· Background of Women in Early Buddhism
· Women’s movement in Early Buddhist Society
· Women’s access to the monastic life
· Women’s Contribution to the Buddhist Literature
The role of women in early Buddhism is important for their involvement in several dimensions of life and society. In ancient India, the first women’s upheaval was seen after the advent of Buddha under the leadership of Buddha’s foster mother Mahaprajapati Gautami. Men used to ignore women due to their lesser physical vigor. Buddha said,”Women have the same potential to accomplish enlightenment as men.” In early Buddhism women contributed to society and religion in two ways: the Bhikkhuni Sangha (disciples of the Buddha) and lay women (followers and devotees of the Buddha). After the advent of the Buddha on the Indian subcontinent, Buddha preached the Dharma not only patronized by kings and merchants but also by women who had right of entry to the Sangha and persuaded the people by their candor, eloquence, and sensitivity. Some women came to the Sangha and were ordained after facing social bitterness, a negative family life, hatred from their caste, and unfair class treatment. Some women from aristocratic families also joined the Bhikkhuni Sangha at the same time. Buddha emphasized the parity of men and women in early Buddhism by giving permission to women to gain access into the Sangha. Women from loyal families, trustworthy housewives, and prostitutes all got shelter in Buddhism and got equal right to practice Dhamma. From that time women started to lead their life with their own personality. In early Buddhism, women’s role was not constrained in the religion; they also contributed to social welfare.
From the very beginning of the creation of mankind, men and women have been part and parcel of nature. In the course of time, human life changed. Science and philosophy developed by the mutual efforts of men and women. Some religions imposed a number of additional obligatory rules upon women. For example in Islam, women cannot enter into the mosque to say their prayers with men, but those conditions couldn’t stop them and they contributed a lot to the betterment of social mobility, social change, and social reform. So to say, in association with the poem “Nari” (Woman) of the Rebel poet of Bengal, Kazi Nazrul Islam,
Everything that is great in the world,
all the works, beneficial and good,
half must be credited to woman,
and to man half only we should.
all the works, beneficial and good,
half must be credited to woman,
and to man half only we should.
Similar to the poet, I want to say that no progress is done without the contribution of women. By following this theme in Buddhism from the very beginning, we see that the image and the role of women were very significant. Buddha himself also, before attaining enlightenment, was fed from the hand of Sujata, a devout woman in early Buddhist society. For taking food from a striking woman like Sujata, his five disciples misunderstood him and thought that Gautama moved from his oath and would not become successful to achieve enlightenment. Buddha understood that he could not continue his meditation without food and should eat whatever food he got. After eating, he got back his physical fitness and eventually achieved enlightenment. The person who got the lucky opportunity to feed Buddha just before attaining enlightenment was a woman, not a man. Women from the early period were fascinated by doing good actions and tried their best to inspire men to perform Dana. The role of women in early Buddhism cannot be summarized in words. By following the teaching of Gautama, early women’s society developed its own status keeping balance and pace with men. Their state of affairs, devotion and sacrifice for the betterment of Buddhism are very important in all respects. Therighata, Samyutta Nikaya, Vinaya-pitaka, Sutta Nipata, Apadana and Bhikkhuni-Samyutta have many explanations about women’s role in early Buddhism. I will try to emphasize on some of them in the following which will demonstrate that women have great contribution in early Buddhism.
1. Background of Women in Early Buddhism
Before the advent of Gautama Buddha, the place of women was not a happy one on the Indian sub-continent. Basically, Buddhism was preached and spread from the East. We have to judge the position of women in the East cautiously. Women were considered to be inferior to men; they were less important in the family. First of all, I would like to talk about the education of women in early age, which is very important for their advancement and freedom. Education was not free for women in early Indian civilization. It was believed in the past that women could not do anything independently because they need security from men their entire life. In early childhood, they are protected by their parents, in young age by husbands, and in old age by their sons. They couldn’t do the kind of work that they wanted to. They led a life that was full of sacrifices. Education for female children was not essential in the early period. Even today in many countries, parents are more interested in marrying off their daughters than continuing their education.
