SuttaCentral

Handling doubts about the Buddha's wisdom

Hello !

I am not sure whether this post is appropriate here , whether it is fine to ask some kind of religious or personal advice . I have also been thinking of posting this at dhammawheel but I have encountered some very right leaning people who have disagreeable opinions on women to say the least , so here I am :slight_smile: . I was the one who posted earlier this year about slavery in the Sangha and I am very much thankful for the elucidations .Funnily or sadly most of my questions are about doubts and I hope that I dont sound like a broken record , I hope for patience and understanding :pray: However that question was brought about because of a crisis in faith due to among other things : Buddha’s opinion on women( Which I understand is on uneven footing ) , Pandaka and Slavery and Caste.

I come from a very Christian nation , and that as I grew up I also grew away from Christianity. For years I was kind of agnostic until I stumbled upon Buddhism. I may have idealized it in my mind as somehow progressive , I admit thats my fault. Like how the Buddha is against slavery(Trading) but to later learn he is also against ordaining slaves etc. For a year or two I became a kind of fervent believer in the dharma but then last year I came across AN.7.63 . Which caused a rabbit hole dive into this forum and reading up like this issue or that

In DN 30 Gotama wished in a former life for the benefit of ‘people’ (bahujanassa atthakāmo) and that they would flourish in “wealth and grain, fields and land, birds and beasts, children and wives; in dāsakammakaraporisa s (i.e. slaves-workers-servants); in family, friends, and kin”. In this sutta ‘people’ are elite men, neither women nor the lower class. (similarly in SN 3.19, AN 3.70, AN 5.42, AN 5.148, AN 8.38, AN 9.20, AN 10.23, AN 10.74, MN 26, MN 66).

( I apologize I have cannot blockquote wherein I can include the poster , my apologies Gabriel)

So now my new perspective is that I may have been projecting modern values to ancient times but somehow the thought of the " Blessed One, the Exalted One, the fully Enlightened One" doesnt correlate with the thought of the Buddha saying misogynistic things or the Pandaka banning or the slave banning. Yes , I understand that it could be contextualized and understood in the lens of the past but I cannot reconcile it with the thought of a perfectly enlightened being saying and doing those things. Although maybe at the end of the day I have just to accept that he is just a product of his time . I think that I may have projected modern values to him and now I am in this conundrum of my own making :sweat_smile:.

My question probably is how do you handle doubts when facing issues like that ? How do you reconcile the Buddha that teaches Metta but bans Pandaka ? In the meantime I would be reading the suttas and would be mulling it over.

Thank you :pray:

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With metta

I can’t imagine the pressure on the Buddha to keep the rich and powerful on his side so that the teachings could last for more than a year or two. It is self evident that the core teachings go against the ‘way of the world’, so to speak. Those rich and powerful must have felt very threatened by the teachings once they started to become popular. It must’ve been some balancing act to keep the whole thing going at all.

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That’s from Batman Begins dude-

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Isn’t it? :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: :joy: mea culpa.
Anylway, I remember the Buddha have said something that conveys similar meaning. But I just can’t remember which sutta did he say it.

Back to RMC’s doubt, I believe that the Buddha was very conscientious about his audience, so he spoke to them in a way that was beneficial for them in the here and now. So we must be very careful to see that to whom did the Lord Buddha spoke this suttas, obviously he did not speak them to us, we are just ear-lenders. For if he were speaking directly to us, it would be very much different, for the time and cultural background is so much changed from 2600 years ago. So please take it into consideration. With metta :pray:t5:

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If you take the Buddha to be a historical figure who had views about social and political issues, then feel free to doubt/disagree with him. Why do you think you need to agree with him on these issues?

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I think Buddha was human, like we all are. Humans are not perfect and make mistakes, no matter how hard we try.

Does being enlightened prevent a human from making mistakes?

“Neo, sooner or later you are going to realize, just as I did. There is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path” -Morpheus (The Matrix)

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Well for example in AN 4.80 the Buddha says :

At one time the Buddha was staying near Kosambi, in Ghosita’s Monastery. Then Venerable Ānanda went up to the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and said to him:

“Sir, what is the cause, what is the reason why females don’t attend council meetings, work for a living, or travel to Persia?”

“Ānanda, females are irritable, jealous, stingy, and unintelligent. This is the cause, this is the reason why females don’t attend council meetings, work for a living, or travel to Persia.”

and AN 5.229

“Mendicants, there are these five drawbacks of a black snake. What five? It’s filthy, stinking, cowardly, frightening, and treacherous. These are the five dangers of a black snake.

In the same way there are five drawbacks of a female. What five? She’s filthy, stinking, cowardly, frightening, and treacherous. These are the five drawbacks of a female.”

I really dont know what to say when reading those suttas :sweat_smile: :hushed:. Since the Buddha is said to have been the great teacher who leads the path out of suffering but when you read those suttas you can just scratch your head and ask why? Is this because of the time and that some teachings are not really timeless ? Is it a later addition( a high chance) ? If the Buddha really believed that why? Just by reading AN 5.229 it feels really venomous. You know just head scratching questions that may lead to doubt his judgment . Although yes I am taking into consideration about seeing it through the lens of his time , some teachings just aging poorly and that he is human just like us .

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Yes, what you have quoted does not make much sense to me, at least, they do not appear to be accurate descriptions of most females that i encountered.

I would not equate this though with timelessness or its relationship to ending suffering. For example, even though i consider my views about females to be more accurate than what is described in the quoted suttas, had my views been timeless or not subject to dispute, they would not cause me suffering nor to the women who might encounter these texts and find them to be unfair and offensive. What is not subject to dispute cannot be subject to doubt. What is not subject to doubt would not trigger insecurities when disputed.

So, according to the historical approach, we are back to square one. We examine the plausibility of our beliefs against others and we try to find reasons for the gap between the two, usually through speculating about the established norms at that time in comparison with the ones we came to witness.

Maybe you were thinking of Dhammapada’s Brāhmaṇavagga?

:anjal:

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Thank you kalyanamitta, that’s very correct, Dhp 393 to be exact.

I think the use of the word women is a particularly late addition to the texts here as bhikkhu analayo has pointed out in an essay he wrote on a sutta similar to this that an older edition in a sarvastivada agama did not exist. I am of the belief that the earlier sources of the canon where women are mentioned either had not existed or were referring to sexual partners . This seems to align more with Buddhist thought as several other early suttas common among agama and nikaya have accounts of women simply joining the order. In the gotami apadana (a relatively later text but still relevant to early Buddhist thought) gotami never makes mention of exclusion based on gender or the garudhamma. There’s also suttas wherein he praised the intelligence of his female disciples during talks they gave.

The Buddha across the early texts criticized bio-essential philosophy quite heavily, which naturally dovetails into a rejection of the caste system. The agganna sutta is a great example of this. There’s another wherein the Buddha dismissed the Brahmin saying of being “born from brahmas mouth” and the other lowest caste coming from “his feet”, saying that anyone who followed the path regardless of caste was worthy to say they were born of the dharma.

This is an EXTREMELY dangerous thing to early Indian politics! The allowance for women and marginalized people was something Buddhists were criticized heavily for. We still see traces of this in the editions we have in the Pali nikaya and agamas.

Looking at the canon and other early buddhist writings, which the denial of bio or gender superiorty far out numbers the texts affirming it, the natural conclusion to me is that these are later redactions put in by political figures similar to xi jinping (who currently is having the bible rewritten and sinicized. The scene where Jesus tells everyone to leave the prostitute alone has been changed so that Jesus praised law and then stones her to death.)

Given the fact Buddhists were thrown out of India more or less, and literally banned for a few years from Nepal on this exact issue (they did not want women and lower castes ordaining, said that Theravada was a threat to society! Lol!) It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

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Buddha’s wisdom can’t free me if I don’t investigate that which he pointed to. It’s only by directly seeing this, that truth becomes wisdom to me. I have no wisdom, but there is timeless wisdom to see for me.
Doubts are thoughts, and I let them come and go and see that they are impermanent, and therefore not me, mine or who I am.

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In my opinion -
There is meditation method via a fabricated transient view through out Buddha’s teaching. The view is fabricated, often against cultural popularity, against common sense too.
The goal of adopting the view is to wane off sensual crave. It is to switch the 3 feeling tunes inwardly - from agreeable to disagreeable, or neutral, or other ways around.

Most powerful sensual crave for monks are female body. In order to develop disenchantment, effective way is to see female body as filthy and not worth touching. Buddha taught Asuba on our own body too.

There is literally no gender at all without a body. The very first insight for many of us, is that mind and body are two seperate heaps. While we contempt to a body, it won’t take away our respect to a high mind associated with that body.
if we should be interested in anybody, it should never about their body, it should be their mind.

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Sensual craving can be equally motivational:

“But why, Nanda, don’t you enjoy leading the holy life? Why can’t you keep up the holy life? Why, giving up the training, will you return to the common life?”

