Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Buddhist Studies | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


Throughout Buddhist history, women practitioners have been models of leadership in virtuous conduct, meditation, discipline, teaching, spiritual experience, and other religious achievements. The roles women have played were not necessarily in line with contemporary expectations of religious leadership, however. Most did not hold official office, give public teachings, lead religious ceremonies, or publish extensively. Most were not prominent in temple building, institutional administration, or educational leadership. Almost none of them held positions in religious institutions and only a few were recognized for their achievements. In fact, women’s most visible religious activities often centered around supporting the religious practice of other practitioners, mostly male. In doing so, these women followed the model of Visakha, a prominent Buddhist laywomen during the Buddha’s time who was renowned and highly respected for her honesty and her generosity toward the monastic community. By putting into practice some of the key values the Buddha taught – generosity, loving kindness, compassion, honesty, diligence, and humility – these women followed the Buddha’s own model of religious leadership (Tsomo 2010).


Originally published in Religious Leadership: A Reference Handbook, Edited by Sharon Callahan. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2013, pp. 302–308.