Religious Conservatism

T60, the Gotamīsūtra, is some advice that the Buddha gives his mother, and he supposedly says that a woman cannot be a tathāgata, a samyaksaṁbuddha, a wheel-turning monarch, a Śakra, a Māra, or a Brahmā, but it was also translated during the Song dynasty (960–1279). It’s hardly a contender for the earlier redaction of this material, especially considering the brevity of the Pāli Saṅkhittasutta AN8.53 it is parallel with. IMO T60 has had an expansion. T397 is actually a Mahāyāna sūtra in the general Ratnakūṭa tradition, albeit an older one that has a lot of peculiar features. It’s interesting that Ven Anālayo cited this. He must think it has some early material saved in it.

Shoot. I didn’t see that you had already responded. Well, now two people have said it.


Apparently there are more parallels, namely in the Dharmaguptaka vinaya T1428 (this is the one to look at IMO to see if the Theravādins were adding anything, as they are related schools) and T1421, the Mahīśāsaka vinaya. Has Ven Anālayo looked at these? I don’t have his paper in front of me.

I don’t know how to cite Pāli vinaya, but here is the passage in the Theravāda vinaya:

Atha kho mahāpajāpati gotamī yena bhagavā tenupasaṅkami, upasaṅkamitvā bhagavantaṃ abhivādetvā ekamantaṃ aṭṭhāsi. Ekamantaṃ ṭhitā kho mahāpajāpati gotamī bhagavantaṃ etadavoca—“sādhu me, bhante, bhagavā saṃkhittena dhammaṃ desetu, yamahaṃ bhagavato dhammaṃ sutvā ekā vūpakaṭṭhā appamattā ātāpinī pahitattā vihareyyan”ti. “Ye kho tvaṃ, gotami, dhamme jāneyyāsi—ime dhammā sarāgāya saṃvattanti no virāgāya, saññogāya saṃvattanti no visaññogāya, ācayāya saṃvattanti no apacayāya, mahicchatāya saṃvattanti no appicchatāya, asantuṭṭhiyā saṃvattanti no santuṭṭhiyā, saṅgaṇikāya saṃvattanti no pavivekāya, kosajjāya saṃvattanti no vīriyārambhāya, dubbharatāya saṃvattanti no subharatāya; ekaṃsena, gotami, dhāreyyāsi—neso dhammo, neso vinayo, netaṃ satthusāsananti. Ye ca kho tvaṃ, gotami, dhamme jāneyyāsi—ime dhammā virāgāya saṃvattanti no sarāgāya, visaññogāya saṃvattanti no saññogāya, apacayāya saṃvattanti no ācayāya, appicchatāya saṃvattanti no mahicchatāya, santuṭṭhiyā saṃvattanti no asantuṭṭhiyā, pavivekāya saṃvattanti no saṅgaṇikāya, vīriyārambhāya saṃvattanti no kosajjāya, subharatāya saṃvattanti no dubbharatāya; ekaṃsena, gotami, dhāreyyāsi—eso dhammo, eso vinayo, etaṃ satthusāsanan”ti.

It seems like the five women’s limitations aren’t there, but my Pāli is terrible. If the Dharmaguptaka vinaya recension had it there, I would be very surprised, but navigating the vinayas that are in Chinese is insane, and I may well never find the passages.


Yeah, even if you’re familiar with how Vinayas are put together, it’s a major effort to gather all the parallels.

I was curious last night after I posted and searched for “women” in the Chinese Abhidharma division. The same type of passage that’s in MN 115 can be found in the Abhidharma as well, so that was probably the intermediary between Agama/Nikayas and Mahayana texts. I also found one passage that actually attempted to explain why women can’t become Buddhas, etc. Well, it’s pretty simple to the author: They are weaker in virtue and less intelligent than men. Therefore, they aren’t able to create the virtues required to be reborn as wheel-turning kings, etc. So much for misogyny not playing a role in this particular idea.

Here’s the passage. It’s in T1538 the Prajñapti-śāstra, which is considered by scholars to be one of the six basic Sarvâstivāda Abhidharma texts, though the extant translations are quite late (Tibetan 9th c. CE, Chinese 11th c. CE).

