Friday, 30 March 2018

"The influence of Bhramanic culture on gender aspects in Buddhism."



The following narrative continues the story of a Mexican meditator who has been in Burma for many years. This is the 12th entry, with her story starting here.

"In order to understand more the social conventions, I decided to investigate the status of women in the Vedas. Bhramanism was one important religion at the time of the Buddha and the social beliefs of Bhramans were very strong So I believe is important to understand the Bhraman culture to related to Buddhism because they have many aspects in common.

According to Subhamoy Das (2010) “Women of the Vedic period (circa 1500-1200 BCE), were epitomes of intellectual and spiritual attainments. The Vedas have volumes to say about these women, who both complemented and supplemented their male partners. When it comes to talking about significant female figures of the Vedic period, four names - Ghosha, Lopamudra, Sulabha Maitreyi, and Gargi - come to mind.”

It is also mention that:

“During the Vedic age, more than 3,000 years ago, women were assigned a high place in society. They shared an equal standing with their men folk and enjoyed a kind of liberty that actually had societal sanctions. The ancient Hindu philosophical concept of 'shakti', the feminine principle of energy, was also a product of this age. This took the form of worship of the female idols or goddesses. […] The feminine forms of the Absolute and the popular Hindu goddesses are believed to have taken shape in the Vedic era. These female forms came to represent different feminine qualities and energies of the Brahman. Goddess Kaliportrays the destructive energy, Durga the protective,Lakshmi the nourishing, and Saraswati the creative.

Here it's notable that Hinduism recognizes both the masculine and feminine attributes of the Divine, and that without honoring the feminine aspects, one cannot claim to know God in his entirety. So we also have many male-female divine-duos like Radha-KrishnaSita-RamaUma-Mahesh, and Lakshmi-Narayan, where the female form is usually addressed first.” (Subhamoy Das p.1)



It is also mention that Indian people consider that the Vedas have the true regarding the sold, the universe and the ultimate reality. This ties are reveal form time to time to the heart of men and women who’s heart is pure by the practice of meditation. This sols or people are call rishis o seers of the true. The wisdom of the seers is not exclusively of men, women, a particular faith or time, country or sex. The seers are men and women, religious people and housewife and also people that did not belong to the brahnines cast. However, many of the vedas were lost.”

Then, 500 years BC The Law of Manu appear in the Hindu tradition with many conservative rules for women. It may be the case that those conservative rules have a lot of momentum when the Buddha arise and even the Buddha was a radical revolutionary in changing this behaviours. When he died old patters came again in the mind of monks. Two of the many Laws of Manu are significant for understanding the behaviour of women in religious affairs before Buddha.

“ 20. “Na ast strinam………..” – 5/158. Women have no divine right to perform any religious ritual, nor make vows or observe a fast. Her only duty is to obey and please her husband and she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven.[…]

33. “Na asti strinam………” – 9/18. While performing namkarm and jatkarm, Vedic mantras are not to be recited by women, because women are lacking in strength and knowledge of Vedic texts. Women are impure and represent falsehood.” ( PATWARI, 2011 p. 3-4)

The rest of the Laws of Manu regarding women are as follow:



“ 1. “Swabhav ev narinam …..” – 2/213. It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the wise are never unguarded in the company of females.

2. “Avidvam samlam………..” – 2/214. Women, true to their class character, are capable of leading astray men in this world, not only a fool but even a learned and wise man. Both become slaves of desire.

3. “Matra swastra ………..” – 2/215. Wise people should avoid sitting alone with one’s mother, daughter or sister. Since carnal desire is always strong, it can lead to temptation.

4. “Naudwahay……………..” – 3/8. One should not marry women who has have reddish hair, redundant parts of the body [such as six fingers], one who is often sick, one without hair or having excessive hair and one who has red eyes.

5. “Nraksh vraksh ………..” – 3/9. One should not marry women whose names are similar to constellations, trees, rivers, those from a low caste, mountains, birds, snakes, slaves or those whose names inspires terror.

6. “Yasto na bhavet ….. …..” – 3/10. Wise men should not marry women who do not have a brother and whose parents are not socially well known.

7. “Uchayangh…………….” – 3/11. Wise men should marry only women who are free from bodily defects, with beautiful names, grace/gait like an elephant, moderate hair on the head and body, soft limbs and small teeth.

8. “Shudr-aiv bharya………” – 3/12.Brahman men can marry Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaish and even Shudra women but Shudra men can marry only Shudra women.

9. “Na Brahman kshatriya..” – 3/14. Although Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaish men have been allowed inter-caste marriages, even in distress they should not marry Shudra women.