Here I want to depict in brief the early condition of women in my country, Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a Muslim country. The women in early Bangladesh used to suffer a lot to get their education. Men used to think that women did household work and took care of children of the family and education is not necessary to do those types of work. Poor parents also were not ready to bear educational expenses of female children because it was thought that after marriage, they will leave the family and will not earn for them. Wealthy parents were not interested in educating their female children because it was thought that after completing education, they will not feel interested in doing only family circle work and will create problems in their father-in-law’s house. It was pragmatic, for men, that women not be educated. They established some rules to create obstacles to the advancement of women. For example, it is rigorously prohibited for the female children to go out without consent. They can’t even talk to males outside their family. . It is impossible to get education without going to educational institute. In early Hindu culture, women did not have the right to study Veda. “No sacrifice, no vow, no fast must be performed by women apart (from their husbands); if a wife obeys her husband, she will for that (reason alone) be exalted in heaven.” But in the field of education, Buddhist families were liberal for the education of women in the early era. Later Muslim intellectuals found out that they were lagging behind because of education so they emphasized education should include women, but they took a long time to understand the importance of education in useful life.
In this regard, Begum Rokeya was a pioneer who sacrificed her entire life for the education of Muslim women in Bengal. She was born in 1880. She was the pioneer who created an opportunity for women in Bengal by establishing ‘Sakhawat Memorial Girls' High School’ in 1911.She started that institution with only five students. She was the first Muslim lady who composed poems and wrote dramas for growing awareness among women of her time. With her courage and patience, she became successful opening the door of education for Muslim women of her time. This shows how Muslim women struggled to get their education. But Buddhist and Hindu women of early age did not face this kind of obstacle to get their education. Now, I like to discuss about the position of women in Buddhist era.
Another obstacle to get education in early period was that women were married off in their early age. Though there was no hard and fast rule for marriage, female children get married at the age of ten to twenty since the beginning of time. In a Muslim family, female children get married earlier. Aisha was 6 years old when she married Hazrat Mohammed, and consummated the marriage when she was 9 (considered marriageable age). She was the youngest and favourite wife of Mohammed. It is strong evidence which proves that parents were interested in marrying off a female child instead of getting her educated in early period of Islam. But women in early Buddhist society got married at the age of sixteen or later. It was considered that women were mature at the age of sixteen. For example: Vodra, Kundolkeshi, Ishidashi, Potachara and Mallikadevi, some famous women of Buddha’s time, were all married at the age of sixteen. These were the women who had great contribution for the development of Buddhism during Buddha’s life time. In ancient India there were eight categories of marriage systems but in the Buddhist Era, only three types of marriage systems were in vogue. The life of widow was not clear in Pali literature but it is true that no specific custom was in vogue, and the social dignity of a wife was not grieved at all after the death of husband.
Buddha, the Enlightened One, understood the potentiality and power of women. Buddhism did not restrict either the educational opportunities of women or their religious emancipation. They are free to take their education in Buddhist Monastery. Buddha unhesitatingly accepted that women were capable of realizing the reality, just as men were. Buddha had great contribution to make women free from gloom. Among the founders of major religions, Buddha was the first who gave importance on education both universal and religious. Buddhist monasteries became the center of all kinds of education. For example: Taxila and Nalanda were famous educational institutions in the world where great scholars from all over the world used to come for education. Taxila is situated about 32 km (20 mi) to the north-west of Islamabad Capital Territory and Rawalpindi in Panjab; just off the Grand Trunk Road. Pleany, Ariyan and other Greek writers has praised highly the prosperity and grandeur of Taxila in their books. Minister Chanakya of Maurya king Chandragupta was a great scholar of this University. Panini, the writer of theory of Astadhayee Grammar was one of the renowned students of this University. Even in the Jatakas like Pancayudha, Varuna, Tilamutthi, Sivi etc, the glory of this University is mentioned. Nalanda was another great seat of learning in India. It is located in Patna district at present Bihar of India. From the source of Pali text it is known that Gautama Buddha came several times to Nalanda and praised it very much. The fame of Nalanda extends during the reigns of Pala kings. They built big monasteries and libraries. Thus it developed into a famous University in the fifteenth century. Some of the prominent scholars of this University are Huen Tsang, Yit Singh, great philosopher Nagarjun, the Buddhist philosopher and Logician Ding Nag were resident students of this University.
In the fields of education and culture, women at that time on the Indian sub-continent acquired amazing achievements in the Buddhist Era. Therigatha, the eulogy known as Lyric poetry in Buddhist Literature, is a splendid instance of freedom and glory of early women. Though the position of woman was not equal to that of a man in ancient Vedic culture, they fought vigorously in the battlefield being compared to men.
