Tuesday, May 13, 2008

THAT FIRST GREAT FEMINIST

Consider Gautama.
Two and a half centuries ago in a land called India, a great land of traditionalist thinkers, there were alas people who then as now treated their women as chattels, as merely beasts of burden, to be bartered , trafficked , used and disposed of as convenient, …there were powerful people who wanted this to go on.
But consider Gautama who was a Radical, a Extremist Pacifist if you must, a fearless and staunch feminist, daring enough to give us equal rights , to recognize our humanity and potential and ensure women the respect and honor they do admittedly deserve.
No other religious leader has quite elevated the childish and capricious, reputedly confused female human to such a position of esteem and honor in society.
Some have given women equal rights but Gautama placed them higher. Some considered them too immature to know their own minds, deemed them an inconvenient distraction to men, for which they were restricted, penalize and disadvantaged.
Gautama elevated the mother to the head of the household , the divine force within the house.
Consider Buddhist women today.
We are not restricted by undignified rules over our freedom, our dress codes, our choice of whom to marry or speak to or be seen with, we don’t have to dress in carcinogenic colors to please our men-folk, the rules which apply to us are exactly the same as those that apply to our men.
Thanks to this great and gentle feminist we can learn, study, work, be ordained, marry, divorce and basically live the lives we chose. With freedom comes responsibility and if some of us do not recognized this it is perhaps because we do not stop to actually consider how comparatively lucky we are as Buddhist women and respected citizens. The respect is ours to keep or lose through how we live..
Women are welcome to find solace in places of worship, unlike in some faiths where they are considered unclean or unfit, we are welcome to leave the lay world if we so decide and be ordained, unlike in other cases. Recognizing the spirituality within us and the potential for greatness, no where have equal rights been so equal.
A Buddhist mother is the divinity in her household;but this is not to say she exploits the position and abuses her gentle reign.
We are not ostracized of blamed for the misfortune of being a widow.
There is no “love and obey” clause because a Buddhist marriage is a partnership of mutual respect..
There is a clear and beautiful constitution which governs the marriage contract , a set of simple rules which if followed faithfully are guaranteed to make earth like heaven, the famous Sigalovada Sutta. Touchingly a man who takes on a wife is instructed to provide for her and see to her comfort and in turn the wife is supposed to make his home a peaceful shelter from the outside world, so that he can concentrate on earning a righteous living.
Marital fidelity is a responsibility of both parties and so monogamy is our benefit there. …if you ask a woman of any race if she wishes to share the attention of a husband and in her heart of hearts the answer would be a resounding “No”. Amazingly, in India which prized glittering splendid harems as veritable trophies, this quiet, thoughtful teacher with the persuasive personality caused a strong paradigm shift when he laid out a clear foundation for marriages of mutual respect, giving women dignity and self worth. More amazingly he succeeded in a time without mass media, PR drives or body guards, in an environment of the usual hostility without a single life being taken in support of his doctrine.

In a era full of fear and uncertainly Gautama was in fact the first world leader to say to us, “Yes , you can win if you want !” and then point the way.
Its up to us to follow.

9 comments:

Tavish said...

wow great piece! very true indeed! great insight too!

Innocent said...

Hi, it's a nice article. Your site is cool.

Aravinda said...

As far as the record goes Gauthama was hardly a feminist. He was a man who ordered a 100 year old nun to stand before a one day ordinate male Bhikku.

But yes, we have to judge him by his times, not ours. Probably he imposed this rule to address the Brahamin hostility to the idea of creating the order of nuns.

It is also probable that the Theravadi mullahs who wrote Vamsa kathas distorted the reality for their advantage. (From the very beginning the so called Buddhist monks never liked the idea of having nuns. They know that challenges their position in society)

aljuhara said...

thanks for the interesting feedback, yes I was aware of that little clause and I found it very uncharacteristic.
He has said that the "Mother is the Buddha in your home" and then its implied that a nun of any age should be considered lower in rank than a monk of any age.
Contradictory, if you picture a scene of a mother and son being ordained , I cant picture Him requiring the mother to workship the son.
There may have been some ghostwriting involved, dont you think...

aljuhara said...

and as an afterthought, scholars agree that Buddha never required any one to worship anyone in the first place, just to understand the Noble Truths, that was the whole point.

chaarmax said...

nice piece indeed. And that is the only point of contention I have too. It just doesn't add up. The other great thing about Lord Buddha, he gave the right to ask questions and clarify doubts in stead of blindly following. If not what we were doing here, maybe considered wrong in another religion.

Anyways you my dear have been Tagged. So go ahead and spread some Tag Love. :)

Aravinda said...

Theravada Buddhism is perhaps the only religion that promotes inequality even at the level of supreme bliss.

Every other religion, no matter how they treat people worldly, after reaching the supreme level take them as equal. Christianity or Islam do not have separate heavens. Hinduism takes everybody to same Maha Bramha, irrespective of his/her caste.

But in Theravada Buddhism there is a hierarchy even at the level of Nirvana. One can be a Buddha, Pachcheka Buddha or Arhat. There is hierachy in the approach too. Sovan, Sakurdagami, Anagami and Arhat. There is no equality.

Mahayana Buddhism, opposed to this, rejects this hierarchy and assumes everybody can be a Buddha at the end.

So don’t think this is what Gauthama preached. Might have been added by Theravadi mullas to maintain the hierarchical structure of the Sanga society to ensure their own survival.

aljuhara said...

its good to see you have been analysing things so deeply,but I dont think you have got it quite right; Sovan, Sakurdagami, Anagami and Arhat are not hierarchy but are stages of perfection. You have to climb these stages to finally get to Nirvana. its all about hard spiritual work in cleansing defilements and not about being worshipped as divine beings. If the Buddha clearly said not to waste time worshipping statues of himself, then I doubt any other stage of sainthood or what ever, is relevant. He just said there is a problem (craving)which leads to suffering, and you need to find a way out of it as quickly as possible, while respecting your fellow man along the way.

aljuhara said...

chaarmax welcome back...
what is this tagging business?
oh no, its a sign of old age, I yam not understanding your new fashioned terminology , does it mean i have begun the inexorable slide into regions of tech unsavvy grandmother hood?
and did I just hear you say "what dyu mean *begun*?"