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.
BUDDHA’S ADVICE TO MARRIED WOMEN
In advising women about their role in married life, the Buddha appreciated that the peace and harmony of a home rested largely on women’s shoulders. His advice was realistic and practical when he quoted a good number of day-to-day characteristics which a woman should or should not emulate. On diverse occasions, the Buddha counseled that a wife:
(a) should not harbor evil thoughts against her husband;
(b) should not be cruel, harsh or domineering;
(c) should not be a spendthrift but should be economical and live within her means;
(d) should zealously guard and save her husband’s property and hard-earned earnings;
(e) should always be virtuous and chaste in mind and action;
(f) should be faithful and harbor no thought of any adulterous acts;
(g) should be refined in speech and polite in action;
(h) should be kind, industrious and hardworking;
(j) should be modest and respectful;
(i) should be thoughtful and compassionate towards her husband and her attitude should equate that of a mother loving and protecting her son;
(k) should be cool, calm and understanding, serving not only as a wife but also as a friend and adviser to her husband when the need arises.
In the days of the Buddha, other religious teachers also spoke about the duties and obligations of a wife towards her husband, particularly stressing the duty of wives in bearing off-spring for their husbands, rendering faithful service, and providing conjugal happiness and heavenly bliss. This view is also shared by Confucianism. However, 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. The teachings of the Buddha did not have such bias towards the husbands. In the Sigalovada Sutta, the Buddha clearly mentioned the duties of a husband towards the wife and vice versa.
A husband should be faithful, courteous and not despising. It is the husband’s duty to hand over authority to his wife and from time to time, and to provide her with adornments.
Other useful advice was given to women on different occasions and under different circumstances.
ADVICE TO BEAUTY CONSCIOUS WOMEN
For the vain and beauty conscious, the Buddha taught the lesson of impermanence. Khema, the beautiful consort of King Bimbisara, was at first reluctant to see the Buddha as she had heard that the Buddha used to refer to external beauty in rather disparaging terms.
One day she paid a casual visit to the monastery merely to enjoy the scenery of the place. Gradually she was attracted to the hall where the Buddha was preaching. The Buddha, through his psychic powers, read her thoughts, and created a vision of a young lady standing in front of her. Khema was admiring her beauty when the Buddha transformed the created image from youth to middle age and subsequently to old age, till it finally fell on the ground with broken teeth, gray hair and wrinkled skin. This transformation caused Khema to realize the vanity of external beauty and to appreciate the fleeting nature of life. She pondered: “Has such a body come to be wrecked like that? Then so will my body also.” With this, realization dawned upon her. She subsequently attained Arahatship, and with the King’s consent, she entered the Order of Bhikkhuni.
Look forward for the part 5 to see how religious freedom for women is offered in Buddhism.