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									            The Impact of Religion

Ching, Julia, Chinese Religions, pp85-118 (2 chapters on Daoism

Despeaux & Kohn, Women in Daoism, Ch. 1-5 pp 244-251

    Paul, Diana Y., Women in Buddhism, ―Introduction‖,

               The Impact of Religion

 Introduction
 Daoism
   – Goddesses
   – Ancient immortals
   – The Daoist woman
   – Daoist nuns and Priests
 Buddhism
   – The Position of Women in Buddhism
   – Women and Buddhism
   – Religious Life for Women
   – Buddhist nuns
    The two dominant religions in China were Daoism 道教 and
    Buddhism 佛教.
     – Daoism was an ancient Chinese native religion that is based
       on nature.
     – Buddhism had originated in India and came to China 400
       years later in 2 B.C.E. during the Han dynasty.
   Confucianism became the state ideology during the Han dynasty
    and Confucian thinking and practices became the framework of
     – Religion existed within this framework and while religion and
       Confucianism influenced each other, religious influences had
       to bow to the political power of Confucianism.
   Daoism is the native religion of ancient China; its religious and
    philosophical tradition is based on the philosophy of the mystic
    Laozi 老子 , who supposedly lived around the same time as
     – There is some doubt as to whether Laozi really existed as the
       name means Old One or Old Master.
   The texts of the basic concepts of Daoism -- Daoxejing 道德经
    and the Zhuangzi 庄子 – date back to the Warring States Period
    参国时代 of the Zhou dynasty.
   By the early Han, Laozi was worshipped as a god.

                           Daoism (2)
   In Daoism, the yin and yang are said to have produced everything
    in the universe; each was necessary and it was believed that:
     – Yin: the moon, water, weakness, depth and to all things
     – Yang: brightness, the sun, strength, fortitude and to all things
   Daoism emphasizes the importance of yin as passive and that it
    was superior to activie which is yang.
   Daoism recommended gentle noninterference or non-action
    wuwei 无为 as aggressive action brings about reaction.
     – Wuwei means one has to know when to act and when not to

                              Daoism (3)
   Daoists revered the female as she is closer to the basic forces of
    nature than the male as new life is created and nurtured in her.
   They believed that a man can gain immortality through sex with
    many different beautiful women who have not yet given birth.
     – Daoists developed sexual practices where the male gains
       immortality by absorbing the female yin essence sending that,
       with his semen, through mental concentration, upward
       through the spinal cord into his brain.
          This knowledge was kept from the woman so that she
           could not achieve immortality by reversing the procedure,
           draining him of his vital essence.*
     – After 1000 C.E., Confucianism became more conservative so
       that by the Qing dynasty, sex was no longer discussed in
       public life.
         *(van Gulik, Sexual Life in Ancient China pp 5-8; Alicia Ishihara and
          Howard Levy (trans) The Tao of Sex)
                           Daoism (4)
   Daoism has been associated with the common people (those
    who are not in the official classes) whereas Confucianism has
    traditionally been more of a religion or philosophy of the
   In its 2,500 years of history, Daoism has related to women in
    many different ways.
     – Daoism saw motherhood, sexuality, fertility and secret
        powers as closely associated with the yin or feminine.
     – Women could become Daoist priests and perform similar
        functions as the male priests.
   Daoism was caught between its ideals of the power of the
    feminine and the realities of a patriarchal society and had to bow
    to the greater power of those who advocated Confucianism and
    had to adapt to it.
                    Daoism: Goddesses

   As a native religion, Daoism kept all the ancient goddesses as
    well as the nature goddesses.
   These goddesses served as role models for women and gave
    them hope for a better after life.
   Two of the important goddesses were:
          Queen Mother of the West (Xiwang mu 西王母).
          Mother of the Dao Daomu 道母 (Mother of Laozi,
           founder of Daoism)
              – For more information see Ching, Julia, Ancient
                Chinese Religions.

                  Daoism: Goddesses
           Queen Mother of the West
 The Queen Mother of the West (Xiwang Mu 西王母) was the
  oldest and most important goddess of all the Daoist gods.
   – The earliest mention of her is from the Shang dynasty (1766-
     1122 B.C.E.), and is found on an oracle bone mentioning an
     Eastern Mother and a Western Mother.
 She is the most important goddess and lives on mountain of
  Kunlun 昆仑山 and rules all the immortals.
   – Occasionally she comes down to the world of mortals and
     shares her secrets.
 She never took human form and has remained more distant.
 Among the philosophers, she is said to be a mythical ruler or an
  inspiring teacher of sage kings.

               Daoism: Goddesses
           Queen Mother of the West (2)
   By the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.), this powerful
    goddess became known as one who protects people from deadly
    diseases and famine and grants them long life and immortality.
   As the perfect heavenly power of yin, the Queen Mother of the
    West shows the power of women in different areas of life:
     – She is the personification of the Dao and the key
        administrator of the universe.
     – She shows the power of female sexuality which harmonizes
        the yin and yang.
     – She represents a strong woman who dominates the power
        exchange, using men — preferably young — to nourish her
        own health and longevity.

           Daoism: Goddesses
       Queen Mother of the West (3)
– She shows that:
    Women are important and have the potential to run
     important aspects of life with competent management and
     full responsibility.
    Women are able to have superior ability and great
    Women should follow her example and be able to be
     selfish and attain pleasure and power.
    Women’s sexuality is not just for reproduction or for the
     benefit of men.

               Daoism: Goddesses
           Goddesses: Mother of the Dao
   The Mother of the Dao was born of heavenly forces and became
    a human being.
   The essence of the sun descended as a shooting star and entered
    her mouth while she was taking an afternoon nap and she gave
    birth to Lord Lao/Laozi 老子.
   After raising her son to be a savior of men she was taken into
    heaven by flowery chariots and numerous attendants.
     – Her son, is thought to be of heavenly origin and is
        worshipped as a key god, who has:
          Revealed and presented the heavenly scriptures and
           secrets to humanity.
          In charge of human fate and immortality and accessible to
          Invented the practice and teaching of sexual techniques.
                  Daoism: Goddesses:
                  Mother of the Dao (2)
   She is very different from the Goddess of the West.
     – She is a good, steady woman – observing rules and gaining
       fame and status through her divine son whom she carries,
       teaches and protects.
     – She shows the fulfillment of women as daughters, wives and
     – She is the ideal Confucian female and a role model for
     – Her career — from daughter to wife/mother to teacher and
       eventually ancestor — matches the ideal cycle of women on
   She represents the successful Chinese woman with no
    administrative powers, no emphasis on sexuality; no
    communication between the two worlds.
             Daoism: Ancient Immortals
 Immortals 仙/仚/僊 are also revered.
   – These are men and women who have gone beyond the
     limitations of this world and up to a higher level.
   – They refined the qi 气 through breathing exercises,
     prescribed food, and sexual hygiene.
 To become an immortal:
   – One lived separate from society, practiced techniques of
     physical and spiritual control, had one’s mind set on
     interaction with the spirit world and acquired magical powers
     as they advanced in their training.
 As an immortal, they could bring sacred texts from the gods and
  goddesses to human beings.

                    The Daoist woman
   As Daoism respects the yin force more than the yang, Daoist
    women can:
      – Achieve immortality.
      – Become priests, nuns, or mediums.
      – Become independent persons through self-cultivation.
   The Daoist goddesses and immortals served as role models to
    living women.
      – It reflected the wishes of women who were usually married
        and lived under Confucian restrictions.
   While women were exploited by Daoist sexual practices they
    could reverse the practice and gain become and draw the elixir of
    life from men.

      The Daoist woman: Tang to Qing
   The imperial family of the Tang dynasty (618-907) claimed Lord
    Lao Laozi as their ancestor and so favored Daoism and Daoist
    writings were raised to the level of Confucian classics.
   During that time:
     – There were 1,687 Daoist monasteries, 1127 for men and 550
       for women.
     – Widows and divorcees found active roles as priests and nuns
       who served as priests and healers and contributed to the
       shaping of Daoist organizations.
     – Some imperial women took vows and used the convent as a
       way to honor their late husband’s memory and attain
       perfection for themselves.
     – Daoist convents also served as convenient places to hold
       women unfit for society such as ex-concubines, former
       courtesans, aging entertainers.
                  The Daoist woman:
                   Tang to Qing (2)
   When the Tang ended, support for Daoism declined and the
    priests and nuns wandered the countryside looking for support.
     – Daoist nuns began to offer healing, exorcism, and protection
        to the merchant class and population.
   The nuns and priests of the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-
    1368) founded different schools and played an active role in
    society working successfully with emperors, and aristocrats.
     – These women were well educated and literate, coming from
        the upper classes.
     – These women were writers and poets.

                Daoist Nuns and Priests
   Most women who joined the convents were from Daoist
    – Daughters could only convert with the family’s consent as it
       involved social changes and financial obligations:
    – She had to first become pure by living alone or with a
       teacher, who was either another woman or a married priest.
    – She had to avoid contact with ordinary people and find
       peace of mind.
    – She trained at an institution leading to:
        Different levels of ordination with the right to perform
            rituals, attain senior rank in the convent or set up her
   Daoist nuns had more equality with men than Buddhist nuns:
        They went through the same ordination ceremonies as
            the men.
        They had the same status as men; serving as priests in
            ritual functions and as nuns in self-cultivation.        18
   Buddhism is the religion and philosophy based on the teachings of
    the Buddha who lived in India between about 563-483 B.C.E.
   In Buddha’s lifetime, there were already many people who
    worshipped him as a god.
   His teachings concerned the suffering of life, how to overcome
    suffering, and be truly happy. He taught that:
     – Life is imperfect and that we suffer because we desire and that
       we can end our suffering by letting go of desire.
          We should avoid all evil and do good.
          We should purify our minds.
     – Buddhism introduced the concept of ―rebirth‖.

                       Buddhism (2)

   Buddhism spread slowly from India to Central Asia, Tibet, Sri
    Lanka, southeast Asia, and China.
     – It began as a religion with large monasteries where monks
        studied the sutras and debated over their meaning.
   As Buddhism spread through Asia, the teachings divided into
    two schools:
     – Theravada Buddhism (Hinayana) – the Lesser Vehicle.
     – Mahayana Buddhism – the Greater Vehicle.
   The major difference between the two is whether enlightenment
    or salvation is possible for all humankind.

                       Buddhism (3)
 Theravada, was the original Buddhism.
   – It teaches that salvation is difficult to attain and is only
      possible within monastic life.
   – It focused primarily on meditation and so limited the number
      of people who could join the religion.
 During the 1st century, the teachings changed to Mahayana
  which teaches that all can become enlightened.
   – The Mahayanists claimed that they had recovered the secret
      teachings of Buddha that were entrusted to only the most
      faithful followers and so no one knew about them until 500
      years after the death of Buddha.
 It attracts a larger number of believers and is dominant in China,
  Korea, Vietnam and Japan.

                        Buddhism (4)
   Mahayana believers claimed that before Buddha entered his final
    life he had spent many lives as a bodhisattva, a kind of "Buddha-
    in-waiting," and performed acts of incredible generosity, joy, and
    compassion towards his fellow human beings.
   It developed the theory of Gender Transformation from Female
    to Male – that did not include rebirth and can be obtained in an
    instant– so that women on also attain Buddha-hood.
      – This is to overcome the assumption that a woman cannot
        achieve salvation without having been first reborn a man.

    The Position of women in Buddhism
 Buddhism, like other religions, is a male-created institution born
  in a patriarchal society and so dominated by a patriarchal power
 In the early days Buddha (463-383BC) did not discriminate
  against women.
   – Buddha agreed that women ―are competent … to attain to
      the fruit of conversion, to attain to … saint-ship.‖
 The Buddha was then quoted as saying:
   – The female’s defects – greed, hate, and delusion and other
      defilements – are greater than male’s ….
   – You women should …
         Because I wish to be freed from the impurities of the
          woman’s body, I will acquire the beautiful and fresh body
          of a man.‖
The Position of women in
     Buddhism (2)
            To answer women’s needs, the
             male bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
             was transformed into a female –
             Guanyin – ―Observing the Sounds
             of the World.‖
            She is one of the four great
            Her female features were
             influenced by Daoism.
            After the influence of the Virgin
             Mary, Guanyin is shown with a

