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The Buddha's attitude towards women was not radically different from that of his contemporaries. For male renunciates pursuing the religious life, women were seen as a temptation and a snare. The Buddha frequently cautioned monks to be on their guard when dealing with women lest they be overcome by lust and longing (tṛṣṇā). The following interchange between the Buddha and Ānanda from the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta illustrates this attitude:—Lord, how should we conduct ourselves with regard to women?—Don't see them, Ānanda.—But if we should see them?—Don't talk to them.—But if they should talk to us?—Keep wide awake, Ānanda.(It should be noted that similar warnings were given to women about the dangers of men.) It was following the intervention of Ānanda that the Buddha was reluctantly persuaded to allow women to join the Saṃgha as nuns (bhikṣunī). In the context of the time, this was something of a radical step, since only one other group in India.the Jains (see Jainism), appears to have allowed women to become nuns. In contrast to the role of women in the religious life, in the context of lay society the role of woman as wife and mother was seen as crucial to the stability of the social order. Regarding the role of women in lay life, the Buddha upheld the traditional values of his time, describing the relationship between husband and wife in the following terms: ‘In five ways should a wife…be ministered to by her husband: by respect, by courtesy, by faithfulness, by handing over authority to her, by providing her with adornments. In these five ways does the wife ministered to by her husband love him: her duties are well performed; by hospitality to the kin of both; by faithfulness; by watching over the goods he brings; and by skill and industry in discharging all her business’ (Sigālovāda Sutta). In modern times the Sakyadhita organization has been founded to further the participation of women in the religious life. See also dasa-silmātā; sikkhamat; thilashin.

Subjects: Religion.


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