On Sex & Gender

Hm yeah interesting. I always thought pandaka was always a male (at least biologically) or androgynous in terms of sex characteristics. Then the rest of the description comes down more to sexuality than gender.

As usual nothing said about the females. We could run half-mad and naked down the street and no-one would…oh hang on! :laughing:


The Vinaya certainly has very binary ideas of sex, and does not accommodate for those who exist outside of it. I don’t know if there’s necessarily a solution to this problem, as both tradition and the texts themselves establish this binary very firmly.

Not so sure about this Vstakan…do you have a source?

I think this is one issue with trying to identify differences in gender, as we still define ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ at opposite sides of a binary. Thus, gender norms are held in relation to those norms, when in actuality gender doesn’t necessarily need to be based on or in relation to these qualities of behavior.

Let’s be careful to not endow trans* people with a certain level of alterity.

Eh, I don’t really like paṇḍaka as a word for queer, because that’s not really what it means

Do you have a source for this?

This isn’t really on-topic, Maiev. This conversation is not in regards to what are the positives and negatives of being trans,* but rather how trans* and non-binary people are represented in the suttas/EBTs.


The term you want to search for is paṇḍaka, which is loosely analogous to the modern usage of the word “queer” as referring to a community

Eh, I don’t really like paṇḍaka as a word for queer, because that’s not really what it means[/quote]

Eunuch is one of multiple meanings this terms has had over time. I do not know if “eunuch” alone is a satisfactory exclusive definition. The before-mentioned Sinhala commentary to the vinaya allegedly (and I cannot read the commentary so I would not know) outlines those definitions I quoted earlier from the DhammaWheel thread.

A trip to wikipedia for the term “pandaka” also gives a much more expanded account of different peoples “pandaka” could refer to. Certainly the word has, at times, meant different things, meaning it has functioned something as a “catch all” for various sex and gender minorities. An “EBT”-exclusive definition would be interesting. Perhaps it absolutely only means “eunuch” in the oldest layers of Buddhist literature, I wouldn’t know. On terms of the general history of the word, though, irrespective of EBT-usage, I would say that most sex and gender minorities, at one time, would have been called a pandaka, with some notable exceptions. For instance, pandaka is never used for what we would now call a cisgender lesbian as far as I know. It also does not seem to apply to what we would now call gay men who are exclusively “tops”/“the active partner” to use more Euro-friendly terminology. But I think it’s the closest we have to a sex/gender “other” in Indian Buddhist literature.

[quote=Brenna][quote=“Coemgenu, post:10, topic:4621”]
Pandaka is a complicated term, sometimes refering to homosexuals, sometimes to transvestites, transexuals, prostitutes, or sexual nonconformists in general. It is not always uniformly a negative term either.

Do you have a source for this?[/quote]Info forthcoming, I need to wait till I’m a home at a computer.

EDIT: here are a few sources, although, an EBT-exclusive interpretation is only forthcoming I think, as of yet. I do not know if I am allowed to post direct links to these articles, being unfamiliar with copyright rules of SuttaCentral. That being said they can still be quoted, and all of them can be found online for free in PDF form via googling them.

Peter A Jackson: Male Homosexuality and Transgenderism
in the Thai Buddhist Tradition, this text is highly nuanced and presents a lot of arguments that its author does not necessarily completely agree with, I would highly recommend reading it [quote]In the context of Buddhism’s general anti-sex attitude, the Vinayapitaka often describes homosexuality in terms that place it on a par with heterosexuality. But this ethical equivalence is negative, with heterosexuality and homosexuality being described as equally repugnant sources of suffering and as constituting equivalent violations of clerical celibacy. The Vinaya identifies not two but four gender types, proscribing monks from having sexual relations with any of these four. The four gender types are male, female, ubhatobyanjanaka and pandaka. The latter two Pali terms are used to refer to different things in different sections of the canon and I attempt to define them precisely in the next section. But broadly it can be said that ubhatobyanjanaka (6) refers to hermaphrodites, while pandaka (7) refers to male transvestites and homosexuals. [/quote]

We also have Alan Bomhard’s The Two Meanings of the Pali Term “Paṇḍaka”, which is also an interesting text, but which argues that paṇḍaka means something completely different from either “eunuch” or “othered sexuality/gender”, which definitely doesn’t support my own biases on the subject, but does show that the term means more than just “eunuch” historically.

Well, this article says there are about 0.4% of non-binary people in the UK, and I think it is relatively safe to project these numbers on the US and other Western countries. Not really very many.

