Buddhist Studies Review, Vol 23, No 2 (2006)

Soteriology, Asceticism and the Female Body in Two Indian Buddhist Narratives

Douglas Osto
Issued Date: 3 Feb 2007


This paper makes a number of observations on soteriology, asceticism and the female body in two Indian Buddhist narrative. The first story examined is about the enlightenment of the Buddhist saint Yasas from a collection of verses know as the Anavatapta-gāthā, or Songs of Lake Anavatapta.
This narrative graphically describes a rotting female corpse and associates this physical corruption with the female body in general. The second story is about a mythical girl from the ancient past found in the Mahāyāna scripture, the Gandavyūha-sūtra. The female protagonist is described as
exceedingly beautiful and her beauty functions as a sign of her spiritual superiority and as a means to aid beings. After a summary of these two tales, their soteriological presuppositions are discussed. Next,the effect of Buddhist soteriology upon the construction of gendered bodies in Indian Buddhism is considered. The author argues that the first story represents an ascetic soteriology that sees the female body as corrupt, while the second story displays an alternative devotional soteriology that extols female beauty as linked to virtue and as efficacious for religious development. The paper concludes with the suggestion that the narratives employing the image of the corrupt female body were meant for a male monastic audience; while the Gandavyūha with its devotional soteriology may have been composed with a royal female audience in mind. Thus target audience should be considered when studying Indian Buddhist narratives.

Download Media


DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.2006.23.2.203


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: [email protected]

Privacy Policy