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Gender and Religion: Gender and Buddhism


Early in the history of Western scholarship about Buddhism, several well-known women scholars wrote significant studies about the role of women in early Buddhism. C. A. F. Rhys Davids's translation of the Therīgāthā (The songs of the female elders) was published in 1909, and in 1930 I. B. Horner published the very significant book, Women under Primitive Buddhism. However, by the mid-twentieth century, these works had been largely forgotten and scholars almost never discussed how gender affects Buddhists' lives or the practice of their religion. Scholarship had become almost androcentric, giving us knowledge only about what men thought and did, proceeding as if women were not part of the religious community. Furthermore, these studies rarely discussed cultural and religious attitudes toward women, or the presence of female divine beings. Such omissions were typical of scholarship in general, not only Buddhist studies or religious studies.

When the second wave of feminism began in the mid-1960s, people did not immediately regard scholarship about religion as a feminist issue, but by the late 1970s a small group of scholars, mainly women, were keenly aware of the inadequacies of androcentric scholarship and its failure to provide a complete or accurate picture of whatever religion was being studied. In addition, many people were discussing the perceived injustices of male-dominated religions, including Buddhism. After a hiatus of almost fifty years during which no significant studies of gender and Buddhism had appeared, in 1979 Diana Y. Paul published her translation and commentary, Women in Buddhism: Images of the Feminine in Mahāyāna Tradition. In the following decade, interest in the topic of gender and Buddhism increased greatly, in keeping with scholarship in general and the culture at large. Many significant and provocative articles appeared, and in 1988 Sandy Boucher published Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism, a semipopular account of American women Buddhist reformers of the tradition. By then concerns about gender and Buddhism had become an issue not only for scholars of Buddhism but also for Buddhist practitioners, who were, if anything, more aware of and more concerned about the issues than were the scholars. The first comprehensive book-length account of gender and Buddhism written by a scholar-practitioner appeared in 1993 when Rita Gross published Buddhism after Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism. In the following ten years, a significant number of books, some scholarly, some more oriented to Buddhist practitioners, appeared. During that same period, scholars began to pay more attention to gender in their research and in general surveys of Buddhism and introductory textbooks.

An Overview of Buddhism and Gender

There is a certain ambiguity in the study of gender in general, not just in Buddhist studies. Do scholars genuinely mean gender, or do they, in effect, say gender but mean women ? Writings on Buddhism and gender will always discuss women's roles and images of women, but they may have little to say about how the gender discriminations found in all religions affect men. And unless the term gender is in the title of a book or chapter, it usually does not contain much information about how gender practices affect either women or men.

In Buddhism's 2,500-year-long history, several generalizations about gender stand out. First, it could be argued that the most significant distinction within the Buddhist community is not between women and men, but between monastics and laypeople. In ancient India at the time of the Buddha, it was commonly believed that the householder lifestyle was simply too distracting and busy, filled with children and work, for a person to be able to make any significant progress toward deep understanding of reality and the consequent peace brought by such knowledge. The Buddha himself renounced his wealth, family, and social position for a life of religious seeking, and he ordained many followers as monks and nuns throughout his life. The prestige of the monastic lifestyle has never diminished in Buddhism, with the possible exceptions of Japanese Buddhism and newly converted Western Buddhists. Given the centrality of monasticism in Buddhist life, the presence or absence of a nuns' order is a significant gender issue in Buddhism. Though many Buddhist sources report the Buddha's initial hesitation to initiate a nuns' order, it did begin and has persisted, with many ups and downs, in most parts of the Buddhist world. Restoring the nuns' ordination in those parts of the Buddhist world where it has been lost, or to which it never was transmitted, is an important contemporary issue in Buddhism.

A second generalization is that there have been two radically different opinions about gender, and especially about the status of female rebirth in the Buddhist world, in all periods of Buddhist history, and in all forms of Buddhism. One opinion states that gender does not matter, that gender is irrelevant because both women and men can uncover the true nature of enlightened mind and that enlightened mind is not one iota different in women than it is in men. The other opinion states that gender does matter a great deal and that it is much more fortunate to be reborn as a man because of the social privileges that go with male rebirth. Monks always had more prestige than nuns and were better supported. The major institutions of Buddhism, including the nuns' order, have always been male dominated, though that is changing in contemporary times, especially among Western converts to Buddhism. Modern reformers have pointed out that these two well-entrenched traditional attitudes about gender are incompatible, for if gender is irrelevant, there can be little basis for awarding men social privilege and domination of Buddhist institutions.

