Lady leaders of yore | Daily News


Lady leaders of yore

Binara is all about women’s position in the Buddha Dhamma. Talking of Binara Poya, one cannot forget two ladies of ancient Jambudweepa. The Blessed One once wanted Maha Prajapathi Gothami to perform a miracle in order to answer the misconceptions of “those badly informed men who do not recognize the spiritual abilities of women": the other lady devotee being Kundalakesi.

The most important happening on Binara Poya Day was the inauguration of Bhikkuni Order or admission of Nuns to Sangha Sasana. Prajapati Gotami, the stepmother of Siddartha Gouthama and the younger sister of Queen Mahamaya, is a role model for women. It was her determination and commitment that finally led the Buddha to allow the admission of female candidates to the order. Buddhism can certainly claim to have the least biased attitudes against women.

Garudhammas: Who authored?

Despite the objectives of the Buddha, the approach of people in a system found mainly in Asia, in a male-dominated society, practically Mahayana sect of ‘Buddhism’ seems to have shaped a level of gender bias. The Buddha Dhamma as explained by Buddha himself is ‘against the stream’, which means that there is a natural debate between the Dharma-Vinaya and generally established concepts; the latter always overriding the former. The Sangha has failed to conserve the precision of the teachings.

The so-called Garudhamma rules yet remain not fully examined and could be taken as the wrong perception of approval of women’s inferior capability. The ‘proclamation’ that a woman cannot become a Buddha was possibly rather gentle in its original thinking, carrying no important effect on the prospect of women practitioners. The Mahayana view is even worse; that women possess an unequal capacity for development on the path to achieve awakening.

Hugh Boyd, a diplomat in Kandyan Court, wrote in 1782: “The Cingalese women exhibit a striking contrast to those of all other Oriental Nations… that lazy apathy, insipid modesty and sour austerity of women throughout Asia, in every period of its history, in this island they possess that active sensibility, winning bashfulness and amicable ease…, they are not merely the slaves and mistresses, but in many respects, the companions and friends of their husbands; The Cingalese neither keep their women in confinement nor impose on them any humiliating restraints.”

The so-called garudhammas imposed on the Bhikkhunis stained Buddha's decision to permit the establishment of an order for women. Was these set of ‘rules’ incorporated in the Bhikkhuni Vinaya are mere ill-intended attachments by male chauvinists? The eight rules are:

Bhikkhus to have precedence over Bhikkhunis in matters of salutation, irrespective of any other considerations like age and seniority.

Bhikkhunis could not observe the annual vassana in a district where there were no Bhikkhus.

Bhikkhus set the dates for Bhikkhuni Uposatha ceremonies.

Confessing lapses by Bhikkhunis had to done before the assembly of both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis.

Judicial processes in case of Bhikkhunis had to be undertaken by both the Sanghas.

Upasampada initiation of Bhikkhunis to be given by the Bhikkhu sangha as well.

A Bhikkhuni should never abuse a Bhikkhu.

Bhikkhus can admonish Bhikkhunis, but not vice versa

These rules are subordination of Nuns to male Bhikkhus. Rule 4 acknowledges the threats to which Bhikkhunis would be exposed to. They are a concession to male dominance. In practical terms, Rule1 must have been the most infuriating and even embarrassing in a society where the observance to salutation was very strict. A Nun had always to pay respect to any Bhikkhu however junior the male may have been. It is not amazing that it was from this tenet that Prajâpati Gotami wanted exemption but was not granted according to subsequently added ideas to scriptures.

In Nun Sona’s encounter with Mara- “What does womanhood matter at all, when the mind is concentrated well when knowledge flows on steadily as one sees correctly into Dhamma. One to whom it might occur, ‘I am a woman’ or ‘I am a man’ or ‘I’m anything at all’ is fit for Mara to address.” –

The Buddha was unambiguous when he uttered that women have the same potential for awakening that men have. “Women, having gone forth are capable to realize stream-attainment or once-returning or of non-returning or arahantship.”

The Garudhammas motivated Pali scholar, IB Horner to write a book titled, ‘Women under Primitive Buddhism’, in 1930.

Kundalakesi aka Bhadra

Bhadra was popularly known as Kundalakesi, “woman with Curls”. She led a very secluded life. Her rich father was from Rajagaha. Bhadra falls in love with a thief while he was being led out to be executed, and wanted her father to save him. Strangely, the father pays a high price, weight in gold and 80 elephants to the State treasury and get the thief released for the daughter. They were married and one day she jokingly called him a thief. This anger plus his interest to her jewellery provoked the thief to kill the wife.

He persuaded her to wear on all her jewellery and join him to climb a hill saying that he had to fulfil a vow at a deity of the mountain because it was that deity who had saved his life. Kundalakesi obliged and travelled in a jungle path. Captivated by the splendour of the woods, waterfalls, the flora and fauna as they pass through jungle terrain, they sing songs with heart-warming lyrics and melodious rhythm;

Remember the scintillating song in the drama, Kundalakhesi, “Anna balan sanda ran ketiyen ena seethe sunil dahara…hada sokha thevul nivana…”

Reaching the pinnacle, the rouge announced his idea- kill her by pushing her off the hill. Her begging was of no avail; the thief was adamant. Realising that she has to be vigilant and crafty if she wants to save her life, Kundalakeshi asks for a final wish; as they only have a few moments left, she wanted to pay reverence to the husband for one last time by going around him three times before her death. He agrees and when she gets behind him, Kundalakesi shoves him off the cliff, taking him unaware and kill him.

Walking the length and breadth of Jambudweepa, she reaches Savatthi on a Binara poya day where she met with Arahant Sariputta, and beg him to teach her the Dhamma. She was ordained Theri Kundalakesi, who in a matter of few days achieved final emancipation.

May all beings be happy!

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