On Saturday morning, we will celebrate the life of Mahapajapati, aunt to the Buddha and founder of the women’s lineage. One of the earliest and most ardent convents to her nephew’s discoveries about the origins and cures of suffering, Pajapati wanted full experience and full participation in the middle way. So she asked the Buddha for ordination.
And he refused, for reasons that are lost to history. (That doesn’t prevent modern-day audiences from cringing, and suspecting misogyny.)
Undeterred, Pajapati went to her son, who conveniently was also the Buddha’s personal attendant, to see if he might offer a different perspective to the sage. Ananda chose an argument that is so 2013 – non-discrimination. According to the ancient texts, the conversation went something like this:
Ananda: Cousin, you have said that anyone, regardless of who or what they are, is capable of understanding the teaching, aligning their life to mitigate suffering, and realizing cessation of debilitating desires. Is that not so?
Buddha: Yes, that is so.
Ananda: By that logic, women are fully capable of attaining the way. So would it not be a good idea to ordain them, too?
Buddha: Yes, Ananda, it would.
It was the only time the Buddha changed his mind. He didn’t have much choice – his own realization of non-duality pretty much nixed any possibility of a different decision.
A few hundred years later, Nagarjuna offered this terse codicil:
If you want to avoid the problems caused by discrimination,
stop making discriminations.