Early Indian Buddhism and Developments in South Asia

Regarding gender, the most significant debate about early Buddhism, the Buddhism of the Buddha's day and the next three to five hundred years, is whether or not its basic view is misogynistic, that is, hating and fearing females and everything female. Male monasticism tends to produce literature, directed to monks, about the dangers of contact with women, and these are plentiful in the literature of this period. Some commentators interpret these passages as evidence that early Buddhism had strongly negative views of women. Others, however, argue that these remarks directed to monks are not the whole story, and that these passages about the dangers of contact with women are more about the weakness of men's discipline than about the inherent faults of women. The latter argument is bolstered by the existence of flourishing and highly accomplished nuns in early Buddhism, and by the high regard in which laywomen donors were held. Certainly nuns were not equal to monks in the modern sense of the term, but they nevertheless had a degree of freedom and independence that was rare in the ancient world. Their lifestyle is well represented in the Therīgāthā.

Almost every account of early Buddhism also tells the story of the Buddha's reluctance to allow women to ordain as nuns at all, along with that story's depressing coda about the eight special rules that subordinate all nuns to all monks, even the newest novice. Most also include the prediction that the Buddhist religion would only endure half as long as it otherwise would have because women had been admitted to the order. But scholars who have done textual analysis on these passages have expressed doubts about the origin of these stories and comments. Some suggest that they more likely came from a later period, some hundreds of years after the life of the Buddha when Buddhism was splitting apart into several mutually incompatible denominations, not from the Buddha himself or his times.

Buddhism first spread to Sri Lanka as a result of missionary efforts on the part of Emperor Aśoka of India in the third century bce. It is said that Aśoka's daughter herself initiated the nuns' order there, and it was Sri Lankan nuns who went to China in the fifth century ce to initiate the nuns' order there. These Chinese nuns' ordination lineages are the source of most lineages for nuns' ordination in the contemporary world. However, after the eleventh century ce, Sri Lankan Buddhism saw the demise of the nun's order. The consensus of scholarship is that nuns' ordination never reached other Southeast Asian countries.

In the contemporary Theravāda world, reviving nuns' ordination is a hotly contested issue, though those in favor of reviving it may be slowly winning the battle. Conservatives argue that the Buddha did not want to ordain nuns in the first place and that the nuns' order can be revived only by the next Buddhawho is not expected to appear anytime soon. But women from Theravāda countries receive ordination from Chinese and Korean lineages and return to their Southeast Asian homes as fully ordained nuns. Though the nuns often face severe censure, especially in Thailand, gradually nunneries are being reestablished anyway. The first nuns' ordination to occur in a Theravāda country in over a thousand years took place in Sri Lanka in 1998.

MahĀyĀna Buddhism

The origins of Mahāyāna Buddhism are still debated, but all would agree that it was present by five hundred years after the time of the Buddha, about the beginning of the common era. It is also often claimed that Mahāyāna Buddhism was more inclusive of laypeople and women than other forms of Buddhism found in India at that time, but there is little evidence for this claim in Buddhist institutional practices of the period and no historical women stand out in accounts of Mahāyāna Buddhist history. However, Mahāyāna literature sometimes also presents a very different picture of possible or ideal roles for laypeople, and especially for women. They are sometimes the heroes of Mahāyāna texts, and they are then portrayed as far more knowledgeable than their male opponents, who are representatives of the more established schools of Buddhism. Furthermore, texts that portray women as knowledgeable heroes are not minor, unimportant texts, but are among the most popular and influential texts. Such texts are also quite numerous.

Portrayals of accomplished women and girls range from those in which the woman changes her female body into a male body as a sign of her superior understanding, to portrayals in which she teaches unchallenged by anyone for taking on what is usually understood as a male role. The most famous episode in which a female transforms herself into a male occurs in the Lotus Sūtra, an Indian text that became especially important in East Asian Buddhism. The heroine is the eight-year-old daughter of the Nāga king, an improbable candidate for high spiritual attainment not only because of her gender but because of her age. Mañjuśrī, an important bodhisattva in the Mahāyāna pantheon vouches for her, and she proclaims that she will teach the dharma (Buddhist teachings), but Śaripūtra, one of the most important elders and disciples of the Buddha in the literature of older forms of Buddhism, objects that a female could not possibly be able to teach. After some debate with Śaripūtra, as the text delicately puts it, her "female organ disappeared and the male organ became visible."

