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India’s Women in Buddhism’ Religion Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Apr 28th, 2020

Introduction

This critical writing assignment undertakes to review and critique three sources that relate to how and why women in ancient India became Buddhists. The first article is written by Reverend Patti Nakai and titled Women in Buddhism while the second article is written by Swarna de Silva and titled Place of Women in Buddhism. The last article is written by Jamanadas K. and is titled Rise and Fall of Buddhist Nuns.

Nakai’s article plays a great role in advancing my understanding of how Shakyamuni treated women and what actually shaped his opinion towards women. The article tries to teach Buddhist concepts of enlightenment and impermanence, what shaped Shakamuni’s interest in religion, and the role culture played in Shakamuni’s perception about women.

De Silva’s article adds to my understanding of the topic as it portends that people’s understanding of Buddhism has been eroded by the addition of Brahmanic ideas that are alien to the original Buddhist thoughts. Regarding the place of women in Buddhism, it is interesting to note that Buddhism is not attached to any gender despite the fact that Buddha himself has historically been a man.

It is interesting to note that Buddha discovered the universal law that bound all persons practicing Buddhism. Other aspects of Buddhism like the worship of relics, the conduct of Buddha’s pujas, and the cult of Buddha’s person were only introduced later in the Theravada and Mahayana. These practices can hardly be justified by Buddha’s discourses.

Summary of Nakai’s Article

Nakai (1) posits that anyone who intended to brand Buddhism as a sexist religion would have easily done so by quoting out of context passages from sutras. The author reckons that the spirit of Buddhism should bring together all beings whether female or male and in the process enlighten them. In addition, Nakai emphasizes that it is meaningless for one to confess to being a Buddhist if he or she does not subscribe to Buddhist teachings.

The article sets the record straight by alluding that Shakyamuni Buddha’s aunt who played a greater role in his upbringing after his mother had passed on was indeed the first Buddhist nun. She was called Prajapati. The article sites circumstances when Shakyamuni is reported to have told his stepmother that women were mentally inferior and therefore lacked the mental capacity to practice and understand the teaching of non-attachment to self.

This occurred after she had shown interest in becoming his disciple. Reverend Nakai reports that Shakyamuni instead suggested to her stepmother that home was the best place where she could practice Buddhism. Nakai reiterates that followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the US and America at large have taken center stage in discussing issues that touch on women. In fact, on several occasions, they have capitalized on Buddha’s denunciation of women.

These groups of believers have gone further to advance arguments as to why Shakyamuni might have uttered such words to his own aunt saying that at that time, women were taken as objects that were only meant to breed, nurture, and entertain men. They advance that he was still very young to know the implications of his utterances and actions. His cultural conditioning could not allow him to disown sexist tendencies.

The article reiterates that Prajapati, his aunt, was reluctantly allowed into Sangha after Buddha’s cousin, Ananda, lamented that women should be given a chance because nobody really knew whether they would fail. Buddha’s cousin advocated that women be given a chance to study and follow Dharma.

Ananda was brought up in the culture where Buddhism was practiced but his clamor for women to be allowed to study and follow Dharma is informed by his awareness of impermanence, and that continual change makes the world new in each moment and that judgment on present cannot be based on conceptions of the past. The article contends that Shakamuni’s view on women as pets stem from the death of his father for the life of a woman without a husband was considered useless according to Indian traditions.

The article purports that it was Prajapati who shaped Shakamuni’s interest in religion. The idea that Shakamuni’s religious sensitivity was initiated by his mother Maya is rubbished by Nakai (1) who says Maya died when Shakyamuni was too young to know anything. The belief in non-permanence and that life does not go according to one’s wishes weighed on Prajapati, who had to give up all he had planned but to take care of Shakyamuni, the one-week-old son of her late sister Maya.

According to reverend Sakai, Prajapati’s actions were informed by spiritual guidance and that her king-husband, who was more concerned with fortune telling, had nothing to do with it. Prajapati was looking for something to make her disrupted life meaningful. Shakyamuni portended that his awakening came from the legacies of the Buddhas who went before him. Reverend Nakai underscores that Shakamuni’s awakening was largely due to Prajapati’s involvement in his life.

