“O Gotami,” said the blessed one, “perform a miracle in order to answer the misconceptions of those badly informed men who do not recognize the spiritual abilities of women.”
This year’s Binara Full Moon dawns today (16) — coincidentally, in the middle of the month […binara mahe meda]; reminds me of the scintillating song,a song with its own magical impact and delicate joy: ‘Binaramalie ekka enna Binara mahe~ meda…Payapan mage pelata payapan Sanda.’ This Poya belongs to Upasikas.
Maha Prajapati and Theri Kundalakesi-Binaramalees in lay-life of ancient Jambudweepa
The most significant happening on Binara Full Moon Poya Day was the founding of the Bhikkhuni Order or admission of nuns. Maha Prajapati Gotami’s determination and commitment in making numerous requests finally led to the Buddha allowing admission of female aspirants to the order. Prajapati Gotami, the younger sister of Queen Mahamaya, Buddha’s mother, is a role model for women-folk. Among prejudiced religious practices, Buddhism can definitely claim to have the least discriminatory attitudes against women.
Gender bias in ‘Buddhism’ and Myth of Garudhammas
The attitudes of people in a system found in Asia, where, society is controlled by men, practically every faction of ‘Buddhism’ seems to have created a level of gender bias. This is in spite of the objectives of the Buddha, and resulted in the loss of female monks in both traditions. The Buddha explained his Dhamma as ‘against the stream,’ which means that there is a usual debate between the Dharma-Vinaya and generally accepted concepts; the latter always overpowering the former. The Sangha, in this instant has failed to conserve the clarity of the teachings. The so-called Garudhamma rules, we have yet to fully examine, and could be taken as authorization of women’s inferior capability. The statement that a woman cannot become a Buddha was probably rather gentle in its original thinking, carrying no significant effect on expectations of women practitioners. The Mahayana view is that women possess an unequal capacity for development on the path to attain awakening.
The Buddha’s decision to sanction the establishment of an Order for women in the fifth year after his enlightenment was stained by the ‘garudhammas’ imposed on the Bhikkhunis. These rules which were later incorporated in the Bhikkhuni Vinaya are nothing but subsequent attachments by male chauvinists.
1. Bhikkhus to have precedence over Bhikkhunis in matters of salutation, irrespective of any other considerations like age and seniority.
2. Bhikkhunis could not observe the annual ‘vassana’ in a district where there were no Bhikkhus.
3. Bhikkhus set the dates for Bhikkhuni Uposatha ceremonies.
4. Confessing lapses by Bhikkhunis had to done before the assembly of both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis.
5. Judicial processes in case of Bhikkhunis had to be undertaken by both the Sanghas.
6. Upasampada initiation of Bhikkhunis to be given by the Bhikkhu Sangha as well.
7. A Bhikkhuni should never abuse a Bhikkhu.
8. Bhikkhus can admonish Bhikkhunis, but not vice versa.
It is a fact that these rules involve a subordination of Bhikkhunis to Bhikkhus. Rule 4 recognizes the threats to which Bhikkhunis would be exposed to. Rules 1 and 8 cannot be seen in any other light than a concession to male superiority. In practical terms, rule 1 must have been the most annoying and even embarrassing in a society where the practice to salutation was very strict. A Bhikkhuni had to always pay respect to any Bhikkhu however junior they may have been. It is not surprising that it was from this rule that Prajapati Gotami sought exemption but was unsuccessful, despite Ven. Ananda Thera’s support, they say.
The Buddha stated unambiguously 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 arahathship.”
“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.” – Nun Sona; in encounter with Mara—
Nuns’ ordinations give women the chance to choose out of an often harsh male domination system and take part in almost equal partnership with the male monks. It meant that the Sangha, both men and women, that laymen take refuge would now include of both monks and nuns. The Buddha took precautions like a parent, to protect Bhikkhunis from the dangers of the wandering ascetic lifestyle; the same opportunities on the trail of practice. The Buddha thereby built protective measures into the monastic rules, the Patimokksha, in order to secure the nuns. Examples of protective rules are:
Should any Bhikkhuni go among villages alone or go to the other shore of a river alone or stay away for a night alone or fall behind her companions alone…, it entails initial and subsequent meetings of the community. Should any bhikkhunī stand or converse with a man, one on one, in the darkness of the night without a light, it is to be confessed. Should any bhikkhunī, lusting, having received staple or non-staple food from the hand of a lusting man, consume or chew it…, it entails initial and subsequent meetings of the Community.
The Buddha had openly invited for the participation of women in the field of religion by making them qualified for entrance to what was known as the Bhikkhuni Sangha - of culture and social service and ample opportunities for public life. This had brought them to recognition of their importance to society and greatly enhanced the status of women. In Hindu and Islamic societies, a number of books have been written in the recent past on the changing standing of women, but little with regard to women in Buddhism— Miss I.B. Horner, Pali scholar wrote a book titled, ‘Women under Primitive Buddhism,’ in 1930. In contrast to such obstacles and prejudiced religious practices, Buddha’s teachings certainly have the least biased approaches against women. The women’s importance to society was accepted very much enhancing their status.
“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 the 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.”—Hugh Boyd: diplomat- Kandyan Court in 1782 Kundalakesi: of ‘anna balan sanda ran ketiyen ena…’ Paying two rupees and fifty cents for a seat, we (my colleague and I from Jaffna) sat in the Lionel Wendt in the ‘Golden Age’ of theatre, four decades ago, to watch the delights of an opera in traditional style, titled Kundalakesi of Mahagama Sekara fame, as I was returning his gesture, sponsoring me for a Tamil film previous month.
Kundalakesi [the woman with curls], birth name “Bhadra,” led a very secluded life. Her father was a rich man from Rajagaha; her mother dies when Bhadra was a child. She fell in love with a thief who was being led out to be killed. Was it ‘love at first sight’ with a Kallan who was being paraded in the streets? Bhadra implores her father to save him. Strangely, the father obliges, pays a high price, weight in gold to the treasury for the release of the thief. Soon they were married and lived happily for some time. She loved her husband, the thief, very dearly; one day she jokingly refers to him as a thief. This rage plus his attraction towards her jewellery motivates him to kill his wife. The rouge husband coaxed her to wear on all her jewellery and accompany him to a hill saying he wanted to fulfill a vow at the guardian deity of the mountain because that deity had saved his life when he was sentenced to death. Kundalakesi was trekking with her husband in a jungle path. The couple fascinated by the beauty of the woods, thousands of noises crashing over as refreshing as any waterfall, among fauna and flora through a jungle terrain, sings, as the drama folds,forgetting all tensions and worries a songs with heart-warming lyrics and melodious rhythm; “Anna balan sanda ran ketiyen ena seethe sunil dahara…hada sokha thevul nivana…” Once they reach the pinnacle, he announced his purpose; to kill her by pushing her off the hill. She begged with him to take her valuables, but allow her to live. The thief was adamant. She realised she must be cautious and prudent. Kundalakesi asks him to grant a final wish, as they would be spending only for a few moments together, to pay reverence to him for the last time. Her wish was to worship him by going around him three times... He agrees and when she gets behind him. Kundalakesi pushes him off the crag of the summit, killing him.
She walked the length and breadth of Jambudweepa, throwing all her jewellery away and in search of truth. Accordingly, she became to be known as ‘Jambuka Paribbrajika.’ In Savatthi, on the Binara Full Moon Day she meets Ven. Sariputta Thera, and beg him to teach her the Dhamma. Arahath Sariputta responded that she should first become a Bhikkhuni; she was ordained as Theri Kundalakesi the same day. It was a matter of few days until she gained arahathship. The puzzled Bhikkhus asked the Buddha, “How could it be possible for a woman who killed her husband before she became a Paribbrajika to achieve supreme bliss of Nibbana after listening to the Dhamma only so little? In reply Buddha spoke in verse:
“Better than the recitation of a hundred verses, that are senseless and unconnected with the realization of Nibbana, is the recitation of a single verse of the Dhamma, if on hearing it, one is calmed”
May all beings be happy!