This passage has been interpreted and commented upon many times. More conservative commentators have claimed that this passage indicates that women cannot become enlightened, but must first change into men, a rather common Asian Buddhist claim. If even the Nāga princess must change into a man, they would argue, surely all other women must become men before they can become enlightened. For most women, of course, this sex change will not happen until a future life, but the fact that "deserving women" will be reborn as men is claimed by some as proof that traditional Buddhism does not practice sex discrimination. However, more recent feminist commentators on this text have claimed that the problem pointed to by this text is not the Nāga princess's femaleness, but the obtuseness of Śharipūtra and the other male naysayers. Only something as abrupt and unlikely as an instantaneous sex change can convince these ideologically fixated, conservative men, who simply cannot hear true dharma when it comes out of a woman's mouth. The fact that the Nāga princess has the ability to magically change her sex as a last resort to demonstrate her skill to these men only enhances her claim to superior understanding. While Buddhist stories frequently include the motif of magical powers resulting from high meditative attainments, only the most advanced practitioners can accomplish such feats.

Another famous passage occurs in the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra. Śaripūtra is again debating with a highly accomplished woman, a so-called goddess who has been studying for twelve years in Vimalakīrti's palace. Śaripūtra is impressed with her knowledge and comments that someone who knows as much as she does should be a man. He then challenges her to change herself into a man. She replies that she had been looking for the innate characteristics of the female sex for twelve years, without success, so there was nothing that could be changed. When Śaripūtra persists with his objections, she suddenly changes him into a woman and herself into a man. The goddess, now a man, asks the female Śaripūtra if she (he) can find the essential nature of his newly female sex. A confused Śaripūtra replies that he cannot even figure out how he became a woman. Then the goddess changes Śaripūtra back into a man and herself back into a woman and asks Śaripūtra about the "female form and innate characteristics." A much chastened and wiser Śaripūtra replies, "The female form and innate characteristics neither exist nor do not exist," an answer much more in accord with Mahāyāna teachings on emptiness.

A final motif found in Mahāyāna texts portrays women teaching the dharma, but male challenges are defeated purely with logic, without recourse to sex changes. The logic is that, because emptiness of any essence is the only trait common to all things, no specific traits, such as maleness or femaleness, have true existence. They are only appearances. A woman named Jewel Brocade is challenged by a male elder who claims that supreme perfect enlightenment, which is very difficult to attain, cannot be attained in a woman's body. She replies that if enlightenment cannot be attained in a female body, then it cannot be attained in a male body either. Why? Because the thought of enlightenment is neither male nor female, and that which perceives through emptiness is neither male nor female. The text in which this story is embedded then concludes that "the dharma is neither male nor female."

It is difficult to assess the impact of these passages and ideas upon the actual lives of Buddhist women until we have more historical data and research. Although we know that monastic ordination lineages disappeared in many parts of the Buddhist world, it survived in China, one of the most important early sites for the development of Mahāyāna scriptures and ideology. Although androcentrism and misogyny continued to mark much of the Mahāyāna monastic world, exceptional women were, on occasion, able to found flourishing nunneries and to have influence in both religion and politics. Several collections recording the lives of nuns in East Asia survive, and recent work on nunneries in Japan has produced intriguing evidence of the multiplicity of contexts in which Buddhist women could thrive.

Tantric Buddhism in Tibet

A late development in Buddhism, often called "Tantric Buddhism" or Vajrayāna, is of special interest to the question of the place of women, since it advocated sexual practice as a means to advance spiritually. Tantric Buddhism in India has only begun to be studied as a historical phenomenon, and there are many difficult interpretive questions for that study, given the often shockingly antinomian practices that the Buddhist tantric scriptures sometimes recommend. Scholarly knowledge is on somewhat firmer ground in its study of Tibetan Buddhism, and it is useful to consider that case in this context, since Vajrayāna Buddhist literature and practices had exceptional durability in Tibet throughout its Buddhist period.

