Family Matters in Indian Buddhist Monasticism. By SHAYNE CLARKE. Honolulu: UNIVERSITY OF HAWAI'I PRESS, 2014. Pp. xvi + 275. $52; Family in Buddhism. Edited by Liz WILSON. Albany: STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS, 2013. Pp. 298. $85 (cloth) (Rpt. [paper], 2014. $28.95.)
When reading a book about the history of Buddhist monasticism in India, one does not usually come across sections on pregnant nuns, monks getting divorced, and monastic childcare issues. However, Shayne Clarke's long-awaited book, Family Matters in Indian Buddhist Monasticism, contains sections on these subjects and many more. It is one of the most refreshing books on early Buddhism to come out in quite some time and will help students and scholars completely rethink the very idea of celibate monasticism, the solitary life of a nun or monk, and the act of renunciation. While this book does not offer theoretical contributions on issues of asceticism, childhood, or gender in the study of religion and makes only a few short comparative gestures, it does offer a robust methodological example of ways of reading early Buddhist monastic codes and helps rewrite the history of early Buddhism. While one might crave a clear argument from Clarke in an introduction and a clear series of concluding thoughts and future considerations in a conclusion, Clarke spreads his argument over the entire book, very effectively in my view, and demands that the reader walk along with him through this fascinating series of primary sources. The book is more like a series of well-researched lectures than a book that tells a comprehensive story of monastic life. Each chapter could be read alone quite easily and still be understood. He does what a good writer does--he shows, he doesn't tell.
Clarke acknowledges his deep debt to the mentorship and influential writing of Gregory Schopen, the scholar most associated with the close study of the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya and well known for showing how Buddhist nuns and monks even in our earliest records were involved in seemingly nonmonastic and non-cloistered activities like commerce, property disputes, relic "cults," and material culture. However, he does not simply continue the work of his teacher. He focuses on childhood and motherhood to a much greater extent and uses Chinese and Japanese primary and secondary sources, looking at a wide range of materials for early monastic history. I particularly appreciated his bringing the work of Nobuyuki Yamagiwa and Shisuka Sasaki to the attention of the German- and Englishfocused scholars of early Buddhist history. He also writes for a more general audience, and this book certainly could be used for undergraduate courses, while being a thoroughly researched scholarly study. While he is directly critical of the work on early monasticism by Wilson, Ohnuma, Mabbet, Cole, Tsomo, Spiro, Young, and others (his sustained criticism [pp. 24-36] of Alan Cole's work is particularly illuminating), this book does not pummel the reader with petty academic score-settling. It seeks to paint a clear picture, based on available sources without over-reaching speculation, of how nuns and monks dealt with sexual relations, children, marriage, and familial responsibilities.
The book begins with an in-depth analysis of the association of the Buddhist monk with the single horn of the rhinoceros--a picture of a solitary ascetic, friendless and focused, walking alone, face to the wind. Clarke shows how this picture of the non-attached monk has worked to overshadow the considerable evidence that monks and nuns did not completely abandon their families after they ordained. I would have hoped that he would offer a bit more historiographical reflection on how scholars of Buddhism brought the "normative" ideal of Catholic monasticism, based in part on the rule...