Hindutva Fascism and Cultural Revolution
Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Zelliot, Dr. Eleanor - Interview on Dalit Liberation, Hindutva Fascism and Cultural Revolution - By Yoginder Sikand
Zelliot, Dr. Eleanor - Interview on Dalit Liberation,
Hindutva Fascism and Cultural Revolution
Hindutva Fascism and Cultural Revolution
- By Yoginder Sikand
Dr. Eleanor Zelliot, a leading American Scholar, has done pioneering work through her studies of various aspects of the Dalit liberation movement, about which she speaks here to Yoginder Sikand.
Q: How did you develop an interest in the Dalit Movement?
A: I got interested in Ambedkar when I was reading widely about India when I was at the university, and found his name in most books which I referred to. I however, had no analyze to explain his rise. I have been supporting the African-American movement since I was 14, so the comparable Indian movement was a natural subject for me.
Q: You have written a great deal on Dalit Cultures. How would you define that term ?
A: Every act, including a poem, song, object or design that a person who defines himself or herself as a Dalit does or creates act of creation arising out of the fact of the consciousness of one's being a Dalit is a part of Dalit Culture.
Q. Can non-Dalits play any role in developing Dalit Culture?
A. A white man cannot write Black literature, though he can write wonderfully well about Black society.
John Griffin, a white American sociologist, painted himself black, lived in a black ghetto for two months, and then wrote a book which be claimed faithfully represented an insider 's view of Black society in America.
But the blacks asserted that despite this attempt at identifying with them, he was unable to fully capture the story of their plight.
The same is true for the Dalits in India. Non-Dalits cannot write Dalit literature, but they have a crucial role to play in facilitating its development. The social awakening brought about by non-Dalit reformers in Maharashtra such as Ranade, Agarkar and Bhandarkar did play a crucial role in the later rise of the Ambedkarite movement. A group of Maharashtrian non-Dalits were the first to publish radical literature written by Dalits. I therefore see the possibility of non-Dalits being facilitators to the Dalit movement but not its guides or preachers. Non-Dalits cannot direct the Dalit movement. When Gandhi announced that he was a "Harijan” that ended forever the possibility of his leadership of the Dalits.
Q. Do you see the possibility of a radical liberation theology on Latin American lines emerging in Ambedkarite Buddhism today?
A. To a great extent, conversion to Buddhism has meant psychological liberation to many Dalits. The Dalits today appear to be moving towards a socially more engaged Buddhism, but not really in the direction of liberation theology. This is akin to the recent developments in Thai and Vietnamese Buddhism. The Dalits could learn a lot from the efforts of people like the Vietnamese scholar Thich Nat Than who teaches "Buddhism and Social Action" in France. There are several training institutes for the Buddhist Sangha in Maharashtra, but 1 am not sure if the Sangha is really necessary. What is required are more lay teachers moving from one Vihara E or Dalit settlement to the other.
There is also a pressing need to develop Buddhist cultural activities to transmit the message of social emancipation through dramas, folk songs etc. The cultural side of Buddhism bas been neglected by the Sangha. Buddhism appeals directly to the intellectual, but for the masses one requires more colour, more activity.
Q: But are these efforts radical enough or are they at best reformist?
A: I am not quite sure what the term "Revolution" really means today. Marxists in many countries, while not ignoring macro-level issues, are thinking in terms of local problems, grassroots level organizations and decentralized leadership. And as far as liberation theology E is concerned, I do not think it has as yet emerged in India and most certainly not in Hinduism. Instead, what has happened is that the secular Indian intelligentsia has left the field of religion completely to the conservatives and reactionaries. In such a situation, where is the possibility of liberation theology emerging?
Q. Is it possible to creatively draw upon the epics, legends and collective memory of the Dalits and other oppressed groups to assist in their mobilization for social emancipation?
