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One of the great desiderata of humanistic scholarship is a full-fledged and detailed social history of the Indian subcontinent. South Asia is, after all, not only the home of roughly one-third of the world's population but also the source of one of the world's most ancient and enduring civilizations, which has given rise to many of the great religious, philosophical, literary, and artistic traditions. It is, moreover, a region that has long been and continues to be of enormous interest to scholars in many disciplines including the humanities, the social and natural sciences, and professional fields.

That no such social history exists is not, therefore, for lack of interest on the part of scholars. It does not exist chiefly because the documents upon which it would have to be based are largely unavailable and only partially to be reconstructed. The reasons for this are several and include those that complicate the effort to achieve a social history of any ancient civilization, such as the loss and deterioration of documents and artifacts of material culture. One obstacle to our developing a broader sense of early South Asian social history, however, is in some ways peculiar to India and to the kinds of orientalist scholarship that have traditionally been brought to bear upon it. This is the fact that for the ancient and much of the medieval period our understanding of the nature of polity and society, of power relations among the social classes and between the genders, has been largely derived from the surviving texts created by and for a literate and dominant group of elites which set forth a remarkably consistent social ideology that has long been


accepted, often uncritically, by contemporary scholarship as derived from actual observation of a largely unchanging society. The vision of the social order derived from these texts, the normative texts of Brahmanical culture, was not merely adopted at face value by scholars; it was embraced by colonial administrators who in many ways revalorized the texts and enforced them as the basis for land settlement, law codes, and administrative systems from the eighteenth century onward. Indeed the ancient period's only surviving fully articulated divergence from this dominant ideology which claimed to derive its authority for the enforcement of its fundamental social vision—that of an immutable and eternal set of hierarchical class divisions—from the vedas , a body of texts that predated history itself, were the competing texts of the so-called heterodox systems, Jainism, Buddhism, and Ajivikism.[1] These traditions, however, couple their radical critique of Brahmanism, along with its metaphysics and their sociological consequences, with at least an implicit critique of all society save that of the monastic order and so, with a few interesting exceptions, provide us with only a somewhat indirect means of access to the early social history of South Asia. Moreover these systems became either extinct or marginalized by the early modern period, and so the force of their social vision such as it was tended to be diffused if not entirely blunted except in a few regions.[2]

In the modern period, the British colonial administration and its representatives, partly under the influence of their reconstruction of South Asia as a region of timelessness, tended to infuse its dominant social and historical discourse with its own self-serving vision, which serves to obscure much of what must have been the complexity of the social reality it faced. Colonial historians, bound as they were on the one hand by the ideological framework of post-Enlightenment Europe, including both the pragmatic positivism of the British and the romantic idealism of continental Indology and, on the other, the pressures to articulate an intellectual justification for the imperial enterprise and its efforts to redefine the political and economic structures of India, created a set of normative conceptions of the social life of ancient and modern India whose consequences are with us to this day.

The principal articles of faith of the colonial historians were that India's political life tended ineluctably toward chaos and its social life toward the degradation and abuse of specific segments of the society, especially the so-called untouchables and women, the latter generally being condemned to such social evils as child marriage, domestic slavery, and the institution that came to be known as "suttee." Enlightened and impartial intervention in the form of British rule was necessary to eliminate these evils and prevent their recurrence. At the same time a somewhat countervailing notion—


deriving largely from the romanticism of the "Oriental Renaissance"—held that ancient India, and to some extent modern rural India, were examples of a pure, simple, and virtuous stage of human civilization that only in the modern urban setting had somehow been subject to degeneration. This notion was picked up by exponents of the so-called Hindu Renaissance and developed into a theory of ancient India as a place of social and gender equality that only in relatively modern times—under the pernicious influences of foreign, that is, Islamic and European, rule—had put forth, originally as defensive strategies, the structures perceived as the evils of caste and the degradation of women.

In the light of this somewhat unpromising historiographical situation it is small wonder that the enterprise of reconstructing the social history of premodern India has been a difficult one. Some progress has been made more recently, however, in the task of reconstructing a somewhat more complex description of Indian society at least during the British colonial period. A group of social historians, calling themselves the Subaltern Group, has gathered around Ranajit Guha and, by subjecting available documents to a species of discourse analysis, has made some progress in recovering and representing the ideologies, attitudes, and responses of groups that have been hitherto marginalized by the colonial historians. Through efforts such as these we have been able to revise somewhat our understanding of those segments of South Asian society—low-caste groups, tribals, the peasantry, and women—who have, until very recently, lacked access to the production and dissemination of the sorts of texts that have chiefly concerned historians.

But even with such contributions our view of the social history of premodern India has been exceedingly limited. For one thing the techniques of the newer historians, with a few exceptions,[3] have not provided us with greatly enhanced access to the social history and the social theories of the various subcultures of South Asia in the millennia of their recorded history. There are in fact few early Indian texts that can be genuinely regarded as historiographical no matter how much historical information we derive or claim to be able to derive from them. Aside from the body of epigraphical evidence from ancient and medieval India, the vast majority of the enormous corpus of texts that have survived from precolonial India are, insofar as we may impose upon them our set of alien genres, largely confined to the areas of religion, philosophy, science, aesthetics, grammar, and so on—that is, the vast body of texts classified as sastra ;, belles-lettres (sahitya ;), and of course the massive texts on traditional law, social relations, and legendary history (dharmasastra, itihasa-purana ;). These


texts, although they continue to be extensively mined for what they can tell us about the state of social and power relationships in precolonial and pre-Islamic India, must be read for such purposes with extreme caution.