Na so sabbesu thaneso puriso hoti pandito
etthi pi pandito muhattang oi chintaye,
This means, Men were not always superior to women; women could have equal potency as men by applying their intelligence and wisdom. However, a text of ancient Buddhist history in Therigatha, written in Pali the magnanimity of women is found in the history of early Buddhism. The Buddha himself recognized the foundation of Bhikkhuni Sangha in Veshali considering the appeal of Ananda and by the ardent wish of Buddha’s foster mother Gautami. She wanted to get the ordination of Bhikkhunis under eight Garudhammas. The eight states of affairs were:
- “Bhikkhus were always to have precedence over Bhikkhunis in matters of salutation, etc. irrespective of any other consideration.
- Bhikkhunis could not observe the annual retreat (vassa) in a district where there were no Bhikkhus.
- Bhikkhus had to set the dates for Bhikkhuni Uposatha ceremonies.
- Confession transgression by Bhikkhunis had to be done before the assembly of both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis.
- Certain judicial processes in case of Bhikkhunis had to be undertaken by both the Sanghas.
- Upasampadâ initiation of Bhikkhunis should be given by the Bhikkhu sangha as well.
- A Bhikkhuni should never abuse a Bhikkhu.
- Bhikkhus can officially admonish Bhikkhunis, but not vice versa”
Concerning the matter on enforcing eight rules, it is that Buddha made women inferior to men by enforcing these 8 Garudhammas. But it is not true that Buddha enforced eight Garudhammas to keep women inferior to men. Buddha understood long before that the permission of giving ordination of women will create complexity in the Sangha. Buddha enforced the eight rules for the welfare of Bhikkhunis and it was only for time being. When many Bhikkhunis became accomplished to teach Dhamma and Vinaya, he withdrew the conditions from them. But the question arose why Buddha laid down such conditions the first time. For this, there were tough reasons. These were imposed on them because Bhikkhuni Sangha was going to institute for the first time and there were not any Bhikkhuni who had sufficient skill regarding Dhamma and Vinaya. This was why, to wipe out their ego in learning Dhamma, he ascribed the first condition. Later he accepted the request of Gautami regarding the salutation to take place equally both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis according to seniority. Buddha thought not to make the Bhikkhunis guardianless all of a sudden. This is why, he introduced the second rule. Most of the women of that time used to depend on men for their work in mundane life. Condition no. three was introduced so that it becomes easier for Bhikkhuni to maintain program schedule. Later Buddha amended this condition and gave right to Bhikkhunis to maintain program schedule by themselves.Condition no. four was introduced so that people would not get scope to condemn Bhikkhunis or would not get scope to arise any difficulty against confession of Bhikkhunies later on. For this why, Buddha gave rules three and four to save the reputation of Bhikkhuni Sangha. Condition no. five was introduced so that if any Bhikkhuni offence Āpatiya( violation of rules from Vinaya), it can be judged cautiously. The new Bhikkhunis would not capable to judge that kind of difficulty. To establish the unity between two Sanghas, Buddha applied condition no. 6 where it was mentioned that Bhikkhuni would take Upasampada before both Sanghas. To control the behavior of Bhikkhuni, rule no. 7 was introduced. Condition no 8 was introduced so that new unskilled Bhikkhuni cannot say anything negative to the Bhikkhu who would teach them Dhamma and Vinaya. From the above discussion it is apparent that it was just to introduce Garudhammas in that time by Buddha. When Buddha realized that Bhikkhunis could run their Sangha efficiently and became skilled enough to teach Dhamma and Vinaya, Buddha withdrew the Garudhammas for all Bhikkhunies. So, Buddha introduced Garudhammas to save the Bhikkhuni Sangha not to keep them subordinate to men. Buddha once told to Ananda, Gautama’s Sasana will last for five thousand years only because of accepting women right of entry to Sangha, otherwise it would last for more five thousand years. He accepted women’s access to Sangha because he couldn’t ignore the potentiality of women who can become enlightened if he gives the chance. That was definitely a great sacrifice of Gautama for women. Buddha tried to make Bhikkhuni Sangha skilled enough to work independently. There were many Bhikkhunis who were more judicious and intelligent than many other Bhikkhus. I told before that as Bhikkhuni Sangha was going to establish for the first time, there were many aged women who might procrastinate to learn Dhamma from young Bhikkhus. Buddha considered that it was very essential to destroy the ego problem first. If Gautami thought that Buddha was imposing Garudhammas to admonish the prestige of women, later many women would not get scope to achieve ‘Enlightenment’. Buddha himself praised many Bhikkhunies and gave recognition for their contribution and work in the join convention of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis. ‘Among the leading ones, like the previous Buddhas who had both leading male disciples and leading female disciples. Sakyamuni Buddha also had Moggallana and Sariputra as his leading disciples, and on the female side he had Upalavanna and Khema as his leading disciples.’ It is proved that Buddha considered Bhikkhuni Sangha like as Bhikkhu Sangha. I think that these Garudhammas were a new invention and dynamic principles for the women. Being ordained in Buddhism, women developed themselves not only in spiritualism but also in creativity in the early Buddhist era. ‘The opportunity of women for being ordained has been taken as a golden phrase which lifted up the spirit of women now and then.’
