Mother, You Don’t Have to Fight to Be a Woman!
By- Praggananda Sraman
I want to tell my mother that she doesn’t have to fight to be a woman, and tell my father that he doesn't have to prove he's a man. Sisters of the Buddhist society, you don’t have to fight for recognition or leadership. You already have it!
In this short writing I won't try to be academic or scholarly, with tons of citations and references. Instead, I'd like to just talk about my experiences and the opinions I’ve arrived at as a result of my life as a Buddhist and as a Buddhist Bhikkhu, something I have been for a considerable period. According to the Kālāma Sutta preached by the Buddha, you don’t have to believe what others say unless it accords with your own understanding.
All myths say the earth was created for man and woman equally. Some say men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. Science also believes that among the living and conscious beings in this world cycle, human beings are extraordinary and amazing. The Buddha also said that to be born a human is extremely rare and hard.
The world hears so much about Rights, Women's Rights, Children's Rights, Labour Rights, Religious Rights, so many rights. No one talks about Men's Rights, though. There is a reason for that. There is a Universal Declaration, that ‘Man and Woman are Equal', yet women still have to fight to be on an equal footing with men. This is why there is much talk of Women's Rights; men already have theirs.
In fact, this is a very big contemporary western issue. It's very much a materialist topic. Sorry if I'm wrong, but it seems that women -- in the west at least -- only want to be equal to men with regard to money and power, the underlying essence of a civilization obsessed with material pursuits. It's very defensive! But believe it or not, they are not pioneers, however. Even in Shakespear's time women were prohibited from acting in plays. But the Buddha gave official authority for women to lead society centuries before him, around 2550 BCE. World’s first woman Prime Minister, Srimabho BandarNayeke of Sri Lanka, is an Asian.
Research works say women are more religious and spiritual than men. I myself have done research work on this issue, and female participation is always higher than male participation in any Buddhist religious celebration or festival (75%-80%).
In the Vedic Upanisad, it is said that the goal of life is union with Brahma, a divine being, who is sexless (or occasionally male or female), in sense of non-duality or non-discrimination.
Being principally a spiritually and extraordinarily creative being, a (hu) man’s course is to develop towards a state of perfection. Through the rebirth process, returning to the earth for many lives, sometime as a man and sometime as a woman, one experiences the bodies of both sexes, depending on their Kamma (karma) and desires. The incidences of sex, as with all other incidences, is governed by the Law of Cause and Effect, and progressively, as the individual comes to understand the working of this law, he is able, with its help, to direct his own life.
Consequently, in their spiritual essence, man and woman are the same. Their differences are the result of their different evolution as individuals, emphasized or lessened by the sex of the body used in any particular life. As man and woman, different but complementary, neither being inferior to the other, they are co-operators. In society, man and woman each contribute characteristic qualities to the integral whole, and the well-being of society depends upon the recognition of this and of their different needs, natures and contributions.
Hence consciousness is sexless. Spiritually, man evolves through the bodies of either sex, being both masculine and feminine, and retaining within himself the essence of experience both as a man and as a woman. The spiritual and perfected man is a true androgyne, neither one sex nor the other in essence, although the body may be male or female. So when the individual has experienced many lives the male and female sides of his nature tend to come together. Some more highly developed human beings are already beginning to foreshadow in their mental make-up that higher and balanced hermaphroditism of perfect humanity.
Therefore we see that although the wearing of a female body enjoins certain definite functions on the physical plane, and although the nature of physical body modifies to some extent the emotion and the mind, the spiritual individual may be deeply concerned with activities in which the characteristic of the opposite sex are dominant. Therefore it is unjust to limit either man or woman to a certain set of activities merely on account of the sex of the body.
I have studied Science quite a bit. It is often said that the differences between the sexes are merely caused by biology and environment, but while this is superficially true, it is ultimately a difference in Kamma. Not any chemical imbalance, it is because of Kamma (Karma) imbalance.
The psychophysical is composed of 28 kinds of matter (Rūpa), among them there are 2 kinds of matter called matter of sex, Bhāvarūpa, the male sex (Purisabhāva rūpa), and the female sex (Itthibhāva rūpa). These particles of matter are dispersed all over the body. Just like branches, leaves, and fruits of the tree grow according to the seed and the soil. So the physique, organs, behaviour and characteristics in the male and female are dependent upon the matter of female sex and the matter of male sex respectively.
The physique or organs, voice, touch, and scent of a female, the taste of food prepared by a female, the contact of a female body, are, it seems, the most desirable things in the world for a man. The converse is also true for a female.