In the first place these texts are almost all, to a greater or lesser extent, polemical in some way. At the very least they articulate the worldview of a dominant, literate elite derived almost entirely from the Brahman and Ksatriya classes and those that were able to ally themselves with these ancient elites or effectively displace them. Although it has rarely been understood by the orientalists and their followers, these documents define and reinforce a set of views devised by and in the political and economic interests of a small but dominant interlocking directorate of landowning classes. They are not the views of a society at large although, as in any case of dominance and subordination, the dominated may identify with and appropriate the ideology of their masters. A particular device of the authors of these elite documents has been to bolster the claims of these texts to authority by attempting, in most cases, to remove them from the conditioned world of historical reality. In this their ultimate models were the Vedas, texts that, the Brahmanical tradition asserted, were apauruseya ;, produced by no human agency. These texts, which form the basis of the traditional schools of Brahmanical and Hindu thought and ideology, are thus explicitly ahistorical, existing eternally and in fact preexisting the world. Other traditional Brahmanical textual traditions trace their origins to superhuman seers or rsis ; who, like the Vedic seers, had, at least by implication, access to similarly unconditioned texts that lend the tradition an aura of inerrancy.

These traditional texts have relatively little to say about the nonelite segments of Indian society, and what little they do say is of a general and normative type prescribing the nature and duties of the subordinate elements in the social universe: the lower classes and women. Members of these groups are often, when they conform perfectly to the subordinate and even servile roles allotted them, held up for praise and even idealized.[4] When they do not, they serve as negative examples by the terrible fate and universal contempt that is their lot.[5]

While the texts of the political and priestly elites either ignore the lower orders of society or define them in terms of their own elaborate and divinely ordained paradigms, these orders, whether the peasantry, the tribal populations, the groups defined as outside the pale of ritual purity of the Brahmanical social order, or women, generally lacked access to the means of creating, disseminating, and preserving similar documents. If they had a clearly different worldview than that articulated by the elites, it has not been


recorded and preserved for our study. On the other hand, as suggested above, there was, in the texts and practices of the so-called heterodox or sramana ; monastic religious movements, especially Buddhism and Jainism, the articulation of autonomous and powerful voices that sharply challenged the Brahmanical view of social ordination especially as it grounds itself in the rigidly hierarchical and functionalist model of the varnasrama ; system, a social model deriving its authority from the Vedas and such widely disseminated and prestigious Sanskrit texts as the epics, the Bhagavad-Gita ;, and the principal dharmasastras ;.

But while the heterodox traditions challenge and even ridicule the Brahmanical system of ritual and its social correlate, a community composed of classes set apart by impermeable boundaries and ranked hierarchically by their predetermined functions and degree of ritual purity, they are, for the most part, far less interested in subjecting the powerfully patriarchal ideology of the traditional culture to any very penetrating critique. Each of them has, however, struggled with what, given the traditional Brahmanical ideology concerning the nature and functions of women, must present itself as a problem especially to monastic communities whose doctrines and rhetoric place great stress upon the avoidance of family ties, emotional bonds, and, most particularly, sexuality and the pleasures of the senses—all of which are associated with women. The problem is then constructed in terms of the degree to which women can make the same sort of renunciatory commitment and spiritual progress as men. It is a problem precipitated by the somewhat reformist tendency of the heterodoxies that derives naturally from their attack on Brahmanical privilege and pretensions.[6] Yet, although Buddhist and Jaina thinkers are willing to reject the notion of a hierarchical social order, the power of the patriarchal doctrine of male supremacy in all matters proved harder for them to escape. Indeed, with their obsessive concern with renunciation, withdrawal from the secular social universe, and avoidance of the sensual life, the texts and sermons of Buddhism and Jainism often stress so virulently negative a view of women—particularly the female anatomy—as to make even the gynophobic elements in most Hindu texts seem rather mild.[7]

Indeed the status of women and its implications for their access to the spiritual life is one of the most interesting, informative, and neglected areas of the study of traditional Indian culture and society. An examination of the traditional literature, the writings of both colonial administrators and Indian reformers, and the contemporary press and feminist writing in India suggests that an understanding of the traditional attitudes toward and


treatment of women in South Asian society is central to an understanding of Indian culture in general.

While the recent extension of women's studies to South Asia has been one of the most important and stimulating undertakings of contemporary scholars working on the region, the value of much of their scholarship tenets to be vitiated by an inadequate understanding of the profound role the social construction of gender has played in the formation of Indian social and religious life. This inadequacy is not, however, the fault of social scientists and feminist scholarship. Researchers in these areas rarely have direct access to the primary sources of the Indian tradition, as few can work independently with the languages—Sanskrit, Pali, the Prakrits, and Apabhramsa—in which they are written. For an understanding of these texts they have had to depend upon the translations and scholarly writing of philologically oriented Indologists. These latter, however, whether through obliviousness or outright hostility, have been notoriously uninterested in the social implications of the documents with which they concern themselves. Indeed most Indologists, whether in the East or West, appear to have imbibed much of the Brahmanical ideology of ahistoricism and are far, in their published works, from contributing to a penetrating analysis of gender and power relations in the social history of India.

Within the past decade or so, however, a new generation of Sanskrit scholars has begun to bring the insights and methods of the social sciences—psychology, sociology, anthropology, and women's studies—fruitfully to bear on the ancient texts of India and the impact of the ideologies they put forward upon the cultures and societies of South Asia as they exist today. Interesting work has been done on some of the most deeply influential texts of traditional India, works like the Mahabharata ; and the Ramayana ;, but much more needs to be done.[8] In addition a body of scholarly literature exists for the study of the role of women and attitudes toward sexuality in Indian Buddhism.[9] Most urgently needed, however, are studies of texts and traditions that have been either inadequately treated or wholly ignored. Into this last category must be placed virtually the whole of the copious and important body of texts, in Sanskrit and Prakrit, produced by the various schools of Jainism over the last two and a half millennia.

Scholarly studies of the ancient and fascinating tradition of Jainism are far fewer than those of Hinduism and Buddhism. Still fewer—in fact, nonexistent—are studies that seek to place the teachings and concerns of the various Jaina sects in the context of a broad social history of South Asia. This lack may be understandable, but it is nonetheless serious. For, as I have suggested elsewhere,[10] Jaina texts often present us with ideologies and


praxes associated with the other indigenous systems but represented in extreme and even radical formulations. Thus the Jaina insistence on ahimsa ;, or noninjury to living things, expresses a general cultural value in radical form. Similarly the Jaina formulation of the pan-Indian theory of karma and rebirth is far more simply stated than in any tradition of Hinduism or Buddhism and, I would argue, sheds important light on the origins and significance of these concepts. Then too, the Jaina, especially Digambara, strictures on the monastic community are far more rigorous and constraining than those that govern, say, the Buddhist sangha ;, and thus can teach us a great deal about the deeply ingrained concerns with renunciation and self-control that underlie much of South Asian religious and social consciousness.

In much the same way, a close reading of the Jaina texts that deal with the question of spiritual liberation for women provides us with significant insight into the nature and the sources of the characteristic view of gender and sexuality in traditional India. A careful study of the fundamental and most influential religious, scientific, legal, and literary texts of traditional India provides us with a wealth of material on the culture's profound concern with questions of gender and sexuality and its powerfully ambivalent attitude toward women and their bodies. Yet despite a generalized perception that women, especially when construed as creatures of the passions, are portrayed as both less suited than men for the spiritual life and as the most powerful obstacle to men's pursuit of it, and despite the tendency to err on the side of copiousness and elaboration that is one of the most noteworthy features of all traditional Indian literature, we can find nowhere outside the Jaina texts translated here by Jaini any systematic effort to come to grips with the question of women's spiritual capacity that appears to have troubled religious thinkers so greatly. Only in these texts recording the prolonged and bitter debate over the issue do we we find both a concerted attempt on the part of the Digambaras to derive the alleged spiritual incapacity of women scientifically from a combination of scriptural authority, empirical observation, and logical reasoning and, radically opposed to this, the Svetambara/Yapaniya defense of the position that, regardless of their social and political status relative to that of men, women are as capable as men of achieving spiritual liberation. Moreover, the detailed argumentation of the two sides of this issue provides us, as is typical of Jaina texts, with the clearest possible insights into the ways in which the indigenous culture of India trained people to regard gender and sexuality, as well as the attitudes and anxieties this culture fostered regarding the biological and anatomical differences between the sexes. In addition these


texts provide us with virtually the only coherent scientific explanation of the question of sexual orientation to be found not only in South Asia but anywhere in the premodern world. In other words these documents are genuinely unique, and it is no exaggeration to state that without some awareness of their contents it is impossible to form a clear sense of the social construction of gender in traditional as well as modern India.

Let me now turn to the specifics of the Jaina texts that Professor Jaini has placed before us and discuss them in the context of the broad indigenous Indian tradition concerning women, gender, sexuality, and the respective capacities of the two sexes to attain the highest degree of spiritual advancement, as this tradition is to be adduced from the major documents of Hinduism and Buddhism. The question of the role and capacities of women in spiritual life is an ancient one in India. As has often been noted, women, specifically the wives of religious thinkers, are depicted as early as the Upanisads as engaged in metaphysical debate with their husbands.[11] In the epic literature such women are frequently shown as the spiritual companions of their husbands, the forest sages or rsis ;. In a few instances, individual women ascetics are mentioned and occasionally they play independent roles in the epic narratives and may even be shown to attain spiritual liberation.[12] In general, however, little systematic attention is given to the spiritual potentiality of women. For one thing, the Vedic and Hindu traditions do not develop in the earliest period the institution of communal monasticism. Great emphasis is placed upon renunciation of the world anti on spiritual praxis and meditation, but the central institution for this in the early period was the ashram, which, in keeping with its characterization as a spiritualized family (gurukula ) under the guidance of a spiritual father, the guru , and his wife, was not, although it might require celibacy of some or all of its members, in any meaningful sense a monastery. It is not until the time of the Adisankaracarya, much of whose work appears to have been intended to counteract the influence of Buddhism, that Hinduism seems to have developed formal and centralized monastic communities. These communities appear to have been closed to women until, in quite recent times, parallel communities of women have emerged.

The Theravada Buddhist attitude toward the admission of women to the sangha ; or monastic community in early India is well known. In the Cullavagga the Buddha is said to have made no mention of the issue of the admission of women to the order until he was approached by his widowed relation, Mahapajapati Gotami, leading a deputation of women who wished to leave the world and pleading for permission on their behalf. The Buddha is said to have rejected their petition three times. His disciple


Ananda then took up their cause and pleaded the women's case before his master. Once again the Buddha refused three times and relented in the end only with the observation that his doctrine, which would otherwise have endured for a thousand years, would now, with the creation of an order of nuns, last only half that long.[13] Interesting here is the admission on the part of the founder of the order that women are as capable as men of leading the contemplative life and, as is made clear elsewhere in the canon, as capable of attaining nirvana[14]

The reasons for the Buddha's reluctance to admit women to the sangha and his prophecy that this admission would halve the life of the Buddhist dharma are never really made explicit, but it is very probable that he is voicing an implicit cultural prejudice concerning women's allegedly greater susceptibility to the passions and a partially articulated suspicion that, given the traditional construction of women as seducers of male spiritual aspirants, the coexistence of an order of nuns with that of monks would inevitably lead to a decline.[15]

The attitude toward women's capacity for the attainment of the greatest spiritual advancement in the Mahayana texts is, typically, diverse. Diana Paul argues that the various Mahayana sutras ; present essentially three positions: (1) that women cannot enter the Buddha realm, (2) that women can be lower-stage Bodhisattvas, and (3) that women can become advanced Bodhisattvas and imminent Buddhas.[16] The first of these positions is analogous to the position of the Digambaras, while the third more or less parallels that of the Svetambaras. Still, as Jaini points out in his introduction to the present volume (#43), the theoretical possibility of a female Buddha held out by some Mahayana sutras is not supported in practice by the inclusion of a female in any of the lists of Buddhas.

It is only among the Jainas that this question is the subject of prolonged and significant debate, a debate that, far from ever being resolved, remains enshrined in an irreducible sectarian schism. For the major sects of Jainism, the Digambara and the Svetambara, remain to this day deeply divided not only on the question of the propriety of a woman's taking up the monastic life but on a more fundamental question—that of the possibility of a person entering the state of spiritual liberation or nirvana immediately after a life in a female body. Nor is the question merely an intellectual one. For the Svetambaras not only believe that women can adopt the mendicant life as the path to spiritual advancement; they have put this belief into practice. Indeed today, as in ancient times, Svetambara and Sthanakavasi nuns (sadhvis ;) considerably outnumber their male counterparts (munis ).[17] Even the Digambaras have a small number of "nuns" (aryikas ; and ksullikas ;),


although, as we shall discuss further below, they are not accorded the same spiritual status as the munis.

The question, then, of the possibility of a woman's living the life of a renunciant, which the Jains believe is the only path to spiritual liberation,[18] is not a purely theoretical one. On the contrary it is of the greatest significance to the two major communities of Jainism and indeed comes to dominate intersectarian discourse from at least the second century A.D. to the eighteenth century, the period spanned by the texts Jaini has collected and translated, and in fact down to the modern era. This dispute, as we shall see, continues to have significant ramifications beyond the surface level of its content, but of more immediate interest are the specific terms upon which the debate hinged.

The traditional literature of India, whether Vedic, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jaina, is filled, as noted above, with passages denigrating women and their moral, physical, and spiritual capacities. As early as the Rgveda ; itself there are negative allusions to them as fickle and treacherous.[19] In the Mahabharata ; it is shown that a man who is turned into a woman is barely able to ride his horse.[20] In an often quoted passage from the influential Manava Dharmasastra ; it is laid down as a basic social law that at no point in her life from infancy to old age may a woman be independent of a male guardian nor merit autonomy even in the kitchen.[21] In another famous passage, the great poet-saint of the Hindi-speaking world Tulsi Das observes that, along with donkeys, drums, and people of the lower social orders, women sometimes need to be beaten.[22] The number of such passages in the religious and legal literature of traditional India is enormous, and there is no need to treat the matter at length here.

What is unique about the Jaina debates on the spiritual liberation of women is not the attitude they display toward the female sex but rather their systematic focus on the question of gender, their extension of the general debate, and to some degree their rooting it specifically in the biophysical nature of the human female. This is not to say that other textual traditions do not exhibit and indeed encourage a virtually pathological revulsion for those organs and processes that are unique to the female. Indeed they do.[23] But nowhere else do we find female reproductive physiology cited as itself a principal reason for the alleged incapacity of women to achieve spiritual liberation.

The arguments brought forth by the Digambara authors to support their position that there can be no spiritual liberation for women are quite diverse and attack the question, as is typical of traditional Indian sastraic argumentation, from a number of directions. As usual, appeal is made on


both sides of the debate to scriptural authority, logical inference, linguistic interpretation, and direct observation. And much of this argumentation—such as that recorded in several of the texts translated here dealing with the question of whether the word "woman" in scriptures asserting the possibility of moksa ; for women really means "a man with the sexual feelings of a woman"[24] and whether the two sects' agreement that a woman, no matter how wicked, can fall no lower than the sixth of Jainism's seven hells logically implies that she can, by the same token, not rise to the highest spiritual state (nirvana )[25] —may seem baffling to the reader unfamiliar with the canons of traditional Indian debate.

Some argumentation on the Digambara side derives from postulates that echo the generally misogynistic and patriarchal attitudes of the society as a whole. It is argued, for example, that women are not only physically weaker than men, and hence unable to endure the harsh asceticism regarded as necessary for liberation, but are intellectually, ethically, and morally inferior as well. Thus Sakatayana cites, as his purvapaksa ;, the arguments that women are excessively devious and fickle (Chapter II, #78), that they lack the intellectual, forensic, and supernatural powers of advanced male spiritual adepts (#21-25), and that they lack the physical, moral, and spiritual courage of men (#85). In several passages the general cultural attitude that women have less control of their sexual passions than men is brought forward as at Jayasena's Tatparyavrtti ; (Chapter IV, #4-5). Several of the authors, including Sakatayana and Prabhacandra, refer to what must be seen as social factors in a patriarchally structured monastic order and ambient society, rather than as natural endowments of gender. Thus we have the arguments, repeated by several authors on both sides of the debate, that the inferiority of women is demonstrated by the fact of nuns having to show deference even to monks who may be far junior to them and even by the fact that they are subject to sexual harassment and assault by men.[26]

It is worthy of note in connection with these disputes that the Svetambaras, although they steadfastly argue for the possibility of women entering the mendicant life and attaining nirvana, rarely categorically refute the misogynistic claims of the Digambaras per se. Although they may tend to soften these claims by, for example, pointing out famous women from literature and scripture who showed great spiritual or moral courage, or by asserting that men too may share some of the moral defects charged to women, they seem generally willing to accept the negative characterizations, contenting themselves merely with asserting that these do not in and of themselves preclude the possibility of moksa for all women.

Interesting though this type of argumentation is for those desirous of


understanding the nature and development of attitudes toward gender in traditional cultures and societies, it is through their detailed and elaborate discussion of the biological and psychological aspects of female gender and sexuality and their development of the notion of specific types of libido or sexual orientation (veda ) that the Jaina texts stand out as unique and of particular importance.

The concept of veda, sexual orientation that is not necessarily related to biological gender, appears to be unique to the Jaina texts in traditional India and to constitute the only consistent theoretical attempt in this culture, and perhaps any premodern culture, to explain the phenomena of heterosexuality and homosexuality. The latter phenomenon in particular is all but ignored in the sastraic literature associated with the Hindu tradition.[27] As is made clear from a reading of the texts on the spiritual liberation of women, Jaina thinkers understood that there were three kinds of sexual feeling, which they called striveda, pumveda ;, and napumsakaveda ;, or the sexual feelings normally appropriate to a woman, a man, and a hermaphrodite respectively. However, they argued, these feelings need not in all cases correspond to the biological gender of the person who entertains them. Thus a person can, for example, be biologically and anatomically male (dravyapurusa ;) while at the same time emotionally or psychologically female (bhavastri ;). The most elaborate formulation of this theory of sexuality independent of biology is given by Meghavijaya (Chapter VI, #1-8), but it is addressed by most of the writers—either (for the Digambaras) as part of their demonstration of the impossibility of moksa for women or (for the Svetambaras) as part of the argument of their opponents. In both cases the issue is the Digambara attempt to argue that where scripture appears to permit spiritual liberation for women, it is in fact using the word "woman" in a secondary sense to mean a biological male with the sexual orientation of a female, that is, a male homosexual. Nonetheless, the argumentation is intrinsically interesting and sheds significant new light on the construction of human sexuality in premodern societies.

But beyond even the elaborate and learned disputations summarized above, a reading of the Jaina texts translated by Jaini shows clearly that the Digambaras' principal argument against the liberation of women rests on their perception of and profound anxieties about the anatomy of the human female in general and her reproductive system in particular. As one might expect, a good deal of the negative attitude toward the female body in this strictly patriarchal system is focused upon the phenomenon of menstruation. Thus Meghavijaya, representing the Digambara position, remarks


that "she has an impure body as is evident from the flow of menstrual blood each month." He goes on to reinforce the sense of disgust this causes him by quoting Kundakunda and the Bhartrhari verse cited above.[28] This sort of negative focus or taboo on menstruation has been widely observed in many traditional cultures both in India and elsewhere. The Jaina texts, however, take patriarchal anxiety and phobic representation of the female body and its natural processes to heights almost unknown elsewhere. For in addition to their revulsion for the actual reproductive organs and processes of women, the Jaina authors have created an entirely imaginary feminine microbiology that is, so far as I can tell, unique in world literature.

According to the unanimous Jaina view, certain portions of a woman's body, particularly orifices and indentations such as the genitals, the space between the breasts, the armpits, and the navel, give rise to vast numbers of minute and subtle living organisms, known as aparyaptas ;. These creatures, sometimes seen as arising specifically from menstrual and other bodily fluids,[29] are, the argument goes, destroyed in vast numbers by the ordinary activities of the woman whose body is their host and so she is seen as inevitably the agent of massive involuntary himsa ;, or injury to living beings.[30] Moreover, it is thought that the activities of these microscopic beings in the genitals are perceived by women as a sort of "itching" that can be relieved only through intercourse.[31] As a result of this, Digambara authors such as Kundakunda argue that a woman is, by virtue of her very anatomy, incapable of fully adopting the great vows incumbent on an aspirant to liberation for, as a consequence of her inevitable infestation with these aparyaptas, she is, on the one hand, constantly violating the cardinal Jaina precept of ahimsa, or noninjury to living beings, and, on the other, never free from the sexual desires that block spiritual progress.

Finally, the Digambaras' attitudes concerning women's reproductive physiology and alleged deficiencies in morality and self-discipline must be seen as focused upon the critical and defining feature of their monastic praxis: nudity. For it is the Digambara requirement that a true mendicant must abandon clothing that, with this doctrinal question of women's capacity for spiritual liberation, most clearly and bitterly divides the two major sectarian traditions of Jainism. Both sects agree that there can be no question of women adopting nudity for a variety of reasons ranging from the supposed revulsion the sight of naked (and possibly menstruating) women would arouse to the inevitability of their provoking and living with a constant fear of sexual attack that would, in any case, be inimical to the peace of mind necessary for the true spiritual path.[32] Moreover, the Digambaras argue, women are more given to feelings of shame and modesty


than are men and could never overcome them sufficiently to wander publicly in the nude.[33]

Since, for all of these reasons, the Digambaras posit the impossibility of nuns going naked, they ipso facto deny them any hope of spiritual liberation. For the Digambaras argue that a sense of modesty indicates the failure to suppress all sexual feelings and that the wearing of clothing is but one form of keeping nonessential possessions, two factors that are absolutely out of keeping with the life of a true renunciant. Thus nudity is, for the Digambaras, an absolute requirement for a genuine mendicant. Since women cannot undertake this practice it follows that they cannot be true nuns and hence one cannot attain spiritual liberation immediately following a life in a female body.

The Svetambaras, for whom the donning of white robes is both a symbol and a requirement of the monastic life, cannot accept this position, and one is often moved, in reading these debates, by the feeling that despite the very real animus toward women expressed by both parties to the debate and the amount of effort and time invested in it, it harbors a powerful and only occasionally explicit subtext. In other words, one feels that in their virulent attacks on the minds, souls, and bodies of women, the Digambaras are also, perhaps chiefly, attempting to undercut the spiritual bona fides of their Svetambara rivals, while in their somewhat grudging defense of the possibility of moksa for women the Svetambara and Yapaniya monks are really defending their own entitlement to the term "muni." For just as the Digambaras regard their own ksullikas and aryikas only as particularly pious laywomen, so they are inclined to treat Svetambara monks themselves as pious if pretentious laymen, referring to them sometimes contemptuously as jainabhasas , or pseudo-Jainas. Indeed given the very attitudes expressed in the Jaina literature and in the other Indian traditional texts toward women, it is difficult to believe that the monkish authors on both sides of the issue could have regarded women in and for themselves as sufficiently interesting to sustain so intense a debate for so many centuries. More likely, this debate on the question of the possibility of strimoksa ; was at least to some extent a kind of protracted metaphor for a struggle over the spiritual validity of the two paths of Jaina mendicancy themselves.

But this is not to say that the issues and attitudes about women anti gender raised in these texts are not intrinsically of interest and even vital to our understanding of the conception of women as "the Other" in patriarchal societies in South Asia and elsewhere. For in the Jainas" characteristic peeling of social and psychological constructions back to some radically constructed core, we see, I think, with unusual clarity some


of the roots of misogyny in traditional as well as modern male-dominated cultures. For here, along with the usual stereotyping abuse about the "weaker sex," the fickleness of women, and their alleged sexual voracity, we have a perhaps more fundamental set of attacks deriving unambiguously from powerful and deep-seated phobic anxiety about the "uncanny" physiology of the female reproductive system. The Jaina conception of a woman inhabiting a body infested with hosts of tiny beings that, through her incessant desires and biological processes, she both creates and annihilates, a body at once alluring and repulsive that makes of a man both a lecher and mass murderer, and so leads him from the spiritual path directly to hell, is virtually unique in its construction and explicitness.

