A transgender and LGBTIQ+ icon in Theravada Buddhist history — Soreyya Arahantaka Bhikkhu (Enlightened Monk)

In the annals of Theravada Buddhist history, one figure stands out as an icon for gender non-conforming individuals and those with diverse sexual orientations. Soreyya Arahantaka Bhikkhu, a rich man from the city of Soreyya, embarked on a profound journey that challenges traditional perceptions and illustrates the open-mindedness of Buddha towards humanity.

Soreyya’s Encounter with Maha Katchayana Thero: The narrative begins with Soreyya encountering the arahant (Enlightened) monk Maha Katchayana, described in Buddhist literature as exceptionally handsome. Rather than succumbing to heteronormative expectations, Soreyya experiences a transformation of thought and think sensual way about enlightened monk. While later interpretations by Attakatha may portray the incident in a homophobic and transphobic light, a closer examination of Soreyya’s mindset reveals a more nuanced understanding.

The Attakatha’s portrayal, influenced by Brahmanic concepts and petriachy, attempts to stigmatize being born as a woman as “bad karma due to sensual thoughts.” This reflection aims to delve into the intersection of gender bias and religious interpretation within the context of Soreyya’s journey.

The Brahmanic Influence on Gender Bias: The roots of gender bias within Buddhist literature can be traced back to Brahmanic influences, where women and lower castes were often marginalized. The Attakatha writer’s attempt to label Soreyya’s transformation as a consequence of “bad karma” rooted in sensual thoughts perpetuates discriminatory beliefs inherited from Brahmanic ideologies.

Non-Binary Identity and Homosexuality: Contrary to the Attakatha’s portrayal, Soreyya’s thoughts suggest the possibility of him being a homosexual or bisexual person with non-binary identities. The ancient text describes Soreyya’s decision to leave his family, wealth, and societal positions, fleeing to Taxila in secrecy. There, he embraced life as an unknown woman, marrying a businessman and raising two children.

And Attakata said that the businessman who married Soreyya when she was a woman invited to continue living in the same house taking care of his two children and the two children of her previous marriage, but “Soreyya” refused the request and entered the monastic life under the Buddha.

The Progressive Mind of Buddha: Despite the challenges Soreyya faced, the Buddha’s response to his unconventional journey reflects a remarkably open mind. Soreyya’s ordination as a monk under the Buddha showcases the progressive nature of Buddhism, challenging societal norms and embracing individuals regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Buddha’s Teachings on Gender Transformation: The Vinaya Pitaka, which outlines rules for Buddhist monks, explicitly addresses gender transformation. It states that if a monk becomes a woman, they can join a nuns (Bhikkuni) monastery, and vice versa. The Buddha’s teachings emphasize that being transgender has no bearing on seniority within the monastic community, highlighting a level of acceptance that was revolutionary in its time.

Modern Misinterpretations and Patriarchal Influence: Despite the Buddha’s inclusive teachings, modern interpretations influenced by patriarchy often deny opportunities for LGBTIQ+ individuals to become monks. The term “Pandaka,” used to label homosexuals and transsexuals, has been misconstrued, with some attempting to link it to the Buddha’s teachings. However, a reference to the Vinaya clarifies that Pandaka refers to a specific uncontrollable sexual urge and is unrelated to one’s sexual orientation.
The term “Pandaka” in Buddhist literature has often been associated with negative connotations, particularly in the context of uncontrollable sexual urges. However, scholars propose an alternative interpretation, suggesting that “Pandaka” has roots in Vedic times and was associated with a specific class of individuals who served distinctive religious and social functions. This exploration aims to shed light on the historical origins of “Pandaka” and challenge the prevalent misconceptions surrounding their identity, drawing parallels with the contemporary Hijra community.

“Pandaka” held unique roles within society, akin to the specialized functions performed by certain groups, such as the Hijra community (India) Nacchi (Sri Lanka) in present-day South Asia.
For more reference about “Pandaka” community and ordination of gender non-confirming people; Through the Yellow Gate: Ordination of Gender-Nonconforming People in the Buddhist Vinaya by Ven. Vimala Bhikkhu*nī

Historical Context of “Pandaka”: The Vedic origins of the term “Pandaka” point to a social and religious class rather than a characterization of sexual behavior. In ancient times, individuals identified as “Pandaka” held unique roles within society, akin to the specialized functions performed by certain groups, such as the Hijra community (India) Nacchi (Sri Lanka) in present-day South Asia.

Challenging Prejudice:

The prevailing notion that “Pandaka” implies uncontrollable sexual urges is rooted in prejudice and misinterpretation. By revisiting the historical context and separating the term from its misleading connotations, we can challenge biased perspectives and foster a more accurate understanding of the diverse roles and identities present in ancient societies.

Soreyya Arahantaka Bhikkhu: Icon of LGBTIQ+ People in Buddhist History: In the broader context, Soreyya Arahantaka Bhikkhu emerges as an icon for the LGBTIQ+ community in Buddhist history. His journey, marked by personal exploration, transformation, and eventual acceptance within the monastic community, challenges societal norms and serves as a testament to the compassionate and open-minded teachings of the Buddha.

The Inclusivity of Nirvana: Nirvana, as preached by the Buddha, is the ultimate state of liberation from the cycle of birth and death. In Soreyya’s case, it serves as a poignant reminder that the path to Nirvana is open to individuals irrespective of their sex, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. The attainment of Nirvana by Soreyya becomes a powerful example of the profound equality inherent in Buddhist philosophy.

Conclusion: Soreyya’s story offers a poignant reflection on the inclusivity embedded in Buddhism, emphasizing the need to revisit and reinterpret ancient texts to align with the core principles of acceptance and compassion. As the world continues to evolve, embracing diverse identities, Soreyya Arahantaka Bhikkhu stands as a timeless symbol of resilience and acceptance in the face of societal expectations.

Article Refrence — Attakatha

Article by — Kaushal Ranasinghe

Photo Credit — Gayan Chanuka Vidanapathirana


Agree to your point! I want to mention that Buddha’s inclusivity and dhamma is no one left behind! Thank you… With Metta


I don’t think it’s to do with either, but more about gender roles.

The Buddha seems to single out heterosexuality as especially problematic in suttas such as AN 1.1, so I think we should have extra compassion for heterosexuals. It must we very hard for them to practice celibacy :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


Namo Buddhaya!

If a man, lusting for another man and intending to go through with it, invites another man to attack him with hand or otherwise, i’d call him a pandaka.

However i also think that one should recognize individual differences even with such a definition.

It’s not only men , women can also be pandakas but a woman inviting a man to attack her wouldn’t qualify, it’d have to be a woman inviting a woman.

I don’t think that one can say pandaka=homosexual because people do not agree on what makes a homosexual and people are very diverse.

However if i was a monk and another monk approached me, inviting me to attack him i’d be totally comfortable saying ‘go away pandaka’, no other qualification needed.

However id recognize individual differences even in such a case and i could think of cases where it wouldn’t qualify but as a rule it’d do.

To me, being trans is being honest about who you really are, not pretending to be someone you’re not just because society says you should behave or look a certain way because of the type of genitals you were born with.

When it comes to trans people, I think there’s something deeply authentic about being oneself despite the (sometimes huge) risks being trans comes with, like rejection from family and friends, being stared at in public, or even facing violence.

There is something virtuous about being authentic because it is connected to honesty. I treasure those people who are willing to share their authentic personality with me :nerd_face: :heart:


Yes… some scholars explain that is related to communities. As a example - “Hijra” Community in India. As I know in Sri Lanka we have “Nachchi” comnunity is very similar to the which explenation of Vinaya pitaka attakatha. So pandaka can be a community!
Please read below explenation in the article!

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I mean, it’s obviously possible to have several projects going on at the same time?

If you think people shouldn’t do anything except abandon craving for sensuality, why are you posting in this thread instead of being off abandoning craving for sensuality yourself?

If you think it’s just trans people who should abandon sensuality instead of being trans, why are you holding Buddhists trans people to a higher standard than other Buddhists?

Right, but why are you posting here then? Do you think it will fulfil your happiness?

Being trans isn’t born from thinking that living as a woman or a man will be an end to suffering, it’s just an expression of who you actually are.

A good reason to live as the gender you feel like inside is keeping the 4th precept to a very high degree. You don’t want to deceive anyone, basically.

Are you celibate?

Doing this is one way someone might find out they’re trans :slight_smile: and to anyone who does I just want to say I’m glad to have you in this world :blush:


Hi everyone.

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I don’t think it’s related to a community anymore than homosexuality. I think it’s to do with ideas of gender and gender roles. Notice that those who were “top” weren’t regarded as pandakas but the one receiving was. As with Rome, to give is ok but to receive was to compromise your masculinity. That’s a pandaka.

Fair enough venerable…although if we have to moderate ‘the world’, that’s a bit much imho. :anjal:

just saying :grin:


I often have difficulties understanding the idea that someone (anyone) with a non-binary identity might possibly also think of themselves as homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual, as these three later terms are all built on a foundation of a binary identity. With a non-binary identity I find it logical that the terms homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual have no meaning. This is of course difficult from societal and Sangha points of view where it is necessary to gender a person in a binary way. Perhaps we might say a person could be homo, bi or heterosexual with a flex-binary or gender fluid identity. But I guess these terms are used in slightly different ways in different communities.

It’s also valid to say that we can’t really be sure what they meant by ‘pandaka’ 2500 years ago. We don’t even have to assume that it was a coherent or well-defined concept back in their time.

Like @stu points out, some labels depend on other ideas for meaning, like a rigid gender binary. It’s possible to think of sexuality in terms of tops and bottoms, or in terms of a gender binary, and probably in a lot of other ways as well.

This is from the study of Christianity, in the early development of the Christian church, the view was that women were a type of inferior male. They didn’t grow a beard and their penises failed to develop (the vagina being an undeveloped penis).

From the view of the gender binary, this seems very gay. But it doesn’t have to make sense, culture is weird :slight_smile:

Actually, the clitoris and the penis are the same structure and when the foetal clitoris is acted upon by products of the “sex determining” region of the Y chromosome it develops into a penis. When those products are not present (i.e., XX or XY with a deletion of that part of the Y) then the clitoris develops. Where there is a mix (e.g., a condition called CAH) you have partial development (so something between a clitoris and a penis; which we call “ambiguous genitalia”).

Studying Medicine highlights that the Buddha had it right all along! All of these concepts are not absolutes but are “fluid” or “constructs” and everything should come back to, and be centred around, the mind not the labels we put on things.

Something I noticed when reading about Buddhist concepts of sexuality, was that it appeared to be the only major world religion that focussed on the mind, rather than the genitalia. This made much more sense to me when you look at all the different potential varieties of life on Earth… let alone the entire universe and who knows what variety of non-Earth life.


…or you could just keep the last 9 words and delete the earlier ones IMO :slight_smile:

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Heh! :grinning: Yes. IMO too. I’m just trying to be inclusive of people who identify as binary :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

If there’s any confusion, allow me to clarify my point. The key takeaway from this article is that Nirvana is unrelated to one’s gender or sex…etc. However, regrettably, we witness instances where certain teachers, monasteries, and Buddhist institutions discriminate against or stigmatize individuals with diverse identities. The question arises: why can’t we establish a safe and inclusive space for everyone to practice the noble dhamma without facing judgment?


Sounds a bit like erasing homosexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals.

I’m actually suggesting we should probably just erase all labels, or at least recognise they are labels and not reality. As I said to my Godson/Buddhason last week, the reason people are confused about what came first, the chicken or the egg, is the mistaken belief that the chicken and the egg actually exist as absolutes. When you consider them as labels the problem is solved :slight_smile:

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