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The Power of Denial: Buddhism, Purity, and Gender
Author Faure, Bernard
PublisherPrinceton University Press
Publisher Url
LocationPrinceton, NJ, US [普林斯顿, 紐澤西州, 美國]
Content type書籍=Book
Keyword尸羅=戒=command=Precept=sila=morality=rule=discipline=prohibition; 日本佛教=Japanese Buddhism; 佛教人物=Buddhist; 信心=Belief=Faith; 剃度=出家=Ordination; 修行方法=修行法門=Practice; 福報=福田=功德=Virtue=Merit; 繪畫=painting
AbstractSome time ago I was contacted by a female artist and practising Buddhist who sought my advice about making contact with similar female artists in Japan. Apparently a government scheme in Britain seeks to develop women's participation in the arts by enabling Britons to 'swap' their lives with artists in other countries for a month. She asked if I knew any specifically Buddhist women. artists in Japan who might be interested in taking part. This caused me to think about what westerners understand by both 'artists' and 'Buddhism' and how these terms do not map onto Japan.

In Japan traditional arts, such as calligraphy, ink painting, pottery and flower-arranging are organised into schools that are very patriarchal in nature. Although many women practise these arts with accomplishment, the most senior teachers are male, and the manner of the teaching is extremely hierarchical and formalistic - quite unlike the notions of spontaneity and self-expression that westerners associate with art. While these art forms have had a long association with Buddhism and many famous practitioners have been Buddhist priests, it would be unusual for a woman to pursue them as a form of Buddhist practice. Calligraphy and flower-arranging in particular are viewed as 'feminine' accomplishments undertaken as part of bridal training in the wifely virtues of self-discipline, attention to detail and meticulousness.

Japan also has a vibrant avant-garde tradition that includes many female artists. Yet such artists are unlikely to identify with Buddhism since it is so associated with the patriarchal institutions and belief systems against which their art is reacting. So, despite being a nominally Buddhist country, it would be unusual to find a female Japanese artist who drew upon Buddhism for inspiration, as opposed to an object for critique. Bernard Faure's new book offers us an explanation of why Japanese women, particularly those of a more radical disposition, are unlikely to turn to Buddhism for inspiration in either life or art.

The Power of Denial, the second volume in Faure's exploration of sexuality and gender in Japanese Buddhism, takes as its theme the place of women in medieval Buddhist society, institutions and the arts. He claims the issues involved in understanding the feminine in Japanese Buddhism are of 'staggering complexity'. In addition to a wealth of information, Faure offers a 'heuristic' approach to this material - one that opens up diverse interpretations as opposed to searching for fixed answers. So, although Faure asserts that Japanese Buddhism (like other clerical productions) has been 'relentlessly misogynistic', he also argues that it is 'open to multiplicity and contradiction'.

Faure finds fault with much previous scholarship on the topic, mostly by Buddhist women, which he believes is characterised by methodological naïveté. For example, he suggests feminist readings of Buddhist texts that attempt to reread them in terms of a characteristically modern discourse of 'gender equality' fall foul of three errors. Firstly, they are symptomatic of 'wishful thinking' since the texts are read through 'one single code'. Secondly, they risk falling into ventriloquism since modern women are speaking for their largely silent historical sisters. And thirdly, they are frequently lacking in socio-historical context. To counter these tendencies, Faure offers a wealth of detail and a complexity of analysis that make this book difficult for the general reader to approach - and even harder to sum up in a short review.

Faure argues that the reticence of the historical Buddha when faced with women's request for ordination, and the additional 'Eight Strict Rules' he imposed upon them, 'requir[ing] the nuns' subordination to monks in all matters', suggests that 'the Buddhist sangha has been suspicious about nuns, and women in general'. By making even the senior-most nun socially subordinate to the most junior monk, Faure
Created date2008.07.23

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