Here’s a personal musing article.
If you travel to countries such as Thailand or Sri Lanka and were to visit the Buddhist temples there, you might notice and wonder, “Why are all the images on their altar male?” Isn’t there any enlightened woman in Buddhism? If there are female arhats, why is nobody honoring them on Buddhist altar?
I suspect this has to do with one of the eight Garudhammas. Authentic or not, such belief definitely create a sense of superiority in man (at the expense of woman) Now back to the bowing thingy.
The only female image that I saw in some Thai Buddhist temple depicts Mother Earth, Phra Mae Thorani seated underneath the image of Buddha. In that manner, monks would be bowing to a female image everyday when they pay obeisance to Buddha. What I find amusing is that, while it is acceptable to bow to an unenlightened being, it becomes uncomfortable to bow to a female arhat (just because that image will depict a nun)?
Similarly, if you travel to China or Japan and come across images of arhats; you will only see male arhats and no female ones! But female arhats existed. The equivalent of Sariputra is Khema while Uppalavanna is the female equivalent of Moggallāna. So where did all the female arhats disappear to? It doesn’t add up.
Fortunately, looking for female images being honored in Mahayana Buddhism requires less effort. This is because KuanYin (Avalokitesvara) is usually depicted as female. And in Tibetan Buddhism, popular bodhisattva such as Tara is female.
In that manner, we have monks bowing to woman.
May all be well and happy.
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