Sunday, 23 May 2010

How is the role of women different in Buddhism and Hinduism?

(Word count: 2186)

Women have been involved in religious activities in Buddhism since Buddha’s life time. Compared to men, women are thought to be naturally pious, tender and inclinable to their particular religions. Women have been found to follow religions more than men in several cases. In Buddhism the majority of people in meditation centres, donation centres and religious ceremonies are, of course, women who play an important role throughout Buddhist journey (, 2009). On the contrary, a woman in Hinduism has no individuality of her own and her position in society is virtually related to others as mother or wife (Pruthi and Sharma, 1995). This paper will argue that compared to Hindu women, Buddhism offers women a much more important role to play in the religious activities and a more prominent position in society.

Buddha achieved his enlightenment, which is a perfect status of intellect and ethics, on the soil of India, about 588 years before the Christian epoch. He has established the society of Saµgha, organizing different background of people, and struggled tirelessly for the purpose of promotion of his society, Buddhism, amidst other religions. At that time, a number of cults of religions were in existence there, such as Jainism and Hinduism. Especially, the influence of Hinduism was threateningly overwhelming through India since over three thousand years ago. The Caste system—royal family (Khattiya), Brahmin family (Brahmana), merchant family (Vessa) and peasant family (Sudda)-- was created by Hinduism which affected women’s lives for the worse. At that time, it controlled women in oppressive ways in conjunction with different types of punishments, such as female infanticide, child marriage, dowry and burning of women (, 2009). This shows how women’s rights were wholly lost in ancient India.

There were rituals in Hinduism to prevent the birth of a girl, for daughters tended to be seen as an unwelcome burden until they were married, which was their duty. A wife came to be seen primarily as a child-bearer and as subservient to her husband and his parents (Harvey, 2000). Nevertheless, Buddhism does not just look on women as child-bearers, and marriage was not their only aim. To be an unmarried adult woman was a legitimate role, and women might also become Buddhist nuns (Ibid). On the other hand, while polygamy and polyandry were encouraged in Hinduism for the purpose of procreation and continuation of family lineage in ancient India, Buddhism tended the marriage life as monogamy by prescribing five duties of husband and wife, one of which is to be faithful each other mutually (hinduwebsite. com, 2000: Narasu, 1999).

In pre-Buddhist years the status of women in India was low. What they thought was that a daughter was of nothing of value to the parents—she could not work to supply an income for the family, and it was a scandal and unfavorable to them if they could not marry her. If they could do, however, they were often almost ruined by their plentiful costs on the wedding celebrations and the provision of a dowry (Thittila, 1992). Women could not stand on their feet in their own ways in Hinduism. They were always dependent on what society expected of them. Among the Hindus, a woman is always dependent. When young she is dependent on her parents, when married on her husband, and when old on her children (Sharma and Sharma, 1999).

When the foundation of Buddhism, however, was strong enough during the Buddhist epoch, a change was made and women received benefits from more equal opportunities. They acquired a greater admiration and authority than they could in Hinduism. The caste system was totally eliminated; the Buddha has the same views for the high as for the low, for the wise as for the ignorant, for the noble-minded as for the immoral and he makes no discrimination between noble and ignoble, between rich and poor (Narasu, 1999). It is similar to water which cleanses all without distinction; man and woman also obtained equal rights neither more nor less each other; they could stand independently; married life could be established freely without any worry, and regardless of different religions, intermarriage was possible. For example, a famous story in a Buddhist text tells us about Visakha (a Buddhist noble lady) who got married with Punna (who lived like an ascetic). No one interrupted and troubled their wedding ceremony despite their social differences (Thittila, 1992).

In terms of religious service, only monk’s communities were permitted by the Buddha at first. Five years after his enlightenment, however, asked repeatedly by Ænanda (his permanent attendant), the Buddha allowed women to be Bhikkhunøs (female monks) commencing with Pajæpati Gotami (his step mother). This is also one of the rights for women in Buddhism (Shaw, 2006). All are in the same level and right whether man or woman. They could go and listen to Dhamma talk in the temples, sitting in suitable places respectively, all the time. No discrimination, no racism and no sexism were among them. Many of the women who joined the Bhikkhunø-Order became distinguished for high intellectual attainments as well as for moral earnestness. When the highest rewards were bestowed by the Buddha to those who have achieved a greatest knowledge, not only monks but also Bhikkhunøs obtained the rewards on their concerns. For example, if a Bhikkhunø is qualified with the highest supernatural power, she will be approved, by the Buddha, of the noblest title in Buddhism.

In contrast, the religious duties of women in Hinduism are simply those of serving her husband and looking after the home. She should always obey him and revere him even if he is adulterous or devoid of virtues (Harvey, 2000). At present time, however, in their religious days, a huge number of Hindu-women can congregate freely in the Hindu-temples in order to offer food, flowers, scented sticks and candles to different gods.

On the other hand, the religious roles of the majority of Buddhist women are more involved: their daily chores include offering alms-food, water, flowers, lights and incense before the image of the Buddha at home, offering rice and curry to monks and novices on alms-receiving rounds, and praying. Women invariably comprise the majority of all congregations and they outnumber men at meditation centres too. The proverb goes that: "If you do this good deed, you will become a god in the next existence, with five hundred goddesses on either side." In Buddhism, it is thought that women must be very pious indeed to outnumber men one to a thousand in the abode of gods (, 2009). This saying demonstrates how it is commonly thought that there are more good women in Buddhism than men. Moreover, seasonal festivals occur to Buddhist countries such as Buddha day ceremony in May; Vassa ceremony in July; Kathina ceremony in November and pagoda festival in March. In all occasions above women are zealously taking part in front role without hesitation by offering their activities and performances to Buddhism.

It is important to note that theory men and women are positioned by the Buddha on the same balance of equality; however, sometimes, in practice the latter stands much lower. The reasons for this are not necessisarily from the religion, but could be because a peculiar society or type of Buddhism places more obstructions the way of women attaining equality (Narasu, 1999). For example, it seems that the social influence of Hinduism still affects Buddhism to some extent. To illustrate, in some Buddhist countries, women are not allowed to enter the Sømæ-building where monks are ordained; not allowed to climb on the altar of Buddha statues (Silænandæbhivaµsa, 2002). Even in Buddha’s life time, to establish the women’s Bhikkhuni-Order, it took nearly five years. Even after that, Bhikkhunøs were, less popular and common compared to monks, and there was a shortage of clothes, shelter and other provisions for them. Another inequality is that women have strict rules, 84 more rules than that of monks, which were made for them by the Buddha because he thought their minds were less focused than men’s. While monks observe 227 rules, Bhikkhunøs do 311 (Thanissaro. B). That shows how they received lesser support from the devotees and how strict they were. That might be one of the reasons why Bhikkhunøs have been diminishing in Buddhism today. In modern times, in place of Bhikkhunøs, Buddhist nuns have taken place observing just 8 or 10 precepts.

In Hinduism, the functions of dowry, Purdah and Sati are being prepared by women who never think themselves as victims of their culture, but as active agents in the creation of their own identity and that of their daughters (Leslie, 1992). Nonetheless, these cultural imperatives could be seen as evidence that women are valued less than men. One further oppressive Hindu practice is Sati, the conventional Hindu custom of a widow killing herself on her husband's funeral. A woman who sacrifices burning herself on her husband’s funeral fire was well thought of most virtuous, and was held a belief to reach straight to the heaven, saving all the ancestors decomposing in hell, by this good deed. The woman who committed Sati was worshipped as a Goddess, and temples were well constructed as her recall. Sati was widespread among certain sects of the society in ancient India, who either took the vow or considered it a great honour to die on the funeral pyres of their husbands (, 2009).

On the contrary, although as mentioned above, there are some inequalities for women in Buddhism, no such strict social sacrifices as mentioned above for Hindu women exist in Buddhism at all.

It should also be mentioned that even though the dowry was officially forbidden in 1961 in India, it persists to be vastly practiced by strict Hindus (, 2000). The bridegroom often demands a dowry comprising a large sum of money, farm, animals, furniture and electronics. When the dowry amount is not considered sufficient or is not available when necessary, the bride is often stressed, abused and made depressed. This abuse might turn into the point where the husband or his family burns the bride, often by pouring kerosene on her and lighting it, usually killing her. In Delhi, a woman is burned to death almost every twelve hours (Ibid). The figure of dowry killing is escalating. In 1988, 2,209 women were murdered in dowry and in 1990, 4,835 were killed (Ibid).

