Through Buddhist Folklore about Ambapālī Discuss Buddhism in Relationship with Prostitution and Ge

Protected by Copyscape Unique Content Check
Published: 28th March 2007
Views: N/A

Vivian So


SEA 201B


25 March 2007





Title:"Through Buddhist Folklore about Ambapālī Discuss Buddhism in Relationship with Prostitution and Gender Role in Thailand"





"Thai prostitutes working abroad send home as much as 1.2 million dollars each year."





Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh





After reading the novel The Prostitute by K. Surangkhanang, it inspires me to do some further reading in regarding Buddhist teaching in relationship with prostitution and gender role in Thailand. With much thoughts and consideration, I have selected the Buddhist Folklore about Ambapālī-Psalms of the early Buddhists: I: Psalms of the Sisters [Pali Text Soc.] by Mrs. Rhys Davids, published in 1909 in London-a synopsis of which I will provide later. Before I go in more depth of the text itself, I would like to discuss the reason for selecting this piece of Buddhist Folklore. There is popular believe in Buddhism (started in 6th Century B.C.E ) that men and women are unequal in term of their relationship with abilities to attain





"If...women of the [Buddha-worlds] who, having heard my Name, rejoice in faith, awaken aspiration for Enlightenment, and wish to renounce womanhood* should be reborn again as women**, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment."





The Three Pure Land Sutras, Hisao Inagaki





salvation-nonattachment-the notion of beliefs that through the understanding of the perishable world before us as they are, disciples of Buddhism will transcend their mind and attain eternal peace/end of suffering. Through the story of Ambapālī, we can see that women and men are both attached to the world and desires; and that women and men gain salvation through different path: Men attained nonattachment-the central theme of Buddhism teaching-through living in monastery; women attained salvation through giving birth to son-through attachment to sons and husband, which a central theme in Buddhist text-and through good karma to be reborn as men. Furthermore, Ambapālī is a great model that nonattachment is not unattainable by women; rather the text depict that all can attain-nonattachment-the eternal peace of mind through the understanding of the perishable world before us as they are. Thus, Buddhism does not degrade women, and its Teaching is counter or discourages the prostitution in nowadays Thailand. The result of the current sex trade situation in Thailand might be influenced by some of the Thai traditions rather from religious doctrine of Buddhism.





Perhaps I shall first introduce the main character Ambapālī. Ambapālī begins in her previous life as a nun and on one ceremony, paying homage to the Bodhi, she cursed a monk who has spittle on a tree.





"According to research by female scholars of early Buddhism such as I.B. Horner, there were a large number of nuns during the first few centuries after Buddha's death. However, due to the growing hostility of secular society and of the monks, nunneries were phased out and eliminated. For almost two thousand years in India, the birthplace of Buddhism, and in Sri Lanka, where it first spread, there were no ordained women. Only in recent times has there been a reappearance of Buddhist nuns inspired by their sisters in other countries."





WOMEN IN BUDDHISM Part I -- By Rev. Patti Nakai





Ambapālī was reborn as a plaything among the prince of Lichchavi. Though she was a prostitute, her heart is big in that she often donates her wealth to charity (Ambapālī built a Vihara, a dwelling place; monastery.) .





"No doubt Ambapālī's positive portrayal in the early Buddhist Tradition has to do with her exemplification of the ideal upāsikā, the female lay-disciple. Yet the tradition also clearly regarded the source of her wealth with ambivalence."





Kevin Trainor





Then, Ambapālī gave birth to a son, whom happened to follow Buddhist teaching closely. Upon her son returned from the monastery, he shares his joy and love he had found in Buddhism and bided his mother, Ambapālī, to follow the same footstep. And so Ambapālī did. While she was an upāsikā , her physical beauty deteriorated and opened up her eyes to an eternal peace of mind/cease of suffering, through understanding nothing is imperishable. And, such a realization gained her sainthood in Buddhism.





The story of Ambapālī is timeless. Thus, reflect Buddhism stance and influence on gender role in contemporary Thailand. According to A. Thomas Kirsch, "Women are deemed to be more firmly rooted in their worldly attachments than are men; men are thought to be more ready to give up such attachments." In Thailand where women play a more important role in "economic-entrepreneurial" -60.1% women vs. 39.9% men in sale labour in 1998 -arena of which not including 61,135 prostitute service in the same year, as prostitution is not legal in Thailand-"every day at least 450,000 Thai men visit prostitutes" -, and where men play a more important role in "political-bureaucratic" and "religious" arena, it does seemed that women under the influence of Buddhism (such as the selected opening Buddhist verse of this paper) are more attached to the material world, and perhaps carried a negative connotation. However, when close examine Kirsch (1982) and Kirsch (1985) , Kirsch did not think in Buddhism, women are less religious than men. Actually, because by nature of women are more attached to their husband, and sons; therefore, "they held thereby to reap substantial religious reward for their achieve [nonattachment]." To that, I wholehearted agree.