Some pioneer and progressive women, who contributed in the eastern world and Buddhism on early period in the advent of Goutama Buddha, were:
Sumedha, is one who was a poetess, nature lover, philosopher and orator as well. She was born as the dearest daughter of a king. From the early childhood, she used to listen Dhamma from Bhikkhunis regularly and decided to ordain just before her marriage and achieved final goal that is Nirvana. Among the model teachers Vaddakpalini, was one of the forerunners as well as the pioneer. She had surprising capability to teach anything. She left her many possessions to the poor, was ordained and attained Arahantship. Among the ideal learners, the name of Bijoya is note worthy. She was an associate of Khema, the chief disciple of Bhikkhuni Sangha. She was so sincere that she achieved Nirvana within a very short time. The supreme aims and objectives of Bhikkhunis were to gain Nirvana, the stage of extreme happiness. With a view to performing this purpose they used to enter into the depth of the forest and practice meditation sitting under the root of a certain tree. Then women not only raised themselves into the high position of the society being skilled in religious education but also, through the theme of humanity, they used to teach religious education among the ordinary people and used to devote themselves into the social actions. The poem ‘Nagarlaxmi’ composed by Rabindranath Tagore is nothing but ‘Essay of Bhikkhunis devotion for the famine victims’. During that famine in ancient Sravasti, Bhikkhunis begged alms from door to door to collect alms and food. With the obtained food, they fed hungry people. The advent of Buddha and the emergence of Buddhism opened a new horizon for women in society. By the inspiration of all women and with the counter-plea of Buddha, the women got the right of doing the work according to their will. In fact, the establishment of ‘Bhikkhunis Sangha’ was very important to bring social change for women. In accordance with the opinion of Dr. Rama Chowdhury, “Buddhist Era is the golden age for women’s education and movement” Buddha, indeed, gave a great opportunity to women to enter into Sasana by establishing Bhikkhuni Sangha and consequently the women from all sects, races, communities and classes joined this auspicious procession.
Now I am going to talk about Mahaprojapati Gautami in this regard. Mahaprojapati Goutami, the pioneer of early Buddhist society did not lose heart after the death of her husband King Suddhadhana. Her strong contribution for establishing Bhikkhuni Sangha will be remembered in all times. Some other women like Bhadda Kundalakesa; Purnika etc. were not only wise but also successful in spiritual life and achieved Arahantship. The expanded story of good education, independence and achievement of women in early Buddhist society is expressed in Therigatha, Their-Opodana and Paramathadeeponi. These books discussed how women’s education and freedom spread in Buddhist Era. From this point of view the great scholar T.W. Rhys Davids says- “It affords instructive picture of the life they (Theris) led in the valley of the Ganges in the time of Gautama the Buddha. It was a bold step on the part of the leaders of the Buddhist reformation to allow so much freedom and to concede so high a position to women.” It means that ignorance and inequality to women existed in Indian social customs of the earlier age but it was removed, to some extent, in the Buddhist era.
3.Women movement in Early Buddhist Society
Women had to involve in quiet and peaceful movement through their work and their frequent efforts become prolific in Buddha’s time. Now I like to discuss some women of Bhikkhuni Sangha who had significant contribution in establishing the rights of women in the society of Buddha’s time. Women whom I will discuss are: Mahaprajapati Gautami, Visakha, Kondhol Keshi, Patacara, Bhikkhuni Chala etc. These stories proved that women could achieve Nirvana and could work independently with dignity.
