Are all previous Buddhas in EBT males?

I have come across some suttas in EBT that mention previous Buddhas. So, I was wondering: were all previous Buddhas in EBT males or do the texts also refer to any female Buddhas? Can we tell for sure the gender of previous Buddhas from their names and/or the pronouns used to refer to them?
(I know that the OP probably referred to women at the time of the Buddha Shakyamuni (or Siddhartha Gautama if you prefer), but since the Suttas also sometimes speak of previous Buddhas, I think it’s a good point to discuss).

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All previous Buddhas are tradtionally recalled as being males.

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thank you for your answer.
I am wondering, how can we explain this? If there’s equality between the genders so that men and women have the same type of mind, statistics should imply that roughly half of past Buddhas should have been female.
I do not know how many past Buddhas there are, but all else being equal, the probability of all of them being male just by chance is vanishingly small: say for 10 past Buddhas to have been all male it would be 1 in 1024.
So how can we explain this? Perhaps because of different social conditions between men and women, which made it harder for the latter to practice? Or perhaps EBT stories are not to be taken literally as historical accounts, but just as edifying stories (for the time when they were told)?

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Why is there a need to?

I’ve been wondering about your posts. It seems more like you’re trying to undermine the EBTs than understand them. If you are trying to understand them, you may be overthinking them.

Let’s say ‘The Compendious Book on Calculation’, a highly influential treatise on mathematics, was found in a cave somewhere, and it was attributed to Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, who is historically known as the author. Should the knowledge in that treatise be disregarded if there was no way to verify every narrative attributed to it, or verify Al-Khwārizmī’s existence or gender? Of course not.

This same logic should apply to the canonical Buddhist texts. If the practices drawn from them have been shown to have actual benefits, the cursory details don’t require explanation. For many questions, we can only endlessly speculate, which would defeat the whole purpose of practice.


The idea of females being able to be arahants is widespread in the Pali canon. The idea of females not being able to be Buddhas arises, I think, almost entirely from MN115.

An interpretation that relies only on a single(?) occurrence probably is on shaky ground. And the parallels for this sutta vary (the whole topic is discussed in a nice article here by Analayo). Some parallels are more restrictive (not allowing even a female Paccekabuddha) but one Chinese parallel doesn’t have the list of restrictions at all. The Pali canon doesn’t exclude female Paccekabuddhas I think. Variation between parallels increases the probability that this section is just not early.

The worlds of past Buddhas in the suttas often sound remarkably like the North India of the Buddha’s day. It actually probably would have been impossible for a female in that Indian world to have established a dispensation, and functioned as a Buddha, given the status of women. Surely, not all worlds would have been like that? I suspect there was a bit of extrapolation going on by whoever wrote the suttas (the norm for their time was assumed to be universal).


I personally believe this traces back to the Buddha, which in EBTs is quoted to speak of 6 past Buddhas beside himself.

If you want to read more about the original and extended list, check:

If we hold that some knowledge of previous Buddhas comes with the threefold knowledge that marks awakening - of previous lives - then, there must be a reason for all previous tathāgatas being of male gender.

Unfortunately, the only way to challenge that understanding is cultivating ourselves the path to the end of suffering, which brings about the threefold knowledge. :sweat_smile:

And beside that, the whole question is a little bit of non sequitur. The only way to challenge is to stay around until the memory of the last Buddha and the Dhamma disappears, together with the Sangha, and then, only then, see if a female Buddha shows up! :sweat:


To me, in order to take EBT seriously, it seems important to test whether they make sense. Isn’t it a sign of respect for a teaching, or a scientific theory, that you are testing whether it makes sense, rather than accepting it blindly? At least the monk Ajahn Brahm has argued that Buddhism should not be considered as a religion based on faith (he was arguing against faith, in this debate, where he compared Buddhism to science)

And if the sign of a good scientist is that she or he asks a lot of questions, and tests existing theories rather than blindly accepting them based on faith, shouldn’t this be all the more true in the case of EBT? (since unlike the natural sciences that just teach us about the external world, EBT are supposed to teach us about the meaning of our life.)
So asking questions and testing what I am told seems to me the right approach, and the truly respectful one (just like if you respect Einstein’s theories you don’t just bow to them and accept them on faith, but you verify their consistency, you build experiments to validate them - and if you are a really great scientist you even take them further). But perhaps my approach is the wrong one, in which case I would be grateful if you could explain to me why.

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Hello @tonysharp and @irene. I really relate to where both of you are coming from, but wonder if perhaps while your interests in this subject area may overlap they’d best be handled separately.

If I’ve understood correctly, Tony, your intention had been to collect suttas given to or by women, where as Irene, you’d like to explore whether/why can’t a woman be a Buddha. Perhaps it would be best if I split the thread in two so you can each explore the issues you’re concerned with?


ok thank you, I actually did not know that a woman cannot be a Buddha, I just learnt it from the sutta @suaimhneas mentioned. Yes please split the discussion as you think appropriate; I have just a lot of questions popping up as I explore these posts so I am sorry if sometimes they go a bit off topic. :pray:


Okay, I’ve now done that; please feel free to change the title however you’d like to.

I’m exactly the same, and you’re absolutely right to ask about what you’re not sure about, just maybe be alert to the fact that sometimes questions can sometimes appear as challenges to some people in some contexts even when there is no intention to challenge so factoring in extra softness can be useful at times (at least this is one of my hard won life lessons :wink: ). By and large, we’re reasonably casual about the ‘staying on topic’ point, things naturally evolve in all sorts of directions, but in this case it just felt like each of your interests would best be served separately.


Thank you for sharing; I did not know this sutta. I am personally unable to understand these paragraphs:

They understand: ‘It’s impossible for two perfected ones, fully awakened Buddhas to arise in the same solar system at the same time. But it is possible for just one perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha, to arise in one solar system.’ They understand: ‘It’s impossible for two wheel-turning monarchs to arise in the same solar system at the same time. But it is possible for just one wheel-turning monarch to arise in one solar system.’
They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a woman to be a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha. But it is possible for a man to be a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha.’ They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a woman to be a wheel-turning monarch. But it is possible for a man to be a wheel-turning monarch.’ They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a woman to perform the role of Sakka, Māra, or Brahmā. But it is possible for a man to perform the role of Sakka, Māra, or Brahmā.’

Perhaps it’s impossible to have 2 monarchs arising at the same time if a monarch is one who dominates the whole of the world, so there is not room for 2. But since being a Buddha is a matter of insight and wisdom and kindness not of power, I don’t understand the comparison or why there could not be in theory two Buddhas.

And the fact that you cannot have a female wheel-turning monarch is also difficult to understand. I am not sure what a wheel-turning monarch is exactly, but today there are certainly female national leaders like Theresa May or Angela Merkel for example.

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I haven’t read the entry for this particular sutta so I don’t know if it will be relevant here, but generally speaking one of the first things I do when coming across puzzling material that happens to be in the Majjhima is head over to Ven. Analayo’s incredible comparison work. Here’s the entry for MN 115.


Thank you! I did not know of this work, and on this particular sutta Ven. Analayo says:

The Madhyama-āgama discourse, however, does not take up the subject of what is impossible for a woman at all. Although from the perspective of transmission this absence could be a loss of material, it could very well be that this particular set of impossibilities was not originally part of the present discourse.

So it’s worth exploring further; :slight_smile: I will read the references he quotes on the subject.


