SuttaCentral

On a couple of supposed Vinaya rules regarding monks and women and trans people


#1

On a recent thread, some old ideas about Vinaya and women popped up. Bemoaning the lack of knowledge around these things is a bit tired, so I’ll spare you all. But one thing that is interesting to observe is that extreme positions on Vinaya are often promoted by both the Vinaya fundamentalists (“it must be this way, everyone else is wrong!”) and the reformists who want to get rid of Vinaya (“see how bad it is!”) In reality most things in Vinaya are far more interesting and complex than they’re given credit for.

Here are three basics that are often misunderstood, let us not repeat them any more!

  1. There is no rule that prohibits monks from touching women. There is, rather, a sanghadisesa rule that prohibits monks from sexually groping women with “mind overwhelmed by lust”. For a monk to touch a woman with no lustful intent is not an offence. Lust is, however, a grey area, and there is a minor (and probably later) derived rule that speaks against touching close family members out of affection (pema).
  2. There is no rule that prohibits a monk from being alone with a women: This one is a little more complex, but the explanation in the Vibhanga makes it clear that the monk must have rahopekkha, i.e. be seeking seclusion. There is no offence if a monk happens to be alone with a woman but is not seeking privacy. Essentially the rule is about not seeking a rendezvous.
  3. There is no rule prohibiting trans people from ordaining, in fact the Vinaya explicitly accepts trans people as fully ordained. I’d look up the reference if I had the time, hopefully someone will do it for me. It is true, there are certain kinds of people who might possibly be considered non-binary for whom ordination is forbidden or problematic. However a simple case of a trans person is not one of those cases. More difficult areas of interpretation involve people such as those who have no genitals or whose genitals have both male and female characteristics. The interpretation and reading of such passages is difficult, as the concepts found in the texts and traditions often blur behaviour, biology, and even supernatural elements. This is an ongoing area of concern and research among the Sangha east and west.

#2

So it’s OK for a monk to give their mum a hug?
Thanks for mythbusting, Bhante.


#3

Sure!


#4

:blush: Really happy to hear that. Not sure where I picked up the idea it was verboten, but I’ve been carrying it around for years.
Thanks again, Bhante.


#5

I don’t understand bhante. Are you excluding the content of the vinītavatthu? For there it’s stated to be a dukkaṭa offence.

At one time a monk touched his mother out of affection. He became remorseful, thinking, “The Master has laid down a training rule. Could it be that I’ve committed an offense entailing suspension?” He told the Master, and the Master said, “There’s no offense entailing suspension, but there’s an offense of wrong conduct.”


#6

Yes, thanks for the response, I wrote too quickly and will adjust. The earlier thread I was responding to was referring specifically to the patimokkha, so that is what was on my mind.

The vinītavatthu material is obviously developed over some time, which is not to say that it should be disregarded, but also, not to say it should be accepted without question. I believe that the entire category of dukkata offences evolved after the Parinibbana (note that in the First Council, it is still used in a non-technical sense rather than a class of rule; and the corresponding class of rule in Mahasanghika is vinaya-atikrama, suggestng that the class names originated after the schism). In fact I think the point of the dukkata idea was that, since the Buddha said that new offences should not be laid down, we need a way to record kinds of things thought to be transgressions that were not explicitly covered in the Vinaya as it existed at the time.

So: do I think that the Buddha made a rule saying you can’t hug your Mom? No. Is it a minor transgression in the Pali Vinaya as it currently stands? Yes.

It is, of course, hard to find a single monk these days who doesn’t transgress any dukkata offences: travelling in a vehicle, wearing a jacket, eating garlic.


#7

Lasuṇa & Lasuna (nt.) [cp. Sk. laśuna] garlic Vin ii.140; iv.258; J i.474; Vv 436; VvA 186.(PTS)

The sinhala translation (Buddha Jayanthi thripitaka) says this is onion.


#8

Doesn’t seem to me though.
This is a very serious saying, Bhante!
Entire cullavagga?

Bhante,
This is controversial. Touching is far less involved than giving a hug, and even touching is restricted as qouted above.

Why all these rules?

