The book fathoms the life and position of Buddhist women in ancient India. In order to get a true picture the book is primarily based on Pali Tipitaka, Commentaries, Ceylon-chronicles and Mahayan Sanskrit treatise. A large span of ten centuries have been covered and will prove a stimulating study for those who already know and for those who would like discover something of ancient Indian life, customs and women in particular.
An analysis of reluctance and later acceptance of women in the Samgha by the Buddha-along with Atthagaru Dhammas have been incorporated. The Patimokkha Vinaya laws of nuns, major and minor have been briefly but critically translated and compared with the rules of the monks. Their reflections in the Sutta-Pitaka have been studied, for the first time.
The life of a nun in the samgha and society has been vividly narrated. The contribution of women in making Bodhisattas and Gotam Buddha have been examined. The various domestic phases in a life of women and social environments, that causes ups and down in her life are scrupulously studied.
The approach of the book is not only to take a survey or of describe the life of women but also to discern the gain and loss, she had borne with for historically a long period (6th cent. B.C. to 6th cent. A.D.). It is hoped that the book will prove as an asset to scholars and students of Ancient Indian Culture, History, Sociology, Pali and Buddhistic studies.
Dr. Meena Talim has retired as Professor and Head of Departments of Ancient Indian Culture and Pali, St.Xavier’s college, Mumbai (1990). She was first to be awarded Ph.D in Pali from University of Mumbai (1960). Her contribution to the subject, in various aspects social, political, historical, literary, medicine and surgery, art and architecture is remarkably significant.
Her publication include ‘Buddhavamsa’ (1969), Woman in Early Buddhist literature (1972), Bagh Paintings- Identification and Interpretation (2002), Science of Medicine and surgery in Buddhist India (2009), Edicts of King As’oka- A new vision (2010)Life of women in Buddhist literature (2010), Ajanta Paintings Unidentified and misinterpreted (2012), Bagh Caves Painting s & Sculptures (2014), Buddhist Art Vol I and II, Buddhist studies Vol I and II (forthcoming). She has also contributed more than hundred research papers (English & Marathi) to Indological journals, National & International; seminars, symposiums and conferences.
Dr. Talim is presently working as a Honorary Professor to K.J.Somaiya Centre for Buddhist studies and visiting Professor at University of Mumbai (dept of Pali).
I had submitted my Ph.D thesis, nearly five decades ago, with similar topic to the University of Mumbai (Bombay). In 1972, it was published by University of Mumbai, entitled as “Women in Early Buddhist Literature.” The book was out of print in a few years; from that time onward there was consistent enquiries about the book. Recently when I had been to International Seminar of I.A.B.U.at Thailand many scholars of East and West desired to have the copy of the book. Hence, I have once again thought of the same topic; but instead of reprinting the book I have decided to add more information about woman and get more exhaustive idea about ancient Indian Buddhist woman. This time I was more lucky to have Pali books printed Devanagari scripts, printed by Nava Nalanda Mahavidyalaya and Vipassana Research Institute. Along with these source materials, I have also referred to books of Pali Text Society (London), Mithila University, University of Pune, and University of Mumbai.
I have mainly confined to Pali Tipitakas, commentaries, Vamsa Literature and Mahayana – Sanskritised Pali books. Pali Tipitaka books have no authors and their composition was complete within about a century after the parinibbana of the Buddha. The rest belongs to the following centuries extending upto 5th cent. A.D. I have collected ,material from all these sources of thousand years to get a clear idea about the position of woman in the Buddhist period. Besides, as a professor of ancient Indian Culture and Buddhist Studies, I have tried to collaborate the historical aspects of ancient India. Thus my perspective to this topic is historical, social, religious and literary.
We know that nearly half of the population of the world consists of women. Hence the civilization of any country depends mainly upon the status and honour given by the people to womankind. As a student of Pali and later on as a teacher of Pali, Buddhist Studies and ancient Indian Culture, I could realize the difference between the two sisterly religions- Hinduism and Buddhism – especially in the treatment that the the woman received in the society. As far as behavioural pattern is concerned; which may be apparently similar, but she was awakened about her mental capability. She was a daughter, wife and mother but in all these phases of life she was aware of her individual indentity. I think this was the greatest difference between Buddhist woman and her counterpart- her contemporary fellow-sisters. Her self-pride, self-esteem and self-identity was aroused; therefore she was able to face mundane as well as spiritual calamities. She is no more helpless, dependent upon men for her individual uplift.
I am aware that number of scholars in the past and present have worked on this fascinating topic. But I have discovered lack of proper treatment and awareness, as hitherto sentimentalism or idealism seems to have kept them away from giving a true picture of woman or womanhood. The standpoint of view that I have all along kept was neither favouritism or parochialism, but to get a real and true picture of a Buddhist woman in ancient an India. In an appreciation of the subject I did not totter in between bious and partial approach. I believe in dictum of Cromwell – “Paint me as I am” ; and hope that this book will reveal the same.
This book is an honest attempt to study life of woman in the Buddhist Literature. I have enlightened her merits and demerits, her weakness and good qualities and discussed them carefully. The Buddhist woman being a product of ancient Indian society does not appear to vary much from her fellow sisters; but she does differ in degree if not in kind. Nevertheless, she is more awaken as a human being; at times she has courageously fought with traditions and customs. She has definitely elevated the position of woman in the society. She voiced her feelings and achieved rights in religious and social matters. I think this is a great contribution of Buddhist woman to womanhood.
It seems an impact of an awareness was so great that one can see large number of women, whether Buddhist or non-Buddhist were impressed by it. An entire panorama of Buddhist Literature speaks of an endowment of Buddhist woman to an ancient Indian Culture. We come across women like Queen Nayanika, who after the death of King Satakarni I (1st Cent. B.C. ) acted as a regent for her two minor sons. Queen Karuvaki, wife of King Asoka enumerates a list of donations that she had made. Queen Tishyrakshita ruled over Kingdom of Asoka for a few days. Nun Samghamitta, a daughter the King Asoka became first female missionary of the world. Queen Rajashree of King Grahavarman influenced her brother King Harshavardhana of 6th Cent. A.D. I think all such evidences depict the valour of women and was an influence of an awareness that Buddhist woman had generated, directly or indirectly.
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