We perceive these things as desirable objects, rather than just mind and matter (Nāma-rūpa), and this is the root cause of the sexual problem, and it is suffering (Dukkha).
What the Historical Records Say!
Records say the Buddha was not the first person who established a Bhikkhuni (Nun) community. A contemporary heretical teacher, Nigghanta Nāthaputta, who was also known as Jīna (the leader of Jainism), had a nun community. But there were many criticisms among the society about that nun community. The Buddha was cautious and didn’t want to have any criticism among his community. He wanted Sāsana to keep pure and long live. That’s why he rejected 3 times Mahāpajāpati’s request. But Ānanda pushed him to allow the Bhikkuni community. It actually doesn’t mean that the Buddha didn’t want to; he was observing the society and the response to the nun community, and the future consequences. He said many times ‘I’m not one-sided. I’m an analyser.’ To keep balance between Bhikkhu and Bukkhuni he set up 8 strict rules (Attagarudhamma) as a condition that a Bhikkhuni has to follow. But I’m afraid to say that the Sangha could reform the pure Bhikkhuni community but couldn’t change the 8 strict rules. Impossible! The root problem is here.
The monk communities in ancient India and in its subcontinent many times disappeared and reappeared. Everybody blames the word ‘ANICCA’, poor ANICCA! but this Anicca or impermanence is not alone to be blamed. Corruption is one of them; the hard teaching of attaining Nibbāna is another one. There was also lack of patronage, and then there were foreign invasions.
Myanmar (Burma) borrowed pure monks from Sri Lanka and dispelled the corrupted ones. Sri Lanka did the same. Thailand reformed the Sańgha many times by taking pure monks from LankaDīpa and Lankan did the same. It terrifies me to think what happened to the Bhikkhuni(s) in those times!
Present Bhikkhuni communities either Theravāda or Mahāyāna were derived from Sri Lanka since the Northerners (Chinese) were interested in Buddhism and borrowed Bhikkhunis from Sri Lanka to form a new community there. And Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta, the daughter of Emperor Asoka who was purely ordained (after 300 years of The Buddha’s demise), was sent to Lankadīpa to reform the Bhikkhuni Sāsana there. So, present Buddhist Nun community is a replica of this.
What we could do!
According to orthodox Buddhist leaders that pure and acceptable Bhikkhuni Sāsana doesn't exist anymore in this world. True or false, I say either-neither. Some might challenge the orthodoxy, citing the statements of the Buddha where He gave authority to the Sańgha (More than 4/5> 8 or more monks) to change and reform the rules accord to what suits the Sāsana, for the good of many, for the good of the Sāsana, for social needs to be met. If society needs it, what is our problem then?
I’m sorry to say that present days nuns are not interested in Attagarudhamma. (Probably Women's Rights is what modern women are keen on). A few days ago I met a nun in Australia, she is from the USA. She is a Sri Lankan, and she said the Atthagarudhamma is not appointed by the Buddha. The monks who wrote the Piţakas were all men. It is so pathetic. It terrified me. We should do something before the corruption gets worse. Please, just take it as an example.
It is not just ‘TRUE’
That women can’t attain Arahanthood (Enlightenment) or any higher state is just not a true statement. Please, read the original texts- commentary- sub-commentary to Therigāthā, Mahāparinibbāna Sutta. One thing for certain is that every Buddha-to-be (Bodhisatta) determines or wishes that, in his or her final life, takes the human form of a male. That's about it.
Women are doing better
According to my experience, the women in the Buddhist societies are doing better. The nuns in Myanmar are very religious; in Thailand they are very devoted; in Tibetan, they are also very active. Women are the biggest supporter of the Buddhist communities. Women's organizations are so active, resourceful, and well organized. They are caring; they care like a mother cares for her child, the mother-nature!
Humanity is being destroyed. The environmental crisis, global economical crisis, social instability, terrorism, everything because of human greed, anger, and delusion. But we are Buddhists; we know how to live in a way that not only is better for ourselves individually, but for society and the world as a whole. So say, ‘YES, WE CAN’.
The Buddha’s teachings still exist and teach us how to develop peace, prosperity, and spirituality, with love, compassion, sympathy, non-discrimination, and wisdom. Man or woman, we’re the ONE, living like milk-water.
Sangha also means Unity. Men-women, monk-nun, we live in the society like milk-water. So sisters, you don’t have to seek outside yourselves for leadership; you are already the best leaders.
May the Sāsana live long!
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