10. “Heenjati striyam……..” – 3/15. When twice born [dwij=Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaish] men in their folly marry low caste Shudra women, they are responsible for the degradation of their whole family. Accordingly, their children adopt all the demerits of the Shudra caste.

11. “Shudram shaynam……” – 3/17. A Brahman who marries a Shudra woman, degrades himself and his whole family ,becomes morally degenerated , loses Brahman status and his children too attain status of shudra.

12. “Daiv pitrya………………” – 3/18. The offerings made by such a person at the time of established rituals are neither accepted by God nor by the departed soul; guests also refuse to have meals with him and he is bound to go to hell after death.

13. “Chandalash ……………” – 3/240. Food offered and served to Brahman after Shradh ritual should not be seen by a chandal, a pig, a cock,a dog, and a menstruating women.

14. “Na ashniyat…………….” – 4/43. A Brahman, true defender of his class, should not have his meals in the company of his wife and even avoid looking at her. Furthermore, he should not look towards her when she is having her meals or when she sneezes/yawns.

15. “Na ajyanti……………….” – 4/44. A Brahman in order to preserve his energy and intellect, must not look at women who applies collyrium to her eyes, one who is massaging her nude body or one who is delivering a child.

16. “Mrshyanti…………….” – 4/217. One should not accept meals from a woman who has extra marital relations; nor from a family exclusively dominated/managed by women or a family whose 10 days of impurity because of death have not passed.

17. “Balya va………………….” – 5/150. A female child, young woman or old woman is not supposed to work independently even at her place of residence.

18. “Balye pitorvashay…….” – 5/151. Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of her son as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently.

19. “Asheela kamvrto………” – 5/157. Men may be lacking virtue, be sexual perverts, immoral and devoid of any good qualities, and yet women must constantly worship and serve their husbands.

20. “Na ast strinam………..” – 5/158. Women have no divine right to perform any religious ritual, nor make vows or observe a fast. Her only duty is to obey and please her husband and she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven.

21. “Kamam to………………” – 5/160. At her pleasure [after the death of her husband], let her emaciate her body by living only on pure flowers, roots of vegetables and fruits. She must not even mention the name of any other men after her husband has died.

22. “Vyabhacharay…………” – 5/167. Any women violating duty and code of conduct towards her husband, is disgraced and becomes a patient of leprosy. After death, she enters womb of Jackal.

23. “Kanyam bhajanti……..” – 8/364. In case women enjoy sex with a man from a higher caste, the act is not punishable. But on the contrary, if women enjoy sex with lower caste men, she is to be punished and kept in isolation.

24. “Utmam sevmansto…….” – 8/365. In case a man from a lower caste enjoys sex with a woman from a higher caste, the person in question is to be awarded the death sentence. And if a person satisfies his carnal desire with women of his own caste, he should be asked to pay compensation to the women’s faith.

25. “Ya to kanya…………….” – 8/369. In case a woman tears the membrane [hymen] of her Vagina, she shall instantly have her head shaved or two fingers cut off and made to ride on Donkey.

26. “Bhartaram…………….” – 8/370. In case a women, proud of the greatness of her excellence or her relatives, violates her duty towards her husband, the King shall arrange to have her thrown before dogs at a public place.

27. “Pita rakhshati……….” – 9/3. Since women are not capable of living independently, she is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a woman and under her son as widow.

28. “Imam hi sarw………..” – 9/6. It is the duty of all husbands to exert total control over their wives. Even physically weak husbands must strive to control their wives.

29. “Pati bharyam ……….” – 9/8. The husband, after the conception of his wife, becomes the embryo and is born again of her. This explains why women are called Jaya.

30. “Panam durjan………” – 9/13. Consuming liquor, association with wicked persons, separation from her husband, rambling around, sleeping for unreasonable hours and dwelling -are six demerits of women.

31. “Naita rupam……………” – 9/14. Such women are not loyal and have extra marital relations with men without consideration for their age.

32. “Poonshchalya…………” – 9/15. Because of their passion for men, immutable temper and natural heartlessness, they are not loyal to their husbands.

33. “Na asti strinam………” – 9/18. While performing namkarm and jatkarm, Vedic mantras are not to be recited by women, because women are lacking in strength and knowledge of Vedic texts. Women are impure and represent falsehood.

34. “Devra…sapinda………” – 9/58. On failure to produce offspring with her husband, she may obtain offspring by cohabitation with her brother-in-law [devar] or with some other relative [sapinda] on her in-law’s side.

35. “Vidwayam…………….” – 9/60. He who is appointed to cohabit with a widow shall approach her at night, be anointed with clarified butter and silently beget one son, but by no means a second one.

36. “Yatha vidy……………..” – 9/70. In accordance with established law, the sister-in-law [bhabhi] must be clad in white garments; with pure intent her brother-in-law [devar] will cohabitate with her until she conceives.

37. “Ati kramay……………” – 9/77. Any women who disobey orders of her lethargic, alcoholic and diseased husband shall be deserted for three months and be deprived of her ornaments.

38. “Vandyashtamay…….” – 9/80. A barren wife may be superseded in the 8th year; she whose children die may be superseded in the 10th year and she who bears only daughters may be superseded in the 11th year; but she who is quarrelsome may be superseded without delay.



39. “Trinsha……………….” – 9/93. In case of any problem in performing religious rites, males between the age of 24 and 30 should marry a female between the age of 8 and 12.

40. “Yambrahmansto…….” – 9/177. In case a Brahman man marries Shudra woman, their son will be called ‘Parshav’ or ‘Shudra’ because his social existence is like a dead body.” (HIRDAY N. PATWARI , 2011)

But why did these rules came to India? Especially if the Vedas were so welcoming to men and women towards the religion? Wendy Doniguer mention that it may be because disputes and wars between systems of power. During this time the Maurya Emperor was disappearing and the Shunga Emperor were arising. The Maurya Emperor was known for fomented tolerance and religious freedom. When this Maurya Emperor started to decay, India had a lot of uncertainty and that helps to develop ultraconservatives power of systems.

This ultraconservative environment helps to develop the Laws of Manu. Stephen Knapp suggests that foreign invasions helped to change the status of women in the Vedas. These foreign invasions developed a new system of oppression towards women, the spiritual level or standard went down as well as important values like respect to them. This system created by this invasions, according to Knapp, develops a new social system of hierarchies and social division.

Knapp also mention that the spirit of renunciation and non-attachment under the materialism point of view gained more power in the new social system. In this new system, the view of women change from pure and divine to be seen as an object to posses, private property. The Laws of Manu are mainly laws that see women as an object of possession of men, giving them no freedom and no independence.

But the interesting question is: Why do these values affect so strongly Buddhism? If the Vedas had many years before the Laws of Manu a system of respect towards men and women, why it have so much power when the Buddha arises? My personal believe is that those believe of Manu were added into Indian culture by a lot of violence. There were introduced by force in a war. The main idea of a war is getting resources from another culture or group of people. It is taking others people property or belongings. To justify this action, the original people need to be seen as lower as the people that is making the invasion. Most of the time is a divine justification where they mention a source that it cannot be proof, like a God, that only refers to the people that invade and give them reason or justification for taking what it does not belong to them.

One way to lower the status of local or indigenous people is by making them less human and as objects. This happened with Africans when they were invaded by Europeans. The justification to treat them as slaves is that God did not give them a soul, therefore they were similar than animals and only humans, according to the Christian belief in the 18th century. It also happened when Spanish arrived in Mexico. They saw indigenous people as children, so that was the justification why missionaries to come to convert local people in Mexico to Christians so they could be treat as humans. Even though indigenous people in Mexico did not want to become Christian and did not like the Spanish. This is a pattern in history and unfortunately the people that suffer the most in wars are women because military people are trained to have anger and sometimes they allow lust to happen as well.

So this is the nature of war. It has happened many times in many other countries. Because wars are based on violence, the new ideas that are introduced because of the wars are very radical. The old fashion system needs to be seen as poor and insufficient. If women were seen as part of the Vedic culture before the invasions, the seen them as objects, which is what happen when a war happen, will change the system of organization and belief that allow the new system to operated. Perhaps these ideas had a lot of momentum and they stopped when the Buddha appeared and started again after he died. Even though they are against of the teaching of the Buddha.

It is written in the sutta of the first council:

“Kassapa again interrogated Ānanda: ‘Three times you begged the Buddha to allow the going forth for women in the saddhamma. This is a wrong-doing. You should see your fault and confess.’

Ānanda said: ‘Venerable sir; It was not out of disrespecting the Dhamma. But Mahāpajāpati Gotamī raised the Blessed One until he was grown up and could go forth and achieve the great path. Because of this merit should fruit, I asked three times. So I don’t see it as a fault. But out of faith in the Venerable I confess.’” (Sujato & Samacitta)

According to Sujato, there is no Sutta mentioned Bhikkhus complaining about womens been ordain when Buddha was a live. It happen after he died that this complains start to flourish again. Lets remember the rule number of the Laws of Manu:

20. “Na ast strinam………..” – 5/158. Women have no divine right to perform any religious ritual, nor make vows or observe a fast. Her only duty is to obey and please her husband and she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven.