At that time a mother and son had both entered the rainy season residence at Sāvatthī, as a monk and a nun. They wanted to see each other often. The mother wanted to see her son often, and the son his mother. Seeing each other often, they became close. Being so close, they became intimate. And being intimate, lust overcame them. With their minds swamped by lust, without rejecting the training and declaring their inability to continue, they had sex.

Then several mendicants went up to the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and told him what had happened.

“Mendicants, how could that silly man imagine that a mother cannot lust for her son, or that a son cannot lust for his mother? Compared to the sight of a woman, I do not see a single sight that is so arousing, sensuous, intoxicating, captivating, and infatuating, and such an obstacle to reaching the supreme sanctuary. Sentient beings are lustful, greedy, tied, infatuated, and attached to the sight of a woman. They sorrow for a long time under the sway of a woman’s sight.
(Mātāputta Sutta AN 5.55)


#9

I realize this is not a forum for personal anecdotes (the emphasis should be on EBTs), but I can’t help but add this personal observation: A friend of mine who is a U.S. citizen of European descent (raised Greek Orthodox Christian) recently ordained at the Theravada Thai wat I attend here in the United States. His mother was present for the ordination and there were lots of tears when she hugged him for the last time before he commenced the ordination process. I couldn’t help but feel sad for his mother.

What’s interesting to me is that since this is a Thai wat in the United States, from my limited observations and even more limited understanding, it seems like sometimes things get loosey goosey with some of the Vinaya rules. I get the impression that if the monks here in the U.S. were back in Thailand there would be more strict adherence to all the rules. But since the monks here are dependent on the laypeople who don’t all live nearby, some leeway is provided to account for the circumstances. And yet, there is a hermitage not more than an hour and a half from here with a small number of monks, mostly Americans who have ordained, who seemingly follow the Vinaya rules to the letter (perhaps more so than even in majority Buddhist countries).

Again, these are just my personal observations, so I will step down now and follow the conversation.


#11

Isn’t it that, in practice, different communities interpret the rules a little differently? (& doubtless sometimes a lot differently.)
There’s no central authority like in the Roman Catholic church to lay down the law about how to resolve ambiguities in the translation process.

I


#12

Just a word of caution here about using contemporary terminology to apply to concepts from 2500 years ago, for which we are uncertain of a clear meaning. There is a harm that can come from this, even if it well intentioned.

In contemporary thought, non-binary usually comes under the Trans umbrella. @sujato that makes your statement about it being ok to be trans but not non-binary a bit confusing. You also talk about gender (this is how someone identifies internally, in their heart, not necessarily anything to do with their body) and go on to mention dual gender (do you mean intersex?), behaviour (do you mean gender expression? Or sexuality?) and biology (sex characteristics?), which you correctly acknowledge are all different things in the vinaya tradition. These are also regarded as entirely separate things in contemporary thought on identity, and in fact refer to very different aspects of identities on the LGBTQIA spectrum. A non- binary person may not demonstrate any of these. A non-binary person is not trans, they are not “in transition” (but that might be something some non-binary prople may do also if they wish.) Non-binary is not the same as intersex variation (which is many diverse types of physical variation from gonads and sex characteristics, as well as chromosomes and hormones.) So. Are you sure you have your terminology correct here?

It’s important to remember that trans is a spectrum of gender identity and expression and that trans people don’t necessarily have to choose a gender or gender expression. Non-binary people might not feel strongly towards one gender or the other, and may or may not have a gender- expression that outwardly expressed one gender, both genders or neither.

Trans doesn’t necessarily have to do with physical characteristics, but that might be a factor for some trans people who might express their gender identity through gender expressions, and changes in their bodies, but also might not. Non-binary does not have anything to do with your sex characteristics - ovaries, gonads, chromosomes, hormones etc. That refers to intersex variation found in 2% of our population— and these variations are present in a great variety of ways. It’s this diverse group of people who were previously those who were referred to as ‘hermaphrodites’ and ‘congenital eunuchs’, now considered outdated terminology that is specious. Intersex people might not actually present with different genitalia. Those that do are unfortunately often mutilated at birth or in early years of childhood. This surgery might in fact make them more like trans in terms of ordination eligibility.

Some help with definitions on non binary:

Some help with definitions about intersex variation:

Speaking more generally, not to anyone in particular, I implore forum users to:

  1. Familiarise yourselves with LGBTQIA+ terminology and not expect to have it explained to you.

  2. Make sure you use terminology correctly and use people’s pronouns correctly.

  3. Be aware that these terms describe real life people, not fixed theoretical academic concepts, and that those people have a variety of gender and gender identity experiences throughout their lives.

  4. Remember that LGBTQIA+ people are also users of this site and consider the harm that can occur from making statements about them.

  5. Understand that you don’t automatically have a right to express an opinion about the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in ways that ‘others’ them, or make pronouncements about what they should do, how they should behave, how they should relate to their bodies or how they should manage their identity or live their lives. Especially don’t tell them how they should be Buddhist, or how they should relate to Buddhist concepts like not-self or identity, etc. Please don’t tell LGBTQIA+ people how to they should think about these things to be ‘better’ at being Buddhist. This is not your stuff to decide. Basically, keep your judgements to yourself.

Also speaking generally, not to any specific person, I would suggest that people who have little knowledge or experience of LGBTQIA+ identities and issues stop themselves and think twice before blithely giving their opinions about things they have never experienced, . Users here should question feeling entitled to make their voices heard on this forum about issues that don’t affect them. LGBTQIA people have to listen to other people’s opinions about them all the time. Often ignorant and uninformed opinions are presented as factual and expert and this is dangerous for being incorrect, but also because it spreads misinformation that becomes repeated here and elsewhere. Further, uninformed people—no matter how well intentioned—can cause great harm to LGBTQIA+users of this site.

Instead, when talking about LGBTQIA in EBT texts, or vinaya questions, don’t neglect to listen to the experiences of LGBTQIA+ people. This might help to bring a human face to these historical and contemporary discussions and give users here better understanding of these people who exist in our community and have always existed.

Non-binary people talking about their own experience:

Emily Quin on Intersex:

Teenagers talk about being Intersex and non consensual surgery:


On the legality of Non-Binary ordination
#13

A very informative post Ven @Akaliko Thank you :anjal:

I think that the point you make about expressing views and opinions is excellent advice, and should be adopted by everyone. It fits in with the tone of our guidelines, but benefits from clear articulation here.

I have picked this point, as one that is good to apply across the board and in all contexts. LGBTQIA+ have many specific considerations, but it is good to also remember that this applies to all people eg mental illness, sexual abuse victims, addictions, suicidal, refugees, torture victims etc etc etc. Each area has specific terminology and complex and sensitive issues that are not evident on the surface. The Dhamma is about providing a path to reduce suffering for ALL beings, and we should strive to do the same with our contributions on the forum.

As users of the forum, there is no way to know who is reading our posts, and I add, who is making them. That is why it is an excellent practice to excersize restraint in expressing opinions and views, where as Ven Akaliko points out, the consequences can not be known.

Kindness and consideration should be the foundation for all posting. And as the Buddha stated, frivolous, wanton speech is to be avoided as it is unskillful for all the above reasons.

May all beings be free from suffering

:anjal::dharmawheel::anjal:

PS if it is felt that this post detracts from the point of the OP and subsequent posts, please let me know, and I’ll move it to another thread :anjal:


#14

Bhante, doesn’t this sutta illustrate the central importance of Sati-Sampajjana? If there had been clear knowing, either of the two parties could at any point have clearly known “This mind is overcome with desire” through to “This body is overcome with lust” even down to “This is wrong speech/action” and could have stopped at any time.
IMHO, it is not the object that is the cause of desire - its the way we perceive it/ respond to it/ give it qualities/essence which it doesn’t actually have. Thus begins the slippery slope of wrong view, wrong speech and wrong action…
How I interpret the OP is that as long as there is clear seeing, and the knowledge that one is seeing correctly… there can be no wrong doing that is possible. After all, for one who is clearly seeing, contact with a woman should be no different from touching water or earth or feeling heat or air.
At what point does one know that the mind has been overcome by defilement? That’s the crunch… and everyone has a differing ability to recognize the moment of change when one is slipping into wrong doing.
Following the Vinaya strictly is a prudent move as it would not let the causes of wrong doing arise at all. But there too, there is a danger- that of falling into an attachment to a particular hardline view, going too far towards austerity, or getting enmeshed in doubt … even to the point of developing ill will towards one’s own spiritual friends who may be perceived as ‘slackers’. Ajahn Chah, too describes developing such a view during his early years. The young monk who did not eat a meal because he perceived that it had not been accepted in line with Vinaya by his abbot developed into the Arahant (?) who was reproved by the young Ajahn Sumedho for being too lax about the Vinaya rules. :rofl:
So, perhaps, it all comes down to balance… looking after oneself and thereby looking after the world. (SN47.19)
Just my two bits… trying to reconcile the differing opinions and put the Elephant together in my mind. :grinning:


#15

Indeed!
The blessed one asked to be mindful when you talk to women.

Ānanda’s Questions
“Sir, how do we proceed when it comes to females?”
“Without seeing, Ānanda.”
“But when seeing, how to proceed?”
“Without getting into conversation, Ānanda.”
“But when in a conversation, how to proceed?”
“Be mindful, Ānanda.”
(Ananda’s Questions)


#16

I admire and respect vinaya rules.
Taking rules too lax is not good after being a higher (upasampadā) ordained monk. If one cannot respect and follow vinaya rules he should not request upasampadā ordaination at all and if he does he should try his best to obey each and every rule.

Why is the vinaya so important?

Think of a man walk a road and along the way he sees an elephant. Now he could whether go along on the same road and probably fight and die or he could go arround somehow to get rid of the elephant. Vinaya is more like avoiding the battles for greater good like taking another way arround in above incident. If you are strong enough and confident you can fight the elephant and win. similarly you can deal with your demons (kilesa- impurities/evil thoughts) directly and figure out a way to get rid of them. On the other hand you can let your kilesas to be by avoiding harmful contact (dealing with women, food, comfort, etc.) and practice meditation mindfulness thoughtfulness etc to wipe them out while they are not awaken (like redhot charcoal under the ash).
Vinaya is similer to the ash covering red hot charcoal, it keeps the charcoal away from ignition by cutting the O2 off. Thicker the ash layer higher the protection.
Therefore, stronger the virtue lesser the hindrances.

Thats how I see the vinaya.


#18

I couldn’t agree more . Why male and female monastic needs to be separated ? Simply to avoids unwanted incidents to occur . Some people are with little craving , for them touching a male or female seems nothing , but for a person with strong desire it will be a disaster .
Not only vinaya is about training of a person but it will affect the whole monastic community and Buddhism as a whole . Another point is even if many people breaks the rules does not imply one can break them too .


#20

I totally agree with you Bhante… Vinaya is very important. Ethical conduct goes a long way in establishing an atmosphere conducive to practicing the Dhamma. It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry, all the more so because it’s not necessarily just one’s own intention that should be considered… how the other person/ the community perceives the act is also important. As Visakha told Ven Udayi in the first training rule:

Although you may not be aiming at that act, people with little confidence are hard to convince.

Strictly following the Vinaya prevents any possible misunderstanding!

Going a bit off-track, we have similar ethical principles for physicians too (derived from the Hippocratic oath, circa 500 - 300 BC- so roughly around the same time in world history). Basic clinical training includes instructions such as “Never to be alone with a woman patient - always have an attendant present.” Yet, every so often an incident involving inappropriate touch/ talk occurs … basically because of dispensing with the rule, for whatever reason. Totally avoidable. :slightly_smiling_face:
Going even more off track, back in my time, Nurses, no matter their seniority, were trained to always defer to the Doctor’s instructions, even if the Doctor was barely out of Medical college. Yes, it was sexist… the nurses were almost all women and the doctors mostly men. (This sprung to my mind when reading the Bhikkhuni rules) Yet, it was an immensely practical principle when it came to preserving the peace, avoiding arguments and getting on with the task at hand- finding a cure for Suffering!


#23

Dear visitors, readers, and members of SC discourse, particularly the Women/LGBT+ ones,

Some of you may remember me as a former moderator and regular poster on this forum.

I want to reach out today if you are reading this content and feeling hurt, isolated and traumatized by the repeated exposure to ridiculous and objectively harmful opinions expressed on this forum.

Firstly I want to congratulate the moderators and Bhante Sujato on their attempts to create and safe and welcoming environment here, I personally know how difficult that is and the amount of suffering just trying to do that creates.

Do you know why? Because it is impossible. If you are a minority in BUDDHISM - if you are a woman, LGBT+, or non-binary you will never find comfort here.

Harsh? Maybe. But let me tell you, it is the reason I left this forum and I am glad I did.

No one will be able to stop you from being exposed to the absurd and violently hurtful comments and opinions expressed here. I know you want someone to stand up for you. You want a great monastic to come out and tell you you are ok, “look here it is in the scriptures! You are valid and safe and welcome here.” That will never happen, and the longer you expect that to happen here the more hurt and disappointed you will become. let me repeat. THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN. No one else is ever going to make you feel ok or good enough as a Buddhist. There’s a subtle deliciousness in hoping for that isn’t there? I’m sorry, but you must give that up and avoid the trash on this forum.

On the other hand, maybe you think that by being here you can change other people’s minds. You are a good and wise person after all. What does it matter if you are a woman or LGBT+?

Let me tell you, the rabbit hole of delusion and hatred goes deeper and deeper than you will ever know with the expanse of “random people on the internet”. Perhaps you will be the most demoralized of all as your attempts to do good only cause you more harm and pain at an exponential rate compared to you “helping” anyone.

But there is hope dear friend. It is in you. We are all uniquely equipped to find the Truth for ourselves and we must rely on ourselves (and any good friends we can find) to find that truth.

If you are one of the people repeatedly hurt by this forum, like myself, I encourage you to leave for good. There are many arguments about this, but try it and see. You are good enough. You can greater happiness and acceptance by yourself or with a real life sangha that supports you.

I mean no harm towards this forum, it’s creators or moderators. This is not a criticism. You are actually doing a great job. I have been in your shoes and have nothing but encouragement and admiraton for what you do.

But I am saying what I wish someone had told me - that this will never be a safe place for women who want actual equality and LGBT+ peoples, and if you WANT and EXPECT that, please try to leave or avoid coming here.

Now I, as a woman, have spoken, I’ll just wait for all the other women to now feel confident to criticize, disparage and “correct” me, and the men to tell me how it really is (”sweetheart”), but I will be leaving again and won’t reply, sorry! Mwahhhaha!


#24

This reminds me of a teaching of Ajahn Brahms “Lower your expectations” !

When I first heard it I found it really strange, as we (in the west at least) are conditioned to the opposite - to have high expectations, to be idealistic rather than realistic.

But idealism is not seeing things the way they truly are - it is hopeful, wishful thinking. Samsara is fundamentally a place awash with ignorance, ill will, greed, lust, craving etc. This is the nature of Samsara. It has taken me a very long time to come to terms with this. But expecting that all beings in Samsara can be enlightened, with no defilements and pure minds/hearts is the definition of disappointment, frustration, depression, suffering.

As the Buddha enjoined - choose worthy people to associate with - don’t associate with those unskillful or impure.

The reality is that a public forum is a place where all can access it. I believe it is good, as people are looking to enhance their skillful qualities, by choosing to be here (in the most part), but they may yet have a way to go - we all do - in eradicating all defilements. Hence treating even those, who are not very skillful, with compassion is a good thing :slight_smile:

BUT :slight_smile: by adhering to our forum guidelines, and ensuring that participants do as well, we can ensure that minimum standards are kept. If one expects that there will be no ignorance, no harsh speech, no defilements, then ones expectations are too high :slight_smile: Lower your expectations and suffering will be lessened. Seeing things as they are and accepting them, leads to equanimity :pray:

It is, of course, the exact lines one draws that will vary for each individual, and this is why there are such varying attitudes towards socially engaged Buddhism. As far as I am concerned, there is no right or wrong stance in this. Each individual must determine it for themselves and it is ultimately the result of the causes and conditions at play in each person.

Metta and Karuna :anjal: :sunflower: :sparkling_heart:


#25

What are we to do if every time we encounter opposition we leave? Do we keep running forever? Or do we find a defensible position, stand, and fight?