Buddhism came first to Tibet from north India in the seventh century ce. A second dissemination gained momentum in the eleventh century. Women figure to some extent in both disseminations, and the Vajrayāna Buddhism that dominates Tibet often portrays female figures in art. There are also several important women in Tibetan Buddhist historical accounts.

Though there were many novice nuns in Tibet, most scholars think that full ordination for nuns never reached Tibet. In Tibetan Buddhism, however, a third, less well-known option of being a forest recluse, who has not taken monastic vows but who has taken on much more serious spiritual obligations than the average layperson, has always been prestigious and popular. Many women opted for this alternative, which gave them more freedom and prestige than they had in male-dominated monastic universities. (There were no equivalent educational institutions for women, and novice nuns were often trained only in chanting and other minor disciplines.) These people often lived alone in caves or retreat huts or with a small group of companions, both male and female, and women were much more likely to receive serious training in meditation as forest recluses than in the monastic universities. However, it would be inaccurate to claim that women and men were equal in the modern sense of the term.

A famous female figure in Tibetan Buddhism was Ye shes mtsho rgyal (Yeshe Tsogyel), who is thought to have lived in the seventh century ce. She became the partner and colleague of the Indian Padmasambhava, often considered to be the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, though he was not the first Indian to propagate Buddhism in Tibet. Though modern scholars are not convinced that Ye shes mtsho rgyal actually existed, she is given a prominent place in many Tibetan historical narratives, and liturgies that invoke Padmasambhava usually also invoke her. She is regarded as fully enlightened, no less realized than any of the great male teachers revered by Tibetan Buddhists. Another woman, Ma gcig lab sgron (Machig Labdron, c. 10551149), was important during the second transmission of Buddhism to Tibet. Her story is complex, but she is often credited with initiating gcod (chöd) practice, an important Vajrayāna practice designed to destroy clinging to one's selfhood, which is key to attaining enlightenment according to Buddhist teachings. It is also claimed that this is the only practice that went from Tibet to India, reversing the usual pattern.

The most controversial aspect of Vajrayāna Buddhism is its widespread use of sexual symbolism and its purported use of sexuality itself as a religious ritual. There is no doubt that sexuality is one of the central symbols of Vajrayāna Buddhism, which means that feminine symbolism is much more prominent in Vajrayāna Buddhism than in any other form of Buddhism. The basic meaning of this symbolism is nonduality or inseparability, one of the central teachings of Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism. Within that dyadic unity, the female often symbolizes wisdom and the male often symbolizes compassion; their union symbolizes the inseparability and equality of wisdom and compassion. Likewise, the female symbolizes emptiness and the male symbolizes form. Their union symbolizes the inseparability of form and emptiness, or relative and absolute truth.

As for sexuality itself, both Ye shes mtsho rgyal and Ma gcig lab sgron are said to have had several sexual partners, and the stories of many great Tibetan teachers include accounts of their consorts. Their sexual experiences are considered part of the meditation practice rather than a purely secular or mundane activity. Evaluating the status of the female partners has been controversial. Many modern scholars think that the women were usually mere ritual implements used by male practitioners to enhance their meditative attainments, although some have argued that the women truly were partners and equals of the men. Despite great curiosity about these practices, they are closely guarded by Tibetans.

Buddhist Female Figures

Several important females figure in the stories from the earliest period of Buddhismthe Buddha's mother, his wife, the woman who encouraged him to eat after severe fasting, the daughters of Māra who tempted him, the earth goddess who witnessed his generosity, Prajāpatī, the first nun, and other female disciples. Mahāyāna Buddhism developed a pantheon of deified figures, and in Vajrayāna Buddhism there are countless meditation deities whose status is often equal to that of a buddha. Many of these are female. In Mahāyāna Buddhism, there are also mythic bodhisattvas on the way to full enlightenment or enlightened buddhas of other eras and world systems. The mythic bodhisattvas are far more advanced than any human beings, but they are still on the path. Often they are models of key Buddhist virtues, such as wisdom and compassion. These too are sometimes female.

It is noteworthy that as soon as Buddhists began to imagine and pray to such Buddhist mythical figures, they began to invoke female as well as male figures. One of the first major female enlightened figures to develop was Prajñāpāramitā, the personification of wisdom and emptiness. She is cast as the "mother of all the buddhas," because to become enlightened, a buddha had to realize the wisdom she represented. Another important female bodhisattva is Tārā, a personification of compassion and one of the most popular figures in Tibetan Buddhism. She is frequently invoked by ordinary people. She is extremely compassionate and effective; she can save one from any kind of danger or provide any kind of benefit and is often called upon to do so.