We also can think, how could an arhat could perform such kind of speech? If they already have the understanding of reality. They already realize the importance of non-self. How come they still pay attention into mundane things like this one and not take joy in the liberation of thousand of women during the Buddhas times and after the Buddhas time. Perhaps this is possible because it was added later on, it never happened or/and the writer of the Sutta was not an enlighted person and was writing with dosa. As Buddhadasa Bhikkhu mention “So we fail completely to understand the doctrine of anatta (non-self) and sunnata (emptiness), the soctrine that there is no “I” or “mine”. Consequently we experience suffering” (Buddhadasa, 2005, p. 228).



Bhikkhu Analayo Mention:

“Would it be reasonable and coherent for an awakened teacher to make such derogatory remarks about women, a teacher who according to other discourses had numbers of nun disciples that had reached full awakening and thus total freedom from any defilement, who according to the same proclaimed various nuns and lay women as outstanding in qualities like deep concentration and profound wisdom, and who apparently placed such trust in women that in a twin regulation found in all she sanctioned acting on a trustworthy laywoman’s report about a monk’s breach of the rules?” (Analayo, 2009, p 3)

For understanding this aspect, I believe is important to remember that the sutras were written 300-400 years after the dead of the Buddha. This happened in Sri Lanka after a war with The Tamels. Those suttas were written by monks. Sri Lanka culture has a lot of influence from Hinduism. Still now a days in Sri Lanka is consider that a women should not be, by any means, independent. She should depend on her husband, father or son. I was told that by a contemporary Sri Lanka monk and I have experience it myself in the country. In the Laws of Manu we see this rule.

“17. “Balya va………………….” – 5/150. A female child, young woman or old woman is not supposed to work independently even at her place of residence.

18. “Balye pitorvashay…….” – 5/151. Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of her son as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently.

27. “Pita rakhshati……….” – 9/3. Since women are not capable of living independently, she is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a woman and under her son as widow.” (PATWARI, 2011, p. 2).

So Buddhist has a lot of influence by the old tradition in India. I think we should be careful with statements that are not consistent with the teachings. Is important to rescue what is valuable for liberation and understanding, and to be very careful with the values of the culture that may increase aversion, greed or delusion. The cultures that preserve the Buddha’s teachings are very important and advance in some aspects and they are not in some others. Is possible to do that by using critical thinking, logic and consistency in the arguments.

Bhikkhu Analayo (2009) say that:

“By way of foreword, allow me to propose that in approaching the scriptures of the Pāli canon for guidance and orientation, we need to be aware of the fact that this material is the final product of a prolonged period of oral transmission and thus may not always fully reflect the original.1 The possibility cannot a priori be excluded that views, which were not part of the original delivery of a discourse or a rule, could have influenced the canonical material as we have it now. This does not mean that the Pāli canon can no longer provide guidance and orientation. But it does mean that during the centuries of oral transmission, material that at first perhaps arouse in the form of a commentary (where the reciters would have felt free to express personal opinions) could have become part of what now is considered canonical. […]Practically speaking, this means that instead of taking isolated passages on their own as invariably true, what is required is an awareness of the overall thrust of the canonical scriptures on a particular theme. Here an important criterion is consistency. Given that according to the discourses the Buddha himself presented consistency as a criterion of truth, it would be reasonable to expect that the Buddha was coherent in his views. Furthermore, in order to evaluate single passages a comparative study of the same material transmitted by other early Buddhist schools can provide important perspectives, i.e. in particular the Vinayas and Āgamas preserved in Chinese and other languages.” I would hold that a discriminating attitude towards women in principle is incompatible with the freedom from defilement incumbent on reaching full awakening, where any prejudice based on caste, social standing, race or gender has been left behind. Individual passages reflecting a misogynist attitude among the canonical sources need to be approached with circumspection, comparing them with the general thrust of the Dhamma and Vinaya, and ideally studying them in the light of extant parallels.



Regulations that express gender discrimination probably reflect the ancient Indian situation and would thus in principle be open to revision in a different setting, when Buddhism begins to flourish in a different environment and culture. Such revision is not against Dhamma and Vinaya, so it seems to me, but would rather express the pragmatic principle of adjusting to circumstances that is such a recurrent feature in the formation of rules as documented throughout the Vinaya. In the end, tradition – which I personally highly value – only stands a chance to survive if it is able to adjust to changing circumstances without loss of what is essential. This can come about if our appraisal of the situation is based on a clear awareness of what causes dukkha– for ourselves or others – and what leads to freedom from dukkha [Italics added by me]. (Analayo, 2009, p.1)"