My feeling is that these attitudes, far from being the quaint or bizarre obsessions of a fringe religious sect, in fact lie close to the heart of the sexism that has served as a rationale for the disempowerment of women in all spheres of life, secular and spiritual, in societies of the ancient East and the modern West. It is for this reason that I believe these Jaina debates on the liberation of women deserve to be read not only by scholars of Eastern religion but by thoughtful people in all areas of scholarship including anthropology, sociology, social history, psychology, and women's studies. Particular attention to these texts and what they tell us about the profoundly misogynistic attitudes that lie at the heart of the major religions originating in the Near East and South Asia should, I think, also be given by the authors of contemporary feminist studies of these religions and their organizational structures.[34]


1. For concise introductions to the three heterodoxies in ancient India see, for Jainism, Jaini (1979); for Buddhism no adequate single volume exists, but an excellent understanding of the legends, doctrines, and monastic rules of early Indian Theravada Buddhism can be gotten from Warren (1896, pp. 60-61); for Ajivikism see Basham (1951). In the areas with which they were chiefly concerned—metaphysics, the existence, nature, and destiny of the human soul, the usefulness of bhakti , the efficacy of Vedic ritual, and the authority of the Vedas themselves—these schools were well positioned to make a powerful critique of Brahmanism and Hinduism. For, as Ranajit Guha puts it (1989, p. 215), "no criticism can be fully activated unless its object is distanced from its agency." Nonetheless, as will be shown below, this distance in the case of the heterodox systems was only partial. In critical areas, such as the understanding of gender and the role of women both in temporal society and in the religious communities whose very raison d'être is the renunciation of temporal society, these schools shared and even bolstered the ideological presuppositions of Brahmanism.


2. Thus, for example, it has often been argued that Gandhi derived his concerns with vegetarianism and especially the technique of nonviolence as a political instrument from his formative years in Gujarat, an area whose culture is thought to have been heavily influenced by the Jainas, who have been concentrated there in the modern period. See, for example, Erikson (1969, pp. 162-163).

3. Guha, for example, applies his analysis of historiographical materials to premodern Indian texts. Thus he turns his attention to the Rajatarangini ;, a well-known history of Kashmir by the twelfth-century poet-historian Kalhana. The problem here, however, is that texts even as "historical" as Kalhana's are a great rarity in premodern India and Guha's analysis even of this text, although provocative, is filled with anachronisms. See Guha (1989, pp. 217-219).

4. Typical figures of this type would be Sita and Savitri, examples of perfectly devoted wives in the epic and popular literatures, and Guha (the Nisada chief, not the historian), who, although of low, even despised, class, ennobles himself through service and devotion to the Ksatriya god-man, Rama.

5. Examples of this type would be Kaikeyi, the insufficiently subordinated queen of King Dasaratha, whose name is still used in India as a pejorative term for a shrewish wife or one who puts her own interests before those of her husband, or Sambuka, the lowly sudra ;, or peasant, who dares to appropriate a function of the upper classes, religious penance, and is summarily executed for this offense by the king in the last book of the Ramayana ;. See Valmiki Ramayana , VII, 65-67.

6. A degree of egalitarianism, which includes women only insofar as it extends to them the possibility of spiritual liberation, becomes characteristic not only of the heterodox groups but of the various traditions of devotional Hinduism that, collectively, become the dominant religious tradition in South Asia with the waning of Buddhism and Jainism. Even as early as the Bhagavad-Gita ; (ix, 32), the authors find it prudent, in making the case for bhakti, to have Krsna observe that women, along with members of the lower social orders, may through this method attain salvation. For a detailed discussion of the Brahmanical position on liberation for women and the significance of the Gita ; passage, which is even cited by one Jaina author, see the Introduction (#40) and Chapter VI (#82 and n. 43).

7. The Hindu literature, rooted as it is mainly in the social life of the community and containing a considerable body of texts on erotics, both poetic and technical, is thus only partially concerned with overt attacks on women as a class. As for Buddhism, it should be remembered that although it is his encounter with the four visions that arouses in the Bodhisattva his desire to leave the world, it is the sight of the partially clothed bodies of the beautiful dancing girls sent to divert him that provides the immediate impetus for him to leave his family and become a mendicant. See Warren (1896, pp. 56-61). Compare the elaborate treatment of this episode in Asvaghosa's poetic rendering of the Buddha's career, the Buddhacarita (v, 47-65), in Johnston (1936). The Jaina attitude toward women and the female body is discussed at length below.

8. For examples of this approach see Masson (1974, 1975), Ramanujan (1972), Goldman (1978, 1985), and Sutherland (1989, Forthcoming). Aside from these and a few other studies, mostly by the same authors, most scholarship on the role of women in ancient Indian literature and society has consisted of catalogs of references in specific texts or the literature as a whole (e.g., Meyer, 1930),


traditionalist apologia attempting to demonstrate that negative attitudes toward women in contemporary India are the result of a post-Islamic degeneration of a very different situation in ancient times, or religious-historical studies of "the Goddess" (e.g., Kinsley, 1986). This last type is of little use in reconstructing the sociology of gender in premodern India.

9. For Theravada Buddhism the most useful work is Horner (1930). For the Mahayana schools see Paul (1979). For a study of the treatment of homosexuality in Buddhism, see Zwilling (1989).