“Lord, as I was leaving home, a Sakyan girl — the envy of the countryside — glanced up at me, with her hair half-combed, and said, ‘Hurry back, master.’ Recollecting that, I don’t enjoy leading the holy life. I can’t keep up the holy life. Giving up the training, I will return to the common life.”

Then, taking Ven. Nanda by the arm — as a strong man might flex his extended arm or extend his flexed arm — the Blessed One disappeared from Jeta’s Grove and reappeared among the devas of the heaven of the Thirty-three [Tāvatiṃsa]. Now on that occasion about 500 dove-footed nymphs had come to wait upon Sakka, the ruler of the devas. The Blessed One said to Ven. Nanda, “Nanda, do you see these 500 dove-footed nymphs?”

“Yes, lord.”

“What do you think, Nanda? Which is lovelier, better looking, more charming: the Sakyan girl, the envy of the countryside, or these 500 dove-footed nymphs?”

“Lord, compared to these 500 dove-footed nymphs, the Sakyan girl, the envy of the countryside, is like a cauterized monkey with its ears & nose cut off. She doesn’t count. She’s not even a small fraction. There’s no comparison. The 500 dove-footed nymphs are lovelier, better looking, more charming.”

“Then take joy, Nanda. Take joy! I am your guarantor for getting 500 dove-footed nymphs.”

“If the Blessed One is my guarantor for getting 500 dove-footed nymphs, I will enjoy leading the holy life under the Blessed One.”

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Context is everything.

If the Buddha was addressing monks who were wavering in their devotion to celibacy, would he talk about the virtues of women, or would he talk about their defects?

All ordinary human beings have greed, hatred, delusion, pride, jealousy, and other unwholesome mental states. They also have beautiful mental states. Men and women do not have the same mental and physical attributes, nor the same social roles, but they both have wholesome and unwholesome states.

Whoever lives contemplating pleasant things, with senses unrestrained,
in food immoderate, indolent, inactive,
him verily overthrows, as the wind (overthrows) a weak tree.” (Dhp v 7)

“Whoever lives contemplating “the Impurities”, with senses restrained,
in food moderate, full of faith, full of sustained energy,
him Māra overthrows not, as the wind (does not overthrow) a rocky mountain.” (Dhp v 8)

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Thank you for pointing this one out :slight_smile: I came across Superiority Conceit by Ven. Analayo last night and he made persuasive arguments about the suttas that I quoted above. For example to quote from the book:

It seems indeed hard, if not impossible, to reconcile such texts with the Buddha’s
attitude toward women reflected in the remainder of the texts. None of these
discourses has a parallel in the extant discourse collections of other traditions,
although the comparison of women’s five bad qualities with a snake recurs in a later
Buddhist text (Anālayo 2016b: 142). Notably, in that text some young men have
misattributed this comparison to the Buddha. When women hear about it and
approach the Buddha, knowing what is on their minds he instead expounds to them
five virtues in women and then gives them a teaching resulting in their stream entry.

Although misogynist statements are at times attributed to the
Buddha, they are best set aside as not being accurate records of his attitude toward and
assessment of women. Instead, they must be reflecting the influence of views held in
the ancient Indian setting among those involved in transmitting the texts.

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In Suttas where the Buddha discusses the negative attributes of women, I think it’s important to remember that the Suttas we have are just the suttas that were preserved, a small fraction of his 45 year ministry. There are not always surviving parallels were he talks about all men equally, but there are surviving texts about humans in general that I think make it clear that he would. The Buddha makes clear that most humans are headed downwards, not upwards. While “mis” anything isn’t quite right as a description for the Buddha, it is clear to me that he was more “misanthropic” than misogynist (he saw EVERYONE’s flaws), but if you mostly just preserve the sayings of a “misanthrope” towards women, it may come across as misogynistic. And while looking misogynistic is a negative to us, it was a positive for much of the history of the transmission of these texts. A hypothetical sutta comparing men to a black snake wouldn’t have many fans in 200B.C.E or 1888 C.E.

In other instances, such as not ordaining soldiers & enslaved persons without their first being freely dismissed by the ones who give them orders, the Khandhaka makes it clear that this was the product of an unjust broader society. At first, the community did ordain enslaved persons and soldiers, but in the case of soldiers, this was stopped when it was suggested that some commanders might respond to this by massacring monasteries. What should the Buddha have done in that circumstance? Take over the world? He’d done that as a Wheel-Turning Monarch, and it didn’t create a lasting happiness for anyone.

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Thank you for your reply :slight_smile: I find myself thinking the same thing . BTW do you have the reference for the Khanhaka ? :pray:

Section 27

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