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Buddha, The Feminist

By Chandrabhan Prasad

04 September, 2005
The Pioneer

According to a UNICEF study conducted in 1984 in Mumbai, out of 8,000 sex determination cases, where fetuses were terminated, 7,999 were of females. According to another study, in Jaipur alone, about 3,500 female fetuses are terminated annually.

Sita Agrawal in her groundbreaking work The Vedic Obliteration establishes that 50 million women have been killed in the past century. The sex determination technology which has now reached every nook and corner of small towns in North-West India is witnessing female infanticide.

We all live in the man's world, patriarchy running deep in our blood. Dalits are increasingly turning to Buddhism, a religion based on reason and basic human wisdom, and hence a greater need to understand Lord Buddha. Buddhism is not so much about ritualism it is more about the intellectualism.

Once when Lord Buddha was in Shravasti for a short stay, Kosal's king Prasanjit called on him. While they were in deep conversation, a messenger arrived from Kosal with an urgent message - that Queen Mallika Devi had delivered a girl child. The king was visibly upset.

Reading the King's body language, Buddha gave him dhamopdesh: "Many women are superior to men. Geniuses as well. They give birth to male children, many of whom become kings".

In other words, Buddha was reminding the King that he himself was born out of a woman. In Buddha's philosophy men and women depend on each other and that must reflect in mutual recognition and respect.

Buddha, on this occasion, was siding with women. A fact that I was unaware of even though I am an avid reader. It was brought to me when I read Anand Shrikrishna's latest book Gautam Buddha and His Updesh. As a leader-scholar of Buddhism, Shrikrisna is reviving the way Babasaheb Ambedkar had perceived the great philosophy of Buddhism.

Any philosophy, be it religious, or political, stands to serve its adherents, not vice versa. In the case of religion, the moment the adherents put themselves at the service of their faith, they land up doing it disservice. They tend to imbibe ritualism rather than the rationale. In the case of modern day Dalits embracing Buddhism, the tendency is to deviate from the path shown by Buddha and Ambedkar.

Ritualism is being preferred over the intellectual aspect of Buddhism. By deploying his scholarly insight, Shrikrishna has brought out Buddhism as a service to humanity. The way his book explores Buddha's approach on the gender question, it makes the Lord the first feminist of history.

Buddha established an independent bhikkhuni sangha or, Sangha of Buddhist nuns. The Buddhist scholar-nuns wrote Therugatha, deconstructing the Vedic notions of emancipation, re-birth and salvation.

A host of women in the Buddhist circle explored their genius and rose to greater heights in realm of philosophy, religion, social work, and humanism than their male counterparts. Names such as Sumangal Mata, Gautami, Amrapali, Princess Khema and Vasanti make Buddhism the most gender-correct religion.

One must always remember, as Anand Shrikrishna reminds us, that Buddha held this opinion on women 2,500 years ago when under the Vedic system women were considered vehicles of all that was evil in the world. The present day Buddhists, therefore, should be diehard feminists. Emancipating themselves from patriarchy would be first step in that direction.

Impact: The Union Government has decided to restore Iyothee Thass' name to The National Centre for Siddha Research in Chennai. Ravikumar, the Pondichery-based Dalit theorist had raised his concern in this column dated August 28, 2005, over deletion of the Dalit hero's name from the proposed institution.











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