What the Buddha Said about Women

Until fairly recently almost all societies considered women to be inferior to men, some still do. This lower status was reflected in the teachings of most religions as well. The Bible holds women responsible for the fall of humankind (1 Timothy 2,11-15) and the pain of childbirth was seen as divine punishment on women for this offence (Genesis 3,16). Confucianism taught that women should live by what was called ‘the three subordinations’, i.e. being subordinate to their father before marriage, to their husband after marriage, and to their oldest son when they become a widow. Men whose wife had died were encouraged to remarry but widows were forbidden to do so. One of the two branches of Jainism, the Digambaras, believe that a woman must be reborn as a male in order to attain enlightenment. Apparently this notion is a later development and was probably not taught by Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. According to Hinduism’s Manusmrti women are to be honoured but kept subservient in every way. They were not allowed to read the Vedas, the sacred scriptures. Although the Manusmrti’s authority was not universally accepted and even those who did accept it did not necessarily follow all its strictures, its influence on the Indian attitude to women has been profound. One of the few religions that from its inception considered women to be equal with men is the Baha’i faith, which is particularly significant given that it had its origins in 19th century Persia.



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