The first important woman is none but Mahaprajapati Gautami, foster mother of Buddha. After the death of her husband, King Suddhandana, she determined to leave home, and consequently prayed for ordination. Buddha knew that he had to grant authorization in future to allow women access into Sangha as there was Bhikkhuni Sangha in all earlier Buddha’s time. Before Gautama, 27 Buddhas came in this world for saving the world in crises in different period of time. Gautama knew what happened in the past, what is happening now and what are going to happen in future. So, he knew it well, he had to accept women access to Sangha like all previous Buddha’s time. He made it difficult to access Sangha for women to make them comprehend that it is an exceptional opportunity to access Sangha and they should utilize it carefully. The stipulation of early period was not suitable for women because the early society is mainly dominated by men.. So, it was very important to assure safety for women which were difficult in that time. This was why Buddha denied her proposal the first time. Some criticized Buddha for not approving the proposal of Gautami the first time. They considered this as rejection of Buddha to accept women’s rights, but Buddha had many strong points for not accepting the proposal for the first time. I will discuss it later with elaboration. After being refused, Gautami became very upset but did not lose heart. When five hundred women of Shakya dynasty heard that Gautami went to Buddha for ordination, they also went to her and requested her to include them with her. Then, Gautami got back her courage and was confident that Buddha would not discard the request of so many women. To prove that how strong they were in their will, she included the five hundred women of Shakkya dynasty who shaved their heads and wore yellow dresses and started for Veshali bare foot. They were not used walking bare foot. They became exhausted walking such a long way and their feet were bleeding but, they didn’t move from their aim. At last, they all reached to the monastery of Buddha safely. Ananda became very upset seeing their condition. Gautami again pleaded with Buddha for authorization, but Buddha remained unmoved and refused her proposal for the second time. Hearing this, Gautami became very upset. Seeing no hope, Gautami requested Ananda to plead with Buddha again for the third time on their behalf, which he did. This time, Buddha permitted their prayer on eight conditions (Garudhammas) which I discussed earlier. Gautami knew well that Buddha was omniscient and well-wisher for all beings. He would not give any terms that would let them suffer. So, she accepted eight conditions without any hesitation for entering into the Sangha. I discussed eight conditions of Bhikkhuni Sangha in my text earlier. This way, they got access into Bhikkhuni Sangha. The stamina and temperament of Gautami was amazing. She did not care that the journey was long and her bleeding feet also could not stop her. This way, Gautami became the pioneer of women’s revolution in early Buddhist period and Bhikkhuni Sangha was established as the first social organization.
Visakha was another pioneer woman among the patrons of early Buddhism. She patronized Buddhism with all her efforts and contributed to the welfare of Sangha. She used to serve many Buddhist monks with food and other necessities daily. Her tremendous contribution was the ‘Purbaram Monastery’ which cost 270 million gold coins to build. Buddha spent more than sixteen years in this sacred temple and used to preach Dhamma there. She was not only respectful to Sangha but also encouraged other women to be respectful to Sangha. She always helped other women to perform Dana with perfection. Whenever any woman comes to her for help or advice, she used to help them with all her efforts. This way, she also performed social work also. Buddha gave her the highest position among all female devotees.
By means of intellect and wisdom women can also be the equivalent to the quality of men and sometimes they defeated men. Kondhol Keshi was such a woman. She was born in the house of royal treasure guard. One day, some town watchmen were carrying a young, handsome thief to the slaughter house to kill him by the order of king. The young pretty girl, Kundol Keshi fell in love at first sight. She forced her father to make him free otherwise she would die. By seeing no other alternative way, her father saved the life of thief by offering huge amount of bribe. But the thief was wicked in nature and planned to kill Kundol for her gold and money she brought with her. Kundol realized it and killed him by means of wisdom and got ordained. . She dared to challenge men in knowledge at that time also. She became so skilled in debate that she declared open challenge to everyone and defeated many learned persons in debate. At last, she was defeated by Sariputra, the chief disciple of Buddha, and ordained as Bhikkhuni. She achieved goal by listening only one verse from Buddha.
Patacara was a useful example for the women of all ages. Her life story taught us that we can’t be happy in conjugal life if we marry against the will of our parents. Her life story is as influential as if it is written in present time. This kind of incident continues to occur today. After losing all of her family members she became abnormal and started to move here and there in nude. Then she took protection under the supreme tranquility of Buddhism and understood the unsteady worldly life. Then she became a Bhikkhuni under the great compassion of Buddha. She achieved the highest place in Bhikkhuni Sangha as the expert in the rules of Vinaya. She had great contribution in teaching Vinaya to the Bhikkhunis. Her movement in the quest of happiness was superb. She is a figurative example to all the women of all ages and her life story shows how one can get freedom from sufferings and wishes
One day, Bhikkhuni Chala entered into a forest after taking her meal and then Mara, the devil one, tried to persuade her to leave monk life. He used to come to her frequently and tried his best to tempt her to leave the Bhikkhuni Sangha. He told her that it was useless to lead a nun life because it was full of sacrifice. He advised her to marry and enjoy life. In response to his proposal, Chala recited attributes of Buddha and Dhamma. By this, being disappointed, Mara left the place and Chala came into victory over the devil. Her story teaches us if we practise true teaching of Dhamma, Mara can’t win over us.
