In advising women about their role in married life, the Buddha appreciated that the peace and harmony of a home rested largely on a woman. His advice was realistic and practical when he explained a good number of day to day characteristics which a woman should or should not cultivate. On diverse occasions, the Buddha counseled that a wife should:
- not harbor evil thoughts against her husband;
- not be cruel, harsh or domineering;
- not be spendthrift but should be economical and live within her means;
- guard and save her husbands hard earned earnings and property;
- always be attentive and chaste in mind and action;
- be faithful and harbor no thought of any adulterous acts;
- be refined in speech and polite in action;
- be kind, industrious and hardworking;
- be thoughtful and compassionate towards her husband, and her attitude should equate that of a mothers love and concern for the protection of her only son;
- be modest and respectful;
- be cool, calm and understanding — serving not only as a wife but also as a friend and advisor when the need arises.
In the days of the Buddha, other religious teachers also spoke on the duties and obligations of a wife towards her husband — stressing particularly on the duty of a wife bearing an off spring for the husband, rendering faithful service and providing conjugal happiness.
Some communities are very particular about having a son in the family. They believe that a son is necessary to perform their funeral rites so that their after life will be a good one. The failure to get a son from the first wife, gives a man the liberty to have another wife in order to get a son. Buddhism does not support this belief.
According to what the Buddha taught about the law of Karma, one is responsible for ones own action and its consequences. Whether a son or a daughter is born is determined not by a father or mother but the karma of the child. And the well being of a father or grandfather does not depend upon the action of the son or grandson. Each is responsible for his own actions. So, it is wrong for men to blame their wives or for a man to feel inadequate when a son is not born. Such Enlightened Teachings help to correct the views of many people and naturally reduce the anxiety of women who are unable to produce sons to perform the “rites of the ancestors.”
Although the duties of a wife towards the husband were laid down in the Confucian code of discipline, it did not stress the duties and obligations of the husband towards the wife. In the Sigalovada Sutta, however, the Buddha clearly mentioned the duties of a husband towards the wife and vice versa.
The Buddha, in reply to a householder as to how a husband should minister to his wife declared that the husband should always honor and respect his wife, by being faithful to her, by giving her the requisite authority to manage domestic affairs and by giving her befitting ornaments. This advice, given over twenty five centuries ago, still stands good for today.
Knowing the psychology of the man who tends to consider himself superior, the Buddha made a remarkable change and uplifted the status of a woman by a simple suggestion that a husband should honor and respect his wife. A husband should be faithful to his wife, which means that a husband should fulfill and maintain his marital obligations to his wife thus sustaining the confidence in the marital relationship in every sense of the word. The husband, being a bread winner, would invariably stay away from home, hence he should entrust the domestic or household duties to the wife who should be considered as the keeper and the distributor of the property and the home economic administrator. The provision of befitting ornaments to the wife should be symbolic of the husbands love, care and attention showered on the wife. This symbolic practice has been carried out from time immemorial in Buddhist communities. Unfortunately it is in danger of dying out because of the influence of modern civilization.