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!
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.