I’m not sure I fully understand all of that passage either. For example, it says there cannot be a female Brahma (a Brahma is a member of one of the high deva realms, or in this case I think the Brahma ruler). However, AFAIA according to Theravadin cosmology, beings in those Brahma realms are neither male nor female? :thinking: I’m not sure if there’s a sutta basis to that Theravadin cosmological assertion, but something doesn’t add up there. I guess there can’t be two wheel turning monarchs at the same time; a wheel turning monarch is a kind of universal benevolent king ruling according to Dhamma, which was a notion in circulation in India generally (can’t be two world kings simultaneously I suppose). Can’t see why they couldn’t be female (aside from this being inconceivable to those in the Buddha’s time). If one assumes Buddhas arise randomly then their never arising simultaneously doesn’t make sense. The alternative is that they arrive according to some kind of preconceived design and timing? Is that the natural implication?

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Of course. But you haven’t really been questioning the theory. You’ve been questioning authenticity and nitpicking cursory details. Referring back to my analogy, it’s like debating the kind of clothes Al-Khwārizmī wore instead of the math he taught. Buddhism isn’t about the narrative. It’s about the practice to alleviate and eventually end dukkha. To understand EBT theory, one should start with an analysis of the actual theory, which is encompassed by the Four Noble Truths. It may also be helpful to seek the guidance of a teacher.


another reason why I have this approach is that I was born with a Christian tradition, and one of the reasons I found it unconvincing was that it was inconsistent with science and rationality (say Noah’s flood was inconsistent with fossils findings or the account of Genesis with evolution).
So I abandoned Christianity and turned to Buddhism since it did not seem to have these inconsistencies. But if EBT were, like Christianity, inconsistent with rationality or if it does not hold up to scrutiny, then it is not a religion for me.

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Everyone has their own approach and own needs. At any rate, again, this really does fall a little outside those flexible margins of what is on-topic.

The children’s game of “Chinese Whispers” (more commonly known as the “telephone game” in the US I think) has quite a few similarities to sutta transmission! :slight_smile: This is the game where one child starts with a phrase or small story and whispers it to the next child in a line or circle, and that child whispers it to the next child, and so on. Before too long, the final message can become hilariously different to the original phrase.

Sutta transmission for the different parallels, I think, is a bit like this. They could be likened to a number of lines of children leading off from one single child and her original phrase or story. The lines are probably fairly short (these parallels seem to be relatively close historically to the Buddha).

A bit of error correction is then possible. If the messages from the lines all agree then it’s quite likely that that really was the original message; one cannot be certain though (it might also be the case they everyone misheard it in the same way). If they differ, we know things got garbled along the way, but which message from which line is the original (or maybe none is)? Mostly very hard to tell.

And the transmitters of the EBTs had their own biases. For me, the story of Mahakassapa admonishing Ananda in the First Council for various reasons (one of which was persuading the Buddha to found the Bhikkuni order) stands out. I’ve my doubts about that story being true. If true, it implies resentment at the founding of the female monastic order amongst a significant number there (couldn’t bring themselves to directly criticize the Buddha for that but could do so more indirectly to Ananda after he was gone). If false, it at least implies, though, attitudes rather hostile to females amongst many of the early oral sutta transmitters.

I suspect many of the members of the original sutta Chinese Whispers game were rather sexist (adhering to the social conditioning of the time). Whatever about the original message, I suspect divergences and errors would have tended to generally head in that direction, so I have extra scepticism of the EBTs in such matters.

Of course, perhaps the Buddha himself (while generally appearing to be rather enlightened on the topic, pardon the choice of word, founding the Bhikkuni order etc.) didn’t operate entirely independently of such social conditioning. It’s hard to say though.


All Buddhas are male in the Lotus Sūtra, which contradicts many modern fantasies about that text and it’s alleged universal tendencies.


Thank you for your answer. First of all I would like to underline that I did not ask the question because I wanted to compare unfavorably EBT to the Lotus Sutra, but out of genuine curiosity.

Btw I believe that in Chapter 12 (Devadatta) of the Lotus Sutra there is the story of an eight-year-old female dragon who has been able to attain Buddhahood (concerning the dragon, I do not take the stories literally, but metaphorically, like Burton Watson has suggested one should)