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‘No woman, with the
two-finger wisdom (narrow) which is hers, could ever hope to reach those
heights which are attained only by the sages.’

Buddha’s contradiction to mara
for such attitude is replied by the bhikkhuni to which it was addressed as:

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‘When one’s mind is well
concentrated and wisdom never fails, does the fact of being a woman make any
difference?’

Women under Buddha’s Ministry

The woman’s role during the
Ministry of the Buddha was seen in four different stages. First as a mother, second
as a house minister/wife (gruha-niya), third as an female lay follower
(upasika) and fourth as a female renouncer or a bhikkhuni.

The Buddha proclaimed a
message that was universal to all human beings. One of the nine titles bestowed
upon the Buddha is satta-devamanussanam meaning the leader of gods and humans,
one who could lead all beings. The Buddha’s teachings were designed for the happiness
of humanity, without any discrimination
from one’s cast, creed, race, age, distance they lived, disability or gender. The Buddha taught dhamma to
both men and women equally. He also gave talks to the householders and their
wives. The
highest achievement of Buddhism, the supreme enlightenment is available to both
men and women.

During the Buddhist epoch there was a change in the
attitudes towards women. The traditional structure and functions of society
undoubtedly underwent some alterations and women came to enjoy more equality
and greater respect and authority than ever. Their position in their activities
in domestic, social and religious began to improve. The Anguttara Nikaya shows
that as a result of the freedom, the women set to have fine examples in conduct
and intelligence. Women no longer became intolerable and degradable. Women were
well acknowledged, at least to be capable of working as a constructive force in
the society of the day. The Buddha advised the Vajjis, a ruling clan in
Vaishali, to respect and honour young girls and women and to place them well in
society and not to keep them under men’s custody.

 

Nikaya on Women as Mother

In Buddhism, mother occupies a central role and is
seen as a symbol of respect in the home. The Buddha himself participated in the
funeral of Mahaprajapathi Theri after her death. It was the first time that the
Buddha participated in a funeral. Motherhood in Early Buddhism could also
be valued actively in its own right. Queen Mahamaya, the mother of the Buddha,
and Queen Prajapathi-gotami who was his foster mother along with Yasodhara, the
wife of the prince Sidhartha are seen as most valued and respected mother-roles
in the history of Buddhism.  

 

In Buddhist teachings value of family as the most
important human association for the formation and socialization of the infant
is highly stressed upon. The image of the mother as the embodiment of
compassion is also used. The woman as the mother had always commanded such
veneration and gratitude, and her position was unassailable. Women were almost
invariably mentioned and listed in all the early Indian literature whether
Sanskrit, Pali or Jain.

In this respect Sigalovada Sutta,
Digha Nikaya, deals with the code of conduct for the laity. There are five
duties parents are to perform towards their children and vice versa. Buddha
himself used highest words to elicit the qualities of the parents.

“And how, young house holder does a noble
disciple cover the six quarters?

“The following should
be looked upon as the six quarters. The parents should be looked upon as the
East, teachers as the South, wife and children as the West, friends and
associates as the North, servants and employees as the Nadir, ascetics and
brahmans as the Zenith.

In five
ways, young householder, a child should minister to his parents as
the East:

Having supported me I shall
support them; I shall do their duties; I shall keep the family tradition; I
shall make myself worthy of my inheritance and I shall offer alms in honor of
my departed relatives.

In five ways, young householder, the
parents thus ministered to as the East by
their children, show their compassion:

They restrain them from evil; encourage them to do
good; train them for a profession; arrange a suitable marriage and at the proper
time they hand over their inheritance to them.

In these five ways do children minister to their
parents as the East and
the parents show their compassion to their children. Thus is the East covered by them and made
safe and secure.” (Sigalovada Sutta, Digha Nikaya)

 

The Buddha also declared – ‘Brahmati Matapitaro –
Pubbacariyatiruccare’- that the parents are Brahma and also our teachers. Brahma
is believed to have four noble qualities as in the Brahama Viharas (Brahma
Vihara Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya). They are also called the four divine abodes –
loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), appreciative joy (mudita)
and equanimity (upakka). Parents maintain these four qualities towards
their children throughout the life, from the moment of conception onwards. In
the Sigalovada Sutta, Digha Nikaya, Buddha advised his followers to widen these
feelings and to apply them all. 

Similar qualities are elaborated in the Mangala Sutta,
which shows that helping and supporting the parents is one of the great thirty
eight blessings. The Buddha often used the phrase, ‘Mata mittan sake gare’
to give mother a prominent place in the family and recognize her as a close
friend. In another place, Buddha described parents as the main life supporters,
protectors, feeders and teaches one how to enter into the world.

 

“To
support mother and father, to cherish wife and children, and to be engaged in
peaceful occupation — this is the greatest blessing.”  (Mangala Sutta)

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