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Early texts, EBTs - what do they say about gender *equality*, as opposed to *inequality*?

Continuing the discussion from Translating the Four Nikāyas:

That’s really cool Russell. I’m originally from south asia and from a country that was heavily colonised for several centuries so those influenes are there… But I remember that my paternal grandmother never changed her name to that of her husband’s…I always wondered if that hearkens bark to another way of doing things…It’s a pity I never got a chance to ask her. We’re so quick to assume that gender inequality’s the norm in every time and place… it’s just not the case (even today…as far as I know…in Finland, daughters surnames are linked to their mother’s names, not their fathers) and if it is the case, it doesn’t seem to necessarily manifest in the same ways that and forms that it does today.

I wonder about the time of the Buddha. I mean, we’re so quick to all agree that women were in a subservient position. But I wonder, what exactly, the details of this were.

I’m sure we would easily be able to say, “this is how they were unequal…here is the evidence in an ancient text…”…

But the more interesting question, which I’m posing to anyone that’s interested in finding it in the EBT’s in particular (but not exclusively) is:

How were they equal and where is the evidence for this in ancient texts?

Of course there’s the very major one of the Buddha saying that women can practice the 8 fold path…ie…get enlightened… I’m talking about less obvious things…even practical day-to-day things… I bet they’re there!

If anyone knows or has the time to hunt them down, it’d be a marvellous thing…sadly…at present…I don’t have that time… But if such a list could be compiled, I think it would a very interesting thing indeed… With some…I believe…some potentially interesting and useful implications on both psychologial and social levels.

With metta

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Dear Kay,

this is yet another great idea! Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu! We could just post and thus collect the evidence for equality of women in the EBT here under this very topic, which you created while we keep on reading the suttas. I already have a few examples in mind, but still have to look for the references. I expect we will also get some good ideas and references on this from Ven. Anālayo’s course on “Women in Indian Buddhism” which just started. I will keep posting things here, but I am also quite busy at work at the moment, so I ask for your patience.

Thanks again and with much mettā,
Robert

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Hi Robert

I’m replying as well as ‘liking’ 'cos I just wanted to emphasise how awesome this is!!! :thumbsup: :grinning:

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:pray:

Dear Kay,

Awesomeness! Very cool. My ancestors had strong Indic influences as they were of malayo-indonesian stock. Even our old writing system was derived from the old Brahmic script. Up until the colonists came is when everything stopped. To share some indic tidbits:

Lahu (rahu): eclipse
rupa: face
kapas: cotton
pitaka: purse
asawa: swami (spouse)
gaddya: elephant
garuda: large bird of prey
raja: chief
diwata: devata

Also, in my family, it is the men who are expected to know how to cook LOL! It’s like tradition.

In the past, it was the women who led as the priest in the old belief system. No warrior chief would dare embark on something until s/he had asked the priestess if s/he has the “god or goddesses” backing. Moreover, the warrior men’s rank depended on their wives status. So, technically, a male raja is only a raja for two reasons, his strategy/cunning in warfare, and more importantly, the backing of his primary wife. Divorce was rare back then but should it happen within the raja’s family, it was disastrous for the male chief as he would lose his backing.

Interesting how it was back then. They were wiser having women along side the men when running the society. And it did happen.

with añjali and metta,
russ

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Wow Russell!!!

This is the kind of stuff I was thinking of!!

Thanks so much for sharing :smiley:

I particularly like:

Also, in my family, it is the men who are expected to know how to cook LOL! It’s like tradition.

This shows how within family groupings, things don’t always follow the way we think it might!

You know, I really think European ideas about gender divisions influenced most Asian countries.

Where I come from, everyone, I mean everyone, is responsible for the cleaning of their own clothes. In my own family, my Dad always ironed his own stuff. The only time someone in my own family ironed someone else’s stuff was if it was as a one off favour, like someone was running late or something. I find it weird to hear how in many families with Anglo backgrounds, the woman of the household does this massive pile of ironing. (On a side note, I’m anti-ironing and avoid it whenever possible!)

I wonder what else is out there!