10. Goldman (1984, p. 55, n. 107).

11. Brhadaranyaka-upanisad ;, Ill, 8, 1-12; IV, 5, 1-15. Passages such as these have, however, been frequently used as the basis for claiming that there was complete social equality for women in vedic India. This is highly unlikely.

12. See, for example, the stories of Sabari at Ramayana ;, iii, 70, and of Svayamprabha (iv, 49-51).

13. This famous passage is discussed in the Introduction (#41). A lengthy treatment is given in Horner (1930, pp. 95-117).

14. See Horner (1930, pp. 103-104).

15. See Horner (1930, pp. 110-112).

16. Paul (1979, p. 169).

17. For a discussion of the tradition concerning these numbers in ancient times see Jaini (1979, p. 37) and Horner (1930, pp. 101-102). For an indication of the relative numbers of monks and nuns in modern times see Jaini (1979, p. 246, n. 8).

18. According to the Jainas a layman, however pious, cannot, since he or she does not practice the necessary vows of the monastic orders in their most rigorous form, attain nirvana ;. See Jaini (1979, p. 160). Of course it should be noted that so restricted is the Jaina view in the matter of the attainment of true spiritual release that it is held that in the current degenerate period of the Jaina cycle of time, no one, not even the most pious monk, can attain nirvana ;. See the Introduction (#44).

19. At Rgveda ;, X, 95, 15, for example, it is stated that there can be no friendship with women as they have the hearts of wolves or jackals ("na vai strainani sakhyani santi salavrkanam hrdayany eta"). The great commentator Sayanacarya explains that such friendships are like those fatal ones formed by trusting creatures such as calves.

20. Mahabharata ;, XIII, 12, 11-15.

21. Manusmrti , v, 148.

22. Ramcaritmanas ;, V, 58, 6 (p. 736).

23. As mentioned above, Buddhist texts often refer unpleasantly to the female genitalia as a way of cultivating aversion to the life of the senses. Although this attitude runs counter to the fetishistic focus on the female anatomy and its constituent parts in the courtly erotic and romantic literature as well as the textbooks on erotics, some of the Hindu literature shares this phobic attitude toward the female body. One well-known verse from the collection attributed to the courtier-turned-ascetic Bhartrhari is quoted by Meghavijaya. See Chapter VI (#10 and n. 10).

24. See, for example, the extensive linguistic argumentation on this point in Chapter II (#95-141).


25. Compare, for example, the logical argumentation in Chapter III (#8-11).

26. See Chapters VI (#18) and II (#64-72).

27. Compare the sketchy and uncertain references to homosexuality in Meyer (1930). The phenomenon is all but ignored in the copious epic and dharmasastra ; literature, which otherwise tends to be filled with prescriptions and prohibitions on virtually every aspect of human behavior. Even the texts on sexual behavior, the kamasastra , which delight in detailed cataloging of the varieties of human sexual response, have little to say on this subject beyond some discussion of the sexual activities of "napumsakas " without making it quite clear whether these are true hermaphrodites, eunuchs, or biologically normal males whose sexual desires are aroused by other males. See, for example, Vatsyayana's Kamasutra ;. Other than this, homoeroticism is mentioned in Hindu texts mainly in the context of powerful devotion, as in passages where Krsna's lovers, in the grief and madness of separation from him, make love with one another. In one interesting passage, the Ramayana ; commentator Govindaraja, attempting to explain the sense in which Rama is said to be "pumsam drsticittapaharinam ," or "one who ravishes the sight and hearts of men," quotes a verse in which women, watching the princess Draupadi at her bath, "mentally become men," that is, conceive a (male) sexual passion for her. See Govindaraja on Ramayana ; 2.3.29 (Gujarati Printing Press edition, p. 429). In the rules of conduct for Buddhist monks the question of male homosexuality is discussed and the practice condemned, but so far as I can determine no theory is put forth to explain it. See Zwilling (1989).

28. Chapter VI (#10).

29. See, for example, Chapter VI (#11).

30. In response to the Svetambara objection that the male body too must support such life-forms, the Digambaras reply that it does but in such relatively small numbers as not to present an insuperable obstacle to the full adoption of the mendicant vows and practice. See, for example, Chapter IV (#7).

31. Interestingly, the intimate association the Jainas make between sexuality and violence is rendered still more explicit by their objection to sexual intercourse not merely in the usual terms of morality and control of the senses but in terms of their preoccupation with ahimsa. For if, as they argue, the vaginal canal is infested with vast swarms of minute beings, then it follows that the powerful friction of the sexual act must slaughter them in huge numbers. Indeed the Jaina authors frequently cite verses to the effect that with each "blow" hundreds of thousands perish. This, coupled with the loss of equally large numbers of beings in the discharge of semen, makes, in the Jaina view, each act of sexual intercourse a kind of massive holocaust of living beings. For an illustration of these views see Chapter VI (#69).

32. See, for example, Chapter III (#49-52).

33. See, for example, Chapter VI (#11).

34. There are a number of such studies now available. See, for example, Boucher (1988); for Christianity see Weber (1987). A study of the feminist challenge to patriarchal religious authority and the resistance that it meets is to be found in Weaver (1985). Similar works exist for Judaism and so on.


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