Manu the chances of performing meritorious religious rites

Manu Smriti is law book compiled between
third century BCE and first century BCE. Later law books like Narad Smriti and
Parasara Smriti also follow almost the same principles as far as women status
is concerned. Even her educational
freedom was curtailed in later vedic period and thereon. Education was
not considered as being of any importance to women. Along with curtailment of
her educational freedom, her religious freedom was also restricted as they were
both complimentary to each other. Because of very less freedom, the chances of
performing meritorious religious rites were also very limited. The male child
was increasingly wished for as women were starting to be considered as burden
on the family. Parents prayed for a male child to perform the ancestral rites
and for carrying on the family name signifying little use of a female child.
Her birth was started to be looked as a misfortune in the family. Also the
paternalistic attitude of males looking after females of the household gained
much acceptance in the society making women a responsibility of men in general.This
can be gauged from an episode involving the famous king Pasenadi of Kosala.
When this King was informed that his queen gave birth to a daughter he felt
miserable as he was expecting a boy and came to the Buddha for guidance. The
Buddha pacified him saying that good daughters are as good as good sons. Buddha
said:

“A female child, O Lord of men, may prove even a better offspring than a
male. For she may grow up wise and virtuous, her husband’s mother
reverencing, true wife, the boy that she may bear may do great
deeds, and rule great realms, yes, such a son of noble wife becomes
his country’s guide.”( Samyutta Nikaya)

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Hence, Buddha meant that a
female child may prove a better offspring than a male. This clearly shows that
Buddhism does not consider the birth of a daughter as a cause for worry and
despair. The Buddha has confirmed that man is not always the only wise one;
woman is also wise.

What New Buddha Brought

Buddha’s teachings came from his astute
reading of human life and problems faced by different sections of society due
to unnecessary preoccupation with other worldly themes and goals. These other
worldly themes were central to Brahmanism. However Buddha’s teachings had ‘Law
of Karma’ at its core to end human miseries and attain ultimate human goal of
nirvana. Women too were part of these teachings and Buddha considered it
possible for women to achieve ‘ultimate knowledge’. It might seem very odd
while saying or writing something like this in the 21st century, but
2500 years ago women suffered from serious handicaps. Buddhism does not consider women as being inferior
to men. Buddhism, while accepting the biological and physical differences
between the two sexes, does consider men and women to be equally useful to the
society. The Buddha emphasizes the fruitful role that a woman can play and can
be a good wife, a good mother in making her family life a success. In the
family, both husbands and wives are expected to share equal responsibility and
discharge their duties with equal dedication. The husband is admonished to
consider the wife a friend, a companion, a partner. In family affairs the wife
was expected to be a substitute for the husband when the husband happened to be
indisposed. In fact, a wife was expected even to acquaint herself with the
trade, business or industries in which the husband engaged, so that she would
be in a position to manage his affairs in his absence. This shows that in the
Buddhist society the wife occupied an equal position with the husband.

Buddhism does not restrict either the educational
opportunities of women or their religious freedom. The Buddha unhesitatingly
accepted that women are capable of realizing the truth, just as men are. This
is why he permitted the admission of women into the order, the sangha,
though he was not in favor of it at the beginning because he thought their admission
would create problems in the sasana or governance. Once women proved their capability of managing
their affairs in the order, the Buddha recognized their abilities and talents,
and gave them responsible positions in the ‘bhikkhuni sangha’. The Buddhist
texts record of eminent saintly Bhikkhunis like Dhammadinna, Khema and
Uppalavanna, who were very learned and who were experts in preaching the
Dhamma. ‘Therigatha’ contains numerous stanzas that clearly express the
feelings of joy experienced by saintly bhikkhunis at their ability to enter the
order and realize the truth.

Buddha as messenger of peace and equality not
only stood for equality of men but also of equality of women at par with men.
He opened his doors to women devotees and stated that women can also attain
nirvana just like men while observing the rules of sangha. It was
revolutionary in those times to open doors of monastic order for women andconsider
their abilities at par with men to attain highest knowledge.Buddha gave several
teachings to women compiled in various texts. His teachings had an element of
practicality as well as value based teachings.Both Parsvanatha of Jainism and Gautama Buddha, as srmana
leaders, opened their doors with strict admissions of women to their monastic
communities. Therigatha provides evidence to show that hundreds and hundreds of
women found solace in Buddhism and preferred their spiritual pursuits under the
Buddha.

 Buddha
made position of women unique in those times by allowing them to enter holy
order, sangha. It was a very radical move as Buddha believed that women can
also attain arhant-hood and hence was equivalent to men in spiritual
dimension. Buddha could be considered
a ‘pioneer’ in this respect throughout the world. The prevailing attitude
towards women in Buddha’s time could be best summarized in these words of mara: