Becoming Jivaka - the story of the first transgender monk

Oh my! Thanks for a fascinating, ongoing discussion about which I can relate as I am a post op Trans woman. And thanks to those of you who embrace me and my unique status on this tiny planet full of mystery…like gender dysphoria which provided me with the best possible introduction to the concept of dependent origination.

Ironically, it was my ‘dysphoria’ that gave me very early insight into the first construct to which we are all introduced at the moment of our birth when a stranger decides which of the two paths we must follow throughout our lives based on observation of our genitalia-the derivation from which can often be fatal. As a young trans person I was forced to deal with the first question in life that most people are never compelled to ask themselves: that is not who am I, but what am I? And if you were to respond ‘a human, of course!’, I would respond by saying sadly that is not enough in this world. One is either a male human or a female human.

Even the Buddha in all of his wisdom was ‘stuck’ in a gender which he employed to elevate men over women. If he did speak about the illusion of gender I have not been made aware throughout all of my discussions and research here at Sutta Central. But he is not alone in his failure to point to the illusion of gender, a sociological control mechanism beyond our evolutionary closeness to primate behavior- evidenced by the fact that chimps don’t care how other dress nor kill other chimps because they are too effeminate.

I have written quite a bit, from a subjective perspective, about the experience of being trans in a world still so profoundly divided. Most of what I have written goes largely unnoticed. I do not take it personally, but mention it as a way of indicating our continuing acceptance of gender as a horrible way of organizing the world order. And I leave you with this caveat: any man who reads this and is ready to challenge the concept of dependent origination as it relates to the First Condition called gender can learn much about the weight of that conditioning by simply changing your gendered uniform for one day. In other words wear a sun dress to Wal-Mart. You will be enlightened.


Thank you so much @Rosie. I find your input in these matters so very valueble.

For anybody in a different position it is very hard to understand this gender-dysphoria and what it does, how it feels. But it is our challenge to turn it into a beautiful learning experience and see how it can give us a different perspective on things.

I personally don’t think the Buddha was stuck in the gender-binary. But he had to work in a society where people thought in that way. So he had to somehow adapt to it to provide the best possible learning environment for his disciples at that time. I’m convinced that in the Sangha there was equality then between all people, but after the death of the Buddha the social influences have again started to exert itself and make changes.


I’m not a 100% percent sure what you mean by ‘illusion’, but the Buddha did teach that conceit based on any of the five khandas is a failure to see truly (e.g. SN 22.49), and constantly taught that the five khandas are to be regarded as ‘not me, not mine, not my self’.

Whatever gender is, it’s certainly contained within the five khandas. It follows that conceit based on gender is a failure to see truly, and that gender is ‘not me, not mine, not my self’.


I would like to think that too.

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Thanks for your ‘right view’ and for the clarification you provided. What I meant about gender being an illusion is that it is dependent origination…human created. And given that Buddha referred to it thusly I cannot help but wonder why it is still the primary condition of all humans including Buddhists of course.

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@Rosie For me, the interesting thing about that Vinaya story is that it reflects a situation in which a monastic manifesting attributes of the other gender did not create big problems or fusses, the response is smooth: okay, then live with that other community and follow their rules. Although, as you say, all this is still gender-binary.

Sadly, the tradition has not always been as cool as in that example. The Vinaya also bans ‘paṇḍakas’ (what we might call ‘queens’ today) from ordaining, after a story of self-advertising promiscuity; as well as ‘ubhatobyañjanakas’ (hermaphrodites, maybe transgenders). I think those in Thailand who argue against ordaining transgenders and gays equate either of these categories with the Thai term ‘kathoey’, ladyboy.

Jose Cabezón edited a good book entitled “Buddhism, sexuality and gender”.

@Vimala I attach an essay with quite a lot of bibliography and some analysis on the ‘paṇḍaka’ problem. Don’t judge too hard, it was my second essay for uni :sweat_smile:

Essay on homosexuality - Bernat Font.pdf (120.3 KB)


Thank you so much for that, and I look forward to perusing. But your quotes regarding the historical division of societies into sexes, and therefore gender can easily be called clinging to illusory concepts, or ignoring dependent origination- a basic tenet of Buddhism as I understand it. As a relative newcomer to Buddhism I am having a very difficult time comprehending this sort of cherry picking of which Christians are also very fond.

Either we accept dependent origination as an absolute or we step outside of the 4 noble truths. This classifying of humans in a hierarchical context with regularly gendered people receiving more benefits not to mention respect and power smacks of a profound judgment against differently gendered people…which leads directly to suffering by means of the imposition of a caste system which I thought was a Hindu concept. And at the risk of incurring the wrath of those in power it does indeed seem like this is a non issue to those male people who decide stuff.

I know that this is a horse which has been beaten nearly to death. But until the scales of equanimity are balanced, we may have to get a new horse.

Thank you for listening…With Metta and liberation to all.


" De Silva cites a commentary that states that paṇḍakas are “full of passions,
unquenchable lust and are dominated by the desire for sex.” Vasubhandu regards paṇḍakas and
hermaphrodites as sensualists, chronically overcome by the deflements of both sexes;
Buddhaghosa claims they are hindered by deflements like those of fxed wrong view and, like the
Milindapañha, denies them the possibility of spiritual progress (Harvey, 2000, pp.417-418). Zwilling
(1992, p.206) speculates that the negative view of the behaviour and characteristics of paṇḍakas is
a result of social stigmatization, and queer thinkers like Michaelson (2011, location 1652) go
further and consider stigmatization as a cause of the behaviour itself."