In the contrast, no dowry is practised in Buddhism. The system of Buddhism when marrying is very different from that of Hinduism in an opposite way. A bridegroom must pay to his bride’s family when they get married according to Buddhist culture. If the amount of money handed by a bridegroom is thought to be insufficient for the family of a bride, a demand can be made more money or can negotiate each other. If both are not successful, the wedding is impossible. Elopement, however, occurs due to the disagreement of parents or poverty in Buddhism. In Buddhism the ceremony of marriage is very simple. In Ceylon, Tibet, Mongolia, Japan and all other Buddhist countries, marriage is properly witnessed only by parents and guardians. In Burma, when a Burmese Buddhist woman marries, she does not change her name. No stranger can find out either from a woman’s name or by seeing her whether she is married or not, or whose wife she is. A husband has no power over his wife’s property (Sharma and Sharma, 1999).

One final difference between Hindu and Buddhist practices with regards to women is Purdah, which means screen or veil which is the system in some Muslim and Hindu societies by which women live in a separate part of a house or cover their faces so that men do not see them. Purdah is practiced by Muslims and by various Hindus, especially in India (, 2007).

Even the word Purdah cannot be found in Buddhist literature. The system of Purdah is away from Buddhism. Different types of clothes are fit for women wherever they are. Women, nevertheless, when they go to religious places, such as temples, monasteries and pagodas, usually wear the clothes properly not showing any sexy parts of her body as a great respect for the religion.

In conclusion, women’s role in Buddhism and Hinduism is apparently different from each other, in terms of how women participate in the religion as nuns and as devotees, and also in terms of their social role, as wives and members of society. Although women are sometimes considered inferior to men to a small extent in Buddhism, the level of Buddhist women at the period of the influence of Buddhism in India was higher than that of Hindu-women (Pruthi and Sharma, 1995). Nowadays, the idea of gender equality is more common in most societies in theory, but in Hindu society in practice, women basically still have an inferior role. Human rights are all equal; Buddhism is also all equal, therefore women can take part any activities anywhere in Buddhism, yet in Hinduism, women seem to be at a lesser level to men for every aspect. If this situation continues, it might not be compatible for Hindu-women to modern society.

-Harvey, P (2000) An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, UK: Cambridge Press.
- Lengar, Keshavaram N and Coomaraswamy, Rama P (Eds.) (1999) Hinduism and Buddhism, New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
-Lopez, D. S (Ed.) (1995) Religions of India in Practice, UK: Princenton University Press.
-Pruthi, R and Sharma, B, R (1995) Buddhism, Jainism and Women, 1st edition, New Delhi: Anmol Publication.
-Sharm, J.B and  Sharma, S.P (1999) Buddhist Culture, New Delhi: Sublime Publication.
-Shaw, M (2006) Buddhist Goddesses of India, Oxford: Princeton University Press.
-Departments kings (1998) available at:
accessed: 16 Aug 2009)



Anonymous said...

No Kirk Alyn image?? No Bud Collyer? What's wrong along with you folks?

Feel free to surf to my site can premature ejaculation cause pregnancy

Anonymous said...

Serena Williams says that it is very best to warm up by running on the tennis courts,do suicides,function on reflex, lunges, and
upper body strength.

My blog: adonis golden ratio training program pdf

Anonymous said...

Another interpretation would purely sexual... and given that it really is a wet aspiration (superficially)?
from the before lyrics, she could be taking his 'wiggly dog' (heh
heh heh) and 'consuming it'. And biting... therefore the
larger pitched 'bread'. This is kind of reaching.
.. and metaphorically it could possibly be about him being emasculated.
Or it might be Waters' clever wink wink nudge nudge in the direction of anal sex (obvious what 'buns') (Sparks Will Fly!)

Also visit my page premature ejaculation cream walmart

Anonymous said...

Fine way of describing, and good piece of writing to get data regarding my presentation topic, which i
am going to convey in university.

Here is my web-site: Attractions Britains Got Talent

Anonymous said...

We typically store at Trader Joe's which currently has wonderful meals at reduced prices, and they do not consider coupon codes either.

Also visit my webpage; precision nutrition lean eating coaching review

Anonymous said...

Green Pastures tends to make a fantastic fermented cod liver oil as well as CLO blended
with high vitamin butter oil. IMO it really is even much better than NN.
They are Extremely committed to obtaining the purest,
very best oil around. Wonderfully ethical company.

Feel free to visit my page :: metabolic Cooking ཿ Fat loss cookbook

Anonymous said...

I lately lost excess weight and i did need to have the support of my spouse and
family members. It's no good cooking typical meals for everyone but you. I informed my wife that we required far more veggies within our diet and more meals 100% vegetarian and a whole lot much less meat during the week. We now eat extremely tiny meat and have changed it with fish. It is surprising which you do not even skip the negative foods right after a whilst.

my webpage; Hcg weight Loss Drops gnc