women.
Back to Volume 27, Number 1