Role of Women in Buddhism
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1st May 2015
Role of Women in Buddhism
These days several religionists are claiming that women are given equal rights in their religions. However, to know the fact we just need to look all around us and observe the position of women in various fields and societies. As per Buddhism, considering women as low and inferior is not reasonable at all. According to Samsara, during earlier lives of Buddha he himself took birth as a woman on various occasions. Full freedom was provided by the Buddha to women for practicing a religious life, which with time expanded to various other fields. Hence, the role of women in Buddhism is a significant aspect that cannot be overlooked.
The objective of this research paper is to study the role of women in Buddhism.
Women hold an exceptional position in Buddhism. Women were given full freedom for participating in a religious life by the Lord Buddha. In fact, it was Lord Buddha and Buddhism that gave this religious independence to women. Prior to the Buddha, role and duties of women were limited to the household and kitchen; women were forbidden from entering any temple, even they were not allowed to deliver any sacred and Holy Scripture. At the time of Buddha, the position of women was very low and inferior in the society. When Lord Buddha provided women with freedom and self-independence, then existing establishment criticized him a lot. His step for allowing women to participate in the Holy and sacred order was exceptionally far-reaching for its times. However, the Buddha permitted women to seek opportunity for establishing themselves and even told women that by achieving Arahantahood they could prove that they have the ability of achieving the highest status in the religious field just like men (Obeyesekere 130).
Buddhism and Women
Though women’s position was elevated by Buddha, yet in his observation he was very much practical and from time to time he had given advice about the social and physiological differences among men and women. The Anguttara Nikaya and Samyutta Nikaya illustrate all these advice.
Some precious suggestions that the Buddha gave to young girls before their marriage are present in the Anguttara Nikaya. The girls were asked to respect their mothers-and fathers-in-law, and to serve and look after them as they would do for their parents, Buddha knew that girls face a lot of problems when they enter their new lives after marriage thus advised them such realizing their problems with their new in-laws. Girls, women were asked to give respect to their relatives and friends of their husband, hence creating a pleasant and happy environment. In Buddhism, women are advised to study and understand the nature, habits, activities of their husband to make their conjugal life happier and successful (Young 234-7).
Buddhism and Equality in Women
Independence from all kinds of burden and bondage can be termed as actual independence, which according to Buddhism can be attained by the proper development of spirituality and by purifying one’s own mind. In Buddhism, women are given liberty to practice the same process as men to attain this spiritual development. However, it also reflects the weakness of women and their emotions that make them vulnerable. In order to give women equal and rights and fair position, Buddha along with Dhamma promoted the cause of women and gave them a democratic way of life. In Buddhism for gaining wisdom and Nibbana women are given equal rights to perform spiritual actions; they are not treated as inferior or low. They are given equal rights and position as men and all the credit goes to Buddha and Dhamma (Shaw 27).
An Interview with Karma Lekshe Tsomo
According to Karma Lekshe Tsomo who is the Branch and Chapter Coordinator of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women, although gradual change is observed everywhere, still men holds the authority in Buddhism like any other religion and still men run the institutes of Buddhists. She believes that to protect the essence of Buddhism people need to use every possible human resource, particularly women. As to the protection and the preserving of Buddhism and traditions of Buddhism, women have proved themselves to be capable, honest, and enthusiastic. However, contributions of women are hardly ever recognized. Still Buddhist women always stay ready to serve Buddha and Buddhism. Tsomo states that Buddha believed that women are better than men. The words of Buddha that he said to King Kosala when he was very sad about the birth of his daughter as he was expected the child to be a boy prove it. Buddha had then said “’A female child is a better offspring than a male, as she grows up to be wise and has virtues.”
When asked about the future of women’s role in Buddhism, Tsomo said that the future of women following Buddhism are great, and they will excel a lot. He also said that they are only required to be supported and motivated at the initial phases as it is the crucial time of development. Buddhist women are becoming active and are working in their own localities. Women from all over the world are linking to each other, and these international links give inspiration, encouragement, and resources to every Buddhist women.
In conclusion, it is important to say that women are discriminated in every field, be it science, politics, religious. Everywhere women have to fight for their position. However, the Buddha was the first teacher, who ahead of his times provided women with the equal position and the equal role in the religious and spiritual field. At the same time, male dominance even in Buddhism cannot be overlooked as it hinders the role of women in Buddhism.
Obeyesekere, R. Portraits of Buddhist women: Stories from the Saddharmaratnavaliya. State University of New York Press, Albany. 2001. Print.
Shaw, M. Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1994. Print.
Karma Lekshe Tsomo Interview. There’s a lot of catching up to do. 2013. Print.
Appleton, Naomi. In the footsteps of the Buddha? women and the Bodhisatta path Theravāda Buddhism. Journal Of Feminist Studies In Religion. 2011.Print.
Young, Serenity. Women Changing Tibet, Activism Changing Women. Women’s Buddhism, Buddhism’s Women. Ed. Ellison Banks Findly. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000. Print.
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