In this article we identify two models of women’s social engagement in contemporary Taiwanese Buddhism: mother and moral activist. The model of mother is represented by the famous Tzu Chi founder Shih Cheng Yen (b. 1937)—a Buddhist nun who is viewed by her followers as the embodiment of the compassionate mother ideal. The model of moral activist in contemporary Taiwanese Buddhism has received far less attention from scholars than Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi. However, in comparison to the model of mother, Taiwanese women who are moral activists actively challenge existing social institutions based on their Buddhist consciousness. This article discusses the nun Shih Chao-hwei (b. 1957) as representative of women moral activists and highlights two events—the public abandonment of the Eight Special Rules for nuns in 2001 and support for a lesbian wedding in 2012—to illustrate how moral activists challenge the existing patriarchal status quo. We argue that these two models of women’s social engagement are equally important in contemporary Taiwanese Buddhism and are the two important sources of women’s social engagement that aims to alleviate suffering and improve society.
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