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William-Adolphe Bouguereau. During the storm. 1872. Section
A woman to be relied on adheres to good acts.

Woman Models

All are not degenerate, and all may not be great, but many can be tolerable or quite tolerable. That may be seen as the largest group of them all. If not tolerable, to strive to become that by ways and means that matter, and well before any skirmishes, could be good. Degenerate women, on the other hand, may strive differently.

A 'good woman' is salutary - suitable, fit - true and virtuous, of not too bad standards and of a favourable character, to name a few qualities that could fit nicely, at least in some places.

Buddha favours good mothers that run the household according to plan

There are inner qualities and outward roles in life. It helps to get fit.

BUDDHA tells about how to run a home to make life a success for those involved: man, wife, children, and the larger family, as fits. He also speaks of various kinds of women. But I think that in several cases at least "a little of this and a little of that" from not just one group is fit. For example, a wife can feel and act in some ways like a sister to her husband, and in other ways or at other times like a mother. It depends. The main thing is supposedly what is predominant all in all. It is not always as simple as "either-or", either like a mother or a sister.

Consider what he said was from 2,500 years ago. If given reasonable conditions to carry blossoms and bear fruits his words carry much weight. It may be within your power to make some of the needed and beneficial changes as you go on.

How 'good' a person is for someone else, or several of them, depends much on compatibility too, and much on having food enough, on not being beset by troubles or surrounded by enemies and further.

Four Types of Women

Budda says there are four different types of women:

  1. Those who become angry for slight causes, who have changeable minds, who are greedy, jealous of other's happiness, and who have no sympathy for the needs of others.
  2. Those who grow angry over ordinary affairs, who are fickle and greedy, but who do not envy others their happiness and who are sympathetic for the needs of others.
  3. Those who are more broad-minded and who do not become angry very often, and who know how to control a greedy mind, but who are not able to avoid feelings of jealousy and who are not sympathetic.
  4. Those who are broad-minded, who can restrain feelings of greed and retain a calm mind, who do not envy others their happiness, and who are sympathetic for the needs of others.

(BDK 1986, 222-23)

Comment. Happy, broad-minded, calm and sensitive (feeling) women are not supposed to be maddening.

A. In Home and Family Life

Buddha teaches that we are to pay respect to what is called the six directions of Truth. The four cardinal directions of a compass constitute four of them, and above and below complete "the six". The structuring is a mnemonic device - it may help recall.

Buddha talks about arrangements, even key arrangements for a life fare. We are to behave wisely and virtuously and thus prevent much misfortune. One is to avoid greed, anger, foolishness and fear.

The six Truth groupings include west for the way of husband and wife; and above for the way of disciples of Buddha.

Woman parents should do five things for their children:

  • Avoid doing anything evil,
  • Set an example of good deeds,
  • Give them an education,
  • Arrange for their marriage,
  • And let them inherit the wealth at the proper time.

Comment. We help as long as we can afford to.

A female pupil should always:

  • Rise when her teacher enters,
  • Attend to his instructions,
  • Not neglect an offering for him,
  • Listen respectfully to his teaching.

Comment. The pupil that attends to good teachings by able teachers is a very lucky one.

When a young woman marries she should make the following resolutions:

  1. "I must honour the parents of my husband. They have given us [some] advantages we have and are our wise protectors, so I must serve them with appreciation and be ready to help them whenever I can." [Allowing for lax interpretations here.]
  2. "I must be respectful to my husband's [formidable] teacher because he has given my husband a sacred teaching and we could not live as human beings without the guidance of the sacred teachings."
  3. "I must cultivate my mind so that I will be able to understand my husband and be able to help him in his work. I must never be indifferent to my husband's interests, thinking they are not my affairs too." [A good resolve may manifest along the course together.]
  4. "I must study the nature, ability and tastes of the family and of the servants so that I can conserve the income of my husband and not waste it." [A noble way it is.]

Comment. The able wife decides to be respectful and not indifferent to her husband's best interests. The able wife's happiness is to be topmost as long as there is helful concord to all involved.

Manage Earnings to Mutual Profit

A wife should take pains with the housekeeping, manage the servants wisely, maintain her virtue as a good wife should. She should not waste her husband's income, should manage the house properly, and speak gently. If this rule is followed, it will be a happy home and no quarrelling.

A family is a place where a mind lives with other minds. If these minds love each other the home will be as beautiful as a flower garden. But if these minds get out of harmony with each other it is like a storm that plays havoc with a garden. If discord arises within one's family, one should not blame others but should examine her own mind and follow a right path.

In family life the question how the daily expense is to be met, is always uppermost. Work like ants as diligent as bees. No one must rely on the industry of others nor expect their charity.

One must consider that of what has been earned, some must be shared, some must be saved for an emergency, and some set apart for the needs of the community and the nation, and some devoted to the needs of appropriate religious teachers. What comes to a person, comes only temporarily to be used with good care, all in all.

The relation of husband and wife was not designed merely for their convenience. It has a deeper significance that the mere association of two bodies in one house. A husband and wife should take advantage of the intimacies of their association to help each other train their minds in some holy teaching and thus to mutually profit by their marriage.

The Old Couple of very Similar Mind Impressions

An old couple, the "ideal couple" as they were called, once came to Buddha and said, "Lord, we married after being acquainted from childhood and there has never been a cloud on our happiness. Please tell us if we can be married in the next life?"

Buddha said: "If you both have exactly the same faith, if you both receive the same teaching in exactly the same way, and if you have the same wisdom, then you will have the same mind in the next birth." (BDK 1986, 224)

Words to a Proud, Young Wife

The young wife of the eldest son of the rich merchant, Anathapindika, was proud and arrogant and did not listen to the instruction of her husband and his parents and consequently there was trouble in the family. One day the Blessed One came to visit the merchant Anathapindika and noticed that the young wife of his eldest son was proud and arrogant and did not listen to the instruction of her husband and his parents - and as a result there was trouble in the family. Buddha called her to him and spoke to her kindly, saying,

"There are seven types of wives:

  1. The wife who is like a murderer has an impure mind, does not honour her husband and then loses her heart to another man.
  2. The wife who is like a thief never considers her husband's labour but thinks only of her desire for luxury. She wastes her husband's income to satisfy her appetite and by so doing steals from him.
  3. The wife who is like a master. She rails at her husband, neglects the housekeeping and thinks only of her own comfort.
  4. The wife who is like a mother cares for her husband as though he was a child, she protects her husband as a mother does her son, and she looks after her income as though he was incapable of doing so.
  5. The wife who is like a sister is faithful to her husband and serves him like a sister with modesty and reserve.
  6. The wife who is like a friend tries to please her husband like a friend who has just returned from a long absence. She is modest, behaves nicely and treats her husband with great respect.
  7. The wife who is like a maid-servant serves her husband will and with fidelity. She respects him and his commands, has no ill-feeling, and always tries to make him happy." [Abr.]

Hearing the kind words of the Blessed One she was ashamed of her past conduct and replied that she would like to be a wife like the maid-servant. She became her husband's helper and they sought enlightenment together. (BDK 1986, 224-26)

Comment. Combinations of one or more types are possible too, for example the wife that is a murdering thief but seeks to appear as a friend to ingratiate herself. That looks very bad.

And on the opposite end of the scale, any wife who seeks to be a faithful friend, who is modest and savoury and all right respectful, is worthy of respect indeed.

Buddha's Advice to a Worthy Courtesan

Ambapali [also: Amrapali], a famous courtesan of Vaisali, called on Buddha and asked for some good teaching. He said:

"The mind of a woman is easily disturbed and is easily misled. Therefore, it is harder for a woman to follow the Noble Path. This is especially true for a young and beautiful woman. But youth and beauty do not last but are followed by sickness, old age and suffering. You should decide to follow the Noble Path, aiming at inner and eternal treasures. Enlightenment is the only treasure that holds its value. You should seek enlightenment at once."

She listened to him, became his disciple and gave the Brotherhood her beautiful pleasure park. (BDK 1986, 226–27)

Congenial family life can become the opportunity for mutual care and encouragement and aid on the path of development and enlightenment, and an ordinary woman, if she has the mind to seek enlightenment, may become a worthy student.

Further Counsel

  • Maintain integrity and remove unwholesome greed.
  • Do not chatter idly.
  • Remain thrifty and saving.
  • Earnestness and faithfulness is what builds a good life.

What about Nuns?

Buddha seems to have been quite reluctant to grant permission to women to join the community of world-forsakers, the sangha. Some texts from around the first century CE state that having women in the sangha would shorten the existence of Buddhism in the world by five hundred years.

When Buddha's aunt and foster mother asked his permission to join his sangha, he refused, but his cousin and disciple Ananda talked him into it. However, he did so on the condition that they abide by a set of eight special rules for woman monastics, in addition to the regular disciplinary rules they were required to observe, which were more stringent and many more than those required of males in the order.

The Eight Points stipulated among other things that a nun must stand up on seeing a Buddhist monk, not accuse a monk of faults or speak of his misdeeds, and so on. Buddha's aunt became the first Buddhist nun in the fourteenth year after his Enlightenment. (BDK 2017, 62-63)

Monks and nuns give up many freedoms to submit to regulations, and women are made to give up most.


Woman models in Buddhism, Buddhist teachings, Literature  

BDK. 1986. The Teaching of Buddha. 128th rev. ed. Tokyo, JN: Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai. ⍽▢⍽ The text has a history of revisions. It was first compiled and revised on the basis of a text published in July, 1925. In July, 1934, the English translation of the Popular Edition of the text was published with the assistance of Dwight Goddard. In 1962, Dr. Yehan Numata published an English edition of The Teaching of Buddha, and founded Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Society for the Promotion of Buddhism) in Tokyo three years later. Afterwards a long row of committes and revisions have followed.

BDK. 2017. The Lives of Great Monks and Nuns. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research.

Goddard, Dwight. 1934. Buddha, Truth, and Brotherhood: An Epitome of Many Buddhist Scriptures, Translated from the Japanese. Santa Barbara, CA: D. Goddard. ⍽▢⍽ To compare with.

Pali Canon collections:

AN - Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses arranged according to numbers)

DN - Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses)

MN - Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Middle-Length Discourses)

SN - Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Kindred Sayings)


Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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