Sorry, but it doesn’t make any sense to me. We have agreed terms, gender and gender identity. Behavioural patterns are part of the definition of gender, but do not describe the gender identity. By refusing to acknowledge that behaciour defines gender we basically say that we should equate gender with gender identity, so we could have situations when someone identifies as female but has a perfectly male behaviour and we will still have to say they are female. It would devalue gender as a scientifically usable concept as gender would basically mean a word someone describes themselves with, very much like a tribe name, for example, and there will be no objective foundation for speaking about gender. Yeah in political and social contexts it can pan out well, even though I don’t think that removing objectivity is an especially good idea, but scientifically it just doesn’t make any sense, it would really mean that some people can identify as attack helicopters or whatever these jokers on the Internet say about themselves these days, and no-one would be able to say it is non-sense because how can you even define non-sense in such a situation where there no objective criteria to talk about these things? Besides, behavioural patterns will not go away, they will still be there, so the science will have to come up with a new term for them, and why do we need a good term if we have an old one that is working fine?

What’s so bad about them being different? I don’t see any problem in saying they are different than me, and since about 99% of the population are binary, they are kind of out of the ordinary. I don’t think these otherness makes them bad or is a reason to discriminate against them, they are just as different from the majority population as, for example, devout Buddhist monks, people who are allergic to the sunshine or really big fans of the Power Rangers franchise. The word norm has a descriptive and a prescriptive meaning. Being different is not an issue, thinking someone is different is not an issue, thinking that someone who is not an ‘ordinary person’ is somehow a worse person than the normies, i.e. using the term ‘norm’ in the prescriptive sense, is a big issue.

Hi Ilya,

Sorry for getting back to you so late, school has been exceptionally busy these past couple of weeks.

I definitely understand your concerns, and I by no means think that gender shouldn’t be defined by behavioral patterns or be without some degree of structure. I’m just trying to figure out a paradigm in which we can have broader and more fulfilling language to talk about gender other than exclusively ‘male’ and ‘female.’ However, this is certainly not an easy task as shown by the tremendous variety of gender-neutral pronouns being used today:

Beautifully said!

No worries, I am pretty busy these days as well, so I only have time to write more or less detailed comments at night. By the way, it is night over here in Europe, and you mentioned language, which my ego is very passionate about, so get ready for a long haul :grin:

If you refer to the cases like the singular they, well yeah, sometimes it’s how it is and there has been some positive change in the languages that more or less successfully solve the problem of gender specific pronouns or explain them as non-problems, and in some languages there can be issues that are still to be solved. E.g., the Russian gender neutral singular pronoun of the third person on is not used because we think about males only, it is because it generally refers to the word chelovek ‘person’, which is grammatically masculine, the female pronoun ona feels out of place because it does not refer to anything. The German indefinite personal pronoun man ‘someone, anyone, people in general’ comes from the word Mann ‘man’ but is not perceived as sexist by anyone - maybe excluding some of the more radical feminists, even though German is an extremely gender-conscious language. Now, the English generic he and other similar cases described in your article are problematic because they have no linguistical justification, there is just no grammatic gender in the English language,so assuming social reasons for the antiquated usage is reasonable and I am happy we observed a lot of change in that regard.

However, if you are talking about transgender pronouns, then sorry, I think it is just laughable I speak or at least can understand a significant number of languages, including Russian, English, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Dutch, Italian, somewhat worse Swedish and Polish. In no other language - and I am 100% serious about it - in other language except English have I ever heard about any transgender pronoungs at all (Upd.: Swedish has something resemblin transgender prnouns, but then again, you need only three forms in Swedish, just like in English). Like, at all. Okay, even if you discount the languages I am not extremely competent in, I have been living in Germany for quite some time, and I have friend from all over the political spectrum, including people that are pretty far on the left, and not a single one has even ever mentioned there is some semblance of transgender pronouns in German. Which is understandable, because in German you would have to memorize four case forms for the personal pronouns, and four gender and number forms (referring to the grammatical genders of possessed objects plus plural forms) multiplied by four case forms for the possessive pronouns. No one does that, and even though I can’t speak with assurance for German transpeople, I think they possibly don’t really care that much about those fancy transgender pronouns at all. This happens in English because you basically can come up with ready sets of pronouns very easily, it doesn’t take much effort at all. Try to do this in Russian or even in Pali. I mean, seriously, just try it and seehow it works out. I can have respect for people with male or female gender identification, for asexual or agender folks, for transpeople, but I just thinks many of the experiments with the language certain people in the English-speaking countries are doing are just ridiculous. I mean, if someone asks to call them ‘xe, xer, xeir’ or whatever, my answer is no, that’s foolish, sorry. I can call them ‘it’ if they want, I can them ‘they’, even though this is borderline ridiculous, but no thanks, no ‘xe’ because I think it is just plain stupid, they have sufficient language resources to express themselves, there is no need to be fancy.

I mean, sure, we should not think of male-female opposition as a dychotomy, it is more of a spectrum, some people are more feminine, some are more masculine, some don’t feel like they belong to any part of this spectrum, some feel like they are in a wrong body, okay. But this spectrum with two poles works just fine bcause it is ultimately rooted in biology, just like the positive and negative magnetic poles are working fine for describing the reality of the magnetic field. There are non-typical cases, even biologically, like there can be true hermaphrodites, so we can think about something linguistically there, but the entire spectrum can be described with the male-female language and two or three additional words pretty satisfactorily, just like racial groups can be described with the minimal number of words more or less satisfactorily for all.

Trying to change the language beyond the boundaries of common sense (like not saying ‘well, I am a mixture of male and female, call me a demi-boy and use weird pronouns like xhe’ or ‘well, I am not of a mixed black and Asian heritage, call me coffee with sake’) and, more importantly, imposing this English-language paradigm on other languages is just superfluous and ultimately not fruitful for any of the participants and will only contribute to tribalization of our society, which I think is a huge threat for democracy and the Western civilization in the years to come.

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Lol, this is brilliant!

Yeah, this is what I meant by it not being an easy task. I definitely don’t like these pronouns, they don’t really make sense according to diction/grammar at all (which of course, because they’re made up, makes sense). I’m perfectly fine with using ‘they’ as a pronoun, though some people really don’t like it, which I can understand.

:+1: I feel like I have more to say on this, but I’m very tired and can’t articulate it well. :sweat_smile:

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At the risk of reigniting an old thread which got a little side tracked, I just wanted to say thanks for the OP Brenna.

I also wanted to bring it back to EBTs and Bhante Ys video, which for the most part wasn’t about trans* but about sakkaya ditthi more broadly.

From the EBTs we can infer that changes in how we relate to our gender identity will occur as a result of serious practice. These changes seem to be more inline with the label ‘agender’ than trans*.

We can gather from Bhikkhūnī Soma sn5.2 there is a complete removal of gender self-identitying and I was curious as to what the EBTs say about when this change in view happens?

Non-EBT speculative question.
If these changes in gender-identifying happen independent of stages of enlightenment, what causes and conditions are required?


I also find this topic interesting, especially the notion that enlightenment in a sense ‘agenders’ a person. In fact I’d say that one stops to be a person altogether. Hence I’m surprised about the irritation it creates when I say that the Tathagata/Buddha is for me not a ‘man’. This stands in tension though with some very musculin epithets he got: The bull, the lion, the stallion, the victor, etc.

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If you look at certain Buddha images, you see male and female elements, kind of hinting at the fact that the Buddha might embody and (perhaps more importantly) transcend, our normal binary modes of understanding the world. At the same time, there is an obvious recognition of sex and gender differences in the EBTs. I suspect it is only through supra-mundane realization that one can go totally beyond such dualities. IMO sex and gender differences are “real,” but conditioned and relative. The same individuality can be born male in one life and female in the next - And of course some beings are born somewhat “in between.” Nibbana is the unconditioned, and having realized that, you see through conditioned things - not taking them personal anymore.

SN5.2 has always been the text I turned to regarding this. It basically says that sex and gender is regardless, because when you truly remove the delusion of self, there is no “I am X” or “I am not X.” In practicing the Dhamma, that doesn’t really matter at all. I get the sense that there’s no real reason to go out of your way to do anything regarding this, because by practicing the Dhamma it just won’t matter.


One of the many indications of proper practice for me is to see beyond sex and gender. This doesn’t have to be complete enlightenment, a realization of “I am not the body” should be enough. Because, if I am not the body, then ‘they’ are not the body either. What is left then is a more or less beautiful mind and actions.

Yet, being the texts that they are from that time and place, the EBT are sometimes neither consistent nor subtle when it comes to the depiction of women. Also they lack the subtlety to add the dimension of social construction of female behavior etc. Take e.g. AN 4.80

Bhante, why is it that women do not sit in council, or engage in business, or go to Kamboja?”
“Ānanda, women are prone to anger; women are envious; women are miserly; women are unwise. This is why women do not sit in council, engage in business, or go to Kamboja."

Here a simplicistic literalist interpretation of the EBT gets into trouble. When everything the Buddha said was perfectly true, and the EBT are a true interpretation of the Buddha, then men get good reasons to look down on women. And that unfortunately goes along well with the attitude of men in many cultures.

The organization of the sangha is a different matter in my eyes. The underlying lust of members, as well as the society around it, is a fact and has to get managed somehow. Yet another thing is to blame the object of lust for the lust I experience, and the right Buddhist perspective is surely that desire in the mind is the agent of lust.

The issue is that the texts are not consistent, sometimes they look down on women, sometimes they are just unfavorable. But mostly mind in general is dealt with and to me the correct understanding is that the body (including sex and gender) connected to this mind is not decisive.

The quote you used I’m sure the Buddha has said about men or generally ‘man’ have these characteristics elsewhere in the suttas.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this ‘art of disappearing’ our ‘selves’. How through the practice we both come to accept who we are and who we are-not. How this opens us up to seeing this in others, resulting in greater compassion and freedom of heart.

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Yes, of course we find these characteristics for hu-men in general in other suttas, e.g. AN 3.10. But if men-dominated cultures or men unfavorable to women look for justifications in the texts they unfortunately can find them.

It’s a product of the culture. Just like some of the Bhikkhūnī rules regarding travel. Personally I’m not going to get upset about 2600 year old gender roles. I’m more bothered by hearing people perpetuate gender roles in the present day. But that’s just cultural conditioning too!



Absolutely! I am aware that gender identity and sexuality are not the same, but they are not altogether separate either: gender/sexuality interest, preference, craving, aversion, self-identification - all these are manifestations of tanha, and not very subtle ones! That they may arise in relation to gender alone (independently from sexuality), does not mean that they are no longer strong forms of tanha, and many consider them to be strong manifestations of “kamma” also, where it is probably true that all of our most profound current preferences and inclinations come from past life experiences, or from ones acquired at very young age.

I sometimes think that we must not take it too far, and involve matters which, however much currently socially important (such as gender identity), yet have no real relevance to or applicability with EBT in general. The same applies to questions concerning ordination of persons whose gender self-identification is non “binary” as you say. What I mean is that we must not expect EBT, or a transcendental doctrine that is characterised by a sincere devotion to “renunciation”, to be even informed about matters of gender identity and sexual orientation. And why? Because what is expected on the other hand is that, one who is coming to ordain, or even a layperson with strong interest in Dhamma practice, is not looking in EBT for answers about gender and sexuality, this does not apply! One is seeking the transcendence of precisely these gross forms of being and existence, both the bodily and the emotional. And that’s why it is unfair to judge the EBT about matters like that, because the significance and worth of the text is not affected by lack of knowledge or interest in those matters (as much as it is not affected by lack of knowledge in cosmic realities and physics for example) - nor did any one ever say the Buddha was omniscient and the text is sacred as to offer a final verdict of truth regarding all matters; we must never regard the text and the Buddha’s Enlightenment in this way.

The Buddha was a psychologist of renunciation and withdrawal, even when he did address mundane matters. Thus we do find in EBT the following remarkable verse by bhikkhuni Soma from SN 5.2:

“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.”
_tr. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi.

The Buddha’s warning of the dangers of sensual pleasure is one of the most obvious aspects of his teachings, examples abound of this in the EBT. His advice in matters like these, always pointed to the dharmic fact that mental health increased along with the reduction of obsession with sex, sensorial pleasures, and self-identification in all generality, even as one continued to “use” these things:

As to those recluses and brahmins who are not tied to these five cords of sensual pleasure, who are not infatuated with them or utterly committed to them, and who use them seeing the danger in them and understanding the escape from them, it may be understood of them: ‘They have not met with calamity, not met with disaster, the Evil One cannot do with them as he likes.’ (MN 26).


That reminds me a lot of Analayo’s book on emptiness and compassion. I’ve actually been contemplating this as well, and when you realize that emptiness is all around, you see that it is really just suffering and happiness walking around, and it has really helped me want to make it more happiness any time I can.


Which book is this? I will add it to my pile.

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Haha it’s literally called emptiness and compassion. You won’t be disappointed, it’s a great read. I’m also looking forward to his new book on rebirth coming out sometime soon.


Bhikkhu Analayo: Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation, Cambridge: Windhorse, 2015.

Unfortunately not available online.