Buddhism: Controversial Issues | 16
In general, because Buddhism has no single, centralized religious authority, and because it philosophically and practically places the emphasis on individual effort,
- there is no single stance on any controversial issue.
Buddhists, if it is possible to generalize, tend to believe that most issues are decided by the individual or by the basic ethical guidelines that were first laid out by the Buddha himself and then subsequently elaborated on in the Vinaya Pitaka.
One central tenet that informs Buddhist’s understanding of such controversial issues as capital punishment and abortion is the prohibition against harming any living beings.
Issues such as divorce, which can frequently be governed by religious rules and authorities, are generally left up to the individuals involved.
In the early textual tradition the vision of women is often quite negative, and women become a kind of hindrance and a distraction, the embodiment of illusion and the objects of lustful grasping.
There are, to be sure, also positive images of women—
- as mothers, as devoted wives, as model givers:
This last role is particularly important, for among the laity it is the women of the community who are often most actively involved in supporting the Sangha and, as a result, in receiving the Dharma.
The issue of female monks has been a consistently contested one,
since the Buddha himself reluctantly allowed his aunt Mahā-Pajāpati to join the Sangha but with the stipulation that female monks (Pali, bhikkhunī) would be subject to additional rules.
In practice, though, the lineage of female monastics died out fairly early in the Theravada,
and it has only been in the modern era, often as the result of the efforts of Western female Buddhists, that the female Sangha has been revived, and even in these cases women monks are sometimes viewed with suspicion and even open hostility.
Nonetheless, in Southeast Asia and Śrī Lanka, women monastics have been an important voice and an important symbolic presence.
In the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools, as well as in Zen, female monks, although certainly not the norm, are more common than in the Theravada.
China and Korea are the only East Asian countries to allow for full female ordination.
Beginning in the early 1980s a move for full female ordination began in Tibetan Buddhism, with the first all-female monastery being built in Lādakh, India, home of many Tibetan Buddhists since the Dalai Lama’s exile in 1959.
Similarly, Thai Buddhist woman began to organize a female monastic order in the 1970s.
In Śrī Lanka a German woman, Ayya Khema, began a female monastic order in the 1980s, one that has continued to grow.
In 2000 the International Association of Buddhist Women was founded. This umbrella organization brings together the various female Sanghas and provides a vital nexus of unity and activism.