There are 76 instances about the women’s movement described in Therigatha composed by Bhikkhu Shilavadra. ‘But the number of the Bhikkhunis enlightened, in the Buddha’s own word…….they were not one hundred, not two hundred, not three hundred, not four hundred, but five hundred and more.’The above mentioned women played a great role in social change and mobility. They were able to show that the role and contribution of women in social reform is optimistic and praiseworthy.
2. Women’s access to the monastic life
In the early Indian society the status of men and women was not equal. Manu was liable to hamper the dignity of women and this was the actual situation of the women of pre-Buddha period. Dr. Ambethkor quotes, “Who was responsible for their (woman’s) fall? It was Manu, the law-giver of the Hindus. There can be no other answer.” In the Indian teaching method bearing unique features and extra ordinary personality Gautama appeared before this universe and he who removed the false notions from the mind of people is none but the Buddha. In Samyutta Nikaya (Combined Nikaya), Buddha said, “Voriacha Porama sokha” i.e. wives are faithful friends. Moreover in Anguttara Nikaya it is said that wives are trustworthy in keeping mysteries and secret. ‘It was the first time in the history of world religions that Buddha proclaimed spiritual equality of all races, castes, classes and genders’. Buddha was the first founder who dared to give highest honor to the women by giving them permission to enter into the monastic life.
In establishing Bhikkhuni Sangha, the contribution of Gautami is immense. Being refused for the first time, she did not lose patience and ultimately in co-operation with Ananda, she became successful. The effort of Gautami is ever memorable because if Buddha would expired prior to giving permission to establish Bhikkhuni Sangha; this would have never been possible. Hence in establishing Bhikkhuni Sangha, Gautami was the pioneer. At first, women’s access to monastic life was a troublesome task but when it was established, all the earlier complexities were over. Women’s access to the monastic life was a realistic and just decision of Buddha. Thus, all women got inspired from her and since then they have been trying to keep the balance till today. In many cases, they were able to eradicate superstition from human society and Vishaka is a splendid example. Under the leadership of Gautami, the Bhikkhuni Sangha lasted for many years. Indeed many ups and downs in Bhikkhuni Sangha are noticed from Buddha’s existence to till today which I mentioned earlier in my text .
3. Women’s Contribution to the Buddhist Literature
Buddhist text is enriched with so many events and facts. Buddhist text is indeed a profound store house of knowledge. Buddhist literature is mostly based on Tripitaka. In the literature there were not only the messages of Buddha but also the messages from disciples of Buddha were there. Out of 84,000 messages, 82,000 messages were of Buddha’s and the other 2,000 were the messages of Buddha’s disciples. It is true that Buddhist literature is a treasure of asceticism messages and stories. Tripitaka is not rich in lyric literature. It is also true that the lyrics composed in Buddhist literature were not written from a literary point of view. It is completely written from the natural emotion of women because none of them have knowledge of literature. Later than achieving final goal, they became free from all kinds of sufferings. Out of ecstasy, they told some valuable verses which showed not only their poetic talent but also expressed their strong sensation. These verses had great impact at all times. Among the lyrical poems, ‘Therigatha’ is one of the best foundations that contributed a lot to enrich Buddhist literature. By reading stories and actions of preceding birth as well as their last life, women of present time can see the light of wisdom and try to abide by the rules accordingly. By following their lifestyle, thoughts and dedication women of present time can move forward. So, Buddhist literature is a light house for women too. By following the teaching of ‘Theris’(Bhikkhunis) modern women can utilize it to build up their spiritual life. Thus Therigatha may have great impact on the present lifestyle and thoughts of women. These women became flourishing to achieve the highest goal of Buddhism i.e. Nirvana. They were born in different levels of culture and fought against the complicated circumstances. These women proved that women can do anything if they practice dogma and morality properly. Though their contribution is little in literature but it was striking as it was the beginning of Buddhist literature. It is not promising to discuss about their contribution in all spheres of society in this small context. So, I tried to highlight their contribution in Buddhist Literature only.
