Is A Woman More Human than A Tree?

 Good Morning Buddhapunks!  I receive morning email news articles each day from The Huffington Post and this morning I read an article that bounces off an earlier blog that I posted on;

concerning the less than human status afforded to women in Theravada Buddhism.

These days Buddhism is considered a religion and to westerners as a kind of Asian Christianity with the Buddha standing in for J.C.

So let’s start with straightening out this myth. The Sakyamuni Buddha (of the Sakya Clan), a fellow named Sakya Gotama (born somewhere between Modern Nepal and Bhutan) was a spiritual itinerant who doggedly sought to free his mind of all fetters in order to see the absolute Truth in Reality. It worked and after some persuasion from other spiritual seekers he began to teach what he had discovered, in a park in the Himalayas. What he taught was a philosophy of enlightenment and techniques to guide a person to it. It was much more of an anti-religion in that it jettisoned all religious phrasing and contexts and sought to present to humanity something very different from the religions of that time and the place.

The information about early Buddhism and the Buddha, who was a savior by example in a way that absolutely ANYONE could be, is held in the original Buddhist document The Pali Cannon. The Buddha taught around 500 B.C. and the Pali Cannon was codified around 50 B.C. As anyone can see, there was a lot of time and water running under that bridge.

In My Humble Opinion the Pali Cannon also codified Buddhism’s great shame; it’s dehumanization of women. In the past nobody bothered to apologize for this inexplicable condemnation and exclusion of females but as Buddhism grows in the West I find it rather sad that so many women, including feminists, excusing Buddhism for this perspective. The following link leads to an article that is a pretty standard example of how that is occurring;

Okay now here is the link to the news story that so appalled me;

And this is my reaction; I am having a REALLY hard time with the fact that Theravada Buddhism refuses to ordain women as female monks but it GIVES ordination to trees. I love the trees but this cannot make up for Buddhism's terrible shame over its not-quite human status for females.

Traditionally and currently there is a tendency amongst Buddhist clergy to esteem the Buddha as absolutely perfect and utterly truthful. At the same time it is a firm part of the Buddha myth that he declared that women should not be allowed any status in Buddhism but if the people (actually his Auntie/Stepmother) insisted that at least some women become nuns, though maintaining a lower status than monks, then ‘so be it’ but it would also bring an end to Buddhism in 500 years.

Well folks, it is 2,500 years later and Buddhism is going strong! So the Buddha was wrong? He couldn’t get it right about his own thing?

As you may have noticed I am not an advocate of ‘the absolutely perfect Buddha’ nor do I believe that anything of this kind ever happened, nor that the Buddha ever made such a statement. I believe that it is PURE PROPAGANDA. Here are some examples that indicate that I am not just griping but that I have stumbled on a real issue that is shared by at least some other Buddhists;

1. The founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha, permitted women to join his monastic community and fully participate in it, although there were certain provisos or garudhammas. As Susan Murcott comments, "The nun's sangha was a radical experiment for its time."[3] Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu says of the First Buddhist council:

2. Perhaps Mahakassappa and the bhikkhus of that time were jealous of the bhikkhunis being more popular and doing more teaching and social work than the bhikkhus. Their anti-women prejudice became institutionalized at that time with the eight garudhammas, the eight weighty restrictions. We must discontinue that prejudice.[4] 

According to Ajahn Sujato, the early texts state that the most severe of the garudhammas, which states that every nun must bow to every monk, was instituted by the Buddha because of the customs of the time, and modern scholars doubt that the rule even goes back to the Buddha at all. Furthermore, an identical rule is found in Jainism.

3. According to Diana Paul, the traditional view of women in Early Buddhism is that they are inferior.[5] Rita Gross agrees that "a misogynist strain is found in early Indian Buddhism. But the presence of some clearly misogynist doctrines does not mean that the whole of ancient Indian Buddhism was misogynist."[6] The mix of positive attitudes to femininity with blatantly negative sentiment has led many writers to characterize early Buddhism's attitude to women as deeply ambivalent.[7]

Well it was deeply ambivalent!

This all started with a story from that deep time about 500 B.C. The Buddha was teaching in the park and his Auntie (who had become his stepmother after the death of his own mother) had been attending for sometime. The story goes that she went to the Buddha and asked for permission for women to become monks (not that the men had asked permission to become monks). The Buddha responded that NO, of course women couldn’t take on that kind of responsibility, they were too inferior, barely human! The Buddha’s most trusted disciple, Anand spoke up for women being included. Apparently this swayed the Buddha who declared that women could only participate as renunciates (nuns) if their status was utterly inferior to the lowest male monk. Women must be made inferior! This is the magic phrase (or fact) that always betrays violence/force being used to MAKE women inferior BECAUSE we are NOT NATURALLY inferior.

Could I be a Buddhist if I believed that hooey!? That would be an absolute NO.

But then I don’t believe that this ever happened. Based on what I have learned about the Buddha I believe that THE EVENT went something more like this;

The Buddha’s Auntie had spent 2 springs in the Deer Park listening and learning with the other folk who came to hear her nephew speak and teach. She noticed that more and more and more men were turning up. When she looked into why more women were not coming along too she learned that most of these men had abandoned their families to live in the way that the Buddha was teaching.

And as was commonplace for the time, most youngsters being married off by their families at age 14, these men had up to a dozen children whom they abandoned just as they abandoned their wives and left those women to cope and provide for an abandoned family. Most of these women were left living with hostile in-laws and setting fire to unwanted daughters-in-law is not a crime in India just invented in this century.

Next Auntie went to speak to the Buddha about her concerns which he hadn’t appeared to notice. I believe that this was the Buddha’s problem at this time; he didn’t notice how few women were able to participate in Buddhism. I believe that she expressed her concerns and then Anand spoke up saying he had noticed these problems too and couldn’t they make the teachings more accessible to women.

I believe that the Buddha said something like “Hah! I see what you mean. Sure, let’s do that.” I believe that because following this EVENT, in the real world, women DID begin being ordained as ‘renunciates’ and went on for many years being quite active in Buddhism. There is no indication that the rules of ‘unequaltiy’ were acknowledged for hundreds of years. I believe that they slowly entered Buddhism over time until they became codified in the Pāli Canon.

Either I believe something like this or I cannot accept Buddhism as enlightened.

I do accept Buddhism as the best path humanity has to enlightenment because I know how weak and deluded men can be, that is why we are not enlightened.

The Enlightened would never exclude anyone or anything from enlightenment.

It is the unenlightened who live in fear.

It is the unenlightened who believe that they need fear.

It is the unenlightened who need to inflict fear.

So WHY would Buddhists equate the Buddha with all that fear?

This is in a world that has accepted the Pope leading an army and riding into battle for the Prince of Peace? Well, maybe you get my drift. It is the men who fear peace, happiness and co-operation, yet they are terrible at coming up with something better. It is the MEN who need to reduce the women. Hanging it on the Buddha is just mean, spiteful, irresponsible, weak, tacky, sad, lost.

Don’t blame it on the Buddha. Doing something nice for the trees is something the Buddhists have been pretty good at but I sure can’t appreciate turning that concern into a huge insult to all Buddhist women.*


*One of the things that I have always admired about the Buddha was that he chose to seek enlightenment in the lifetime when he was a Prince. He left his family because he had been married at age 13 and didn’t even know about spiritual seeking until his manhood. When he left his wife and son he left them in comfort and wealth. His son would become King in time and his wife could stay and live there as Queen Mother or she could even return to her home and remarry (though it would sever her relatedness to her son’s court). He did not abandon his family and leave them destitute as so many men did later for spiritual reasons, leaving women and children in hopeless destitution.


 Take a look at your own spiritual myths and ask yourself; do Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus actually LIVE according to their own religious teachings? Are any of these religions also excluding and dehumanizing half of the human race? What and who is getting the religious benefit from demeaning women? Hmmmm?


March 2015