Buddha as Mysogynist?

There are so many people says that buddha is a mysogynist as he disrespect women’s please explain ?

The society of the time saw women in an inferior role, and since the Buddha was not there to transform the world from an external position, he is not seen opposing that role to any great degree.

He gave a variety of advice to people depending on what they wanted to accomplish with their lives, so, at times you’ll see him encouraging the embrace of traditional values, while others he would encourage a lifestyle that was more inclined toward the development of the eightfold path. To be explicit, if a man or a woman was content to just follow the five precepts and remain in the society, he encouraged them to do so virtuously, and to perform whatever role diligently and energetically. From that point of view, he was encouraging the listener to embrace traditional values, and to live with as little conflict as possible. Now, if a person was inquiring about the development of a deeper purpose, his advice would begin to shift and he can be seen addressing men and women with the same level of respect and standing.

As far as why he twice refused the request to allow for the formation of the bhikkhuni order, there are many ways to look at the situation. This is how I see it. Within a society where men held a superior position, a female organization of such supreme independence would likely be perceived as a threat to the traditional way of life, and would ultimately lead to strife and conflict. That is nothing more than a reflection of what was already there, and the Buddha seemed to understand that it would ultimately be to the detriment of the dispensation to have that turmoil. Seems to me he simply wanted Ananda to consider the reality of the scenario, but eventually relented and the bhikkhuni order was formed.

Is any of this misogynistic? Well, from the point of view of those who wish to see societal tenets that reflect an equal treatment of men and women, then it absolutely could be considered so, but that would mean that the Buddha was teaching with the purpose of making the world a better place from that level, which is an extremely misleading premise. No doubt, the Buddha was known to give advice that applied to how leaders governed and how individuals should consider their role in society, but that application of the Dhamma does not imply the eightfold path will be the result, or that it is even being pursued. What I mean is, a person can apply the Buddha’s wisdom to a worldly life focused on the betterment of circumstances and conditions, but that is not at all a prerequisite to developing the right view. These are two separate directions that may be developed in tandem, but are not in line with one another.

In the end, how we understand the words of the Buddha really depends on perspective, and what each of us is trying to draw from our involvement with Buddhism.

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Buddha is Enlightened, not a misogynist. Misogynists are not Enlightened, nor do they yet qualify to be on the Path until they have given up such a fetter of Wrong View.

There is, I think, a useful distinction to be made between misogyny and sexism. I learned this from Rita Gross.

Misogyny is a psychological quality: a hatred of women. But that has to be qualified (with inspiration from Levi-Strauss): it is hatred of women out of place. Some misogynists hate all women (in which case the place is “existence”), but mostly it manifests as “but I love women”, neglecting to specify that this applies only to women who are in the kitchen or under their feet.

Sexism is an institutional structure, for example, paying women less than men for the same job, or denying women the right to ordain.

Misogyny and sexism have a complex relationship. Normally you’d expect that they reinforce each other. But sometimes misogynists might be against sexism (for example, a predator might be all for equal representation in the workplace, as that gives them more potential victims. Or they might side with women to decriminalize sex work.) On the other hand, someone who is not personally misogynist might support sexist institutions (for example, they want to ensure social stability and see change as threatening that).

Neither one is inherently more harmful than the other. It depends. Institutional sexism, for example, might be less overt, but cause more long term damage.

To return to the original question, I don’t think the Buddha was misogynistic. That’s a defilement for sure. Of course many of the Buddha’s followers in the present day are certainly misogynist. Never underestimate the power of unresolved mommy issues and twisted desire.

As to sexist institutions, I think the answer has to acknowledge another parameter, which is time. Agents of change are either revolutionaries (“wipe it all clean and start again!”) or evolutionaries (“let’s make it better”). The Buddha was, in social matters, an evolutionary.

So then if we were to ask, “Is everything attributed to the Buddha about women in the early texts exactly what I would say in 2023 if I had a clean slate?” Then I would say no. But if the question is, “Did the Buddha make things better or worse for women?” then the answer is “Better!”