A. Such a venture would work wonders for arousing the awareness of the Dalits. Much work has to be done to collect the peoples own versions of history or oral history their stories and songs of defiance of caste oppression, etc. These can then be used by activists in the field in a creative way. For instance, the stories of Eklavya, Shambhukh and the ballads of the Dusadhs of Bihar that an associate of mine has collected, could be used as crucial images in the creation of a positive Dalit culture. Dalit culture and the Dalit movement cannot be built on the mere negative platform of anti-Brahminism. The infusing of Dalit culture with the images of the long-forgotten Dalit heroes and heroines would serve as a positive foundation of the Dalit cultural movement.
Q: Would the Ambedkarite Dalit cultural movement that you talk about be able to unite the various Dalit castes?
A: I feel that Ambedkarites ought to make efforts to link their movement to the local folk heroes and anti-caste charismatic leaders of the various Dalit castes so that its appeal could be much wider. I saw a good instance of this at the Ravidas Temple at Ramakrishnapuram in New Delhi recently. A picture of Ambedkar there is placed next to one of Ravidas and this is an effective means to link the Ravidasis to the Ambedkarite Movement. However, it is also a fact that the Bhakti and a Untouchable Saints had a limited social programme, and the Dalit Cultural Movement needs to be aware of this. Preaching the equality of all people in the eyes of God is not the same as actually transforming society in the direction of social equality.
Q: Is it not the case that many Dalits today have almost turned Ambedkar into another divine prophet and thereby refuse to critically evaluate or re-interpret Ambedkarism?
A: It is true that many Dalit Buddhists are not going beyond Ambedkar. In the minds of these Dalits, Ambedkar was the one who gave them self-respect, and so they feel the same way about him as many Indians feel about their "Gurus". As regards the need to creatively reinterpret Ambedkarism today, some Dalits do not seem to agree and they appear to be arguing that if Marxism was in existence for 150 years but Marx was not capable of being critically evaluated until only some years ago, a somewhat similar logic operates in their strict adherence to the views articulated by Ambedkar.
Q: Do you sense any danger to the Dalit Movement as the result of the growing threat of Brahminical Hindu chauvinism?
A: The RSS is trying to co-opt Ambedkar. They even go to the extent of claiming that Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, and Ambedkar had similar aims!- (laughs)...If the RSS are genuinely admirers of Ambedkar they ought to denounce caste and convert to Buddhism as Ambedkar did! It is simply impossible to go back to the Varna System as many Hindu revivalists argue. In today's context only the Brahmin Varna has any meaning and sociological relevance. Even in the Varna system the Shudras are considered to be menials, so attempting to revive this system would not change their degraded status at all.
Thursday, 9 March 2017
Tuesday, 7 March 2017
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE HINDU WOMAN : WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR IT ?- BR Ambedkar
In the journal of the Maha Bodhi for March 1950 there appeared an article on “The Position of Women in Hinduism and Buddhism” *by Lama Govinda. His article was a rejoinder to an article which had appeared in Eve’s Weekly of January 21, 1950, and in which the Buddha was charged as being the man whose teachings were mainly responsible for the downfall of women in India. Lama Govinda did his duty as every Buddhist must in coming forward to refute the charge. But the matter cannot be allowed to rest there. This is not the first time such a charge is made against the Buddha. It is often made by interested parties who cannot bear his greatness, and comes from quarters weightier in authority than the writer an Eve’s Weekly can claim. It is, therefore, necessary to go to the root of the matter and examine the very foundation of this oft repeated charge. The charge is so grave and so vile that the readers of the Maha Bodhi will, I am sure, welcome further examination of it.
Such a charge against the Buddha can be supported on two grounds only -
The first possible ground may be the reply which the Buddha is reported (in Chapter V - Mahaparinibbana Sutta) to have given to a question put to him by Ananda. It reads as follows :
“9. How are we to conduct ourselves, (asked Ananda)
with regard to womankind ?
As not seeing them, Ananda.
But if we should see them,
what are we to do ?
Not talking, Ananda.
But if they should speak to us,
Lord, what are we to do ?
Keep wide awake, Ananda.”
* See Appendix—II.110 DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR : WRITINGS AND SPEECHES z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 110
There is no denying that the passage in question is to be found in the text of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta as published by the Oxford University Press. The point, however, is not whether the passage exists or not. The point is that if any argument is to be built upon this passage, is it not necessary to prove that the text is original and genuine and not a latter interpolation by the Bhikkhus ?
