The Role and Rights of Women in Buddhism

The rights of women can be summarised as the freedom from discrimination and equal opportunities with men.  In India, during the time of the Buddha, women were treated as inferior to men; a son was more preferable than a daughter. Despite such social conventions, the Buddha regarded women as equal to men. When Ven. Ananda asked whether women have the potential to attain enlightenment, the Buddha said yes – just like their male counterparts. Thus over 2600 years ago, the Buddha gave women permission to enter the Holy Order. Since then many female monks achieved enlightenment. Two of them were appointed female chief disciples of the Buddha alongside his two male chief disciples. The Buddha also suggested some etiquette rules for a husband: he should honour, respect and be faithful to his wife, allow her to superintend the household affairs, and provide her with ornaments. In return, the wife should do her duty well, look after his relatives, be faithful, take care of what he brings home and be diligent in all her duties. It is clear that Buddhism promotes women’s rights and equality.

To many, the term ‘equal rights’ denotes discrimination that needs to be put right. Our interpretation of equal rights in this sense is somehow restricted to worldly gains and external freedom. If we get an equal pay or better salary, for example, we will be happy. But once we get it, the mind will move the goal posts further. The yearning continues and we will never be truly satisfied because we are forever waiting for the next better things. We live in the future, for the future, full of worries and forget to be happy in the here and now.

Inasmuch as we want to put external freedom right, we must not lose our way or neglect our freedom within. For this type of freedom, we don’t need others to hand it to us. Nor do we need to change others to our way of thinking, but we can change our attitudes towards them so that we can be at peace regardless. We need to look deeper beyond worldly and external freedom. As long as there’s greed, anger and delusion in the world, bias and inequality will remain. If each and every one develops peace within there will be no hurting, harming or taking advantage of one another.

There’s a Buddhist proverb: natthi santi paramam sukham, meaning there is no greater happiness in the world than that which comes from a peaceful mind.  For the mind to be at peace it needs to understand things as they are. This requires that we look closely into the nature of things around us and at the body that we regard as self. If this body belongs to us then we should be able to stop it from growing, ageing, getting sick and dying. But we can’t go against the force of nature. Sooner or later the body will return to the earth. We simply acknowledge what is going on without identifying with it or putting ourselves in it. If we hear something unpleasant, it’s just hearing. We don’t add ‘I’ to it.  After all, it’s just a sound coming into contact with our ears.  When a thought is bothering us, we also acknowledge it as thinking, thinking, thinking. When we acknowledge it as such, studies showed that the information will be sent to the frontal brain, the analytical brain, the reasoning brain rather than going to the amygdala – the brain emotional centre. As a result, we will be less stressed.

When we continue to see things as they are, the mind will be able to let go. We don’t yearn to be someone going somewhere. No void needs to be filled. We simply enjoy being!  At that moment, our mind is totally at peace.  It’s only when there is ‘me,’ this ‘me’ needs to be someone, to be on par with others or even better – to feel good. We start hoarding things, our dissatisfaction with the world grows.  Our subjective way of looking at the world brings nothing but unnecessarily stress.

In conclusion, the rights to happiness for women in Buddhism are equal to men. The definition of worldly rights is too narrow a definition. We need to look beyond that, and deep within.  And for that matter, women can enjoy the role and freedom they have – freedom of the mind that is priceless beyond any form of conventional rights and equality.

Kamontip Evans is a stress management consultant and author of Taming the Truant Mind. She also writes blogs on mindfulness meditation for the Huffington Post

9 Steps to Better Emotional Health

We are emotional beings – with a wealth of emotional experience but we tend to be overwhelmed, lost, confused and don’t quite know how to deal with it because we are in it and become one with it.

The word ‘e-motion’ suggests some form of movement. The letter ‘e’ in Latin means out of or from. We can possibly assume that emotion refers to a sensation that arises out of movement. This is not a movement of an object but of something delicate, subtle and a lot more complex because it is deep within and invisible to the naked eyes. When the mind is moved from its stilled and balanced state into rippling, erupting, elating or swinging motion, emotion arises.

Dealing with emotion is not difficult but it takes practice and perseverance. Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Accept and acknowledge your emotion – good, bad, desirable or undesirable. You may feel the need to reject an inappropriate emotion or the ones that are at odd with your personality. Accept and acknowledge them anyway without doing anything to them or trying to trace back to why or how or who to blame.
  2. Get to know your emotion: watch it! Painful emotion seems more difficult to watch and we’d prefer do away with it instead. Do so and you will miss a good opportunity to understand your own emotion. Past emotion may return when triggered. We need to watch it diligently, allowing the mind to see the whole process of emotion – that it has a beginning, the middle and the end. That’s the way it is.
  3. The mind can only focus on one thing at a time. When something else catches its attention, the emotion that occupies your mind will instantly disappear. This shows that emotion is not forever, it comes and goes.
  4. Know that emotion will soon pass – including the one that is tormenting you. Its nature is in transient. It only remains troublesome if you indulge in it, add thoughts to it, focus on it and hold on to the idea that it’s not going to change. In general, when happiness wanes, unhappiness is felt. And vice versa.
  5. Thoughts, feelings and emotions work together as a team. Thought gives rise to feeling of liking, disliking or neither of the two. Feeling contributes to more thought forming – leading to the arising of emotion. More thoughts follow to justify the emotion we are experiencing. Thoughts also strengthen the existing emotions. Fear of pain, for example, can intensify because of our thought. We need to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings. As soon as we are mindful of them, they will disappear before giving rise to emotion.
  6. Watch your mind. Train the mind to know what it is doing. Know whether the mind is within your body? Or, is it following other people out there, or travelling into the past or the future? You need to bring it back to the present, to the body or to the breath. If you are sitting, walking, talking, the mind fully knows that you are doing those things, not leaving you unaware or absent minded. Watching your mind is like watching a TV programme. See how the drama unfolds, you don’t need to get involved or play the character’s part.
  7. You may wonder how you can watch your emotion when you can only feel it. Ask yourself what emotion is drifting through your mind at the moment. Is it positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant? Acknowledge it without trying to change it.
  8. See how long each emotion lasts till you experience the next emotion.
  9. Make a habit of watching your emotion. The more you keep watch, the more able you can see through its changeable nature. The changes can be as fast as every footstep or as every breath you take or faster. This will bring a big smile to your face because the mind now fully understands the true nature of emotion: it arises, continues and then disappears. The mind sees no point in holding on to any emotion. You can even begin to have fun with emotion watching.

