BEING A BUDDHIST NUN: The Struggle for Enlightenment in the Himalayas

Kim Gutschow, Author, Gutschow, Author . Harvard Univ. $29.95 (376p) ISBN 978-0-674-01287-5

Gutschow, a visiting assistant professor in religion at Williams College, spent over a decade living in various Buddhist nunneries in the Zangskar region of Kashmir to produce a thoroughgoing ethnography describing the "alternative society" the nuns established within their restrictive environment. After describing the social, political, historical and economic context of Zangskar, Gutschow discusses the "Buddhist economy of merit" wherein monks—despite doctrinal teachings to the contrary—are believed to have "more Tantric prowess than nuns" in performing rites for villagers. They garner generous endowments that literally turn the monastery into a wealthy corporation that collects rent from sharecroppersand grants loans to villagers at 20 percent interest. By contrast, nuns are forced to labor in the fields for subsistence, are lorded over by monks and are vulnerable to public beatings, even rape. The inescapable struggle of being a woman in a patriarchal system is the heart of Gutschow's work and permeates her further discussions, including ideologies of purity and pollution and Tantric approaches to the question of female enlightenment. Although her academic tone can be dry, Gutschow's analysis is penetrating, and her supporting anecdotes are often vivid and effective. Her work reveals that the reality of Himalayan Buddhist monasticism, far from being Shangri-La, is thoroughly rooted in the very foibles of the world it professes to renounce. (July)

Reviewed on: 06/14/2004
Release date: 07/01/2004
Ebook - 356 pages - 978-0-674-03808-0
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