Any one who knows the central teachings of the Buddha is quite bewildered after reading the Sutta Pitaka as we find it now wrapped about by the mythical drapery, disfigured by additions of purely Brahmanic ideas entirely foreign to the original Buddhist thought and distorted by the twists and turns given to it by monastic ideas intended to enforce monastic ideals. So much so that one is inclined to join in wonder with Mrs. Rhys Davids1, and ask :-
“Where in these pages of (the Sutta Pitaka) is Gotama? How much of them, how little, is a blend of (it may be) original saying clearly or confusedly reproduced, of fillings by ages of successive narrators, of memory-schemes drawn up by teachers, not teachers of the multitude but of orally learning pupils, of efforts, often clumsy, by editors to set down in writing much that had long been more fluently told ? And all of them, narrators, teachers, editors, were men whose choice of ideals of life differed from that of the rest of the world, differed the more in proportion as they were sincerely not of the world as well as not in it. Through this distorting medium he has to read, and ask himself which sayings, put into the mouth of a certain accredited ‘teacher and way-shower” of truth, are likely to have come from such a man as he is recorded to have been ?”
There is therefore nothing very extravagant in the suggestion that this passage is a later interpolation by the Bhikkhus. In the first place the Sutta Pitaka was not reduced to writing till 400 years had passed after the death of the Buddha. Secondly, the Editors who compiled and edited them were Monks
1 : Preface (xiii) to Kindred Sayings, Vol. II.111 z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 111
THE RISE . . . . . . . . . FOR IT ?
and the Monk Editors compiled and wrote for the Monk. The statement attributed to the Buddha is valuable for a Monk to preserve his rule of celibacy and it is not unlikely for the Monk Editor to interpolate such a rule.
There are two other considerations which go to support the suggestion that this passage is a later interpolation.
(1) Firstly, from the Table given in the introduction to this Sutta (to be found on page 72 of the Digha Nikaya, part II, in the S.B.B. Series, by Davids ) it will be noticed that great many of the passages which occur in this Sutta also occur in other Suttas. It is important to note that this passage does not occur in any other Sutta notwithstanding the fact that they contain so many other passages from this Sutta.
(2) Secondly, from page XXXVIII of the introduction to this Sutta (published in Vol. XI of the S.B.E. by Davids) it appears that there exists a Chinese version of this Sutta. But this Chinese text also does not contain this particular passage.
Let us go further and apply the test of probability. Was there any reason why Ananda should have asked such a question? Was it in keeping with the known relations of Buddha with women ? There is evidence to show that such a question could not have been asked by Ananda and that if such a question had been asked, the Buddha could not have given such a reply. The conduct of Ananda and of the Buddha toward women as reported in the Pitakas is so contrary to the possibility of such a question being raised and such an answer being given.
On the point as to whether there was any necessity for Ananda to ask such a question it is relevant to note that in the same Chapter of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, only a few gathas removed from those quoted above, the Buddha describes how sweet was Ananda and how he was loved by all. Out of them I quote below the two following gathas—112 DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR : WRITINGS AND SPEECHES z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 112
“16. Brethren, there are these four wonderful and marvellous qualities in Ananda.
If, brethren, a number of the brethren of the Order should come to visit Ananda, they are filled with joy on beholding him; and if Ananda should then preach the truth to them, they are filled with joy at the discourse; while the company of brethren is ill at ease, brethren, when Ananda is silent.
If brethren, a number of the sisters of the Order................ or of devout men, ..................... or of devout women, should behold him; and if Ananda should then preach the truth to them, they are filled with joy at the discourse; while the company of sisters is ill at ease, brethren, when Ananda is silent.”
From this it is clear that it was usual for Ananda to meet women, not only sisters but devout women who were not members of the Order. He used to see them, meet them and talk to them. Why then should Ananda have asked such a question ? The Buddha knew that the women used to meet Ananda. He raised no objection before. Why should he have thought of interdicting and forbidding all contact with women ? The whole passage is so unnatural that it must be regarded as a later monastic interpolation.
