Is the Vinaya fit for purpose?

I’m very new to the Buddha’s teachings and how they are currently lived, so many apologies in advance for misunderstandings.

I have been reading the thread on arahants recognising ordination.

It seems to me (living in the world that I live in, which may be very different to yours), that the Vinaya is not fit for purpose and probably less fit for purpose going forward into the 21st century.

The discussion in the other thread centred around the idea of a binary state - male and female (be that gender or sex). This is an old paradigm and one that is no longer useful in the world that I inhabit, where neither gender or sex are seen as binary and stable over the period of a single lifetime. Even our national health system (in the UK) has a sliding scale to assign the sex of a child, although it is often left unused. Each of the criteria (such as chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, uterus, genitals) all have a sliding scale across a spectrum from female to male, and so the end result - the sex of the child - is stated as being on that spectrum. It can also be seen that the characteristics can change during a person’s lifetime (as can the criteria for assessment). Unfortunately the legal birth certificates in the UK have not caught up yet and so there is still the need to assign a binary ‘male’ or ‘female’ label. But this is beginning to change. I recognise that not every area of the planet assigns sex according to multiple sliding scale criteria, some will just look at the external genitals, not even looking at the genetics of the individual, but I believe that this will change.

It seemed to me that the disagreements in the other thread should’ve been sorted out long ago in Buddhism - dudes, its 2017! There are no differences between men and women because there are no men and women. While it was (most likely) very important in the time of the Buddha to make these binary differentiations, it I probably a concept that has had its day - morally, scientifically and more importantly, spiritually.

I recognise that other religions have this very traditional binary view also, and I also recognise that religions that rely on traditional texts can often be very conservative, but I was wondering if there were any brave senior monastics that have been daring enough to remove the idea of gender/sex and run a monastery with no differences? How have they fared? I would be most interested in a UK based monastery. Is this something that any monastics on this forum might be interested in pursuing? If not. Why not?

On a related note, are there any other monastic rules from the EBTs that are not practiced anymore because they are no longer appropriate? For example, in the secular world we no longer marry 14 year olds (in the UK), and of course that would be most inappropriate, but it was not considered inappropriate in India in the time of the Buddha I believe.

Thanks you for listening.


Hi Media,

thanks for this interesting question.

There are several passages in the EBTs that make it clear that gender ultimately is irrelevant. So for example in SN 5.2 the Bhikkhuni Soma replies to Mara who questions her faculty to make any important spiritual progress because she is a woman with this verse:

“What does womanhood matter at all
When the mind is concentrated well,
When knowledge flows on steadily
As one sees correctly into Dhamma.

“One to whom it might occur,
‘I’m a woman’ or ‘I’m a man’
Or ‘I’m anything at all’—
Is fit for Mara to address.”



DN 16:

…For as long, monks, as the monks do not establish new laws that were not established, or cut off old laws that were established, and they carry on with such training-rules as have been accepted, surely growth, monks, is to be expected for the monks, not decline.

…Desiring to do so, Ānanda, the Community after my passing away, can abolish the minor and subsidiary training rules.

Seems the early tradition was also concerned about this topic… and undecided, even conflicted about it… they opted for conservatism, which makes sense.

Ought modern folk do the same? Most of the Vinaya post-dates the Buddha…


The teachings of the Buddha are 2600 years old. The current concepts of gender and identity are social justice/politically based and fairly new. It is probably best to keep in mind that the 2600 year old dhamma, and discipline (vinaya) has led to the liberation of untold numbers of people from suffering whereas it remains to be seen what effect the new gender approach will have.

Seems to me, clinging to any identity, even that of non-gender binary or whatever it may be, is just a different or new source of suffering. And of course there are no men or women on the ultimate level, but on the relative level there are. Both must be accepted.


Thank you. Good stuff. I’ll look into that more.

Yes. I think that I could’ve worded my point a little better. I’m not really for a change or deletion of the rules, I’m merely suggesting that the underlying structure that the rules apply to is changing (has changed in my world) and so the rules no longer apply. Artificially trying to keep the structure that underlies the rules makes no sense.