Dear Kay, dear Russell, dear all,

here some ideas re your original question. First of all, I think one could make a distinction in terms of the kind of “equality” one wants to look at:
In principle, I find “social equality”, like influence in the society, access to certain positions, access to education, equality in interpersonal relationships and family-relationships etc. quite important.
Another important point is, of course, “spiritual equality”, access to the Dhamma, being seen as equally capable of high spiritual achievements, being seen as spiritual role model by the Saṅgha of monks and nuns and laity alike.

Regarding “social equality”, I find the following female characters in the EBT outstanding:

  • Visākhā: is one of the most prominent laywomen at the Buddha’s dispensation. She became a stream-enterer early on in her life. She was also called “Migāra’s mother”, because she urged her father in law, king Migāra, to invite the Buddha to his palace and receive teachings, by which he became converted to Buddhism.
  • Mallikā: one of the most devoted lay-followers of the Buddha. She was a wife of king Pasenadi, who was a very devoted follower of the Buddha. Her husband king Pasenadi often consulted her on important decision. See for example: http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/ma/mallikaa.htm
  • Ambapālī: she was a high ranking coutensan, who lived socially independent. Basically, she ran her own business and was accepted as an entrepreneur. She donated a park, the Ambapālivana, to the saṅgha and later reached Arahantship. (I will keep looking for the name and a reference in the EBT. Maybe someone can help? Thanks Russel! )

In terms of “spiritual equality”, the following comes to mind:

  • Ven. Dhammadinnā: She was the wife of Visākha and after hearing one sermon of the Buddha became a Non-Returner, after which she went forth. Shortly after going into retreat she reached full awakening. She was praised by the Buddha for her wisdom and for her ability to expound the Dhamma, see e.g. MN44.
  • SĀ276 (a chinese parallel to MN146) mentions a number of famous nuns by name in the introduction to the sutta, which is usually equally done with famous monks (*). These nuns were famous for various achievements as was the case for some famous monks.

I will keep looking for examples of famous female layfollowers and nuns.

With much mettā,
Robert

(*) Anālayo 2010: “Attitudes Towards Nuns – A Case Study of the Nandakovāda in the Light of its Parallels”, (with a contribution by Giuliana Martini)", Journal of Buddhist Ethics, vol. 17 pp. 332–400.

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Dear Kay, dear Russell, dear all,

the first lecture of Ven. Anālayo’s course on “Women in Indian Buddhism”, among other things, dealt with a comparison of MN146 and its parallel SĀ276. I think it is planned to make the lectures publicly available (I will later post the link). A recent paper by Ven. Anālayo addresses exactly this topic. This is a study, which I find, bears findings of crucial importance:

Anālayo 2010: “Attitudes Towards Nuns – A Case Study of the Nandakovāda in the Light of its Parallels”, (with a contribution by Giuliana Martini)", Journal of Buddhist Ethics, vol. 17 pp. 332–400.

Analayo_Attitude_towards_nuns.pdf (646.8 KB)

Fortunately, there are no copyright restrictions on sharing the paper in a digital format, as long as its contents is not modified. :smile:

The paper contains a full translation of SĀ276 and of a Tibetan parallel (the parallel is in the appendix), next to the discussion around the differences to MN146. The reason for which I posted this paper here is, that it sketches a picture of early “spiritual equality” of women in Buddhism, very much opposed to its counterpart MN146, which reflects a lingering tendency to diminish the spiritual ability of women and to distort the open manner in which the Buddha received them. According to Ven. Anālayos study, these differences very likely seem to stem from later alterations found in MN146. Luckily, the alterations were NOT introduced by the reciters in a heinous conspiracy, but simply reflect the influence of an unfortunate mysogenous mindset that prevailed over the centruies in which the text was recited. This ultimetly led to the creeping incorporation of such views in MN146. Fortunately, such unintentional alterations usually do not come without contradictions/inconsistencies, which then can be detected as described in the paper.

Coming back now to a selection of the outstanding examples of equality shown in SĀ276, which were discussed among other things by Ven. Anālayo during the first lecture:

  • The Bhikkhunīs are introduced by name and as famous disciples of the Buddha.
  • The act of the Buddha teaching the Bhikkhunīs is depicted as something he would normally do. He also does so without being asked for it.
  • The Buddha asks Ven Nandaka to teach the Bhikkhunīs, saying that Nandaka should do so, because the Buddha does the same.
  • With the first teaching of Ven. Nandaka all Bhikkhunīs - a large gathering of nuns- reach non-return.
  • With the second teaching all Bhikkhunīs reach full awakening.

Hence, in my view, it is a matter of incredible luck that one version of the sutta, i.e. SĀ276, was preserved, which avoids all the inconsistencies discussed in the paper while showing signs of being a comparatively older version of the sutta and also drafting a picture of the Buddha establishing the early Saṅgha in spiritual equality.

With much mettā,
Robert


ADDED 2015.04.23: I forgot to mention that the appendix to Anālayos paper contains the translation of the Tibetan parallel from the Mūla-Sarvāstivāda tradition done by Giuliana Martini (now Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā). So the three main versions are all available in translation for comparative study! :slight_smile:

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:pray:
Dear Robert,

Thank you very much for your research and for posting the directions to Ven. Anālayo’s course on “Women in Indian Buddhism” and the .pdf link.

I am not sure who this was, but I think there is also speaking in the EBT of a high ranking prostitute, who lived socially independent. Basically, she ran her own business and was accepted as an entrepreneur. Later she became a nun under the Buddha and if I am not mistaken reached Arahantship. (I will keep looking for the name and a reference in the EBT. Maybe someone can help?)

The name was Ambapali. She was the highest ranking courtesan among the Licchavi’s (present day Kathmandu). When the Buddha came traveling in the Licchavi republic, he and his monks happened to rest at her Mango grove. Having heard that the Buddha and the monks were staying in her grove, she paid a visit to worship and hear a Dhamma talk from the Buddha. After hearing, being roused and inspired by the Buddha with a Dhamma talk, she obtained the Buddha’s consent for dana the following morning. She refused the Licchavi nobles to relinquish the meal.

with añjali and mettā,
russ
:pray:

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Dear Russel,
thats great! Thanks so much for helping me out with the story on Ambapali. :slight_smile:
With much mettā,
Robert

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:pray:

Dear Robert,

You’re very welcome! Glad to be of help! The story of Ambapali is one of my favorites :thumbsup: I admire her for not giving up the meal, for her generosity in giving her Mango grove to the Sangha, and for going forth into homelessness (which she became an arahat in her later years) :sunglasses: .

with añjali and mettā,
russ

:pray:

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Bhadda Kundalakesa (as Russell has mentioned) was a wandering ascetic. Female wanderers were there! Not sure of the sutta reference though…I’ve had a quick search for it…to no avail…

Dear Russell, dear Kay,

indeed this is a very interesting article by Bhante Sujato! I have to admit, I had not heard of Bhaddā Kuṇḍalakesā before, or at least I cannot remember. I also very much like the enthusiasm and openness expressed through the idea of the “Come Bhikkhunī!” ordination.

Thanks so much for bringing this into the discussion! :slight_smile:

With much mettā,
Robert

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Dear Kay,

I am thinking that I remember seeing her story. That’s the tricky part, when you need something it often is hard to find. But when you’re not looking for it, there it is.

with añjali and metta,
russ

:pray:

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Hello all,
In addition to the above references, here are some other references for Bhaddā Kuṇḍalakesā: Her verses are in the Therīgāthā 5.9. Also the Buddha names her as the Bhikkhunī who is foremost in attaining direct knowledge, in AN 1.235–247. The English translation is not available on SC but if you have Bhikkhu Bodhi’s AN translation, it’s page 111. Also, attached is a BPS Wheel publication that contains her story, which also draws on commentarial sources.
wh292.pdf (230.0 KB)

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:pray:

Dear Linda,

Thank you very much for sharing :smile:

with añjali and metta,
russ

:pray:

AN 8.49 The Buddha speaks to Visakha about what makes for success as a woman. While some of the worldly measures might still be accurate today, there can be no doubt about the timelessness of the unworldly measures.

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In case anyone’s interested, I wrote a novella inspired by Bhadda’s life, Dreams of Bhadda. I really like it!

dob_bf.pdf (582.7 KB)

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Also available in German translation by Heinrich Lohner (can be downloaded in different formats):

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