There is another instance in the life of Ananda which stands in stark contrast with the passage in the Mahaparinibbana Sutra. As is well known, in the first Sangiti (Council) five complaints were made against Ananda. They were :—
(1) that he failed to ask which parts of the Vinaya were in the opinion of the Buddha the lesser parts for which he gave authority to the Sangha to alter and amend;
(2) that he stepped on the Robe of the Lord during retreat when sewing it;
(3) that he caused the body of the departed Lord to be saluted first by women so that it was soiled by their tears ;113 z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 113 THE RISE . . . . . . . . . FOR IT ?
(4) that he did not ask the Lord to live for a cycle, and
(5) that he was principally instrumental in getting women admitted to the Sangha.
To all these charges Ananda pleaded guilty. Whether he should have pleaded guilty or not is another matter. What is of interest is the third charge. For it has great relevance to the issue in question. Why did Ananda allow women to touch the body of the Master if the advice given by him as mentioned in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta is true as a fact ? Would he so flagrantly and knowingly disobey the advice given by the Buddha a few minutes before?” The answer must be in the negative. What follows from this negative answer ? What follows is that the Buddha had not given such an advice as is alleged against him. For if he had given such an advice, Ananda could not have acted contrary to it. It therefore stands to reason that no such advice had been given by the Buddha.
Let us now consider the question from the side of the Buddha. Would it have been natural for the Buddha to give such a reply ? The answer to this question must depend upon Buddha’s course of conduct towards women. Did the Buddha avoid meeting women as is suggested by the advice he is reported to have given to Ananda? Where are the facts ?
Two examples at once come to mind. One is that of Visakha. She was one of the eighty chief disciples of the Buddha with the title of “Chief of Alms-givers’. Did not Visakha at one time go to hear Buddha preach ? Did she not enter his monastery ? Did the Buddha act towards Visakha in the manner he directed Ananda to act towards women ? What did the Bhikkhus present at the meeting do? Did they leave the meeting?
The second instance that comes to one’s mind is that of Amrapali of Vaisali. She went to see the Buddha and gave him and his monks an invitation for a meal at her house. She was courtesan. She was the most beautiful woman in Vaisali. Did the Buddha and the Bhikkhus avoid her ? On the other hand they accepted her invitation-rejecting the invitation of the Licchavis who felt quite insulted on that account- and went to her home and partook of her food.114 DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR : WRITINGS AND SPEECHES z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 114
Other examples are not wanting. The Nandakovada Sutta1 tells of Mahaprajapati Gotami having brought five hundred alms-women with her to the Buddha when he was staying at Sravasti with a request that he should instruct them in the Doctrine and Discipline. Did the Buddha run away from them ?
The Samyutta Nikaya2 reports that Kokanada, daughter of Pajjuna, when the night was far spent shedding radiance with her effulgent beauty over the whole Mahavana, came into the presence of the Buddha when he was staying at Vaisali.
The reports of frequent visits of Queen Mallika, wife of King Pasenajit, to the Buddha for religious instructions are scattered in the Pitakas.
From these instances it is clear that the Buddha did not shun women and women were not afraid of going to the Buddha.
It is true that the Buddha did advise3 the Bikkhus not to make it a habit to visit families of lay disciples for fear of human weakness yielding to frequent contacts with women. But he did not forbid such visits nor did he express any disdain about women as such.
It is also true that the Buddha was dreadfully keen in maintaining celibacy. He was painfully aware of the fact that, to use his own words,4 “Women doth stain life of celibacy”. But what did he advise ? Did he advise the Bhikkhus to shun all contact with women ? Not at all. He never put any such interdict. Far from doing any such thing what he did was to tell the Bhikkhus that whenever they met any women, do ye call up the mother-mind, the sister-mind, or the daughter-mind5 as the case may be i.e. regard a woman as you would your own mother, sister or daughter.