Buddha, a great thinker and a social reformer instituted an ethical faith to free human minds from the age old orthodoxies and opened a new vista of religious experience called Buddhism. His towering personality, simplicity and loving kindness for the impoverished and the sick, drew lots of people to his feet in that time and even after 2,554 years after his preaching of non-violence, truth and love are vibrant realities for misdirected humanity. His denial of caste consideration for the attainment of salvation, his emphasis on conduct over birth and his admission of women into the Sangha , were the principles of a very high order incomprehensible in his era and they are quite applicable even today. By following the way of Buddha’s teaching, many women in his time achieved highest goal, the state of ever-happiness. For imposing the eight Garudhammas, many critics misjudged Buddha and consider that Buddha hesitated to give recognition to the right of women for two times. But it was because of that Bhikkhuni Sangha was well organized during the life time of Buddha. When they became skilled to defend themselves, Buddha withdrew Garudhammas observing their ability to run the Bhikkhuni Sangha progressively more. Now the Bhikkhunis have to follow 311 rules according to Bhikkhuni Patimokka. After the great passing of Buddha, Bhikkhunis again started to face the problem and slowly it was extinct in 11-12th century. After the great expiration of Buddha, Bhikkhuni Sangha got no strong leadership which could save them from being extinct. From this, we can clearly comprehend how wise and powerful leader Buddha was. Keeping pace with men, they contributed Buddhism in many ways. The contribution of Gautami, Visakha, Patacara, Sujata, etc. will be highly appreciated always. Among the Bhikkhunis, many were learned in religion and philosophy. Therigatha is a strong evidence to eradicate the confusion about the role of women in early Buddhism. Being bored in earthly life, they welcomed the Bhikkhuni life wishing to get ever-relief from extreme miseries and agonies of life, regardless of their social classes. The thoughtful women who came into victory against the social hindrance through right thinking are ever memorable in the history of Buddhism. Bhikkhuni Sangha was the first social organization of women, no
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 The offering of daily necessaries(food, drink, cloth, medicine etc) by lay devotees to monks
 Dr.Anita Sharma, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, Source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org
 The Laws of Manu, c. 1500 BCE, Translated by G. Buhler, Chapter 5, verse no. 155
 Dhammacakkam, Editor Dr. Satyapal Bhikkhu, Published by, Buddha Triratna Mission, New Dilhi, 2006, India, page-119
 Begum Rokeya was the first highly educated Muslim woman in Bengal and worked very hard to spread the light of education among Muslim women
 Dhammacakkam, Editor Dr. Satyapal Bhikkhu, Published by, Buddha Triratna Mission, New Dilhi, 2006, India, page 82
 Mr. Bimal Kanti Barua, Buddhist Religious Studies, NCTB, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2007, Class Eight, page-61,62
 Mr. Nipul Kanti Barua, Buddhist Religious Studies, Text Book, class vii, NCTB, Bangladesh,Page- 60,61
 Bela Chowdhury, Jagajjoti, Centenary Volume, Published by Boudha Dharmakur Sabha, Kolkata, India, August, 2009 page no. 120
 Therigatha is the ninth book of Khuddaka Nikaya from Sutta Pitaka, consists of 73 poems- 522 stanzas in all. Therighata as collected and composed by Bhikkhu Shilavadra is one of the most key manuscripts in Buddhist literature. Therigatha were the autobiographies of 76 enlightened Bhikkhunis. .
 Pragupta, Bijoy Chandra Majumdar, Page 47
 Vaishali is situated in India, Bihar Province. It is considered as an important religious site as Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism was born here. Lord Buddha also preached his last sermon here in Vaishali. One eighth of the sacred ashes of the Lord Buddha were enshrined in the Buddha Stupa I in a stone casket.
