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'In the Footsteps of the Buddha?: Women and the Bodhisatta Path in Theravada Buddhism'

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    Rights statement: This article was published as Appleton, N. (2011). In the Footsteps of the Buddha?: Women and the Bodhisatta Path in Theravada Buddhism. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 27(1), 33-51, doi: 10.2979/jfemistudreli.27.1.33. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or distributed, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photographic, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Indiana University Press. For educational re-use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center (508-744-3350). For all other permissions, please visit Indiana University Press' permissions page.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-51
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Feminist Studies in Religion
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2011


Although a woman can achieve the state of awakening known as arahatship, Theravāda Buddhist tradition states that a woman cannot achieve full and complete Buddhahood. More than this, a woman is unable to successfully aspire to Buddhahood, or progress on the path to it—in other words she cannot be a bodhisatta. In this article, Appleton explores the origins of the doctrine that excludes women from the bodhisatta path, as well as its effects on the outlook of women in Buddhist societies. She begins by outlining the bodhisatta path as it is presented in Theravāda texts, and tracing the role of jātaka stories—stories about previous lives of Gotama Buddha—in codifying this path and excluding women from it. She then examines the striking absence of stories about changing sex between births, and the possible influence of this upon the understanding that a bodhisatta is always male. She finishes with an assessment of the relationship between the exclusion of women from the bodhisatta path and other ideas about the social and spiritual incapacities of women.

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