In Vajrayāna Buddhism, mythic females are at least as numerous as male mythic figures, and they participate in all the same activities as their male counterparts. The importance of sexual symbolism, if nothing else, would translate into the presence of many mythic females. However, females also function independently as meditation deities and as dharma protectors, the two main functions of "deities" in Vajrayāna Buddhism. While they are often portrayed as beautiful and gentle, they are just as likely to be portrayed as wrathful and ugly, by conventional standards. If equality between male and female mythic figures is sought, Vajrayāna Buddhist iconography is perhaps one of the places where it is found.

It is important, however, to remember that high regard for mythic females does not necessarily translate into high status, freedom, or equality for human women. One of the most common mistakes in discussing gender and religion is to answer questions about gender with information about female deities and other mythic females. While such information is an important part of the topic of gender and religion, it is often used to gloss over and ignore inequality between women and men and the suppression of human females. This mistake is especially common in discussions of Vajrayāna Buddhism, probably because its intense regard for mythic females is so unusual.

Modern Buddhism in Asia and the West

Two reform movements are especially significant in modern Buddhismthe increasing importance of lay meditation and the engaged Buddhist movement. Both are important in all forms of Buddhism, but Western Buddhism is almost entirely a lay movement, something very unusual in the history of Buddhism, and the engaged Buddhist movement is more prominent in Asia, though there are many Western counterparts.

Regarding attention to gender, the engaged Buddhist movement is somewhat disappointing, as it rarely engages in gender analysis or critiques male-dominant gender arrangements, whether within the Buddhist world or outside it. Every other major current social issue is discussed, and activists try to reform many economic and social injustices. But, like many reform movements throughout history, male dominance is exempted from such criticism. This is the case with both Asian and Western versions of the engaged Buddhist movement.

The lay meditation movement does not explicitly focus on gender either, but many laywomen do participate in meditation intensives, which would have been unusual in earlier forms of Buddhism. It would be expected that Western Buddhism, still in its infancy, would largely be a lay movement; the economic basis to support monastics and monasteries, so well developed in Asia, is completely lacking in the West. Extensive participation in meditation practices by laypeople in modern Asian Buddhism is also on the rise. Until recently, it was thought that laypeople did not have the time or the discipline to engage in meditation, but many Asian teachers are now willing to instruct laypeople, both women and men. In addition, there is a worldwide Buddhist women's movement. Several newsletters are devoted to this topic and one of the organizations, Sakyadhita, holds international conferences every two years. Central issues have included reinstating the nuns' order in countries where it has been lost and improving the education of nuns in other countries. Credit for the reintroduction of the nuns' order in Sri Lanka and support for nuns in other Theravāda countries goes to this movement. The education of Tibetan nuns has also been vastly improved, and nuns have begun to engage in practices that were never done by earlier nuns, such as debating and drawing sand maalas. Chinese and Korean nuns' orders are stronger than ever, and nuns usually outnumber monks.

The beginnings of large-scale conversion to Buddhism by Westerners coincided with the second wave of feminism, and many early converts also had feminist consciousness. Explicitly feminist loyalties were controversial for many Buddhists, but the way Western Buddhism has taken shape owes a great deal to feminism nevertheless. From the beginning of the movement in the 1970s, women participated in all aspects of Buddhist life and practice in equal numbers with men. This was a new experience for Asian male Buddhists who were teaching in the West, but they did nothing to discourage their women students and gradually began to empower them to teach, just as they empowered male students. As a result, by the mid-1990s almost half the Western dharma teachers were women, something totally unprecedented in the history of Buddhism.

See Also

Ani Lochen; Buddhism, overview article; Feminism, article on Feminism, Gender Studies, and Religion; Magcig Lab sgron (Machig Labdron); Nuns, article on Buddhist Nuns; Tārā; Ye shes Mtsho rgyal (Yeshe Tsogyal).


Allione, Tsultrim, trans. and ed. Women of Wisdom. London, 1984.

Bartholomeusz, Tessa. Women under the Bo Tree: Buddhist Nuns in Sri Lanka. Cambridge, U.K., 1994.

