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Aspects of Early Buddhist Sociological Thought

Aspects of Early Buddhist Sociological Thought

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Published by Han Sang Kim

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Published by: Han Sang Kim on Apr 20, 2014
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In some of the cultures in the world, there was and is
still a double standard of chastity for husband and wife.
Social history records how for generations women in North
African tribes have been subjected to a barbaric operation
to remove their clitoris with the belief of reducing their sex
urge to make them chaste. And also in medieval Europe
how wives were kept under lock and key with chastity belts
to ensure their chastity in the absence of their husbands.
These beliefs seem to have evolved on the supposed superi-
ority of man at creation and his absolute sexual power over
woman. Therefore Marxism went to the extent of saying

that the frst class struggle in the world began with the

subjugation of woman by man. Hindu law ascribing a sub-
ordinate position to woman at Brahma’s creation, intro-
duced a double standard of morality; for that matter, laid
down a double standard of chastity for husband and wife.
For it is stated in the Manusmrti:
“Although the husband is immoral, lustful in behaviour
and devoid of good qualities, the wife should wait on him,


For a detailed discussion see Gnanarama P. Ven. – An
Approach to Buddhist Social Philosophy pp.33–43


S. IV, p.238


always regarding him highly as a god.”24
On the contrary, the abstinence from sexual miscon-
duct (kāmesu micchācārā veramani)
in the fundamental fve
precepts of laity is for both men and women. As Buddhism
does not advocate a double standard of chastity, both hus-
band and wife are instructed to be moral. It is mentioned
in the Advice to Sigala that husband and wife should be
faithful to each other. As the wife is the best friend of the
husband (bhariyā’va paramā sakhā), they together have to
work with mutual understanding and friendship. Adultery
is considered an evil to be avoided. Therefore, as what we

fnd in post-industrial societies in epidemic proportion, wife

beating, child abuse or absolute sexual rights amounting to
raping spouses, could not exist in an ideal Buddhist family.25

Confdent living in households is ensured by the adherence
to the fve precepts. Women who are protected by mother,

father, mother and father, brother, sister or relatives, who
have a husband, who are protected by law and even with
those who are garlanded in token for betrothal are particu-
larly mentioned in the Sāleyyaka and Sevitabbāsevitabba-
suttas in the Majjhima Nikāya, to be avoided in sustain-
ing sexual relations beyond the legally permitted limit of a

As Buddhism always does, virtuousness has been
given the pride of place even for the betterment of mar-
ried life. Five conditions have been mentioned as hard to
be won by a woman who has wrought no merits but easily
won by a woman who has wrought merits:


“Visilah kāmavrtto vā gunau va parivarjitah upacryāh striyā
sādhvyā satatam devavadpatih” — Manusmrti 5. 154


D. iii, 180 ff. In some of the states in America, wife-rape has
been made illegal


S. iv, p.250. M. i, p.286; M. iii, p.46


1. To be born into a proper family

2. To be married to a proper husband

3. To be married and live without a rival (co-wife)

4. To produce children

5. To gain mastery over her husband27

Since we have references to co-wives, polygamy seems to
have been practised to a certain extent. In the Therigāthā,
we see how acute was the problem. The nun Uppalavanna
recollects how both mother and daughter had to live as co-
wives of a husband:

“In enmity we lived, bound to one man,
Mother and daughter both as rival wives!
O what a woeful plight I found, was ours,
Unnatural offence! My hair stood up.”

–Therigāthā 224

Another nun, Isidasi, relates how she was driven away by
several husbands although she served them as a slave and

fnally wedded to a polygamous husband:

“Now in my sixteenth year, when I
Blossomed a maiden, that same merchant’s son,
Giridasa the name of him, loved me
And made me wife. Another wife he had.”

–Therigāthā 445

Then she recounting the past, relates how disunity erupted
among them. Perhaps Kisagotami is very expressive in
giving vent to her feelings:

“Woeful is woman’s lot! hath he declared,


S. iv, p.249


Tamer and Driver of the hearts of the men:
Woeful in sharing homes with hostile wives,
Woeful when giving birth in bitter pain,
Some seeking death, or e’er they suffer twice,
Piercing the throat; the delicate poison take.
Woe too when mother-murdering embryo

Comes not to birth, and both alike fnd death.

–Therigāthā 216, 217

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