A step forward is a step. It’s not the end of the journey.

And to me, that is what matters. Our question, as living participants in a tradition, is not “How can I do everything exactly the same as it was 2500 years ago in a different time and place?” but “How can I learn from what the Buddha did so I can help make things better in this time and place?”

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I don’t understand how simply permitting women to wilfully wear rags and meditate while following minimalist ascetic lifestyles is a “social issue” on par with going to an equal-wage protest and engaging the UN in women’s rights. We are talking about independent religious practitioners who want to realize liberation, and being allowed to practice in such a way with the Buddha as one’s teacher, the Dhamma as guide, and supported by other practitioners of the same sort — the Sangha. Women living in this way already existed at the time, and there is no evidence that they would fall to their knees to bow to a junior wanderer or refuse to travel through the wilderness without a companion. Rather, we see evidence to the contrary in limited compilations like the Therīgāthā alone.

There is no ‘evolution’ if one is introducing, for the sake of praise, honor, fame, material goods, fear, etc., an oppressive sexist institution meant to manipulate spiritual seekers simply wanting to follow the Buddha’s instructions Rather, this is to me somewhat of a revolution and would, IMHO, make the Buddha a revolutionary indeed: “You are diligently practicing for liberation and have given up everything to do so? No, sorry, I disapprove because it will diminish the prestige and influence of my institution. Better for you to stay at home, honey.” :thinking:

I think there is a gaping lack of reflection in the Buddhist sphere about what exactly the Buddha intended to do in teaching spiritual renunciants the Dhamma, and what it means to be an alms mendicant searching for freedom from suffering, in comparison to a priest of some High Buddhist Church — this for all genders and sorts of practitioners.

Also, briefly, I’d like to acknowledge here that the mythology surrounding Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī and the foundation of the bhikkhunī sangha is just that: mythology; it is trying to convey a meaningful message (primarily a sexist compromise) through myth. But it is not history, and it is very unlikely that it represents anything close to how women came to practice as bhikkhunīs with the Buddha’s community. There has been extensive research on this that a Google search will be enough to start.

I think it should be okay to expect higher standards. Excuses pushing for lower standards have persisted long enough in Buddhist circles.

Mettā

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Citation please? Let me know where there is evidence that women were too inferior to be homeless, poor, “laughing stocks” as men, setting aside the mythology present which tries to establish this position within the sangha (as it begs the question).

“Mendicants, this relying on alms is an extreme lifestyle. The world curses you: ‘You beggar, walking bowl in hand!’
Iti 91

The society of the time also thought existing and having a nice family was the ideal; does that mean the Buddha should have allowed marriage and sexual relations in the Sangha? There were countless things that “the society” saw as normal, valuable, or worthy. And yet the Buddha taught in a way so radical to the norm that even today Buddhists struggle to understand. At the very least, being a renunciant living off of alms was not the societal norm, and so empowering and growing such a group would be societally abnormal.

“Nothing is our self; everything is impermanent and insubstantial; ultimate freedom from death is complete relinquishment of life. Good, good—but for women we must intentionally create a humiliating, debilitating, fear-inducing power structure that benefits neither side as far as liberation is concerned.” This does not sound like authentic Buddhadhamma to me. Keep in mind that the Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī story of the foundation of the bhikkhunī sangha itself is saying that the sole reason for submitting women to an inferior status is for societal reasons — the lasting of an institution — despite soteriological ones. Read it closely.

We may think that these issues are “different” than allowing sex or murder, because the latter seem fundamental to the practice of the Dhamma. But ask any woman on this forum who is a bhikkhunī or in a renunciant form in the Buddhist sangha, and I’m sure they can inform us about what an obstacle to practice and the holy life these schemes are for everyone when taken seriously.

Mettā

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There is no question that women did not have the same standing as men in ancient India, so I have absolutely no idea what you are asking for.

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Buddhism in history was in fact the first religion accepted women/girls into a religion group (sangha), and provided many cares for them (indicated in Bhikkhuni vinaya) at that time.