Blackstone, Kathryn R. Women in the Footsteps of the Buddha: Struggle for Liberation in the Therīgāthā. Surrey, U.K., 1998.

Boucher, Sandy. Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism. Rev. ed. Boston, 1993. An interesting account of emerging women leaders of American convert women.

Cabezón, José Ignacio, ed. Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender. Albany, N.Y., 1992. A useful collection of scholarly articles.

Dowman, Keith, trans. Sky Dancer: The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel. London, 1984. A fascinating account of the life of Tibet's most famous woman practitioner and leader.

Dresser, Marianne, ed. Buddhist Women on the Edge: Contemporary Perspectives from Western Frontier. Berkeley, Calif., 1996.

Falk, Nancy Auer. "The Case of the Vanishing Nuns: The Fruits of Ambivalence in Ancient Indian Buddhism." In Unspoken Worlds: Women's Religious Lives, edited by Nancy Auer Falk and Rita M. Gross, pp. 196206. Belmont, Calif., 2001. This is a classic article analyzing why the nuns' order declined and died out in India.

Faure, Bernard. The Power of Denial: Buddhism, Purity, and Gender. Princeton, 2003.

Friedman, Lenore, and Susan Moons, eds. Being Bodies: Buddhist Women on the Paradox of Embodiment. Boston and London, 1997.

Gross, Rita M. Buddhism after Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism. Albany, N.Y., 1993. A comprehensive and challenging account of Buddhism and gender.

Gross, Rita M. Soaring and Settling: Buddhist Perspectives on Contemporary Social and Religious Issues. New York, 2000.

Gross Rita M., and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Religious Feminism and the Future of the Planet: A Buddhist-Christian Conversation. New York, 2001. Very useful for comparing feminist issues in Buddhism and Christianity.

Havnevik, Hanna. Tibetan Buddhist Nuns: History, Cultural Norms, and Social Reality. Oslo, 1989.

Horner, I. B. Women under Primitive Buddhism: Laywomen and Alsmwomen. London, 1930; reprints, Dehli, 1975 and 1990. A classic to be studied by all who wish to understand women's roles in early Indian Buddhism.

Kabilsingh, Chatsumarn. Women in Thai Buddhism. Berkeley, Calif., 1991.

Klein, Carolyn Anne. Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the Self. Boston, 1995. An interesting book comparing postmodern feminism and some schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Pao-Chang. Lives of the Nuns: Biographies of Chinese Buddhist Nuns from the Fourth to Sixth Centuries. Translated by Kathryn Ann Tsai. Honolulu, 1994.

Paul, Diana Y., trans. and ed. Women in Buddhism: Images of the Feminine in Mahāyāna Tradition. Berkeley, Calif., 1979. This collection of texts is a modern classic that is still very useful.

Rhys-Davids, C. A. F., and R. K. Norman, trans. Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns (Therīgāthā). Oxford, 1989. This joint publication of the two major scholarly translations of the Songs of the Female Elders is very useful.

Robinson, Paula Kane. Women Living Zen: Japanese Soto Buddhist Nuns. New York, 1999.

Sakyadhita: The International Association of Buddhist Women. Sakyadhita Newsletter. Available from

Schaeffer, Kurtis R. Himalayan Hermitess: The Life of a Tibetan Buddhist Nun. Oxford, 2004.

Shaw, Miranda. Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton, 1994. A controversial book that argues that women played a far more central role in the development of Tantric Buddhism than earlier scholars had recognized.

Simmer-Brown, Judith. Dakini's Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston, 2001. The most complete account of gender symbolism in Tibetan Buddhism.

Tsomo, Karma Lekshe, ed. Sakyadhita: Daughters of the Buddha. Ithaca, N.Y., 1988. A useful account of the status of nuns in most parts of the Buddhist world.

Tsomo, Karma Lekshe, ed. Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming against the Stream. Richmond, U.K., 2000. Contains informative case studies of Buddhist women, especially nuns, in different parts of the world, including their social engagement with ethical issues.

Willis, Janice Dean, ed. Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet. Ithaca, N.Y., 1989.

Wilson, Liz. Charming Cadavers: Horrific Figurations of the Feminine in Indian Buddhist Hagiographic Literature. Chicago, 1996. An interesting scholarly discussion of monastic literature designed to impress upon monks that they should avoid women.

Rita M. Gross (2005)

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