Introducing Tibetan Buddhism Chapter 10: Tibetan Buddhism, women and gender
Main topics covered • Introduction • Gender in Tibetan society • Women’s religious roles within Indian Buddhism • Women religious roles within Tibetan Buddhism • Women as lay patrons • Women as monastics • Women as yogic practitioners • Women as tantric consorts (sangyum, kandroma) • Women as hereditary lamas • Conclusion
Key points 1 • Tibetan women are more equal to men in social terms than women in much of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) or traditional East Asia (China). They are free to move around as they wish, have a considerable degree of personal and financial autonomy, and are often openly part of decision-making processes within the household.
Tibetan women Tibetan women dancing at Losar (Tibetan New Year), Bylakuppe, South India. Photo by Ruth Rickard, 1991
Key points 2 • Women within Tibetan Buddhism were treated as inferior in many ways, and the situation here is only slowly improving. • Women are nevertheless involved in Tibetan Buddhism in many capacities, both as lay patrons and as religious practitioners in their own right.
Tibetan lay women and ritual Women carrying Buddhist books on their backs as part of a village festival, Yarlung valley, Central Tibet, 1987
Key points 3 • Tantric Buddhism in theory allows for a significant role for women both as practitioners in their own right and as Tantric consorts. The increasing dominance of Tibet by male celibate monasticism has meant that women have found it difficult to access the teachings, but a significant minority have become practitioners, particularly in the Nyingmapa and Kagyüdpa traditions. Women from high-status hereditary lama families have been especially well-placed to receive teachings on the same basis as men.
Tibetan nuns Tibetan Nuns at Kālacakra Empowerment, Sarnath, India. Photo by Ruth Rickard, 1991
Key points 4 • In recent years, in part as a result of the involvement of Western women in Tibetan Buddhist practice, there has been increasing pressure for discrimination against women within Tibetan Buddhism to be ended and for women to be given equal access to Buddhist teachings.