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Both misogynist and sexism are modern concepts right ?

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Its not just that the Buddha ordained women, although that is constantly ignored as a massive decision- evidenced by the fact that only a few small Christian churches have done anything similar, and it took then over two thousand years to even start that particular ball rolling! Name any other large religion/philosophy (I call Buddhism a Science rather than using either of those two terms, but that is just me :slight_smile: !)

Its the evidence in total:
*He used the exact words when ordaining men or women (other than the feminine declention)
*He had female chief disciples
*He had the 10 foremost laywomen list alongside the 10 foremost laymen list
*There are tens of thousands of female Noble Ones in the texts
*There are female authors in the scriptures as well as male

…I dont know what else people could ask of the Buddha???

Looking at Buddhism now, 2,500 years later, and blaming the Buddha for that comes from the view of things being “holy” or “perfect” or the Judeo-christian view of a “living god” that you can converse with and gain insight from. Buddhism is different. My understanding is that the Buddha was born as a human, attained enlightenment, taught and then died. We are on our own. Any mistakes, errors, deficiencies are our own, not the fault of the Buddha. With 2.5 millennia since he died, is it really surprising that elements of sexism crept into the teaching and practice contaminating what was actually taught by the historical figure “The Buddha”?

In other words, you have dozens and dozens of repeated sections in the text showing the Buddha treated men and women EXACTLY the same, and a single verse in one place only in the text (I dont recall where) that says the Buddha said “only men can be Buddhas”, then an intelligent person would probably say, that seems to have been added later. Isnt that what happened during the Buddha’s time and he interrogated the monks saying “Is consistent with the other things I have said repeatedly?” “No, Venerable sir” “Then isnt it clear you should reject that and realise that I did not say any such thing?” (or words to that effect, again dont recall the exact places, but I have definitely read this in the texts…

So in short-

  1. Buddha was not sexist or mysogynistic (the objective data is pretty clear on that!)
  2. The current expression of Buddhism by his unenlightened followers shows all the potential flaws of sentient beings…quel surprise you might say!
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I don’t think Buddha was sexist or a misogynist and quite a few of the sexist things said in suttas a lot of them have been found out by scholars to be later insertions.

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Wasn’t it the Jains who did it first, with their order of nuns?

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This is often said, but untrue. The internal evidence of the EBTs accepts without question the existence of female renunciates in basically every known samana order, eg. Jains and Ajivakas, and Paribbajakas. The evidence of the Brihadaranyaka shows women engaging in high-level philosophical debates.

We don’t know much about how these women lived, so it is probably true to say that the bhikkhuni order is the earliest female renunciate order about which we know very much more than the fact that they existed.

As Vaddha said:

Yep.

This speaks to the same idea I was getting at earlier, Rita Gross’s distinction between institutional sexism and individual misogyny. It’s misogynistic to say that women can’t get enlightened; it’s sexist to say that we shouldn’t provide institutional support for women to get enlightened. But yeah, institutions are important!

There are, however, multiple versions of the legend, and multiple reasons given in the story, which vary in their placing and emphasis. These include both personal and social concerns: after all, it is a Sangha we’re talking about, not an individual quest. Nonetheless, fundamental to the the whole proceeding is the unquestioned fact that women are just as capable as men of realizing awakening.

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Minor historical nitpick:

That’s inaccurate; it’s important to keep in mind there were/are significant differences between how the various Christianities were practiced in the first and second centuries vs the post Nicene imperial structure. Very early only, Christianity was routinely derided as a cult “of slaves and women” with there being plenty of evidence that women in the early church routinely held the title of Diakonos/Deacon, which was the second highest position in the local assembly after the Overseer/ Episcopos.

After Christianity starts becoming more prominent, you start seeing the patriarchy become more dominant in the religion with the slow adoption of what’s usually termed the Roman House Code, which essentially stipulates women be seen an not heard. Unfortunate, but its also the same kind of attitude that left it’s mark on Buddhism, as well, with the addition of spurious texts such as the Buddha’s supposed misogynist texts.