The second possible ground which an opponent of the Buddha can rely upon in support of the accusation is the opposition of the Buddha to women joining the Sangha and in making the Bhikkhuni Sangha (when he ultimately allowed it) subordinate to the Bhikkhu Sangha. Here again a further analysis of the situation is necessary. Why did the Buddha oppose the
1 : Majjima Nikaya II. P. 309.
2 : Vol. I P. 40.
3 : Anguttara Nikaya III P. 190.
4 : Samyutta Nikaya I. P. 53.
5 : Kindred Saying IV, P. 68.115 z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 115 THE RISE . . . . . . . . . FOR IT ?
demand of Mahaprajapati to take parivraja (ordination) ? Did he oppose it because he was of opinion that women were a low class whose admission would lower the status of the Sangha in public esteem ? Or did he oppose it because he was of opinion that women intellectually and morally were incapable of realizing the ideal of His Doctrine and His Discipline? The second of these two questions was definitely put to the Buddha by Ananda in the course of the argument when he found the Buddha somewhat adamant. The Buddha gave an unequivocal answer leaving no room for doubt or dispute. He said that women were fully capable of realizing His Doctrine and His Discipline and that was not the reason why he refused their demand for taking parivraja. It is clear from this that the Buddha did not regard woman as inferior to man either in point of intellect or character. That he opposed the admission of women because he held them in low esteem and feared that they might lower the prestige of the Sangha is an argument which is hardly worth mentioning. For if that was his feeling he would never have admitted them at all.
To the argument that he made the Bhikkhuni Sangha subordinate to the Bhikku Sangha, the answer in question behind this arrangement there was no consideration as to superiority or inferiority, what lay behind this arrangement were consideration of purely practical character. In admitting women to be Parivrajikas (nuns) the Buddha had to face two questions. Should there be only one Sangha for men and women ? He decided to have two separate Sanghas. He was afraid that in a confraternity of men and women Parivrajakas the rule of celibacy would be completely lost. While therefore admitting women, he thought, it was necessary to use his own words, a dyke between them by creating two separate organisations. Having decided to create two separate organisations he was faced with another question. If there are to be two separate Sanghas- one for men and one for women- were they to be quite independent and separate organisations or was there to be some sort of inter-relation between the two ?
On the first issue no other decision was possible except that the women’s Sangha should be separate from the men’s Sangha.116 DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR : WRITINGS AND SPEECHES z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 116
This was an inevitable consequence which followed from the Rule of celibacy which was binding on both. The Buddha knew what a great force the sex instinct is with life of both man as well as woman. To use the Buddha’s own words it is this instinct which drives a man in woman’s bondage and a woman in man’s bondage. This force, if given an opportunity to have its full force, the rule of celibacy could not last for a minute. To save the rule of celibacy he had to organise two separate Sanghas.
To take up the second issue : was any decision possible other than the one the Buddha took ? The women who joined his faith were raw women. They had to be instructed in His Doctorine and they had to be trained in His rules of Discipline. Who could undertake this task ? To whom else could He have entrusted this work ? To none except the male Bhikkhus of his Order. For they were already instructed in His Doctrine and trained in His Discipline. And this is what He did. Now what was the relationship that was forged between the Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis by entrusting the work of instruction of the latter to the former ? This is a necessary question to raise. Without it the explanation of the insubordination of the Bhikkhuni Sangha to the Bhikkhu Sangha does not become quite clear. The obvious answer to this question is that by entrusting the work of training the Bhikkhunis to the Bhikkhus, their relationship became one of teacher and pupil. Now does not the relationship of teacher and pupil involve some authority for teacher over the pupil and some submission or subordination on the part of the pupil to the teacher ? What more did the Buddha do ?
In this connection it is useful to compare the relationship between monasteries and nunneries in the Christian Church. Are not the nunneries subordinate to the monasteries ? Of course they are1. Can anybody therefore say that Christianity treats women as inferior to men ? Why then should a different interpretation be put upon the arrangement made by the Buddha for regulating the relations between the Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis?
So far as the Sutta Pitaka is concerned there is absolutely no ground for the charge that the Buddha had a prejudice against women and was for ever exhorting men to beware of them.
