Garudhammas - A Cultural Perspective *
- Author: Rasika K. Wijayaratne
Date Created: 20/12/2010
Date Modified: 20/12/2010
Most authors who pose issues around the Garudhammas and other such topics are from a Western cultural background and bring with them the Western cultural mindset. They come to the conclusion that patriarchal culture in place in India at the time of the Lord Buddha and even today is somehow wrong or inappropriate, simply because it no longer exists in their culture and they have 'progressed' since then. Even Western cultures had such structures in place in the past, and to a great extent still do informally, but have been lost with the so called 'progress' made culturally. For example living together is now considered 'progressive' and even the norm in Western society. But is it really progressive or does it lead to the deterioration of the social fabric as we know it by directly affecting society's morality as a collective?
The Lord Buddha gave these teaching in a culture that correctly recognizes the place of each family member in the family unit, with the husband being the head of the family and the wife playing an equally important supportive role in the family unit. In the Balapandita Sutta where a Wheel -turning Monarchs is described, they refer to his wife as a help-mate, viz. 'She rises before the Wheel-turning monarch and retires after him. She is eager to serve, agreeable in conduct, and sweet in speech.'1 This is just one of many such examples of the dynamic between a husband and a wife from an Eastern perspective. This does not make the wife subservient to the husband, but correctly identifies the role that each member plays in the family unit. The husband and wife both respect and love each other, making decisions together in relation to the family unit while remembering their correct place in the family unit. It is when this natural order (Dhamma) is not correctly understood that it leads to discord in the family unit and thus society as a whole when the whole society thinks along these lines, something that can clearly be seen in the West today with high divorce rates, something still not prevalent in the East. People in the East have correctly understood this natural order of things and live in harmony with each other in their families and also society as a whole, much more so than in the West. This is after all why more and more Westerners are turning to Buddhism. But then attempting to impose on Buddhism the same kind cultural thinking, that does not correctly identify the place of each family member, is not only counter-productive but is also highly destructive.
When the Lord Buddha established the Garudhammas for female disciples, he would have done it understanding this natural order of things (Dhamma) between the man and the woman. He would have put these into place to formalize this natural order as had formalized so many other things in the Vinaya. These would have been established to ensure everyone understood their correct place in the Sangha community and there was harmony among monks and nuns. However now it is evident that certain segments within the Buddhist community, mainly Western female disciples and others such as academics, are attempting to turn these Garudhamma rules upside down. This is already creating a lot of disharmony in the community. The thrust behind this attempted imposing of their 'modern' cultural values on to the Buddha-Dhamma teachings - a modern day form of cultural imperialism. However it should be noted that the Buddha's teachings, which were preserved in their pristine original form throughout the ages by Arahants and other saints, are timeless (akaliko) and do not need to be altered to 'fit the times' or to fit in with so called 'modernisation' of society.
The very same groups who are crying foul over the Garudhamma rules are proposing in order to support their position that the Tipitataka has somehow been altered through time. It must be remembered however that the Tipitaka was preserved by Venerable monks including Arahants and other saints who had no gender discrimination whatsoever. With the Tipitake being so large, sections would have been given to many monks to recite and recollect. With the Sangha being a democratic institution which requires all or the vast majority of members to be on agreeance on a vote on a decision for it succeed, it is hard to accept that these monks all colluded to change large sections of the Tipitaka.
In fact at the first Sangha Council after the Lord Buddha's passing away, which was presided by only Arahants, the presiding members criticized Venerable Ananda for insisting on the admission of women into the Sangha. Were they being sexist as Arahants (enlightened beings) or were they purely concerned about the preservation of the Dhamma with time. The Lord Buddha warned at the time that women were admitted into the order that the dispensation (Buddha-Sasana) would not last long due to the admission of women. He established the Garudhamma rules to prevent this kind of deterioration. However today we see this deterioration coming true with mainly women clamouring for the removal of the sacred Garudhamma rules.
WHO CAN OVER-TURN?
Who can over-turn,
the words of a Tathagata?
No one can.
For if they tried,
those words as unshakable as a mountain,
would fall on them,
and crush them down,
all the way to hell.
This is the power,
of a Tathagata's words,
that none can turn,
1. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Majjihma Nikaya, Translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, pp 1025.