ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Setting Women Free

As a revolutionary political thinker, Buddha’s teachings stress women’s potential for spirituality, enlightenment and equality.

In his book God as Political Philosopher: Buddha’s Challenge to Brahminism, activist-writer Kancha Ilaiah, former head of the Department of Political Science at Osmania University, Hyderabad, offers a sane understanding of Buddha’s profound teachings without the trappings of preachy ideology. Ilaiah is among the few who recognise Buddha as a revolutionary political thinker. The women who were influenced by the Buddha’s teachings – starting with Mahaprajapati, the first to be ordained as a bhikkuni in the Buddhist order – were no less radical in exercising their political will in choosing the Buddhist path.

According to Ilaiah, Buddha’s stand on women’s potential for spirituality and enlightenment, and, eventually, his acceptance of women as bhikkunis in the sangha should be seen against the context of Hindu reactionary thinkers such as Manu, Kautilya and Vatsyayana, and their western counterpart, Aristotle. In Ilaiah’s analysis, only Plato, despite the flaws in his postulates, is comparable to Buddha. Ilaiah believes that Buddha and Plato were the forerunners of not only Marx and Engels, but, equally, “the feminist thinkers of the modern world”. The Buddha’s efforts to improve the lot of women should also be seen against the cruel brahminical endorsement of sati, child marriage, punitive measures for widows and an exclusionist policy that prevented women from performing religious rituals, rendering them clearly inferior to men.

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