When Queen Maha Pajapati asked the Buddha
to allow her to join the Order, why did he hesitate but give
permission later on?
who are interested in the ordination of women, this is one of
the most puzzling questions, which needs a great deal of contextual
Suddhodana, the Buddha's royal father passed away, the duty
of a wife to her husband was completed. It was the right time
for Maha Pajapati to consider following the teaching and the
practice of the Buddha seriously. But when she approached and
asked for permission the Buddha simply said, "Please do
not ask so." The Tripitaka, which is the most important
primary source, did not provide any reason for not allowing
women to join the Order.
were given in later commentaries trying to explain the situation.
This led also to common belief that the Buddha did not want
to allow women to lead a religious life. This is not without
basis. According to Indian social mores, to lead a religious
life is not the path for women. Manudharma Sastra was
very clear to spell out that salvation for a woman is possible
only through bhakti (devotion) to her husband.
Pajapati was unshaken in her decision. After the Buddha had
gone, she, along with 500 Sakiyanis (Sakyan women) from the
royal court shaved their heads and donned the yellow robes.
They followed him on foot until they arrived at Vesali where
the Buddha resided. Upon arriving at the arama (residence)
they did not ask to have an audience with the Buddha for fear
of being rejected again. Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and personal
attendant, found them at the entrance covered with dust, with
torn robes and bleeding feet. Many of them were miserable and
in tears of desperation. He learned from them of their request
and on their behalf approached the Buddha. Again, the Buddha
forbade Ananda in the same manner, "Ananda, please do not
various reasons to be taken in consideration in attempting to
understand the possible difficulties or obstacles which presented
themselves in the mind of the Buddha.
all Maha Pajapati was a queen who, along with 500 ladies of
the court, knew only the life of comfort. To lead a reclusive
life allowing them only to sleep under the tree, or in the cave,
would be too hard for them. Out of compassion the Buddha wanted
them to think it over.
accepting a large group of women to be ordained all at once
would immediately involve teachers to provide them both instruction
and training. The Buddha also could not make himself constantly
accessible for them. The Sangha was not ready with competent
teachers to handle a large crowd of women. This proved to be
a reality later on when women were already accepted to the Sangha.
Monks who could teach the nuns must be not only learned but
also require an appropriate attitude to help uplift women spiritually.
already received criticism from outsiders for breaking up families
by ordaining either the husbands or wives. When Maha Pajapati
approached him with 500 Sakiyanis, definitely this would be
a major cause of criticism. Particularly Sakyas did not marry
people from other clans. By allowing 500 Sakiyanis to be ordained
would definitely affect the social status quo. But it was revealed
that these women's husbands had already joined the Order. Thus,
the criticism that accepting these women would break up their
families became groundless.
that these women followed him on foot to Vesali is a proof of
their genuine commitment to lead religious lives and removed
the doubt that their request might be out of momentary impulse.
have been some of the reasons behind the Buddha's hesitation.
The Buddha needed the time to examine both the pros and cons
to their request.
also tried to understand the Buddha's refusal. Is it because
women are not capable of achieving spiritual enlightenment?
If that is so, then ordination, a spiritual path is open only
to men. To this, the Buddha made it clear that both men and
women have equal potentiality to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
to mark this statement, as this is the first time in the history
of religion that a religious leader declared openly that men
and women are equal on spiritual grounds. Previously in the
Hindu context, the Vedas, the most sacred religious texts, were
available only to men. Buddhism has transcended race, nation,
caste and gender differences to declare that the highest spiritual
achievement transcends obstacles or discrimination of gender.
With this important reason, the Buddha allowed women to join