Is the Vinaya fit for purpose?

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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This is interesting. How do you know? Is there studies of other species where this has happened?

@Media & others.
It’s amusing to see you envisaging a genderless monastic community when women are still struggling to propagate a sangha of their own!! :slight_smile: And i’m aware that it is 2017, but i haven’t an idea which society is that which has transcended binary gender consciousness! Anyways, in ‘that’ genderless society, it will be both suitable and desirable to establish the genderless monastic community, for the Buddha does emphasise that he wishes monastics to respond to society in a meaningful way, which is precisely the reason we ‘still’ have those gender-segregated monasteries going on in those societies which, have not yet transcended binary consciousness at 2017! :wink:

Whether this is scientific, good, or bad, is beside the point. The point is that the purpose of monastic life is to enhance the potential of practitioners to persevere in their “renunciate” efforts, starting precisely from whatever conditioning they have already acquired since birth from society. For as far as I can tell, a genderless human who actually identifies (itself) as such is still conditioned by the fundamental need, or habit, to identify (itself) in some way or another, even if by declaring: “I am only human” or likewise “I am not even a human!”. Only an arahant is free from this recursive curse! Before arahantship, we humbly recognise self-identification, all self-identification, as a curse, not as a good or bad, right or wrong, scientific or unscientific issue! Simply a curse, a snare, a rotten swamp in which we are plunged and can’t even figure bottom from top, as we fail even to begin, as men, women, or neither, to truly desist from lust.


Thank you Venerable, you always write such things that are pleasing to the ear (or eye in this case). Sadhu!

I read your blog about Vinaya in fact, which really touched on what I saw in sanghas around the world, and how I feel as a woman potential aspirant looking at the vinaya. For me, the greatest thing is this cognitive dissonance about taking on rules that seem to have no further basis in skillfulness to me, and which I would rather not, or cannot keep.

This is very true, although I guess these exercises are here to try and help us understand what gender is and how much it should matter. An excellent point is -

which I think reaches the crux of the issue. We know the female sangha has died out before due to hostile conditions, what are we doing to prevent this happening again? This cognitive/vinaya dissonance is a significant issue that needs to be understood, even from the laypeople’s perspective to ensure their continued support.

In the rest, I agree with you, which is why I asked the question - Forgetting about gender for a moment and whether they are equal, lesser or superior - what is the benefit of subjugating one group (or sangha) to the other? I think in many cultures these days, this is unskillfull, I don’t think it is giving rise to confidence in those without it, no increasing the confidence of those who have it. My female friends often express criticism of the attitude and rules for women, even those who have been brought up with more traditional backgrounds, but in a Western environment.

Although it may seem like it, I promise I’m not trying to be irritating or obtuse :smile:.
It’s a genuine question, for which I would like to hear a skillful reason. I’m just a girl, standing in front of a big and sometimes scary sangha, asking ‘why’? Why should I play along and accept the role of the ‘lesser’? What is the benefit of making one group dependent on and inferior to the other?


I completely agree.

And yet I support the presence of @Media’s questions and this very thread.

This is a thing that is part of Dhamma when it’s being understood, untangled, let go of.

But the rest of the time it’s outside Dhamma. Threads like this, and statements like this…

…are part of the very fabric of what creates the non-fixity of

Such conversations are never going to contribute to any harm; but they might contribute to a change in society which might promote less division. Perhaps for most of the planet, this is a very long way off. But…changes happen in ways we can’t predict. The future is open and uncertain. Perhaps, Media, there will be a future where such rules will be set aside because the very definitions they rest on are overturned.

But…right now…as Ven Dhammarakkhita says

And as far as the conversations in this thread go, two things concern me very much.

  1. Our relationship with each other, not as individual beings, but as representatives of different perceptions.

People’s ideas about gender are very different. We really can be using the same words, and meaning very different things. It’s easy for misunderstandings to arise. But it’s not that hard to work out if a particular view is going to cause real harm or not; especially if you really are good at listening to someone with a very different view to yours.

I find most of the problems in the world arise when we get really anxious and fearful of someone else thinking differently to us. It’s our reaction of fear that is the problem and can even cause some of us humans to take up arms against others of us humans. This is when we stop being kind because our views are more important than simple kindness. That’s when things have really gone to #*&%! :wink:

As long as no real harm is being done, let’s have a chat and share our views, but also, let people be. :slight_smile: I think this thread is so far and mostly (I haven’t read everything, so it could be all of it) an outstanding example of civilised debate.

  1. The relationship of laity to Sangha

This is, I think, partly what @Cara is pointing to. And @Bhikkhu_Jayasara has also pointed to this.

I think I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. I am part of a community which includes well practising, sila-valuing lay women, lay men, Bhikkunis and Bhikkhus. And we support each other in whatever ways we can. And we’ve flourished.

There’s no chance of our monks and nuns touching money. They’ve got heaps of lay support. So they get to live as real renunciants and I imagine the psychological impact of this on their meditation practice and Practice in general will be significant.

There’s no chance of our nuns’ community going hungry. Too many people think they’re awesome and want to support them.

I know these conversations happen in our community too. But I think what overrides these concerns is observing the 4 facets of our community in action. I mean I watch our nuns, I talk to them, I’ve briefly lived with them. There isn’t anything about them which suggests that they are subjagated or that they see themselves as inferior. These are confident women. But there confidence doesn’t come from any notion of gender.

It comes from within them. From their deeper understanding that gender is part of the picture that they might need to understand; not the whole of it. It comes from a cultivation of renunciation that is so well supported that they have the conditions necessary to take it where it needs to go.

I used to say that I think I considered myself a feminist when I was 8 years old - only I didn’t know at the time that a word existed to describe how I felt and perceived. And then I learned more about it and found it to be a wonderful model to analyse society and to foster more kindness in the world.

Then I was fortunate enough to be brought into contact with an extraordinary Buddhist community. At some point, I can’t remember when, even though I continue to retain my respect for feminism, I stopped calling myself a feminist. For me, being a feminist had become another brick in the wall of avija and self identity. Indeed, I started to see the Buddha as having been one of the first real feminists around. But he offers proper transcendence: not just from gender, but from a lot of other stuff too.

For me, it was about looking at the

and seeing the problem within, rather than without.

These external conditons are always in flux. In a 100 years, historians might look back at this thread and cite Media’s words and questions here as a crucial turning point. :slight_smile: Who knows? And the Sanghas in a 1000 years might do the same. They might view their gender rules like a lot of Bhikkhus view that rule about not eating undamaged fruit…but they might still keep them…for a number of reasons which I can imagine but won’t go into right now (this comment is already way too long).

As long as you can view a “lived monasticism” - not one of ideas and words - that really has no notion of superiority and inferiority in it’s lived practical reality, showing us how to hold the rules lightly, respectfully and in a way where the focus is on kindness coupled with letting go, then I think the concerns of lay people, lay women, melt away… They just want to be part of such communities. But you have to have the chance to view and be with such communities. That won’t happen if you don’t take a leap of faith, and recognise your duty as lay people; to work out which groups are really practising well (or want to), and support them.

This is what needs to happen. For me, it’s not about whether the Vinaya is fit for purpose. It’s about whether lay people are willing to support communites of Sangha that are really looking to grow peace, be kind, show wisdom even under fire, and live harmoniously.

To put it even more coarsely, lay people need to put their money, their time, their energy into supporting genuine Sangha. That’s what’s really needed right now. And also, we all, all four groups of us, need to Practice; otherwise none of this will happen.


Thank you Kay! You are indeed lucky to live amongst and practice in such a rich, strong environment - anumodana!

To this I respectfully disagree. While the opinions and feelings of present day nuns are very important and significant to me, it doesn’t change the actual written structure of the Vinaya which makes monks the ‘custodians’ of the nuns. Now many women may find this arrangement pleasing, or even rely on it. But the question is, is it truly beneficial and skillful? Not just on an individual level, but how we view and compare the two sanghas, and in the long term?

Also, with respect to the dreaded F-word! It becomes such a dirty word, particularly in religious circles. It is not that I call myself a feminist, so I have to contort my values to conform with that. It’s that my core values, in some ways, reflect the label of ‘feminist’. Core values that I have seen, evaluated and tested for myself. Just as I have absolute faith that the noble truths and path the Buddha taught will lead to liberation, I also have seen and know that as a woman I am no less equipped to attain that liberation compared to a man, and furthermore, I do not need to be held under the authority of a man/men to attain that.
So my curiosity continues, what is the benefit of a structure like that?

I fully get that “it’s all part of self-view, just give it up, be satisfied playing along with the rules, it’s actually better for you this way, it’s better to keep people happy than make waves”, but that to me is the very definition of not being genuine (obviously, the people doing that are being genuine for them, and I am not criticizing, I’m just saying it’s not enough for me).

But you are of course 100% right, as lay people, we need to put our support behind what is important to us. For me, that’s a re-evaluation of what ‘genuine-ness’ means which is an interesting journey in itself!


I think in most places this is the case.

But I know that conversations have happened elsewhere that have unearthed little nuggets of schorlarly wisdom that suggest that this isn’t historically accurate.

I have heard, I can’t remember the references, that the nuns’ communities in the Buddha’s time were quite independent.

I understand Cara. It’s your journey and only you can travel it. I wish you all happiness and joy and all the other good stuff, along the way. :heartpulse: :heartpulse: :heartpulse:


Very, very beautiful Kay!!! Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu! I rejoice in it :pray: :bowing_woman:

I see it that we do have a chance to be a part of this right now. We are the ones who can. Keeping all the rules is the goal, it is beautiful, truly inspiration worthy, and a thing I hope all nuns can do.

I know, because I am coming from a critical angle, this can be uncomfortable. But let me say that I am not endorsing we should abandon or change any rules right now, I am merely asking questions. Because I need to understand how this is done, with a pure heart.

I long to find a way to keep the rules in perfection, but I have seen many communities, and while I think it may be possible, I am not sure it is beneficial. I know how self-hatred and self-doubt can destroy, which is why I need to keep asking questions, keep exploring, keep understanding.

Thank you for being a part of that journey and understanding :heartbeat::heartpulse::heartbeat::heartpulse: