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Therīgāthā Studies - Essays by Susan Elbaum Jootla & Hellmuth Hecker

Susan Elbaum Jootla, “Inspiration from Enlightened Nuns”, Buddhist Publication Society (Kandy, Sri Lanka), 1988.
Inspiration from Enlightened Nuns, Susan Elbaum Jootla.pdf (192.4 KB)

Hellmuth Hecker, “Buddhist Women at the Time of the Buddha”, translated by Sister Khema, Buddhist Publication Society (Kandy, Sri Lanka), 1982.
Buddhist Women at the Time of the Buddha, Hellmuth Hecker (230.0 KB)

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:pray:

Dear Brenna,

Thank you very much for posting and sharing.

My feedback:

The “Inspiration from Enlightened Nuns” by Susan Elbaum Jootla, didn’t do well with me. There was a statement at the beginning that the physiological and mental sufferings common to women must be from bad kamma from the past which really was troubling to me (which I find amazing that she even said that being she’s a woman!)

Also, the book mostly referenced to “vipassana” meditation as the primary means to understand and break through the suffering of samsara. Had trouble with that too as from my understanding reading the suttas and as explained by Ajahns Brahm, Brahmali and Bhante Sujato in numerous occasions, samatha and vipassana go together, not to mention the need to experience the four jhana to really understand the Dhamma.

IMHO, this booklet was/is geared more towards “Vipasanna” movement practitioners.

May all beings be free. :sunglasses:

with añjali and mettā,
russ

:pray:

Russ, do you have a specific quote you’re referring to?

I don’t necessarily think that Jootla is arguing that all women’s suffering is from bad Kamma, but rather that many Therīgāthā verses illustrate the profound difficulty and hardship of attaining nibbāna for all beings, but particularly for women.

I could be incorrect, but it seems that there was (and still largely is) a tendency to use vipassana as a generic label for meditation in general. Thus, she may very well be including samatha within the label of vipassana.

Something that is intriguing to me about this essay is stated in the title and when Jootla notes in the introduction,

In some respects, the inspiration from these poems may be stronger for women than for men, since these are in fact women’s voices that are speaking…However, at a deeper level the sex of the speakers is irrelevant, for the ultimate truths which they enunciate explain the universal principles of reality which are equally valid for men and for women.

I am not certain what the ratio of men to women is in the Tipiṭaka, but it seems (just from reading the suttas) that there are far less women represented. Therefore, I find it interesting that the Therīgāthā verses act as a kind of guidebook for modern day women who practice the Dhamma. For me, at least, the Therīgāthā verses are an extraordinarily important part of the Suttapiṭaka because they are the direct experiences of women. Their voices reaffirm and echo my own struggles, and I come to know that my suffering is not exclusive to me–but that women have been suffering for thousands of years.

Even if Jootla is saying that women’s suffering is from bad kamma I don’t think I would feel offended because that’s not what I get from the Therīgāthā verses. Women’s suffering, whether from bad kamma or not, is universal in the sense that it has been felt before by all living beings. What is far more important about the Therīgāthā verses is that they affirm, ‘yes’, women can be freed from that same suffering too.

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It depends on the context, but yes, this is often the case. Certainly in Thailand, vipassanā is used as a generic term for meditation.

We even see this use in old contexts. The commentaries, for example, distinguish two “careers” for monks: ganthadhura (the duty of books) and vipassanadhura (the duty of meditation). Here Vipassana obviously just means meditation in general.

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:pray:

Dear Brenna,

page 8:

Because of their physiology and their conditioning by family and society, women are more prone to attachment to their offspring than are men, and so will suffer all the more from their loss. However, if women train their minds to understand how clinging causes enormous suffering, how birth and death are natural processes happening as effects of specific causes, and how infinite the history of such misery is, they can utilise their feminine sufferings in the quest for awakening. In the Kindred Sayings (Vol. IV, pp. 62-163), the Buddha himself pointed out the five kinds of suffering unique to women. Three are physiological—menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. The other two are social, and perhaps not as widely relevant today as they were in ancient Indian society: having to leave her own family to live with her husband and in-laws, and having “to wait upon a man.” All five must be the results of past unwholesome deeds, yet each one can be made a basis for insight.

There was no offense for me, I just found it troubling. Maybe it’s just the way I look at things. As far as I understood for myself as I’ve read the therīgāthā before, there is no question that their stories provide an inspiration to all. One thing that stand’s out from other religions in the world is how true to life most of the stories are in the suttas and related collections. They paint the pictures just how it is and where we can all relate. But most importantly, they show us that people achieved their emancipation by their own perseverance and endeavor to break through the cycle of rebirth (with birth, comes the inevitable suffering).

with añjali and mettā,
russ

:pray:

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:pray:

Dear Bhante,

Thank you very much :smile:

with reverence, respect, and gratitude,
russ

:pray: