Women under Primitive Buddhism Laywomen and Almswomen

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Item Code: IDK182
Author: I.B. Horner
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788120806641
Pages: 391 (6 B/W Plates)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.9" X 5.9"
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Book Description

The author has asked me to give my blessing to her maiden effort in the field of India's religious history, and I give it very whole-heartedly. Much has she put into the modest compass of her book-a much which is more than has yet come into the hands of English readers-on the subject of women's needs and aspirations and accomplishment in the centuries covered by her title. Especially do I commend her treatment of woman's life, there and during that time, as a whole, and not merely that life as given to "religion." The latter loses balance and proportion if considered apart from the former. We must see what women left, and why they left, if we would justly value what they gained, or at least deemed they would gain, in the new departure-it was relatively new-of, as it was called, going forth. To present a coherent living picture of the life in the world of the woman, who saw the inception of the New World, now known as Buddhism, was no easy task, and much worthy and fruitful labour has it entailed. In the records of women who had joined the Order, we see woman become articulate about herself and her life. She had, as to all social ends, all domestic interests become not woman, but homo. The home life made plenty of claim upon body and mind, but not upon her mind as medium of self-expression. It was in this unwonted channel that she expanded, side by side with men, as religieuse; and the Anthology, in which some of this self-articulation is collected, is a treasure unique perhaps in literature.

One thing I would have the reader bear in mind, and that is that the records, in ' Vinaya, Sutta and Anthology, of the religious, whether we call her alms-woman, sister or nun, extend in all probability over quite a long period of time. There are references, almost certainly true, to women contemporary with Gotama the Founder, such as his aunt and stepmother Pajapati, and Visakha the generous patroness. And there are poems by nuns who may well have been contemporary with King Asoka. This means a period of about three hundred years. Now during that long time there was room for much evolution; but this is the phase in it to which alone I would draw attention: room enough for what began, as solely a call to mission work, to develop into a field offering various opportunities for women having various needs and aspirations to satisfy these. In publishing just twenty years ago a translation of the Anthology, I drew up a table of such satisfactions as the authoresses seemed to have found. Perhaps therein I allowed too little for sheer play of imagination. An almswoman could be as temperamental as her lay-sister. But there were two aspirations of outstanding interest distinguishing this Anthology from that of the men-liberty or emancipation (vimutti), and the expansion of her essential nature as human being apart from her femininity. The author has considered both these phases, and I only mention them here to throw into greater relief that which the inception of the Sakyan (Buddhist) movement meant for the first woman disciples of the Order, as distinct from that which the religious career came to mean for women.

As disciples of, and as co-workers with the first Sakyans, the first woman-members would both have the eager will to help the many, and would find themselves involved in that work, and in nothing else. We should think of them as we do of those first disciples round Jesus, and of the Marys. I am not claiming that women were admitted in the first few years; they could not well be, till some sort of "settlement" had been formed. (The orthodox account of Pajapati and her companions seeking admission is probably by no means the real first entry of women.) in to gain this or that advantage in life from being in the Community. A world-religion does not make its start in that way. That way belongs to the well-established thing. Ask any great movement of religious work in our own day whether that is not so.

What, then, was the work of the few who, to ward, to mother the Many needing the New Word for which the hour had come, joined the Sakyans? Theirs it was to teach a Mandate which, under the figure of a Way and Wayfaring through many worlds, held up-shall I say it so? –Two supreme teachings. These were the importance in the matter of man's safety, i.e. salvation, of the good or moral life; and that the supreme authority in the matter of choosing that way to safety lay within the very self of each man. The best-established teaching of the day taught that in man's nature the Highest, the Best, the Divine was enshrined. The new teaching of the Sakyans showed that man could become More like this potential Most within him by following Its urge within him: the monitor we now call conscience, but which they taught as dhamma.

It was this that those first women missioners were, with their brother missioners, concerned to win opportunity to spend themselves about; it was for this that the really worthy among them wanted "liberty," this for which they valued liberty. We might call this "educating the souls" of the Many; in India they called it "realizing the Man (purusha, atta, satta)." And if we would bear this in mind, and put aside our Western movements of to-day, what light does it not throw, for instance, on the remarkable verses of Soma, said to be a daughter of the chaplain of Gotama's first patron, Bimbisara, the King of Magadha:

"What should the woman-nature count for us, in her who with mind well set, and knowledge advancing, has right insight into dhamma ? to one for whom the question arises, 'Am I a woman in these matters, or am I a man, or what then am I ?' such as are you, you evil one, are fit to talk." Here is no question of sex equality; here is the very Man beneath or above six; it is the very soul of the woman, as of the man, with whom she is concerned. But we, reading our own day into the lines, see in them the new woman, dissociating herself from sex-aspect, and calling on man to do so also. I would give much of the Therigatha in exchange for more lines by Soma.

If indeed, as seems probable, she was a contemporary of Gotama, we can note that she used the word dhamma as he would have approved, namely as the "voice" of the very Deity immanent in the man; and hence as That Whose mandate the man "should hold in highest reverence" (Kindred Sayings, i., 175f.). This utterance is associated with his earliest teaching, and albeit it is so edited as to be mixed up with much later systematized technics of doctrine, it dates from a day when there was no formulated code of teaching in existence among the Sakyans which could be meant by the term dhamma. But Buddhists have come to mean just this externalized body of monitions, etc., in the term. And we endorse that ecclesiastical view by speaking of "the Dhamma," which is as if we were to say "the conscience," "the duty." For Soma, in a day of outgrown personalized concepts of Deity, right insight into dhamma would mean, that "advance (in the Way)" was made when the man chose (way fared) as that Voice of the Highest within him bade. She was teaching, not the development of the woman as such, but the more in growth of the divine germ who was she.

Thus it is with the utterance of this New Word that she was preoccupied. And not Soma the nun only. Much and fluent self-expression in what was then a new outlook is not to be looked for in sayings ascribed to the women, even when repeater and editor recorded loyally. But that mother of her world, Visakha, was also envisaging this New Word as a "making to grow within herself" of what was there, as we say, potentially. "Let me make this gift to the Community," she said to the Founder; "it will be in me a source of becoming (lit. a making to become: bhavana) in moral and spiritual growth (Vinaya, Mhv. Viii., 15, 13)." Such will have been the "Ariyan growth" (vaddhi) commended in the woman, in a little known Sutta (Kindred Sayings, iv., 168) Neither of these two elect women talks about the "saving" of others. The one states in a general way what is true for her; the other expresses chief interest in her own spiritual growth. Their own lives were the best testimony to their mothering of others. And anyway it was, and still is, Indian to make one's own salvation the explicit quest. But if we compare with these women of the reticence in word that pattern of what K. E. Neumann called "the incorrigible recluse in men," Sumedha, we see, expanded with fervour, poetic art and a very flood of words, the one ideal of escape for herself from the world-in other words, from duty present and impending. Here, if you will, is "emancipation," but it is not the sublime freedom of Becoming in the Man, the Spirit, of Soma's lines. Sumedha, it is true, may have used her strong will to riddance from duty, after she had.

Thus her mind
Declaring, dropped her tresses on the floor,

In the higher educational work, for which she certainly had great aptitude of a sort. I would be the last to think of her save with respect. She was not to blame for the monastic machine which, in working the spread of the original teaching, had transformed it out of almost all semblance to what that was, any more than was Catherine of Siena to blame for a similar distorting vehicle of her later day. The parallel is not to be pressed, yet it is not as present as it might be to some of to-day's religieux. Seventeen years ago I was standing before the painting in Catherine's old Siena home, where she, too, is cutting off her "tresses," and dropping them on the floor, like Sumedha, in defiance of her parents' wishes. And to an Italian priest, also looking, I commented in, I fear, poor Italian on the early parallel in the Buddhist nun. But he, with an almost malignant gesture of repulsion, snapped out: "Ah, they were no true nuns," and strode away.

This book has been undertaken and brought to birth in a very opposite spirit to anything so murky as that. In it we read of women of sincere aspirations and earnest will seeking the More, the Better, in life, whether they mothered the world in the home, or mothered it in the "homeless" to which they went forth. The new spirit has largely outgrown the idea, that the career of a recluse is the best way either to save one's self or to develop the mandate of a New Word. But that such a book as this has come to birth, and will find appreciative readers, is a hopeful sign that my young priest is no measure of the world's expanding sympathy with the forward efforts of women, whenever and wherever found.

Prefatory Note

The subject of this book was proposed to me by Mrs. Rhys Davids. I should like to express my deep gratitude to her for her invaluable suggestions, criticism and help, and for her constant interest throughout the progress of this work. It has been carried out in most pleasant conditions at Newnham College, and with the kindest encouragement from those in authority.

I am also indebted to the Council of Bedford College for their generous permission to reproduce the statue of Gotama the Buddha which appears as the frontispiece of this volume, this beautiful statue, a part of the late Lady Herringham's Collection, is now in the Library of Bedford College.

The photographs facing pages 222 and 283 were given me by Dr. Andreas Nell, of Kandy. He has also supplied me with some notes about the life of present-day nuns in Ceylon. Others were sent me by Mrs. Mularatne, of Colombo. Through the interest of Professor G. H. Luce of the University of Rangoon, I have been enabled to incorporate various details of the life of present-day nuns in Burma. To these three friends I am much indebted.

I have also been greatly assisted by Mrs. Archer-Hind, who has bestowed much careful attention upon reading the proofs.

From the Jacket

The book is an attempt to present the position of the laywomen and the almswomen in historical focus. Here, for the first time, we read of women of sincere aspirations and earnest will, seeking the more, the better, in life.

For the study of the laywomen the author has exploited the material found in the Canonical literature, the Commentaries thereon, the Jatakas and the Milindapanha, while most of the material for the account of the almswomen is gathered from the Vinaya-pitaka (especially the Bhikkhuni-Khandhaka and Bhikkhuni-Vibhanga), the Therigatha and the commen-taries, references scattered throughout Pali literature have also contributed to this account.

The book is divided into two parts bound in one Volume. Part I (Chs. 1-2) depicts the laywomen as the mother, daughter, wife, widow and worker. Part II (Chs. 1-5) deals with the almswomen, their admission into the Order, the Eight chief Rules, Therigatha, Life in the Order, while Chs. 5 and 5 of this part are further divided into parts or sections.

Isaline Blew Horner was one of the Presidents of the Pali Text Society, Oxford and an honorary Fellow of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. She published her first work Women Under Primitive Buddhism (1930). Her second major publication, in 1936, was a study of the 'Arahant' The Early Buddhist Theory of Man Perfected. Horner was patronized by the Bewnham College, Cambridge, throughout her life where she had begun her studies in Moral Sciences (philosophy) department and to which she was later attached as Asistant Librarian, then Librarian. Between 1946 and 1966 she had to her credit among other works a series of translations of the pali texts, the major being the book of Discipline (translation of Vinaya Pitaka), Middle Length Saying (translation of Majjhima-Nikaya), Milinda's Questions (translation of Milindapanha), Buddhavamsa: Chronicle of Buddhas and Cariyapitaka: Basket of Conduct.


Prefatory Notexi
I. The MotherI-18
II.The Daughter19-34
III.The Wife35-71
IV.The Widow72-82
VThe Woman Worker83-94
I. Admission into the Order95-117
II.The Eight Chief Rules for Almswomen118-161
III.Therigatha (Two Parts)162-210
IV.Life in the Order211-312
Part I. "Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience"-Food given in Alms-Robes-Manual and Domestic Work-Other Regulations for the Simple Life-Hospitality from Alms-people-Writing and Learning-Quarrels among Almswomen-Complaints from Alms-women.211-246
Part II. Training of Novices-Preaching-Meditation – Ways of Leaving the Order.247-267
Part III. Intercommunication of Almsmen and Alms-women-Constitution of the Audiences at the Discourses-Equality of Almsmen and Alms-women-Forms of Address used.268-294
Part IV. Ananda and Women-Gotama and Women295-312
V.The Order and the Laity313-379
Part I. Donations from the Laity to the Order-Alms-women and Laymen313-344
Part II. Life of Visakha345-361
Part III. Preaching to the Laity-Conversion by the Laity.362-379
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