1 : See Article “Nuns” in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol. XI. P. 164.117 z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 117 THE RISE . . . . . . . . . FOR IT ?
Let us pass from particular instances to the general attitude of the Buddha towards women in general. Did the Buddha hold women in low esteem ? I am sure that whoever reads references to women by the Buddha which occur in the sacred literature of the Buddhists will be convinced that far from doing anything which would have the effect of degrading the woman, the Buddha all along tried to ennoble woman and to elevate her. Let me give a few illustrations in support of this view.
The birth of a daughter has been from ancient past regarded as a calamity by the people of India generally. Did the Buddha share this sentiment ? His attitude towards this question was quite the contrary to the traditional view as is illustrated by this advice to King Prasenajit. Once King Prasenajit was visiting the Buddha at Sravasti in Jeta’s garden. A messenger from the Royal Palace came and informed him that his wife Queen Mallika had given birth to a daughter. On hearing this news the King went off his colour and looked sad and dejected. The Buddha noticed this change on his face and asked him for the cause of it. On being informed of it the Buddha said,1 “Why be sorry? A woman child, O Lord of men, may prove even a better offspring than a male. For she may grow up wise and virtuous... The boy that she may bear may do great deeds and rule great realms...”
In answer to a question as to why some families rise and others decay, the Buddha is reported to have told the Bhikkhus that2 —
“Whatsoever families, monks, having attained greatness of possessions fail to last long, because they seek not for what is lost, they repair not the decayed, they eat and drink to excess, they put in authority a woman or a man that is immoral. Whatsoever families.. fail to last long all of them do so because of these four reasons or one or other of them.
“Whatsoever families, monks, do last long, all of them do so because they seek for what is lost, repair the decayed, eat and drink in moderation, and put in authority a virtuous woman or
1 : Samyutta Nikaya : Vol. I, P. 110.
2 : Anguttara Nikaya : Vol. II, Pp. 254-255.118 DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR : WRITINGS AND SPEECHES z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 118
man. Whatsoever families... do last long, all of them do so because of these four reasons or one or other of them.”
In describing to the Bhikkhus what happens when a Monarch “who rolls the wheel, i.e., who is destined to be a Chakravarti (world monarch) appears in the world, the Buddha is reported to have told the monks that1—
“Whenever such a monarch appears there is the appearance of the seven treasures: the treasure of the Wheel, the Elephant, the Horse, the Jewel, the Woman, the House-father, and the treasure of the Heir Apparent.”
On another occasion the Buddha, speaking of the value of a woman to the world, said,2
“Woman is the commodity Supreme because (as the commentator adds) she is of indispensable utility, or because through her Bodhisattvas and world rulers take birth.”
How can a person in whose view the birth of a daughter was not an occasion for sorrow and might well be an occasion of joy, who held the view that those families are saved from a downfall which place a woman in authority over their affairs, who had no hesitation in describing woman as one of the seven Treasures and a thing of supreme value, be described as a hater or despiser of woman ? These statements are typical of the general sentiments entertained by the Buddha towards womankind. Can anybody say that they are calculated to bring the woman into ridicule and contempt ?
Those who see a social wrong in the Buddha placing the Bhikklumis under the authority of the Bhikkhus do not realize what a revolutionary act it was on the part of the Buddha to have allowed women to take Sannyas or Parivraja (Monkhood). Under the Brahamanic theory women had already been denied the right to acquire knowledge. When the question of Sannyas
1 : Anguttara Nikaya : Vol. V. P. 83.
2 : Samyutta Nikaya : Vol. I. P. 62.119 z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 119 THE RISE . . . . . . . . . FOR IT ?
came they did to the Indian woman another wrong. As a matter of history Sannyas was not an ideal of the Brahmins who worshipped the Vedas and who, for a long time, refused to recognise the Upanishadas as sacred literature. Sannyas was the ideal of the Upanishadas and the end of Sannyasa was to realize the Upanishadic doctrine that the Atman is Brahma. The Brahmins were dead opposed to the life of Sannyas. Ultimately they yielded but subject to certain conditions. One of the conditions was that women (and Shudras) were not to be eligible for Sannyas.
It is important to understand the reason why the Brahmins debarred woman from taking Sannyas because it helps to understand the attitude of the Brahmins towards woman which was in sharp contrast with that of the Buddha. The reason is stated by Manu. It reads as follows : —
IX. 18. Women have no right to study the Vedas. That is why their Sanskars (rites) are performed without Veda Mantras. Women have no knowledge of religion because they have no right to know the Vedas. The uttering of the Veda Mantras is useful for removing sin. As women cannot utter the Veda Mantras they are as untruth is.
Although Manu was later than the Buddha, he has enunciated the old view propounded in the older Dhanna Sutras. This view of the women was both an insult and an injury to the women of India. It was an injury because without any justification she was denied the right to acquire knowlege which is the birthright of every human being. It was an insult because after denying her opportunity to acquire knowldege she was declared to be as unclean as untruth for want of knowledge and therefore not to be allowed to take Sannyas which was regarded as a path to reach Brahma. Not only was she denied the right to realize her spiritual potentiality she was declared to be barren of any spiritual potentiality by the Brahmins.
This is a cruel deal with women. It has no parallel. As Prof. Max Muller1 has said, “However far the human may be from the Divine, nothing on the earth is nearer to God than man, nothing on earth more Godlike than man”. If this is true of man why is this not true of woman ? The Brahmins had no answer.
1 : Hibbert lectures on Religion, Page 379.120 DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR : WRITINGS AND SPEECHES z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 120
By admitting women to the life of Parivrajika, the Buddha, by one stroke, removed both these wrongs. He gave them the right to knowledge and the right to realize their spiritual potentialities alongwith man. It was both a revolution and liberation of women in India. To quote the words of Prof. Max Muller : —
“The history of India teaches us that the galling fetters of the old Brahmanic law were broken at last, for there can be little doubt that we have to recognise in Buddhism an assertion of the rights of individual liberty, and more particularly, of the right of rising above the trammels of society, of going, as it were into the forest, and of living a life of perfect spiritual freedom, whenever a desire for such freedom arose.”
This freedom which the Buddha gave to the women of India is a fact of far greater importance and out-weighs whatever stigma which is said to be involved in the subordination of the Bhikkhunis to the Bhikkhu Sangha. This was not an empty freedom. It was freedom which they keenly enjoyed and sang about “O free indeed! O gloriously free am I.....” sang Mutta1 - a Bhikkuni, who was a Brahmin girl. Mettika, another Bikkhuni, also a Brahmin girl, sang -“.... so sit I here upon a rock. And over my spirit sweeps the breath of liberty2.”
As Mrs. Rhys Davids Says-3
“To gain his freedom mobility .......... they, like their later Christian sisters, had laid down all social position, all domestic success, they had lost their world. But in exchange they had won the status of an individual in place of being adjuncts, however much admired, fostered, and sheltered they might, as such, have been. ‘With shaven head, wrapt in their robe’-a dress indistinguishable, it would seem, from the swathing toga and swathed undergarments of the male religieuxs - the Sister was free to come and go, to dive alone into the depths of the wood, or climb aloft.”
1 : Psalms of Sisters No. XI.
2 : ibid No. XXIV.
3 : Preface to Therigatha.121 z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 121 THE RISE . . . . . . . . . FOR IT ?
In allowing women to become Bhikkhunis the Buddha not only opened for them the way to liberty, he also allowed them to acquire dignity, independent of sex. To her freedom she could, in the words of Mrs. Rhys Davids :
“Wed the other austere joy of being recognized, at least by her brother Arahants, ‘as a rational being, without reference to sex. As such she breathed the spiritual atmosphere, she shared the intellectual communion of that religious aristocracy called in the Pitakas, Ariyas, with whom she claimed that power of seeing all things as they really are’ which the Buddhist called being awake.
‘How should the woman’s nature hinder Us-us Ariyas says Soma, a Bhikkhuni1 :
“What can that signify to one in whom
Insight doth truly comprehend the Norm ?