Here’s are a few examples to help me explain.

Suppose there was a rule that you should not go near the edge of the world, because if you do you’d fall off. That rule works for as long as everyone agrees that the world is flat. When everyone finds out that the world is round, then that rule can be put aside.

Suppose there was a rule to not eat dodo eggs. That rule is great as long as everyone recognises a species called dodo. When the dodo goes extinct, then the rule can be put aside. If at some time in the future, scientists reintroduce the dodo, the rule can be revisited.

Suppose there is a rule that monastics should not touch money. That’s fine for as long as there is money, but when we are living in a Star Trek future with no money, that rule can be put aside. When money is reintroduce, then the rule would apply once more. Sorry about the ancient cultural reference, but I’m quite old!

You get the idea, I think. I’m not suggesting that the rules are discarded, but merely left aside until the underlying structure changes back when the rule can be revisited. I’m guessing that no one is currently too concerned about ordaining a ‘slave’ in a society where slavery is illegal, because in that society there is no such thing as slaves.


Sounds like you think it makes sense to “abolish the minor and subsidiary training rules,” given the right situation, and I agree. That thing about ordaining slaves, for example, is only a dukkata.

But, have you heard about the Great Standards? Maybe this also helps to accomplish your idea here? It’s also in DN 16, as it happens…

Grow a Vinaya, trim a Vinaya according to the season, while some bits of the plant (e.g. parajika) stick around all the time?


Yes. Very true. But the dhamma of the Buddha is only 2600 years old - a mere (say) 30-50 human rebirths, and a blink of an eye in terms of even the lowest deva being. There have been many Buddhas in the past and there are likely to be many more to come. That field of suffering is vast and the ‘untold numbers’ liberated by the current Buddha, few.

I would suggest that (in my world) the current concepts of gender and identity are not social justice/politically based, but based on sound scientific evidence. I think that as acceptance of this evidence grows we are likely to see corresponding changes in the wider conventional world. Having a monastic community ready to serve (and be served by) that world I believe to be of some importance.

Yes. Absolutely agree with the first bit here. Whatever identity is clung to is a source of suffering. I can personally attest to that!!

My point here is that, yes, there are no men and women on the ultimate level, but also there are no men and women at the conventional (relative) level either. That scientific insight has happened in the world, and it will take a little time for the world to catch up (just as it did with climate change for example), but that is where we are heading I believe and it would be nice to have monastic communities who will follow (or even shockingly ‘lead’!) the rest of us into the new conventional reality for the well-being of all humans.


Thanks again. More study. I’m very much enjoying it. :slight_smile:

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As someone who has now spent a year attempting to live by these rules, I would suggest it has been my experience so far that even the minor rules are extremely important.

It’s about setting the right conditions for the mind to be trained towards awakening, These conditions should be set by the monastery and environment in which you live, and through your own following of the rules. To the outsider they seem quite confining, but to me so far they seem like armor and a shield against mara and right now I wish I had more armor :).

My only issue so far has been due to lack of lay persons able to reside at the monastery lately, I have had to take on many duties and do things like drive, use money etc. I don’t necessarily feel guilty for breaking those rules , because it is not things I would of chosen to do otherwise, but I do see how all of these activities become chinks in the armor that Mara can enter into and are really not good in the long run. (and the Buddha was 100% right about monks needing to have less duties if they wish to cultivate seclusion)

it’s all about setting the groundwork most conducive towards awakening, and I have yet to say once " this rule is so stupid we should abandon it". I have noticed some interesting inconsistencies (like for instance there is a rule against starting fires, yet in the duties section a monk is supposed to be able to start and maintain fires…) where I have had to make informed decisions on, but otherwise I am starting to see why those wise arahant monks took the more conservative choice of not gutting rules.