According to Rev. Patti Nakai (2002) , one of Rev. Patti Nakai's professors Akira Hataya at Otani University, said the use of the word nyonin in Chinese translations of Buddhist texts, "though normally read as a compound noun "female-person" (i.e., woman), could also be read as an adjective and noun memeshii hito, "effeminate (weak, wimpy) person," referring to either a man or a woman." Thus, Rev. Patti Nakai concluded that Buddhist Teaching did not exclude women, rather its ideology urge both men and women to beware not to fall into the negative traits stereotyped as "feminine" of which Rev. Patti Nakai describe such "feminine" as "being cowardly, manipulative, or parasitic on others." Furthermore, she stressed that there are plenty of passages in the sutras which encourage both sexes to develop the positive aspects of femininity, of which she describe as "[being] nurturing, compassionate and sensitive towards others." Such positive feminine qualities are shown in Ambapālī action toward charity.


In fact, when we recall the story of Ambapālī, that Ambapālī was a prostitute, had not contaminate her gentle heart and attitude towards charity, while the vile princes fought with their own kin over worldly matters. Thus, when Ambapālī's beauty was gone and realize beauty is perishable, she bravely accepted her condition and stayed content within herself. The emphasis in nonattachment is strong in Buddhism ideology. Furthermore, through the verses about Ambapālī, it shows women attain salvation through giving birth to sons, who become monks and bring Buddhist Teaching home.





"So profound is Amida's great compassion


That, manifesting inconceivable Buddha-wisdom,


The Buddha established the Vow of transformation into men


Thereby vowing to enable women to attain Buddhahood"





-From Jodo Wasan





And as Alexandra R Kapur-Fic stated, "In Thailand Theravada Buddhism perceives and associate women with "attachment and becoming", while males are associated with "detachment and release"...and because of these propensities, women [are]...more suitable to pursue...business, but are excluded from joining the Sangha. If any woman has such aspirations, she must accumulate "enough" good karma until she is reborn as a man." And it is in this context, we learned that in Buddhism, men attain nonattachment through going to Sangha, and women gain salvation through attachment to the husband and sons. Thus, Buddhism emphasize on the inner strength to maintain peace of mind, rather than focus on worldly attachment such as occupation.


I would further argue that both men and women are equally tempted by desire and lust-just as in the story, men lust after power and physical pleasure-and that neither men nor women are more "natural" to attain enlightenment, as opposed to Keyes (1984) that women are naturally "inherently good because of [their] role as mother" For I think the central of Buddhism teaching is to detached from the perishable things, and clearly both men and women could not escape death and their decomposable flesh. Such reflection is found in the Buddhist text about Ambapālī, when she mourned for her lost beauty.


According to Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Prostitution in Thailand, the causes of high number of sex service in Thailand might be influenced by Thai tradition of children must show "gratitude" to their parents, and its overemphasis on virginity, which push those who does not fit into the description of ideal women, or where their parents are in debts, the young women were pushed to the edge and into prostitution. And as Dilok-Udomchai found, "37 % of the prostitutes joined the sex trade because they went along with the pattern set by their friends," I would conjure that he path of prostitution is a mix of ignorance, social ideals, rather than a result of Buddhism teaching or its portray of gender roles.











1. Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Prostitution in Thailand


2. * The Buddhist calendar starts (year 1) from the Buddha's Parinirvana (death and final release) which occured in his eightieth year. B.C.E. = Before Common Era (Equivalent to B.C.) * C.E. = Common Era (Equivalent to A.D.)


3. The Three Pure Land Sutras, p 37


4. See Appendix A: the exempt text from Buddhist folklore about Ambapālī


5. From In the Eye of the Beholder: Nonattachment and the Body in Subha's Verse


6. One of the four primary classes of Buddhist disciples, the female who has taken the lay precepts. The other three are, Bhiksu, the male who has taken the monastic precepts; Bhiksuni, the female who has taken the monastic precepts; and upasaka, the male who has taken the lay precepts. See work cited: Google


7. G. William Skinner and A. Thomas Kirsch 1975 Economy, Polity and Religion in Thailand


8. A. Thomas Kirsch 1985 Text and Context: Buddhist Sex Roles/Culture of Gender Revisited.


9. Table 48: Percentage distribution of employed persons by employment status, sex and occupation, August 1998 NSO; Labor Force Survey, August 1998