To one for whom the question doth arise :
Am I a woman in such matters, or
Am I a man ? or what not am I, then ?
To such an one is Mara fit to talk !”
This is not all. The Buddha in allowing women to become Bhikkhunis he opened them the way to equality with man. As observed by Mrs. Rhys Davids2 “It is true that the Bhikkunis were technically appointed juniors in perpetuity to the Bhikkhus. It is equally clear that, by intellectual and more eminence, a Theri might claim equality with the highest of the fraternity. In the Psalms an instance occurs, in xxx, vii, where Bhadda associates herself in spiritual attainment with the great Kassapa, successor, as head of the Order, to the Founder himself. In this connection it should be noted that the Buddha did not place any premium on virginity as such. He kept his way open to all classes of women— married, unmarried, widows and even to prostitutes. All could acquire merit, freedom, dignity, an equality along with man.”
1 Psalms No. XVI.
2 Preface to Therigatha P. P. XVI-XXVII.122 DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR : WRITINGS AND SPEECHES z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 122
There can be no doubt that there has been an utter downfall in position of women in India from what it once was. One cannot say much about the part they played in ancient time in state-craft. But there is no doubt that they did occupy a very high position in the intellectual and social life of the country.
That at one time a woman was entitled to upanayan is clear from the Atharva Veda where a girl is spoken of as being eligible for marriage having finished her Brahmacharya. From the Shrauta Sutras it is clear that women could repeat the Mantras of the Vedas and the women were taught to read the Vedas. Panini’s Ashtadhyay bears testimony to the fact that women attended Gurukul (College) and studied the various Shakhas (Sections) of the Veda and became expert in Mimansa. Patanjali’s Maha Bhashya shows that women were teachers and taught Vedas to girl students. The stories of women entering into public discussions with men on most abstruse subjects of religion, philosophy and metaphysics are by no means few. The story of public disputation between Janaka and Sulabha, between Yajnavalkya and Gargi, between Yajnavalkya and Maitrei and between Sankaracharya and Vidyadhari shows that Indian women in pre-Manu’s time could rise to the highest pinnacle of learning and education.
That at one time women were highly respected cannot be disputed. Among the Ratnis who played so prominent a part in the coronation of the King in Ancient India was queen and the King made her an offering’ as he did to the others. Not only the King elect did homage to the Queen he worshipped his other wives of lower castes2. In the same way the King offers salutation after the coronation ceremony to the ladies of the chiefs of the Srenies ( guilds )3.
This is a very high position for women in any part of the World. Who was responsible for their fall ? It was Manu, the Law Giver of the Hindus. There can be no other answer. To leave no room for doubt, let me quote some of the laws made by Manu regarding women and are to be found in the Manu-Smriti.
1 Jaiswal—Indian Polity, Part ii P. 16.
2 ibid P. 17.
3 ibid P. 82.123 z:\ ambedkar\vol-017\vol17-II-02.indd MK SJ+YS 14-10-2013/YS-23-11-2013 123 THE RISE . . . . . . . . . FOR IT ?
II. 213. It is the nature of women to seduce man in this (world). For that reason the wise are never unguarded in (the company of) females.
II. 214. For women are able to lead astray in (this) world not only a fool, but even a learned man, and (to make) him a slave of desire and anger.
II. 215. One should not sit in a lonely place with one’s mother, sister or daughter; for the senses are powerful, and master even a learned man.
IX. 14. Women do not care for beauty, nor is their attention fixed on age; (thinking), ‘(It is enough that) he is a man’, they give themselves to the handsome and to the ugly.
IX. 15. Through their passion for men, through their mutable temper, through natural heartlessness, they become disloyal towards their husbands, however, carefully they may be guarded in this (world).
IX. 16. Knowing their disposition, which the Lord of creatures laid in them at the creation to be such, (every) man should most strenuously exert himself to guard them.
IX. 17. (When creating them) Manu allotted to women (a love of their) seat and (of) ornament, impure desires, wrath, dishonesty, malice and bad conduct.