I doubt. I have seen not a single scientific paper that would justify multiple genders as a “real thing”, not an imaginary concept / self-percetion. If you know of any, please show.
Buddha was not operating the newly created “gender” concept of the latest 50 or so years, it is more likely he was operating the concept of a property of a human being called “sex”. It is biologically predetermined. Biologically, as a human, you can be either male or female. You could argue of course there are more combinations in humans than XX and XY, but all of these still assign one or the other sex (it’s just that much of the cases will render a human infertile, but it does not create any more sexes than these two). What one thinks he/she is and what role in society he/she wishes to perform - is another matter.

Attempt to modify Vinaya “according to modern standards” is a perfect example of post-modern egocentrism, where everything should revolve around a Person (Ego), its likes and ideas, and satisy its requirements; where Person (Ego) comes first, and everything - including a religion or a philosophy - serves it. It is nice for mundane life, as it is humanistic (“for humans”). But I dare to say that is quite anti-dhammic, as Dhamma is to eradicate the whole notion of an Ego. It is not to adapt to ego to make it feel comfortable, nor Dhamma nor Vinaya. There is no point whatsoever to adapt Vinaya rules to the modern views of sexuality or social justice apart from fitting it into the current socioeconomic model of the Western world. All objections regarding the complexity of the Vinaya rules I encountered so far are essentially “they are not comfortable to follow (and may disencourage people to join)”. I doubt they are supposed to be comfortable. If someone feels they are too much to follow, then maybe it’s a good idea to reconsider becoming a monk/nun, because apparently one is not ready. Monasticism is not a magic bullet, it won’t guarantee you even a stream-entry. If one does not feel like obeying Vinaya in full, it is perfectly fine to stay a devout layperson or take 8 percepts and wear the white robe. It, in fact, may be more beneficial for both the person and the community.


Please keep in mind that most people think of gender in very simple terms, as body parts instead of individual self-concepts. The “reality” here is not about lack of gender (that’s ignorance of biology to a wacky degree), it is about how society at large, and new ordinands in particular, still benefit by this training structure.

Maybe e.g. modern security & values will ameliorate this. But who here will tell the victim of inequality - from wages to rape - that “really” there’s no gender? It’s idealistic idiocy.

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90+% of the population is sensually/sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex, and for them the binary distinction of male/female is still relevant. The issue is not the labels we give things, because no matter how we label things or don’t, lust is present.

If you ran a monastery with no differences, mixing bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, you’d have a lot of problems arise, and less optimal conditions for practice.

The nature of lust hasn’t fundamentally changed in 2,600 years. The Vinaya is still very much relevant in that respect.


The idea and practicalities of mixed monasteries has been discussed here:

As for people’s level of identification with gender, it is so variable even amongst people set on seeing through conditioned phenomena. Let’s say I don’t particularly identify as a gender but the person I am talking to does. I still am constrained by their views in some cases. For example I was alone at the vihara the other night and the last person to leave my meditation group was a man with mental health problems who is maybe 25kg heavier than me and significantly stronger. Whether I identify with my gender or not had little relevance to the fact that this was probably not a safe situation. Nothing untoward happened, but I think that at least some of the vinaya rules for women act as a reminder to be aware of such situations.


@dzt This is from Wikipedia. My bold.

Anisogamy, or the size differences of gametes (sex cells), is the defining feature of the two sexes. By definition, males have small, mobile gametes (sperm); females have large and generally immobile gametes (ova).[7] In humans, typical male or female sexual differentiation includes the presence or absence of a Y chromosome, the type of gonads, the sex hormones, the internal reproductive anatomy (such as the uterus in females), and the external genitalia.[8] People with mixed sex factors are intersex. People whose internal psychological experience differs from their assigned sex are transgender or transsexual.

When we assign a label (male or female) to people at birth - which we need to do for legal purposes - we use all of the factors mentioned above:

the presence or absence of a Y chromosome,

the type of gonads,

the sex hormones,

the internal reproductive anatomy (such as the uterus in females), and the external genitalia.

Each of these factors is a sliding scale 0-100, when you combine these scores, if you are over 50% you are labelled male, if you are less than 50% you are labelled female. There are very few individuals that are anywhere close to being 0% or 100%. In reality, almost everyone is intersex.

I’m sure that in other regions of the world they do things differently, with different results.

I am afraid you mix up legal UN definition and the biological one. Regarding the legal one, the quoted statement is correct, but if we take biology, there can be only two sexes and nothing in between. In case of humans, males do have Y chromosome, females do not. Every zygote is ether the firts, or the second, there cannot be anything in between.

I don’t think that it is as straight forward as you suggest. Here’s a couple of articles. I found the Nature article very interesting.


I was having some further thoughts about this yesterday, mulling over gender, sex and it’s meaning, so I wanted to throw this in and see what you think/if it’s relevant.

I had a thought - what if in the context of gender segregated vinaya, the problem is not proving what is a man, what is a woman and which is better? I agree with you that these questions are almost impossible to answer for the variety of reasons already mentioned - not to mention pointless when we consider gender is ultimately meaningless/most people are so wrapped up in gender identity it’s impossible to untangle this tangle.

Perhaps the question we need to look at instead is, regardless of intrinsic value, what is the benefit of subjugating one group to another?


It is not a research paper, it’s a journalist work. The way the journalists in this article process facts for general public remind me the way in the beginning of the 20th century science was actively promoting racial theories. We will see more of this in future. In fact assumtions of every second paragraph are more or less easily refutable. I know, it may sound arrogant, but that’s how it is - it’s biased. The topic of biology lies beyond the scope of this forum, but if you ask, I can delve into a long and thorough analysis. Just few points in short: chimera is a chimera. It’s like two organisms merged. It doesn’t mean there are more sexes or any dynamic scale to it. The understanding of “anatta” could help here. And the examples where the alteration of a gene led to cell reprogramming - well sure, you can reprogram a chicken embryo and get a chicken with claws and teeth, but you still won’t get a dinosaur, you’ll get a clawed chicken.
There is no “third (fourth, fifth) gender” in nature whatsoever. There can either none, one, or two. The whole notion of “wider spectrum” of biological sexes is totally absurd. You either produce sperm, or you do not. You either produce ova and are capable of carrying a child, or not. You can’t be producing “cells which are 80% sperm” or “have 40% percent ability of carrying a child”, or be “partially pregnant”. The confusion here lies in the fact that people are used to perceive biological sex by visible phenotype, but this is not what biological sex is about, it has very particular purpose and design. Abnormalities can be intricate, but don’t let them fool you to believe there’re extra sexes out there (nature has no physical means for them to exist, at least here on Earth they are unknown - maybe somewhere on other planets there are living creatured with 3+ distinct sexes). And even the most intricate genetic anomaly has nothing to do with self-perceived notion of “gender” - this is a whole different mind game, not tighly linked to a bodily condition. Constant clumsy attempts to put some “solid ground” under the gender theory just shows that it actually lacks one.

But all this I wrote is just for for your information, so you all could have a chance to develop a more critical approach to the information provided to the general public on this matter nowadays.

It sounds almost like you’re trying to say people have to abandon their gener identity, which doesn’t sound like a question of choice at all. Humans as a species exist till today only because they maintained gender identities and roles, otherwise they would just went extinct.

But enough of that - samsara will continue to work the way it does. It is an endless cycle of strife, and benign ideas will turn into oppression, and people will disagree and fight, and there’s no end to it.

Anyway, it seems there’s no stopping for Buddhism in the West to repeat the history of Christianity. Looking at the big picture, it is clearly seen that traditional buddhism cannot exist in the West and westernized societies. Western people are notorious for changing the environment to their needs and views. Unfortunately, this will not be what Buddha established and taught. While inevitably introducing changes themselves, the traditional buddhists of SE Asia (Theravada) and East Asia (Ch’an/Zen) were at least trying to conserve the doctrine and practice. But the cult of progress and “newer is better” is so deeply rooted in minds of people today that nothing can be done about it. The ones advocating change will win anyway, because ironically the laws of the samsara are on their side. One might say, “oh what a BS you’re talking here, we’re just concerned with adapting some Vinaya to be more inclusive”, but I 100% guarantee you it won’t end with that. Because dukkha. It’s never good enough, and there’s always a room for improvement. Besides, who knows what social theories and societal structures will appear tomorrow - these will also demand adaptation.

So, regardless of my (or anyone’s) nagging on this subject, these changes will occur anyway, so don’t worry too much about opposition :slight_smile:

Hi Media, thanks for the question.

As I understand it, Dhamma and Vinaya should be studied together. I have found this does not seem to be done generally. I agree with the point that ‘minor rules’ can be put aside if the conditions are no longer and may be reinstated if they arise again. (It may be asked, who would decide this? see comments below) Unfortunately the supposed arahants of the supposed First Council could not decide which were major and minor rules.

I don’t accept as Dhammic the whole story of the First (to Third) Council and you can see my study in that regard here:ṅgha_Council. I do accept the Third Council as a historic event, but before that, I believe there were no real attempts to centralise control and each assembly (parisā, not sangha) of monks or nuns, decided if the conditions for the minor rules were still in effect or not. This would have been different in different places, with different cultures which both change over time (kālika).

I think sīla (morality/ethics, a Dhamma topic) and sikkhāpada (training rule, a Vinaya topic) are commonly confused and people do not see how they are inter-related. Dhamma, to me, is timeless, but Vinaya not. Dhamma was taught first and complete and Vinaya arose over time as conditions arose requiring it.

In my study of Vinaya along with Dhamma (Suttas), I have found clarity in what is probably meant by (the monks’) major and minor rules, basically the first two groups of the monks’ rules are major, the rest are minor.īla_and_Sikkhāpada_From_Comparative_Studies_of_Pali_Texts (how that relates to the nuns rules is yet to be researched)

I agree with other points that, sex is biological and generally binary and sex organs could be changed in this age, though probably not chromosomes. (I understand there are cases of hermaphrodites - those with both sex organs and wonder what chromosomes they would have.) For me there are men and women and that is about one’s sex, also male and female. (I wonder what we would call hermaphrodites in this context.) I agree that the main point is identifying and not being controlled by lust, whatever one lusts after.

Gender on the other hand, I see as psychological and one can change one’s sexual identity/gender. This is about masculine and feminine, which are defined differently in different cultures. (I understand that pink is the King’s colour in Thailand, but a feminine colour in the west.) I see sexual identity and gender as based on Identity View and suffering. I don’t see ‘sex’ in the biological sense (male and female/men and women), as above, as a concept involving suffering necessarily.

I don’t follow, as a teaching of the Buddha, what I believe is the later doctrine of the two truths: ‘conventional’ and ‘ultimate’, but only the Four Noble Truths.

I think there could be a monastic centre with both monks and nuns, but due to the general (90%) gender orientation - heterosexual, they would generally stay separate. Just like in the western society I know, where men’s and women’s bathrooms are separate. They could associate publically, but private meetings would be avoided. I think this is what is promoted in original Vinaya.

I do not accept any subjugation of women or nuns to men or monks, or vice versa. I think it is against original Dhamma and Vinaya.

best wishes

Of course, this wasn’t my argument at all. My argument was that there was no men or women; it was not that there was men and women plus a third (fourth, fifth) gender.

A couple of my quotes from the thread:

My suggestion is that there are competing biological processes within one environment (the body) and these processes change the state of that body over time. You might (many people do, but I wouldn’t) call that change in state more ‘male’ or more ‘female’. As we begin to understand this particular (systems biology) view of the body/world, the differentiation between men and women in larger society will (has in my world, and certainly in the world of the teenagers that I know) become less important, and any system that exists which relies on the old definition(s) of ‘men’ and ‘women’ will have a problem. Hence the question - Is the vinaya fit for purpose?

As far as I understand (although I’m very new in studying the EBTs), the rules of segregation are not based on your biological interpretation of male and female, but on attraction and how attraction was thought to work (or actually worked) in the time of the Buddha, and hence how sexual desires could be minimized for one in training.

You are quite entitled to define ‘male’ and ‘female’ the way that you do, but I don’t yet understand how it has any bearing on the topic of this thread?

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