Reiko Ohnuma

Professor Ohnuma on Buddhism and Nature of Mothering

It was while researching stories about the Buddha literally giving away his body parts to humans in need that Reiko Ohnuma began to think about motherhood. A mother herself, Ohnuma, associate professor of religion at Dartmouth since 1999, says the stories of extreme self-sacrifice struck her as “very similar to the intensely physical nature of mothering.”

In fact, she characterizes motherhood as the “most appropriate metaphor” for the Buddha and his teachings. Mothers represent love, self-sacrifice, and compassion. Yet, because mothers direct these feelings toward their children rather than all people, they represent the very opposite of the Buddha’s exhortations to love everyone equally. This contradiction is at the heart of Ohnuma’s book Ties That Bind: Maternal Imagery and Discourse in Indian Buddhism, published last year by Oxford University Press.