[0521a11] 又問:何因女人不作轉輪聖王、不成帝釋、不成梵王、不成魔王、不證緣覺菩提、不證無上正等菩提?**答:謂諸女人善力劣弱,男子勝善樂欲根力之所建立,以其極生善欲心故。女無勢力,皆是男子善業因作。又復女人無其利根,唯彼男子善力成故。**又彼男子善力增極,乃能獲得利根勝業。以如是因故,女人不作轉輪聖王、不成帝釋、不成梵王、不成魔王、不證緣覺菩提、不證無上正等菩提。


Interesting how both Madhyamaka and early Mahayana give themselves the job of righting errors of the Ābhidharmikas while also generating their own errors as schools/broad traditions.

The prajñāpāramitā tradition will destroy scholasticism, but then becomes its own scholasticism. It’s like it’s inescapable.


Here is Bhante Sujato’s translation of this passage (found at AN 8.53):

At one time the Buddha was staying near Vesālī, at the Great Wood, in the hall with the peaked roof. Then Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī went up to the Buddha, bowed, stood to one side, and said to him:

“Sir, may the Buddha please teach me Dhamma in brief. When I’ve heard it, I’ll live alone, withdrawn, diligent, keen, and resolute.”

“Gotamī, you might know that certain things lead to passion, not dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulation, not dispersal; to more desires, not fewer; to lack of contentment, not contentment; to crowding, not seclusion; to laziness, not energy; to being hard to look after, not being easy to look after. You should definitely bear in mind that these things are not the teaching, not the training, and not the Teacher’s instructions.

You might know that certain things lead to dispassion, not passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to dispersal, not accumulation; to fewer desires, not more; to contentment, not lack of contentment; to seclusion, not crowding; to energy, not laziness; to being easy to look after, not being hard to look after. You should definitely bear in mind that these things are the teaching, the training, and the Teacher’s instructions.”


Women are of lesser virtue and of lesser intelligence.

Lets make this real – the Buddha dealt with reality… actually seeing things as they are. He wasn’t interested in theoretical constructs and hypothetical conjecturing, but in the reality of how the world works, what causes suffering, what leads to the end of suffering.

In this case, lets make it real, and follow the Buddhas own instructions of how to investigate skillfully. I have a womans body. You have all seen me in action on the forum for a long time now – so you have some little familiarity with my behaviour. So am I of lesser virtue than all men? Am I of lesser intelligence than all men? Obviously not. I have more virtue than some men, and less than some others. I have more intelligence than some men, and less than others. By the same token I have less virtue and intelligence than some women and more than others… One sees everyday and all around, that intelligence and virtue are not determined by sex. I think it might have been Plato who said that there is less difference between the ‘average’ man and the ‘average’ woman, than there is between the spectrum of all men and the spectrum of all women. One does not need to have the special knowledges of the Buddha to be able to see this. It is the way things are. What stops people seeing it as it truly is, are the defilements…

And this is the practice, for all people (male and female) regarding all conditioned views, including gendered self view, to dissolve the defilements that impair clear seeing…

Fact: Gendered self view leads to suffering… It is a huge, deeply conditioned obstacle that still remains in place in our world… May all beings penetrate the teachings of the Tatagatha and move beyond this.

To this end, and as a pointer of how to approach this, MN2 - 7 ways to get rid of the Taints/Defilements/Contaminants.

This is how I understand things at this time. If any of it is out of line with the teachings of the Buddha I would be grateful to be shown the error of my comprehension.


From this Sutta it is very clear who’s position it is to say that women are less intelligent than men—Māra’s position!

SN5.2:0.1: Linked Discourses 5
SN5.2:0.2: 1. Nuns
SN5.2:0.3: 2. With Somā
SN5.2:1.1: At Sāvatthī.
SN5.2:1.2: Then the nun Somā robed up in the morning and, taking her bowl and robe, entered Sāvatthī for alms.
SN5.2:1.3: She wandered for alms in Sāvatthī. After the meal, on her return from alms-round, she went to the Dark Forest,
SN5.2:1.4: plunged deep into it, and sat at the root of a tree for the day’s meditation.
SN5.2:1.5: Then Māra the Wicked, wanting to make the nun Somā feel fear, terror, and goosebumps, wanting to make her fall away from immersion, went up to her and addressed her in verse:
SN5.2:2.1: “That state’s very challenging;
SN5.2:2.2: it’s for the sages to attain.
SN5.2:2.3: It’s not possible for a woman,
SN5.2:2.4: with her two-fingered wisdom.”
SN5.2:3.1: Then the nun Somā thought,
SN5.2:3.2: “Who’s speaking this verse, a human or a non-human?”
SN5.2:3.3: Then she thought,
SN5.2:3.4: “This is Māra the Wicked, wanting to make me feel fear, terror, and goosebumps, wanting to make me fall away from immersion!”
SN5.2:3.5: Then Somā, knowing that this was Māra the Wicked, replied to him in verse:
SN5.2:4.1: “What difference does womanhood make
SN5.2:4.2: when the mind is serene,
SN5.2:4.3: and knowledge is present
SN5.2:4.4: as you rightly discern the Dhamma.
SN5.2:5.1: Surely someone who might think:
SN5.2:5.2: ‘I am woman’, or ‘I am man’,
SN5.2:5.3: or ‘I am’ anything at all,
SN5.2:5.4: is fit for Māra to address.”
SN5.2:6.1: Then Māra the Wicked, thinking, “The nun Somā knows me!” miserable and sad, vanished right there.


