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Women in Buddhism: Questions & Answers

It is commonly believed that women are unclean. How true is this belief?

Many temples do not allow women to circumambulate around the stupas. There is clear evidence of it particularly in the north of Thailand. This practice cannot find any support in the actual Buddhist teaching but is commonly believed and handed down as custom.

This belief in fact found its root in Hinduism where women are seen as religiously unclean because of their menstruation. Taking an opposite standpoint, one could say that women possess natural power. They are capable of nullifying sacred mantras long practised by Hindu men and priests. Because of this, Brahmin priests had to keep women outside their sacred sanctuary. Men, with their superior position in society, must control women who possess the natural power and declare them unclean during the menstruation period. This practice and belief is carried into Thai custom unknowingly. Just to give an example, while fermenting rice, menstruating women are not allowed near the area or the rice will be spoilt. They believe that menstruation holds secret power that can actually overcome magical spell. This is all Hindu belief and practice carried over into Thai culture and most Thais would think that prohibiting menstruating women is correct Buddhist practice, but is far from it.

From a Buddhist point of view, menstruation is a natural physical excretion that women have to go through on a monthly basis, nothing more or less. During this time women tend to have weaker emotional balance. They would need religious support more than any other time. But in practice, ironically, they are kept out of the temple and branded as unclean.

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