According to Lucinda Joy Peach, the author of Women and World Religions, Buddhism is considered one of three world religions. Buddhism originated in the continent of Asia in the country of India. Around the fifth or sixth century when Siddhartha Gautama reached Enlightenment, he became the awakened one or Buddha.
Once becoming Buddha, Siddhartha began teaching the Dharma. Soon after, Buddhism was spreading all over Asia. Buddhism made its way to the west about the twelfth century. As it grew the support did as well.
The biggest supporters of spiritual life were the women of these countries.
Buddhism traditionally was a male-controlled religion. Women had to fight just to be included in the religion. Oddly enough, the women were the dominating group to support Buddhist institutions and practices. At almsgiving ceremonies, the majority of participants were women. They also were the ones who participated in temple life and worked in the meditation centers that furthered Buddhists’ beliefs. Even though women supported the Buddhist institutions, the women who wanted to become part of spiritual authority were not supported by these institutions.
They believed that women should continue their traditional lifestyle in the home as wives and mothers. Some other roles that also were approved by the men that women acquired were helping the less fortunate, instilling Buddhist tradition in children, meditating, and tending to the family shrine. These roles as well as wives and mothers were acceptable enough that the women didn’t need to make any other effort in a spiritual sense.
To ensure that women carried on their responsibility as a housewife, there were traditions and practices called the special rules or the eight Gurudharma. These rules were only for lay women. The ordained women had different hardships they had to face.
One hardship for women who wanted to be included in the spiritual lifestyle was when Buddha’s aunt led hundreds of women, with no shoes and a limited amount of resources, to ask Buddha to allow them to enter the place of worship called the Sangha.
Buddha denied the women thtimestime. After the third denial buddas aunt asked his servant, who budda could not deny asking on the behalf of her. Reluctantly, after the servant’s plea Buddha let the women in the Sangha, but under the conditions of eight Gurudharma. Buddha made sure that even though he let the women enter, it was still a man’s world. The female Sangha eventually faded because there was a lack of support from the male Sangha and laity. Sakyadhita or the sisters of the Buddha reestablished the ordination for women through a modern movement.
This movement brought sisters back to Buddhism, but many had to go out of their homes to be ordained. When they returned home, the men of that culture would not acknowledge their ordination. Women were still treated with a lack of respect, and also had fewer funds to support their endeavors. The nuns and monks were separated as well. The Vinaya is a code of conduct for the monastics, mainly the women in the spiritual life. In this code, some obligations and restrictions apply to the nuns and not the monks. Even with these strict rules, many women say that they feel free from the man’s authority and they appreciate their spiritual lives. With that more women are being led to a spiritual lifestyle.
In Thai Buddhism: Women’s Ordination or more Prostitution wrwrotey Ouyporn Khuankaew, one nun remises about a visit with her old partner, “I realized that worldly life was not my path while I was in the highest peak of business success. After living in the temple for three months as Upasika my partner came to visit. He kneeled to beg me to go back home to take care of the children and our business. I decided that day to have my head shaved and become a nun because otherwise, he would have hoped that I will one day go back.
The most painful experience for me was the rejection I encountered from my children. For many years they refused to see me.” This is a great example of how women feel more free and happy even though some parts hurt. Leaving her children was very difficult but she knew she was supposed to be a part of the spiritual life.
So many women are finding this new life more exhilarating than the life of wife and mother. As time proceeds, women are going to stand up for what they believe. There will be a revolution where the result will be men and women are equal. Therefore with that new power women will be able to become a part of the spiritual life easily. They will have many resources and more support for what they are trying to accomplish. This process has already started with the increase of Buddhistteachersr and heads of monastic institutions. These women include Joan Halifax, Sharon Salzberg, Pema Chodron, and Jetsun Ma. Many more great women are going to be able to enter into spiritual life with ease and spread the teachings of Buddha throughout the world.