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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wisdom knows no gender

Wisdom knows no gender

Binara Full Moon Poya Day falls today:

The Buddha’s decision to allow women enter the Holy Order was extremely radical for the times as the position of women in society was pathetically low during the period of the Buddha. Maha Prajapathi Gothami who inaugurated the Order of Bhikkhuni on a Binara Full Moon Poya day proved the world that women too had the capacity like men to attain the highest position in the religious way of life by attaining arhathood.

Binara poya day which falls within the period of Vas also marks the commencement of Sarath Season (Autumn). The month also bears significance according to the Buddhist literature as the Buddha’s visit to Thavuthisa heaven in order to preach Abhidhamma to Mathru Divya Raja too had taken place during this month.

It was with great effort that Maha Prajapathi Gothami could get the permission of the Buddha to enter the Order. When the Buddha was in Kimbulwathpura, Maha Prajapathi Gothami along with 500 Sakyan women, (the wives of the princes who entered the Order after listening to Kalaha Vivada Sutta) requested the Enlightened one thrice to let women enter the Holy Order. As the response was negative she had to leave the place disappointed on all three occasions.

After spending a few days in Kimbulwathpura the Buddha went back to Vishalapura and observed the fifth Vas retreat in Kootagara hall which was in close proximity to Vishala Nuwara.

The Buddha who then saw in his Divine Eye that King Suddhodana had fallen ill, reached Kimbulwathpura by air along with Arhats. King Suddhodana could attain arhathood by listening to the preachings of the Buddha, the essence of which was the impermanence of all worldly things.

After seven days, Arhat Suddhodana attained Parinirvana. The Buddha went back to Vishalanuwara after the cremation and it was then Princess Yasodara expressed her desire to enter the Order to Maha Prajapathi Gothami.

In fact Princess Yasodara wanted to go to the Buddha on her own to make the request, but Maha Prajapathi Gothami explained to the princess that such a visit would be futile as the Buddha had even rejected her offer despite her being his foster mother! She asked the princess to wait till she enter the Order so that the others can follow her.

Intervention of Ananda Thera

Maha Prajapathi Gothami then visited Ven. Ananda Thera and sought his help. After listening to her pleas attentively, Ananda Thera approached the Buddha and told him how ardent her wish to enter the Order was!

The Buddha then said that the Buddha Sasana which would last ten thousand years would just end in 5000 years as a result of the Bhikkhuni Order. Anyway looking back at her previous births ,he realised that Maha Prajapathi Gothami had wished to be the maternal aunt of the Buddha and to inaugurate the Bhikkhuni Order throughout Sansara.

In a previous birth as Mathika Matha, she had persuaded five hundred of her female followers to engage in meritorious deeds and wish to become Bhikkhunis in the Buddha Sasana. Having considered all that , the Buddha allowed her to enter the Order along with 500 Sakyan ladies if she was willing to abide by the eight major conditions(Ashta Garu Dharma).

Since she was willing to abide by the Ashta Garu Dharma, she could get the Bhikkhuni Sasana established which benefited the entire womenfolk. Thus at the commencement there were five hundred Bhikkhunis in the Bikkuni Sasana.

The eight major conditions are as follows;

* A Bhikkhuni has to pay obeissance even to a day old Higher Ordained Bhikkhu even if she was 100 years old in higher ordination. She should get up from her seat and show her due respects to the Bhikkhus who observe the major precepts.

* A Bhikkhuni should not observe the rainy season precepts in an area where there are no Bhikkhus

* Every fortnight a Bhikkhuni has to request for ‘Pohoya kamma’ from the Bhikkhus. She has to know the time she should obtain advice from the Bhikkhus.

* When a Bhikkhuni concludes her rainy season precepts observation, she has to do it in front of both Bhikkhunis and Bhikkhus.

* A Bhikkhuni who has committed a misdemeanour should confess it in the presence of both Bhikkhunis and Bhikkhus.

* A Bhikkhuni has to spend two years as a special trainee and then become a higher ordained Bhikkhuni in the presence of both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis.

* A Bhikkhuni should not scold a Bhikkhu under any circumstances.

* A Bhikkhuni should not advise Bhikkhus, but Bhikkhu should advise Bhikkhunis.

The Buddha had emphasised that Eight major conditions are for the benefit of females themselves though in a way it could also appear as an attempt to degrade women! It was the Buddha who gave women full freedom to participate in religious life. After the Order was established Princess Yasodara too became a Bhikkhuni. Bhikkhuni Khema and Uppalawanna were appointed as the chief female disciples of the Buddha.

Demise of Maha Prajapathi Gothami

Maha Prajapathi Gothami who went to see the Buddha a few days prior to attaining parinirvana at the age of hundred and twenty , addressed the Enlightened One with utmost respect.

“Though I am your foster mother you are the one who taught me the Dhamma. It was because of you that I could enter the Bhikkhuni Sasana. Though titles such as ‘mother of king” and ‘Queen’ are not rare, it is extremely difficult to be known as ‘the mother of the Buddha’ (Buddha Matha).” In order to respect her the Buddha followed her upto the main entrance of the Kootagara hall.

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