Feeling for Fate: Karma and the Senses in Buddhist Nuns’ Ordination Narratives
Keywords:Buddhism, gender, Vietnam, ordination, emotion, karma
In Vietnam, the decision for young women to ordain as Mahayana Buddhist nuns is navigated through careful interpretations of feeling. Nuns state their decisions to “go forth” (đi tu) in youth were precipitated by feelings of peace and comfort in monasteries even before they understood Buddhist teachings. Such feelings are interpreted as indicators of past-life karmic bonds, which create “predestined affinities” in this life (nhân duyên). Youth determine pre-inclination for monasticism early in life by reading their bodily reactions to Buddhist spaces with or without adults’ assistance. Nuns reclaim local cultural concepts of femininity by declaring that women have special capacities for discerning these predestined affinities and that they must assume unequal monastic rules because of their innate gendered nobility. This article nuances understandings of women’s agency in global Buddhism by exploring how Vietnamese nuns interpret local concepts of the feminine body as resources for pursuing Buddhist ordination.
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