Buddhism is a philosophy of life expounded by Gautama Buddha ("Buddha" means "enlightened one"), who lived and taught in northern India in the 6th Century B.C. The Buddha was not a god and the philosophy of Buddhism does not entail any theistic world-view. The teachings of the Buddha are aimed solely to liberate sentient beings from suffering. Women have been a part of Buddhism since the Buddha first made his enlightenment known in Northeast India in the 6th century BC. Looking back to the earliest roots, several nuns and laywomen were among the Buddha's ablest and wisest Disciples. The everyday role of women in many countries is quite different from that defined in Buddhist scriptures.
The Buddha originally banned women from monastic practice but later reversed his decision, allowing them to practice in separate quarters. The Buddhist scriptures say very little about women, treating them as equals.
In one scripture, the Visuddhi Magga, a monk asked, "Reverend Sir, have you seen a woman pass this way?" And the elder said: Was it a woman or a man that passed this way? I cannot tell. But this I know, a set of bones is traveling upon this road. Although this verse attempts to show the equality of women on the spiritual path, there was, and still is... sexual stereotypes present in the culture of Buddhist communities.
By contrast to such bigoted practices that hinder spiritual development, Buddhism can be claimed to be the least discriminatory in attitudes towards women. There is no doubt at all that the Buddha was the first religious teacher who gave women equal and unfettered opportunities in the field of spiritual development. Although He had on several occasions pointed out the natural tendencies and weaknesses of women in general, He also gave due credit to their abilities and capabilities. He truly paved the way for women to lead a full religious life. This implied that they were equally able to develop and purify their minds and realize the bliss of Nibbana as well as men. This fact is amply proven by the testimonies of the Theris (Nuns) during the Buddha's time. The teachings of the Buddha did a great deal to wipe off numerous superstitious beliefs and meaningless rites and rituals - which also included sacrifices - from the minds of many people. When the Buddha revealed the true nature of life and death, and explained the natural phenomena which govern the universe to these people, they began to understand. This subsequently arrested and corrected the prevailing social injustices and prejudices. Thus it enabled women to lead their own way of life. Although the Buddha had elevated the status off women socially, He also pointed out the social and psychological differences that exist between men and women. This was shown in the manner in which He was realistic in his observations. His advice, given from time to time, seen in the light of his observations was practical. These many instances were clearly depicted in the Anguttara Nikaya and Samyatta Nikaya. It was mentioned that a man's duty is his unending quest for knowledge. He should improve and stabilize his skills and craftsmanship, and be dedicated to his work. He must also be able to find the means to maintain and sustain his family. On the other hand, it was also stated that it was the woman's duty to look after her home and her husband. The Anguttara Nikaya contains valuable advice which the Buddha had given to young girls prior to their marriage. Foreseeing the difficulties that will arise with the new in-laws, the Buddha advised the girls to give every respect to their parents-in-law, serving them as lovingly as they were their own parents. They were also requested to honor and respect their husband's relatives and friends so that a congenial and happy atmosphere will...