Religious conservatism can be a skillful approach to the teachings. To protect the text from change goes against the grain of annihilating whatever we deem inaccurate or inconvenient. Not conflating it religious conservatism with “literalism” can help us not to cling and approach the teachings with an open mind.


With greatest respect Bhante, I don’t think it is fair enough. The problem that I see is that children are involved in religions. There is an immense amount of harm that can be done to children who are brought up in a religious settings that encourages either misogyny (stand at the back of the queue; you can’t be ordained) or homophobia (you are a sinner; you can’t get married here). Does that violate the rights of the child? That has yet to be seen. In the UK, child rights were only introduced in 1992 I believe. But the more important question is - is it harmful to children? As @Ulriquinho showed - Yes it is.

What seems to be being suggested is that it is ok to harm a child as long as you are doing it for religious reasons and it doesn’t violate their rights. That somehow the right to religious freedom trumps the harm caused to children by exerting that religious freedom. This can’t be fair enough, can it? Shouldn’t harmlessness be our guiding light here, rather than religious freedom?


Parents have the human right to raise their child as they see fit as long as they don’t abuse or neglect the child. If we ran our society according to what is harmful (who gets to decide?) we would end up in a near totalitarian state. We may not like it but the Church does teach that homosexuality is a sin. It’s not for the state to decide what is and isn’t correct religion, unless the religion directly violates the rights of another.

There are plenty of people who would readily claim that Buddhism causes harm, or that any form of religion causes harm. Usually they are communists. What about alcohol? Should we ban that? Or drugs because of animal testing? Electricity because of pollution? If your political aim is solely harm reduction then we would end up living in a dictatorial anarcho-primitive society. That doesn’t sound appealing.

It also mentioned in Netti.

But my opinion is this.

If we all where a woman in the past once according let’s say there must be another reason maybe that tradition. It could be for the benefit and compassion that imagine how man is. Imagine a beautiful woman Buddha. As a trainee a man might not concentrate on the teaching. While woman as nuns learning from Buddha man that might happen also but I think it’s the nature of woman to see other qualities in a teacher like Buddha, while man would had have a difficult time learning from a Buddha beautiful goddess.

As seen woman in EBT’S example of attraction to monks beauty we have only of the girl attracted to Ven. Ananda.

And children now have a bunch of rights too. There are/will be conflicts of interest between the rights of the child and the rights of parents. Of course it is right that the state steps in where harm is being done to the child.

In the UK we now ban parents from giving alcohol to under five year olds, and that’s a very good thing. That wasn’t the case when I was a baby.

Parents believing the dogma of the Catholic Church does not violate anyone’s rights. Parents raising their child as a Roman Catholic does not violate the rights of the child. In terms of alcohol, if your political outlook is to use the state to ban anything that’s harmful then why not introduce prohibition into the U.K? Why not ban a whole load of things, according to what some politician or bureaucrat decides? Personally I can’t agree to such things due to my deontological ethics, nor do I think such a powerful state that regulates people’s lives to such a degree is desirable.

This is a complex issue in practice, is it not? It seems that public education has been considered in many cultures a public good over-riding parental “ownership” or custody of living beings with limited legal rights and responsibilities. And acceptable practices of control or discipline are also not entirely parent defined. “Family” and parent-child relationships are convenient terms but not more basic unit than one human life; nor is any one human life ever actually independent, or not composed of discernable stages or things…

“near totalitarian” is rhetoric which seems to over simplify, at least.

There is nothing to be feared in living harmlessly, as a disciple on the Path. What is the cause, the origin, of fear?