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Fascinating, thanks for that. Was the 2nd level a feature or it just happened that that is how high female members of the early Christian church reached? Ie, could they have become the Overseer/Episcopos?

We know there were 12 male disciples of Jesus, although there were a couple of women often mentioned in the 4 books about Jesus’ life in the New Testament (I went to an Anglican school, so yes I have read much of the NT!). Were there also female disciples? I know there was a suggestion (? originating from the Dead Sea Scrolls, I cant remember) that there were possibly some books in the early Bible written by women but not sure whether or not that is historical or not…

Does one ever question matrilineal society ?

It sort of developed organically. The very earliest Christians expected an imminent apocalypse, and as soon as it became obvious that wasn’t happening, the early Churches started structuring themselves. You can see this on the epistles where paul was talking about the organization of the Church. The basic Offices in the early Church were the Episkopos, which would become the Bishop, the Diakonos,the Presbyters or Elders, and the Prophets/Prophetesses. The Episkopos was responsible for the general overseeing of tbe local community (hence the name), while the Diakonos was responsible for community finances, outreach to the poor, charity, evangelization and things like that. The Presbyters,or Priests, were an all male liturgical class, based on the Levite priesthood. They oversaw the Eucharist abd Agape feast. The prophets were mendicant preachers who were responsible for preaching, prophesying, and interpretation of Scripture. There were suboffices to these too, but the above offices were the leader ship. As for women being Overseers, we don’t really know for certain; there are references to women being Episkopa; whether that means they were actually Episkopa or had an honorary title as the wife of an Episkopos is uncertain. For example in the modern Orthodox churches the wife of a priest is traditionally known as a Presbytera, even though she is not ordained. So either is possible, and barring some groundbreaking new discovery, we may never know.

We know that Deaconesses were very prominent in the early Church, and that women held prominent roles; for example, Mary Magdalen is the first person to whom the risen Christ appeared, and so was known as the Apostola Apostolorum, the Apostle to the Apostles. We also know from letters of instruction from early Christian leaders that the Presbyter is to be viewed as the person of Christ, while the Diakonos was to be viewed as the person of the Holy Spirit. In Koine Greek, the word for the Holy Spirit was Sophia, or wisdom, gendered in the feminine. The holy spirit was seen as feminine as a result. Additionally, early Churches were often meeting in houses, usually the houses of well to do women converts; since their house was their domain by law, they were often the Diakonos.

As the churches grew larger, the leadership positions became progressively more streamlined; the Prophets ceased to exist almost entirely, while the Overseer assumed most of the responsibilities of the Diakonos, which became a secondary office to the Presbyter. The order of Bishop>Priest>Deacon arose during this time, and has been the rule ever since. Most of the pseudo epistles with misogynist interpretations ( e.g. Timothy) were penned during this period as well.

Still, that wasn’t the rule everywhere, and some of the old order existed in various places, and women still exercised some responsibilities; for example, one of the theorized authors for the Epistle to the Hebrews is Priscilla, who was a close friend of Paul and an very prominent leader in the very early church.

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There were female disciples, and Mary of Magdalene was one if them. By the way the women were the first ones to see an empty grave after the ressurection. Not men! Not apostles!
Women NEVER rejected and betrayed Christ throughout the whole New Testament - and men did. Judas, Peter, Thomas, etc…

And yet, patriarchy managed to gloss it over.

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Sex is “big karma” and it usually happens when women are around :wink:

Im(h)o the Buddha only wanted to warn his disciples against Sex as one of the most powerful attachments that quite literally creates new birth and suffering.

I believe that this is as far as the Buddha’s “misoginy” went.

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A bit off topic, but I have to push back on this. While the Buddha was against monastics having sex, I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was antinatal.

The Buddha often taught how precious and rare the opportunity to be reborn as a human is. If the child isn’t reborn as a human, they’d still have to arise somewhere else in Saṃsāra (and likely somewhere worse).

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