 Eight conditions for Bhikkunis to access Sangha
 Ven. Shilalankar Mahathero, Ananda, Published by, Jamini and Nanibala Barua, Chitagong, Bangladesh, 1979
 Editor, Mr. Hemendu Bikash Chowdhury, Jagajjoti, Centenary Volume, Published by Boudha Dharmakur Sabha, Kolkata, India, August, 2009 page no.191
 Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Jagajjoti, Centenary Volume, Published by Boudha Dharmakur Sabha, Kolkata, India, August, 2009 page no.190
 Bhikkhu Silabhadra, Therigatha, Published by Mahabodhi Society, Calcutta-12, India , 1951, story no. 73, page no. 158
 She was born in Brahman’s family during Buddha’s life time. Being encouraged by Gautami, she ordained Bhikkhuni and became enlightened. Therigatha story no. 37
 She was born in a aristocrat family at Rajgir and left the family following Khema, the chief disciple of Buddha. Therighata, story no. 57
 Sravasti is a historical place which is situated on the bank of the river Aciravati between the boards of Gonga and Bairach districts of Uttar Pradesh.
 Dhammacakkam, Editor Dr. Satyapal Bhikkhu, Published by, Buddha Triratna Mission, New Dilhi, 2006, India, page-117
 Dhammacakkam, Editor Dr. Satyapal Bhikkhu, Published by, Buddha Triratna Mission, New Dilhi, 2006, India, page-118
 Buddhism, T. W. Rhys Davids, London, 1910, Page-72
 Bhikkhu Silabhadra, Therigatha, Published by Mahabodhi Society, Calcutta-12, India , 1951, page 82
 Eight condition given to Bhikkhuni before entering Sangha
 Vishaka was the pioneer among all devotees during Buddha’s life time. Vishaka was the daughter of Dhananjoy the then Earl of Sravasti She got married to the son of another Earl, Migar. Migar was superstitious and did not believe in the religion of Gautama. He used to invite naked saints in his house and entertained them with marvelous meals. On the contrary, Vishakha was the devotee of Buddha and she refused her father-in-law severaltimes to show respect to the naked saints. One day Buddha came to the house of Migar while Migar was having meals inside the house. When Buddha asked her about Migar, Vishakha told Buddha that he was eating stale food inside the house. It was an insult for Migar and then he ordered her to leave his house. But Bisakha told him that she would leave if he could prove on the presence of wise men who were the witnesses during her marriage that she was wrong. When Migar was defeated to the wisdom and intellect of his son’s wife, he was compelled to confess that Vishakha was right. Thus she conquered herself and her movement against false notion was fruitful. She won the love and respect of all the people including her father-in-law’s house with her wisdom and skill. It is the belief of the society that women were physically weak. But Bisakha was an exception. She had seven elephants’ power and it was proved when she stopped a mad elephant with her single finger.
 This Monastery was established in Srabasti, a famous place in Early India.
 Dhammacakkam, Editor Dr. Satyapal Bhikkhu, Published by, Buddha Triratna Mission, New Dilhi, 2006, India, page-83
 Patacara got married against the will of her parents and wanted to be happy. But she suffered a lot after the marriage which is indescribable in words. One by one, she lost her husband, two sons and her parents in different natural disasters. After losing all the family members, she became completely mad and used to move in nude. Buddha felt pity for her and brought back her sense. She was known as the preserver of Vinaya.
 Story no. 59 from Therigatha, Page no.92, Bhikkhuni Chala was younger sister of Sariputra, Chief disciple of Buddha. She also became successful to achieve Nirvana.
 Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Jagajjoti, Centenary Volume, Published by Boudha Dharmakur Sabha, Kolkata, India, August, 2009 page no.190
'The Laws of Manu' or 'Manava Dharma Shastra' is one of the standard books in the Hindu canon, and a basic text for all gurus to base their teachings on. Source: http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/aa051303a.htm
 Dhammacakkam, Editor Dr. Satyapal Bhikkhu, Published by, Buddha Triratna Mission, New Dilhi, 2006, India, page 113
 Dhammacakkam, Editor Dr. Satyapal Bhikkhu, Published by, Buddha Triratna Mission, New Dilhi, 2006, India, page 116-117
 Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Jagajjoti, Centenary Volume, Published by Boudha Dharmakur Sabha, Kolkata, India, August, 2009 page no.190
 Tripitaka is the holy book of Buddhist religion. It has three parts, known as Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. These three parts are called Thipitaka which have 64 Volumes.
 Bhikkhu Silabhadra, Therigatha, Published by Mahabodhi Society, Calcutta-12, India , 1951, Introduction, page-7,8
 Bhikkhunī Pāṭimokkha, (The Bhikkhunīs Code of Discipline), Translated from the Pali, Thanissaro Bhikkhu
 Editor, Mr. Hemendu Bikash Chowdhury, Jagajjoti, Centenary Volume, Published by Boudha Dharmakur Sabha, Kolkata, India, August, 2009,page no.191