This is a complex issue in practice, is it not? It seems that public education has been considered in many cultures a public good over-riding parental “ownership” or custody of living beings with limited legal rights and responsibilities. And acceptable practices of control or discipline are also not entirely parent defined. “Family” and parent-child relationships are convenient terms but not more basic unit than one human life; nor is any one human life ever actually independent, or not composed of discernable stages or things…

I’m not really sure what you are trying to say here?

“near totalitarian” is rhetoric which seems to over simplify, at least.

Its not rhetoric. If you start ignoring human rights in favour of harm reduction and empower the state to intrude as it likes into people’s lives so long as said harm is reduced then you are making way for a totalitarian society, likely with a small group of people getting to decide what is and isn’t harmful. In the not so distant past religion in general was seen as being harmful and religious people persecuted because of the harm they could cause to the state and society. Communist Albania comes to mind. Once we abandon human rights then all sorts of hellish scenarios become that much easier to actualise.

There is nothing to be feared in living harmlessly, as a disciple on the Path. What is the cause, the origin, of fear?

I do live my life according to the precepts and the NEFP. That doesn’t mean I want them enforced upon society. That would simply be me imposing my religious values on others. I don’t want the state to enforce harmlessness either. Change should always start with the individual.

Let’s eliminate any specific issue from the conversation for a moment - we all have our beliefs on specific issues that can be really hard to set aside - and simply looking at the structure.

On this board

  • We share a belief that the Buddha’s life was a truly special moment in human history, and that the Buddha brought great insight and wisdom into the human realm.
  • We believe that the EBT offer the most direct access to what the Buddha said and believed.

An issue arises when we face a situation where our opinion of the right, ethical path forward disagrees (at least on first look) with what it appears the Buddha said in the EBT.

What are the possibilities?

  • Maybe the Buddha is wrong
  • Maybe our interpretation of what the Buddha said is wrong
  • Maybe the Buddha didn’t say that (problem in transmission)
  • Maybe we are wrong

Now, in the abstract, it is easy to admit I might be wrong. But I imagine most of us have issues where we believe one side is just and right and we’re not willing to entertain the idea that we are wrong. (For example, I believe women should be ordained as monastics with full and equal rights to male monastics. Depending on your perspective it is either a strength or a weakness of mine that I am not willing to entertain the idea that this belief might be wrong.)

It’s great when the discrepancy turns out to be an issue of interpretation or transmission - we’re right, the Buddha’s right - it was just a misunderstanding. But it seems if we’re exploring in good faith a conclusion of faulty interpretation or transmission should be based on evidence, not a Get Out of Jail Free default position when the situation gets tough.

So it does seem, at a certain point, you get to the question of the inerrancy of the Buddha.

If you say the Buddha might be wrong, there is no logical problem. (Having seen the contortions many denominations of Christianity have gone through maintaining a view the Bible’s inerrancy, I personally have no problem with the idea the Buddha might have gotten something wrong.)

If you say the Buddha is never wrong, you either need to identify an issue with interpretation/transmission, or be ready to accept you might be wrong, no matter how deeply you believe you are not wrong.


Or if you have unyielding saddha in the Buddha, Dhamma, the Sangha and the commentaries then issues do not arise as long as you change your view to align with what the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha and tradition says.

Personally I have faith that the Buddha was not wrong, that the Dhamma is true and that the Sangha is full of righteously practicing ones. By extension I have trust in tradition, which includes the commentaries. When I’m greeted with something I personally do not agree with I change my views to match the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha and tradition. To give an example, prior to being a Buddhist I was morally ok with abortion. Now I am not. I was actually a Communist of all things before the Dhamma changed me for the better.


Yes. That is what I meant by my phrase, “ready to accept you might be wrong.” That it is your view that has to change.


Thanks for the clarification.

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:slight_smile: It is rhetoric, to say

  • parental rights are a human right, and that they include “rights” to manage children as any individual parent sees fit.
  • this is a “start” to ignoring human rights
  • this “empiwers” the “state” to intrude “as it likes”
  • “you are making way”

If you were describing “near totalitarian” to the Buddha, could it be done sucessfully? What might be the Teaching He would offer, pointing towards liberation from suffering?

Rhetoric is speech using persuasive devices which convey a POV. It’s not bad or good; it’s communication shortcuts, which can be misused or used for kusala speech.

I agree, in that that is where it is effective; but as human lives are social, every one life occurs in social circumstances, it’s hard to discern start and finish, I think.