This controversy over ‘effeminacy’ dating from these early quotes up to the present still smack of blatant sexism. And further how can a person’s morality be ascertained by their behavior-ostentatious as it may be? These judgments still seem to ignore the concept of DO. I could use a right view clarification. I do not know how judgment creeps in to all perception: I perceive you as such, therefore you must be [fill in the blanks.] This perpetuates suffering regardless of the alleged spirituality of the spokesperson.

Given that Buddha was the Awaked One, how did he not see all humans as having equal value?
Darn, this is ignored my passions. Gotta chill…with Metta.

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Just finished your paper. Kudos for a brief but comprehensive look at sex and gender as it evolved throughout history in respect to various Buddhist traditions. I remain somewhere between puzzled and miffed. Sex and gender are either conditioned phenomenon or they are not. If they are conditioned phenomenon they should be regarded in the same light as all causes or they are not which negates the profound principles of dependent origination.

Again, pardon my clumsiness in Buddhist principles. I am here to learn. I await a greater wisdom. :grimacing:

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I think only 2 or 3 of the pañcapaṇḍakāḥ, the five-fold pandakas, are forbidden to ordain, at least in the Dharmaguptaka vinaya. Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya has a different pañcapaṇḍakāḥ sequence, including one who “becomes aroused while bathing”, which might replace the “speckled one” in the Dharmaguptaka, but it also only has 2-3 of the 5 barred from ordination. I think the Theravādavinaya has the same general tradition presented, but I am not sure.

But the statement is true, generally. Vinayāḥ ban paṇḍakāḥ, but not universally.

Some of the categories of paṇḍaka are very odd, and involve transformations in-line with the lunar cycle. I’m sure it’s in your paper, though. I will try to read it shortly.

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I think what happens is that only a tiny percentage of people can see their past lives, which includes having been males and females. For everyone else it is a theoretical construct, and being conditioned in this life to ‘maleness’ or ‘femaleness’ they are stuck with this delusion. It is the people who bear the brunt of this division who are most conscious of it.

So to turn that around - this experience of suffering - actually gives those individuals and advantage in seeing things as they truly are > this suffering as an opportunity




Thanks for sharing your essay. I enjoyed reading it :anjal::grinning:

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Wow! That sounds like the right view…at least to me. And I do find it curious that this topic persistently receives less attention than other more ‘comfortable’ topics here and wherever I try to address it-for example my challenge that people experiment with cross gendered dressing in order to experience their own attachment to their respective gender. Is this not clinging to gender as a crutch or worse as a construct which supports their power?

In this regard I am assuming, though you did not mention it, that I am one of those people. And you are correct in that I have suffered long in a society that regards women as second class, and anyone who would give up the keys to the throne [the penis] like a male to female transsexual is mentally ill or perverted.

Recognizing this gendered construct early in life is the thing that lead me to Buddhism as I experienced gender as phenomenological from an early age. I have also written about this experience of my gender dysphoria as a possible connection to my karmic rebirth.

So in recognition of my early awareness of gender as a construct, does this indicate that I am past the point of stream-entry?

I tried to invite Bhante Sujato without knowing if this was even right or possible, but it did not work.

Adding the @ symbol in front of a person’s username will notify that person that they were mentioned in a post, and is an easy way to get their attention. For example, @sujato, will most likely draw the attention of the venerable Bhante.


Dear Rosie, regarding your last question - I’m afraid that is WAY above my pay grade, and I will leave it to more learned practitioners to discuss. :smile:

With regards to using experiences of suffering as opportunities to refine practice, it is a perspective that has helped me greatly. It is just a general observation, and I hope it has been useful as another way to regard things.

All the best


M :slightly_smiling_face::dharmawheel:


If you are aware that your “awareness of gender as a construct” is also a construct, you might at least be on the right track. :slight_smile:

IMHO neither dependant origination or the 4 noble truths are ‘absolute’, they are aids for training.

Hey all, thanks for the beautiful thread!

@Rosie, can you clarify what it it is you wanted to draw my attention to?

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Respected Sir, hoping for your input/clarification on the persistence of gendered segregation as a way of organizing Buddhists into a hierarchy with male Buddhists at the top of the power pyramid: i.e Men deserving the most power and respect, then women, then closeted gay men, then pandakas , and trans people receiving the least amount of authority…all of which must be manifestations of dependent origination. If you could read my posts here regarding these things, and offer your wisdom, I will receive much clarity about my ‘muddy’ view of this subject. Would my early recognition of these conditioned roles allow me greater insight int conditioned phenomenon, and perhaps place me in the’stream’?

Or am I terribly confused? lol

Thanks, humbly with metta


This type of conditioning is mundane. It is like saying my childhood conditions me to be who I am today. True insight into conditioning should take one away from the solid world ‘outside’ and offer an insight into another conditioned way of experiencing phenomena. That is from the arising of the eye and visual object, eye consciousness arises. This conditions the next arising of contact. That in turn conditions the arising of feeling, identification and intention. This isn’t even ‘seeing’, but just the middle way of how the world arises, according to the paticcasamuppada.

Sorry if this isn’t clear, but seeing that this isn’t the topic at hand, it might be helpful to pursue it in another thread.

with metta