    The Position of women in Buddhism (3)

   There are female saints for role models for Chinese Buddhist
     – Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion who appears in
       female form.
     – Queen Srimala was an Indian Queen who was empowered by
       the Buddha to teach.
          Her perfect enlightenment was predicted by Buddha.
     – Miao Shan was a princess whose father tried to force her to
       marry a rich and powerful man.
          Instead she became a Buddhist nun and was almost killed
           for her chastity.

                  Women and Buddhism
   Buddhism was introduced into China during the Han dynasty.
   At that time, Buddha had been dead 700 years and so the texts
    had gone through many generations of revision and often
    included non-Buddhist ideas.
   There were two themes in the literature:
     – Women were considered as mysterious, sensual, destructive
        elusive and closer to nature.
     – Association with women can be polluting and they should be
        controlled by men.
     – Women’s sexuality is dangerous and so they should be
        marginalized – prostitutes are not to be feared as they give of
        themselves to anyone.
               Women and Buddhism (2)

   The other theme is that women are wise, maternal, creative,
    gentle and compassionate.
     – Men need their support in order to fulfill his religious goals
       and to release him from suffering.
     – Sexuality may be either denied or controlled.
     – Women could either:
          Exploit their physical beauty and lead the life of a
          Renounce physical beauty and lead the life of a nun.

              Women and Buddhism (3)

   The Buddhists believed in universal love and compassion,
    preaching equality of all beings.
   It taught universal love and compassion and the teachings
    appealed to the spiritual needs of the Chinese woman.
   Throughout most of Buddhist history, the socially approved
    roles were those of wife and mother.
     – Women accumulated merit by:
           tending to the family shrine,
           making offerings,
           giving charity to the needy,
           transmitting the Buddhist teachings to children,
           promoting ethical principles in the household,       28
               Women and Buddhism (4)
   The age of 50 was important to women as it marked the end of
    her reproductive years and elite women were expected to host a
    major celebration on her 50th birthday.
     – Widows could not celebrate their longevity.
   A woman was now free to pursue her own spiritual peace leaving
    her daughter-in-law to mind the household duties.
     – She might retreat to her private chambers to recite the rosary
       or read Buddhist sutras.

                      Buddhist Nuns
 Buddha taught for 45 years and gathered about 1,250 disciples,
  all were men.
 His aunt and step-mother, with about 20 women, went several
  hundred miles barefoot across the dusty plains for permission to
  renounce home and become Buddhist nuns.
   – The Buddha agreed and affirmed the equal potential of
      women to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
   – He set conditions in order to avoid trouble caused by women
      leaving their families, such as getting permission of their
   – Buddha made it possible for women to take religious vows in
      a country where women were considered inferior to men.
                   Buddhist Nuns (2)
 Unlike Daoism, Buddhist nuns were always inferior to monks,
  must be ordained by them and could not perform the same
 Buddhist temples served as a refuge for women who rejected
  marriage as well as for wives and concubines who wanted to
  escape from cruel husbands and mothers-in-law.
 Buddhist nuns have free access to women’s quarters and could
  counsel ladies of the household, officiate at prayer meetings,
  advise on cures, teach young girls reading, writing, and other
  needed skills.
 In the 1900s, there were 5,000 nuns in Taiwan working at their
  studies, teaching, meditating, or working in social welfare.
                Buddhist Nuns (3)
– ―A nun of even a hundred years’ standing
     shall salute,
     rise to meet,
     entreat humbly, and
     perform all respectful offices for a monk, even if he be
      but that day ordained.
– It was said that ―This regulation shall be honored, esteemed,
  revered, and worshipped, and is not to be transgressed as
  long as life shall last.‖

                       Impact of Law


   Ch’u Tung-tsu, Law and Society in Traditional China
   Tai, Yen-Hui, Divorce in Traditional China Law, in Buxbaum,
    ed., Chinese Family Law and Social Change, pp 75-106.


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