Suppressing your emotion doesn’t work in long term. Relying on others to help you sort out your emotion is but a missed opportunity. Take the power unto your hand: watch your emotion, understand it once and for all. What you get is a priceless peace of mind.


Kamontip Evans is a stress management consultant and author of Taming the Truant Mind. She also writes blogs on mindfulness meditation for the Huffington Post



Safeguarding Your Mind

The mind holds the key to our good health and happiness. We need to look after it well so that our mind will be at peace rather than unstable, closed-off or troubled, at risk of losing itself. The mind experiences emotions – positive, negative and neutral – from anger and sadness, to loss, joy, happiness, boredom, indifference, equanimity, and so on. As a surface of a still pond ripples when something falls into it, so too does an untrained mind when sight, sound, smell, taste, tactile sensation and arising thoughts come into contact with it. The ripples soon dissipate to stillness. However, interfere with the ripples and more waves will be created. For example, someone’s rude manner may infuriate us. Our instinctive reaction may be with aggression – verbally or physically. Or we may choose to suppress our anger. The former can leave us with regret and guilt afterwards, the latter with anxiety and, if prolonged, can lead to depression. Worse, anger can be stored in our memory bank, waiting to be triggered and re-experienced. We are, in effect, being imprisoned by our past memory, stuck, tormented, and unable to move on.


An angry mind

If you look at the anger, who is angry? Which part of the body is angry: our head, arms, hands or legs? None of those. Yet the body is working hard throughout the state of anger. The heart pumps faster and the lungs expand to let more air and oxygen in. Hence the shortness of breath. Stress hormones are released. Glucose and fatty acids increase in our blood stream to provide us with energy for fight or flight mode. Our muscles tighten. But the body itself is not getting angry. It knows nothing about anger; it only performs its duty to help us survive. The one part of us that gets angry is our mind. This angry mind can time-travel into the past, digging up some related or unrelated unpleasant incidents to get us more upset all over again. Or it can go into the future and worry about the negative effects of past anger, thus feeling anxious and unhappy in the present moment. It wants to fix the past so that the future will look securely happy. The fact that the past has been and gone and is unchangeable leaves us feeling sad and helpless about the future. This unnecessary confusion, helplessness and anxiety occurs because we don’t understand our own mind. Nor do we know how to safeguard it against negative thinking.


The nature of the mind

The mind, in its primal state, is radiant. Its function is to think, imagine, feel, remember. Left unguided, it can think itself to stress, anxiety, anger, and depression without realising it. There is a Thai proverb: When with friends, watch what you say; when alone, watch your thoughts! This is because, left to its own devices, the mind tends to dwell more on negativity. It never keeps still but proliferates. A busy mind is clouded, weighed down by cluttered thoughts, confused and unable to see the way out of the problem. Once the mind gets into the thinking mode, it adds more thoughts to it, gets lost in it and starts to believe in its own thought creation. As the Buddha said: no enemy can harm you as much as your thoughts unguarded.


Wimbledon Common path

The runaway mind

When the mind experiences stress, there’s a sense of urgency to get rid of it. The more we try to reject it, the more it gets stuck. Scientists found that emotional memory lasts longer than normal memory.  Most people turn to entertainment or some other activities to distract their attention from stress and emotional pain – only to find that they carry the unresolved issue with them everywhere. Even on holiday! The painful event ended an hour ago or a year ago but the mind keeps going back to it and nurturing it with repetitive thoughts. We need to understand this mind, tame it and train it to keep still so that it will not put us at risk of ill health – physically and mentally. Mindfulness is the key.


The mindful mind

In mindfulness training, we bring the mind to the present moment and acknowledge whatever is happening in the here and now without adding any further thought to it.  For example, when you are thinking, acknowledge that you are thinking. When you hear something you like or dislike, it’s just hearing; when you see something, it’s just seeing, seeing, seeing. If the mind proliferates, watch it and bring it back to the body, to the breath or to the rising and falling sensation of the abdomen. When anger arises, it’s just anger. If anger doesn’t go away, you can look at it from beginning to end. It starts off just like this, continues and eventually ceases naturally – without you trying to forgive someone or forget the upsetting event. Anger is not you. When you watch a tv programme many times over, you will come to know it so well and be able to predict its beginning, middle and end, as well as the conversations between the characters. You will get bored of it and won’t want to watch it again. Likewise, the mind will become adept at predicting the pattern of its own thoughts and emotions, able to let go of them through understanding.  This is empowering because you will know how to handle the painful past and the future worries when they arise in your mind. But understanding it is not enough; you need to work at it regularly by training the mind to be more mindful.


When the mind is still, there is concentration and clarity. We can think better. A mindful mind can stop troublesome thoughts and emotions in their tracks, safeguarding itself and us from miseries. For, it understands things as they are, not as the way we want things to be. It can let go, is at ease and is at peace with itself and the world.


Kamontip Evans is a stress management consultant and author of Taming of the Truant Mind. She also writes blogs on mindfulness meditaion for the Huffington Post.