10. Table 70: Number of prostitutes by place of service, 1989-1998 Ministry of Public Health; Department of Communicable Disease Control of which location included in calculation are Brothels, Hotels, Bar/Night-club, Turkish bath, and Others (which then subdivided by barber-shop, beauty-saloon, escort, pub, discotech, café, coffee-shop)


11. Steven Erlanger, "A plague awaits," The New York Times Magazine, 14 July, 1991, page 26


12. Buddhism, Sex-Roles and Thai Society From Women of Southeast Asia


13. From Text and Context: Buddhist Sex Roles/Culture of Gender Revisited


14. A. Thomas Kirsch 1985 Text and Context: Buddhist Sex Roles/Culture of Gender Revisited


15. From Women in Buddhism Part IV


16. The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. 1, p.341


17. Alexandra R Kapur-Fic 1998:435 Thailand: Buddhism, Society and Women


18. Mother or Mistress but Never a Monk: Buddhist Notions of Female Gender in Rural Thailand


19. Charles F. Keyes 1984 Mother or Mistress but Never a Monk: Buddhist Notions of Female Gender in Rural Thailand


20. Appendix A: the exempt text from Buddhist folklore about Ambapālī


21. Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, Prostitution in Thailand






























































Appendix A: the exempt text from Buddhist folklore about Ambapālī


PSALMS OF THE SISTERS


CANTO XIII


PSALMS OF ABOUT TWENTY VERSES


LXVI


Ambapālī.


SHE, too, having made her resolve under former Buddhas, and heaping up good of age-enduring efficacy in this or that rebirth, entered the Order when Sikhi was Buddha. And one day, while yet a novice, she was walking in procession with Bhikkhunīs, doing homage at a shrine, when an Arahant Therī in front of her hastily spat in the court of the shrine. Coming after her, but not having noticed the Therī's action, she said in reproof: 'What prostitute has been spitting in this place?'


As a Bhikkhunī, observing the Precepts, she felt repugnance for rebirth by parentage, and set her mind intently on spontaneous re-generation. So in her last birth she came into being spontaneously at Vesālī, in the King's gardens, at the foot of a mango-tree. The gardener found her, and brought her to the city. She was known as the Mango-guardian's girl. And such was her beauty, grace, and charm that many young Princes strove with each other to possess her, till, in order to end their strife, and because the power of karma impelled them, they agreed to appoint her courtezan. Later on, out of faith in the Master, she built a Vihāra 337 in her own gardens, and handed it over to him and the Order. And when she had heard her own son, the Elder Vimala-Kondañña, preach the Norm, she worked for insight, and studying the law of impermanence as illustrated in her own ageing body, she uttered the following verses:


Glossy and black as the down of the bee my curls once clustered.


They with the waste of the years are liker to hempen or bark cloth.


Such and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. 338 (252)





Fragrant as casket of perfumes, as full of sweet blossoms the hair of me.


All with the waste of the years now rank as the odour of hare's fur.


Such and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (253)





Dense as a grove well planted, and comely with comb, pin, and parting.


All with the waste of the years dishevelled the fair plaits and fallen.


Such and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (254)





Glittered the swarthy plaits in head-dresses jewelled and golden.


All with the waste of the years broken, and shorn are the tresses.


Such and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (255)





Wrought as by sculptor's craft the brows of me shone, finely pencilled.


They with the waste of the years are seamèd with wrinkles, o'erhanging.


Such and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (256)





Flashing and brilliant as jewels, dark-blue and long-lidded the eyes of me.


They with the waste of the years spoilt utterly, radiant no longer.


Such and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (257)





Dainty and smooth the curve of the nostrils e'en as in children.


Now with the waste of the years searèd 339 the nose is and shrivelled.


Such and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (258)





Lovely the lines of my ears as the delicate work of the goldsmith. 340


They with the waste of the years are seamèd with wrinkles and pendent.


Such and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (259)





Gleamed as I smiled my teeth like the opening buds of the plantain.


They with the waste of the years are broken and yellow as barley.


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (260)





Sweet was my voice as the bell of the cuckoo 341 through woodlands flitting.


Now with the waste of the years broken the music and halting.


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (261)





Softly glistened of yore as mother-of-pearl the throat of me.


Now with the waste of the years all wilted its beauty and twisted.


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (262)





Beauteous the arms of me once shone like twin pillars cylindrical.


They with the waste of the years hang feeble as withering branches. 342


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (263)





Beauteous of yore were my soft hands with rings and gewgaws resplendent.


They with the waste of the years like roots are knotted and scabrous. 343


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (264)





Full and lovely in contour rose of yore the small breasts of me.


They with the waste of the years droop shrunken as skins without water.


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (265)





Shone of yore this body as shield of gold well-polishèd.


Now with the waste of the years all covered with network of wrinkles.


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (266)





Like to the coils of a snake 344 the full beauty of yore of the thighs of me.


They with the waste of the years are even as stems of the bamboo.


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (267)





Beauteous to see were my ankles of yore, bedecked with gold bangles.


They with the waste of the years are shrunken as faggots of sesamum.


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (268)





Soft and lovely of yore as though filled out with down were the feet of me.


They with the waste of the years are cracked open and wizened with wrinkles.


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (269)





Such hath this body been. Now age-weary and weak and unsightly,


Home of manifold ills; old house whence the mortar is dropping.


So and not otherwise runneth the rune, the word of the Soothsayer. (270)


And inasmuch as the Therī, by the visible signs of impermanence in her own person, discerned impermanence in all phenomena of the three planes, and bearing that in mind, brought into relief the signs of Ill and of No-soul, she, making clear her insight in her Path-progress, attained Arahantship.





337 See Rhys Davids, Buddhist Suttas (S.B.E., xi.), pp. 30-33.


338 Used in its first intention, Truth-speaker. On this, and on the metre, see Introduction. The 'rune' is the Impermanence of everything. Cf. Ps lxiii.


339 Upakūlitā, not yet found elsewhere, may be from the root kūl, to burn.


340 It is interesting that the Commentary speaks of the goldsmith's work of past ages, as if conscious of living (himself) in a decadent period of such arts.


341 Kokilā, rendered by lexicons 'Indian cuckoo.' The name seems to point to somewhat similar bird-notes.


342 Lit., as the weak trumpet-flower (plant), the Commentary adding phalita, broken, or fruit-laden, and so heavily drooping.


343 Lit., more simply, 'like one little root after another.'


344 I here follow Dr. Neumann, and not the Commentator. The latter calls nāgabhoga an elephant's trunk; the Pitakas apply the term, it would seem, only as in the text. Cf. Majjhima Nikāya, i. 134.








Word Cited





Mrs. Davids, Rhys. M.A. Psalms of the early Buddhists: I: Psalms of the Sisters. London: The Pali Text Society, 1909


Erlanger, Steven. "A Plague Awaits." The New York Times Magazine. 14 July, 1991: 26


Google. March 17, 2007. < http://www.google.ca/> Path: Keyword: "define: upasika"


Hirota, Dennis et. al, trans. The Collected Works of Shinran. Vol.1. Kyoto:


Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, 1997: 341


Inagaki, Hisao. trans.The Three Pure Land Sutras. Berkeley: Numata Center, 1995


Dr. Kabilsingh, Chatsumarn. "Prostitution in Thailand". Sexwork Cyber Center. March 17, 2007.


Kapur-Fic, Alexandra R. Thailand: Buddhism, Society and Women .India: Shakti Malik Abhinav Publications, 1998


Keyes, Charles F. "Mother or Mistress but Never a Monk: Buddhist Notions of Female Gender in Rural Thailand." American Ethnologist.11.2(1984):223-241


Kirsch, A. Thomas. "Text and Context: Buddhist Sex Roles/Culture of Gender Revisited." American Ethnologist.12.2(1985):302-320


Kirsch, A. Thomas. Penny Van Esterik, ed. "Buddhism, Sex-Roles and Thai Society" Women of Southeast Asia. Occasional Paper No. 9. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University, Center for Southeast Asian Studies(1982):16-41


Rev. Nakai, Patti. Women in Buddhism Part I: Prajapati, the First Buddhist Nun. West Covina Buddhist Temple. March 17, 2007 .


Rev. Nakai, Patti. Women in Buddhism Part IV: Shinran and the 35t Vow. September 2002. West Covina Buddhist Temple. March 17, 2007


Skinner, G. William and A. Thomas Kirsch, eds. "Economy, Polity and Religion in Thailand" Change and Persistence in Thai Society: Homage to Lauriston Sharp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press (1975):172-196


Trainor, Kevin. "In the Eye of the Beholder: Nonattachment and the Body in Subha's Verse." Journal of the American Academy of Religion.61.1(1993):57-79


Thailand Ministry of Public Health; Department of Communicable Disease Control


Thailand NSO; Labor Force Survey, August 1996-1998


This article is copyright


Report this article Ask About This Article


Loading...
More to Explore