Feeling for Fate: Karma and the Senses in Buddhist Nuns’ Ordination Narratives


  • Sara Ann Swenson Syracuse University




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.

Author Biography

Sara Ann Swenson, Syracuse University

Sara Ann Swenson is a doctoral candidate in the Religion Department at Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY). She specializes in Vietnamese Buddhism in the United States and Vietnam, Buddhist charities, critical theory, and ethnographic research methods. Her dissertation explores the rise of Buddhist volunteer movements in contemporary Vietnam.


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How to Cite

Swenson, Sara Ann. 2020. “Feeling for Fate: Karma and the Senses in Buddhist Nuns’ Ordination Narratives”. Journal of Global Buddhism 21 (October):71-86. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4030985.