[Buddha-l] FYI: H-Net Review: 'Learning to Think Differently: Buddhism and Masculinity Discourse'

JKirkpatrick jkirk at spro.net
Wed Aug 11 14:10:56 MDT 2010

A review of a book by John Powers, a member of this list back in
the day--a topic sure to
interest some of us, at least :) 
Book title: _A Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the
Body in Indian Buddhism._ Can't wait until it comes to a Library
near me.

NB: Most H-Net reviews are too long (IMHO). I've excerpted only
briefly here--
you can read the whole thing on H-Buddhism for July, where it
originally appeared. 


August 11, 2010

John Powers.  _A Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and
the Body in Indian Buddhism_.  Cambridge  Harvard University
Press, 2009.
334 pp.  $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-03329-0.

Reviewed by Susanne Mrozik (Mount Holyoke College) Published on
H-Buddhism (July, 2010) Commissioned by Daniel A. Arnold

Learning to Think Differently: Buddhism and Masculinity Discourse

Examining "discourses relating to masculinity" in South Asian
Buddhist literature, John Powers's _A Bull of a Man_ is a welcome
addition to a growing corpus of scholarship on body, gender, and
sexuality in Buddhist studies (p. x). Insofar as scholarship on
gender in Buddhism has (as Powers rightly observes) largely
focused on the construction of feminine, rather than masculine,
sex and gender, this broad-scoped study--which encompasses
mainstream (including Theravada), Mahayana, and tantric Buddhist
sources--represents an advance in gender analysis for the field.

Powers persuasively argues in his first two chapters that,
notwithstanding contemporary popular and scholarly
representations of the Buddha as "an androgynous, asexual
character," Buddhist literature represents him as the "paragon of
masculinity" (p. 1).
Among the issues Powers discusses in making a case for this are
the Buddha's thirty-two marks, of which one is the sheathed
penis; epithets for the Buddha (e.g., "great man," "crusher of
enemies," "bull of a man"), which celebrate the Buddha's "manly
qualities, his extraordinarily beautiful body, his superhuman
virility and physical strength, his skill in martial arts, and
the effect he has on women who see him"; and narrative and
scholastic portrayals of these masculine features (pp. 26-27). 
For example, Powers analyzes the story of the Buddha's marriage
to Yasodhara, as recounted in the _Lalitavistara_; when
Yasodhara's father expresses concern that the Buddha is too
pampered to be a good warrior, the Buddha's father holds a
martial arts competition in which his son demonstrates his
physical prowess to his future father-in-law. Powers argues that
the Buddha thus embodies both the manly ideal of the warrior
class, and the "scholarly, gentle, and learned" ideal of the
priestly class (p. 65). ...

...Key to the warrior ideal is not only strength but also
virility, and Powers provides convincing evidence that literary
representations of the Buddha emphasize his "superhuman virility"
(p. 1). ...For example, in marshalling evidence for the Buddha's
superhuman virility, Powers cites the Mulasarvastivadin
_Vinaya_'s claim that the Buddha gave sexual satisfaction to
three wives and sixty thousand courtesans, along with the
_Buddhacarita_'s rather different claim that the Buddha's
courtesans were so overwhelmed by the Buddha's beauty that they
became "shy and unable even to approach him" (p. 35). .........

Read more about Raging Bull on H-Buddhism.

Cheers, Joanna

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