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Bhariyā Suttaṃ

(A.iv.91)

Wives

Then the Blessed One, having dressed and taking the bowl and double-robe in the morning, approached the residence of the householder Anāthapiṇḍika; having approached he sat down on a seat that had been made ready. On that occasion there was a loud noise, a great uproar among the people of Anāthapiṇḍika’s residence. Then on that occasion the householder Anāthapiṇḍika approached the Blessed One, having approached he paid homage to the Blessed One and sat down at one side. As the householder Anāthapiṇḍika was sitting there the Blessed One said:–

“Why, householder, are the people making a loud noise, why is there an uproar like fishermen landing a catch of fish?”

“Venerable sir, this daughter-in-law Sujātā, brought here from a wealthy family,¹ does not obey her father-in-law, her mother-in-law, nor her husband, not does she even revere, respect, praise, or honour the Blessed One.”

Then the Blessed One called Sujātā, the daughter-in-law: “Come, Sujātā!”

“Very well, venerable sir,” Sujātā the daughter-in-law replied to the Blessed One. She approached the Blessed One, and having paid homage to the Blessed One, sat down at one side. As she was sitting there at one side the Blessed One said to her:– [92]

“There are these seven kinds of wives, Sujātā, of a man. What seven? A murderess (vadhaka), a thief (corī), a governess (ayya) a mother (mātā), a sister (bhaginī), a friend (sakhī), and a servant (dāsī). Which one are you?”

“I do not understand, venerable sir, what the Blessed One has said in brief, I would like to know the meaning in detail. It would good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would explain in detail what he has said in brief, so that I would understand the meaning.”

“Then, Sujātā, listen and pay careful attention, I will speak.”

“With a wicked mind, devoid of compassion,
Infatuated with another, she despises her husband.
She seeks to kill the one who bought her with wealth,
She who is this kind of wife of a man,
Is called ‘A murderess and a wife.’

“The wealth acquired by her husband
By toiling at a craft, by trading, or farming,
Even if it is only a little, she desires to take by theft.
She who is this kind of wife of a man,
Is called ‘A thief and a wife.’

“Not wishing to work, lazy, and gluttonous
Abusive, angry, and harsh in speech,
She dominates and exerts control over her supporters
She who is this kind of wife of a man,
Is called ‘A governess and a wife.’ [93]

“Who is always friendly and compassionate,
Like a mother protects her husband like a son.
His wealth that he earns she guards.
She who is this kind of wife of a man,
Is called ‘A mother and a wife.’

“She who like an elder sister her younger brother,
Respects her husband as her own,
Modest, acting according to her husband’s wish.
She who is this kind of wife of a man,
Is called ‘A sister and a wife.’

“Who is delighted on seeing her husband,
As when meeting a friend after a long absence,
Cultured, virtuous, she is a devoted wife.
She who is this kind of wife of a man,
Is called ‘A friend and a wife.’

“Who is calm when scolded or threatened with punishment,⁴
Her mind uncorrupted, she endures her husband’s wrath,
Without getting angry she follows her husband’s wish.
She who is this kind of wife of a man,
Is called ‘A servant and a wife.’

“The wives here called a murderess, a thief, and a governess,
Immoral, abusive, and disrespectful,
On the break-up of the body after death go to hell.
Those here called mother, sister, friend, servant and wife,
Established in virtue and long restrained,
On the break-up of the body after death go to heaven.”

“These seven, Sujātā, are the wives of a man. Which of them are you?” [94]

“From today onwards, venerable sir, may the Blessed One regard me as a wife who is like a servant.”

Notes:

1. See note 2 to the Soṇa Sutta, where the ancient Brahmins use to cohabit only by mutual affection, but the practice in the Buddha’s time seems to have been by buying and selling wives. In this case, Anāthapiṇḍika seems to have paid a bride price to bring a wife for his son.

2. The Pāḷi word ayya means noble. It is a respectful form of address used for nuns or by servants for the mistress of a household. The meaning of dominance comes from the explanation given in the verse. Some translations use “mistress,” while Bhikkhu Bodhi translates it as “tyrant.” I think “governess” is closer to the true meaning here — someone who is bossy.

3. While a young woman lives with her parents, they are her supporters. On moving to another household, her husband, mother and father-in-law, are her supporters.

4. The Buddha does not condone domestic violence. However, it is a fact of life that ordinary human beings do sometimes get angry. What the Buddha recommends is to conquer anger by forbearance and self-restraint. If, in spite of a wife being submissive and obedient, a husband still threatens and beats his wife, then it is an abusive relationship that a woman should get out of as soon as possible. It sometimes works in the other direction too as noted in the first three verses.


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