A realistic look at the way how women are treated over time.
We bring you a work by Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera on how women are treated in Buddhism. There were few messages by our community members requesting to write something on this matter. As we know some parts of the world women are treated very badly and that is setting a bad example in a world that transforms day by day towards more liberal and independent life where freedom become a key right. Various types of rights are being violated in many parts of the world both developed and developing. We believe there has to be a greater voice against these mistreatments to women. Lets first go through this series of articles and then we will look at how the current state and trends. We would love to initiate a discussion on this topic once this series unfolds. Don’t hesitate to comment what you have to say.
Despite the fact that the Buddha elevated the status of women, he was practical in his observations and advice given from time to time in that he realized the social and physiological differences that existed between men and women. These were depicted in the Anguttara Nikaya and Samyutta Nikaya. It was clearly mentioned that a man’s duty is his unending quest for knowledge, the improvement and stabilization of his skill and craftsmanship, and dedication to his work and ability to find the wherewithal for the maintenance and sustenance of his family. On the other hand it was stated, as a matter of fact, that it was the woman’s duty to look after the home, and to look after her husband.
The Anguttara Nikaya contained some valuable advice which the Buddha gave to young girls prior to their marriage. Realizing that there were bound to be difficulties with the new in-laws, the girls were enjoined to give every respect to their mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law, serving them lovingly as they would their own parents. They were requested to honor and respect their husband’s relatives and friends, thus creating a congenial and happy atmosphere in their new homes. They were also advised to study and understand their husband’s nature, ascertain their activities, character and temperament, and to be useful and co-operative at all times in their new homes. They should be polite, kind and watchful in their relationship with the servants and should safe-guard their husband’s earnings and see to it that all household expenditures were properly regularized. Such advice given by the Buddha more than twenty-five centuries ago, is still valuable today.
The handicaps and drawbacks under which women had to undergo in life were also clearly indicated. The suffering and agony to be borne by a woman in leaving her family after her marriage, and the difficulties and problems she had to encounter in trying to accommodate herself in a new environment, were the trials and tribulations she had to bear. In addition to these problems, women were also subjected to physiological pains and sufferings during their menstrual periods, pregnancy and child-birth. These are natural phenomena depicting the differential situations and circumstances prevailing between men and women.
Although in certain sections of the Tripitaka some caustic comments were made on the wiles and behavior of women, the Buddha, in the Samyutta Nikaya, did bring forth many redeeming features: under certain circumstances, women are considered more discerning and wise than men and women are also considered capable of attaining perfection or sainthood after treading the noble Eightfold path.
The Buddha’s attitude towards women can also be seen when the news of the birth of a daughter was brought to his friend, King Kosala. The King was displeased at the news as he expected a son, but the Buddha, unlike any other religious teacher, paid a glowing tribute to women and mentioned certain characteristics that adorn a woman in the following words:
“Some women are indeed better (than men). Bring her up, O Lord of men. There are women who are wise, virtuous, who have high regard for mothers-in-law, and who are chaste. To such a noble wife may be born a valiant son, a Lord of Realms, who will rule a kingdom.”
In revealing the nature of women, the Buddha had pointed out not only their weaknesses, but also their abilities and potential. Even though some of his statements may appear rather unpleasant, one will find, through careful observation, that what the Buddha said about women in days gone by generally still holds as good advice today. Although there exist in most countries more enlightened and fairer attitudes than in the past, and educational and independent career opportunities are open to women, women still bear unpleasant experiences: the powers they possess, discrimination they undergo, and fears and jealousies of a rival still prevail.