It is ironical that the first woman who introduced him to religious life was reluctantly let into the Sangha. It is no doubt that Prajapati is the first Buddhist nun and that together with other palace attendants, they helped reform Shakamuni’s cultural conditioning that made him see women as pets. Shakyamuni’s interaction with women like Kisa Gotami completely got rid of his sexist views.

The essay by reverend Nakai has added my understanding on the topic about the role that nuns played in Buddhism in ancient India. The assay adds to my understanding of enlightenment. It is bold enough to say that Shakamuni’s tradition created in him a tradition where women were just pets who were mentally inferior and could not understand and practice the teachings of Buddha. The article also tries to justify that it was indeed women who shaped Shakamuni’s spiritual leaning and also made him change his sexist views on women.

These women are exemplified by Prajapati and Kisa Gotami respectively. The article supports the original CRA source argument that women chose to be ordained nuns because of forces operating in their personal or social situation. Prajapati wanted to follow Shakyamuni after she had lost her husband. The article adds to my knowledge on original CRA when it states that it was not only husbands or parents who could play a role in one’s conversion from lay to devote nun.

The references used in this article do not differ from those in original CRA. This article supports the claims made in the original CRA source when it says that women’s resolve to become nuns was informed by prevailing personal and social circumstances. Hence, Reverend Nakai strengthens my understanding of the significance and implications of the ideas expressed in the original CRA article.

Summary of Jamanadas Article

Jamanadas (1) posits that Buddha could not have been against women but only wanted the vow to celibacy upheld. That is why he insisted that there should be a separate Sangha for women and men. He had no intent of showing that either men or women were inferior to the other. Bhikkhunis were put under the stewardship of Bhikkhus. Women were allowed to take Sannyas or Parivraja. Women who were already admitted in Sangha were allowed full freedom by Buddha. This caliber of women had already been admitted into Buddhist theris.

This article supports the argument in the original CRA source because it discusses the circumstances under which an Indian woman could choose to become a monk. The article does not add or change my perceptions of the arguments made in CRA neither do its authors differ in any meaningful way from those of the CRA source. Its supports arguments made in CRA about what prompted women to join become nuns.

Summary of Swarna de Silva’s article

De Silva (1) underscores that Sangha forms the core of Buddha’s Sasana. This article posits that the order of Bhikkhunis was formed by Buddha after his enlightenment and that her Aunt Prajapati whose desire to become Buddha’s disciple was rejected insisted and followed Buddha in far off places. For Prajapati to become a member of the Bhikkhuni order, she had to satisfy the eight special rules that were incorporated in Bhikkhunis Vinaya.

The article adds to my understanding because it makes me know that the eight rules that Prajapati had to satisfy to become a nun were not meant to bridge the gap that existed between men and women.

About the conditions that made women seek to become Buddhist nuns, it supports arguments made in the original CRA source. The sources of the two articles are not similar but the message they pass across is the same. The article supports claims made in original CRA as it plainly tries to show circumstances under which an Indian woman could become a Buddhist nun.

Conclusion

These three sources show that despite the fact that women were later allowed by Buddha to become nuns, there was still a glaring difference between them and the monks. These women were largely driven into becoming nuns because of prevailing social and personal issues in their society especially in India where the caste system was very rife. The three sources have enabled me to have wide knowledge about Buddhists nuns that will make it very easy for me in critiquing the original CRA.

Works Cited

De Silva, Swarna. Place of women in Buddhism. A Talk given to the Midlands Buddhist Society (UK) on Sanghamittâ Day, 1988. Print.

Jamanadas, Palimar. Rise and fall of Buddhist Nuns. NJ: John Willey and Sons. 2004. Print.

Nakai, Patti. Women in Buddhism; Prajapati, the first Buddhist nun. NY: Oxford University Press, USA. 2002. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, April 28). India's Women in Buddhism' Religion. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/indias-women-in-buddhism-religion/

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"India's Women in Buddhism' Religion." IvyPanda, 28 Apr. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/indias-women-in-buddhism-religion/.

1. IvyPanda. "India's Women in Buddhism' Religion." April 28, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/indias-women-in-buddhism-religion/.


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IvyPanda. "India's Women in Buddhism' Religion." April 28, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/indias-women-in-buddhism-religion/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "India's Women in Buddhism' Religion." April 28, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/indias-women-in-buddhism-religion/.

References

IvyPanda. (2020) 'India's Women in Buddhism' Religion'. 28 April.

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