India the position of women does not appear to have been a very
happy one. Generally women seem to have been looked upon as
being inferior to men. And, at times they were considered as
being on the same level as the Sudras, the lowest of the four
castes. Their freedom was extremely limited. The general view
appears to be that they had to be under the care of parents
in their childhood, under the protection of husbands in their
youth; and in their old age they had to be under the control
of their sons. Therefore, it was thought that they do not deserve
any freedom. Their main role was considered to be that of housewives,
managing the affairs in the house according to the wishes of
as a wife the life of a woman was often miserable. This was
specially so when she had the misfortune of being a co-wife.
Jealousies and conflicts between co-wives were a common feature
in ancient Indian society. The widow's plight was still worse.
Normally, a widow was not allowed to remarry. It is said that
a widow had to kill herself by jumping into the funeral pyre
of her husband.
did not have educational freedom. Education was not considered
as being of any importance to women. Their religious freedom,
too, was restricted. As they had only little freedom, their
chances of performing meritorious religious rites, too, were
a woman was considered a burden on the family because the males
had to bear the responsibility of looking after her. Besides,
she was incapable of performing religious rites for the well-being
of the departed parents, and therefore, she was considered as
being of little use. This is why the birth of a female child
was considered as a sign of misfortune in a family. Parents
prayed for the birth of sons, both to carry on the family name
and traditions and also to perform the necessary religious rites
for their benefit when they are dead and gone. How miserable
the father felt at the birth of a daughter is seen from the
event connected with King Pasenadi of Kosala. When this King
was informed that his queen gave birth to a daughter he came
to the Buddha and lamented. The Buddha had to pacify him saying
that good daughters are as good as good sons.
does not consider women as being inferior to men. Buddhism,
while accepting the biological and physical differences between
the two sexes, does consider men and women to be equally useful
to the society. The Buddha emphasises the fruitful role the
women can play and should play as a wife, a good mother in making
the family life a success. In the family both husbands and wives
are expected to share equal responsibility and discharge their
duties with equal dedication. The husband is admonished to consider
the wife a friend, a companion, a partner. In family affairs
the wife was expected to be a substitute for the husband when
the husband happened to be indisposed. In fact, a wife was expected
even to acquaint herself with the trade, business or industries
in which the husband engaged, so that she would be in a position
to manage his affairs in his absence. This shows that in the
Buddhist society the wife occupied an equal position with the
Buddha's advice to the King Pasenadi of Kosala, who was a close
devotee of his, clearly shows that Buddhism does not consider
the birth of a daughter as a cause for worry and despair.
does not restrict either the educational opportunities of women
or their religious freedom. The Buddha unhesitatingly accepted
that women are capable of realizing the Truth, just as men are.
This is why he permitted the admission of women into the Order,
though he was not in favour of it at the beginning because he
thought their admission would create problems in the Sasana.
Once women proved their capability of managing their affairs
in the Order, the Buddha recognised their abilities and talents,
and gave them responsible positions in the Bhikkhuni Sangha.
The Buddhist texts record of eminent saintly Bhikkhunis, who
were very learned and who were experts in preaching the Dhamma.
Dhammadinna was one such Bhikkhuni, Khema and Uppalavanna are
Theri-gatha contains numerous stanzas that clearly express the
feelings of joy experienced by saintly bhikkhunis at their ability
to enter the Order and realize the Truth.