Soreyya/ā’s double sex change: on gender relevance and Buddhist values

Venerable Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā wrote this excellent essay, which I have attached. Any feedback and comments are very welcome and will be shared with Ayya Dhammadinnā.

This article studies the double sex-change motif in the Soreyyatthera-vatthu, the “Story (literally, “subject matter”) of the Elder Soreyya”, of the Dhammapada-aṭṭhavaṇṇanā, the commentary on the canonical stanzas of the Dhammapada. The Soreyyatthera-vatthu tells the story of the householder Soreyya’s spontaneous sex change to female, as a result of an unwholesome fantasy aroused by the sight of the beautiful hue on the body of the venerable Mahākaccāyana. The protagonist of the story then regains the male sex upon having regretted and made amends for his former thought, goes forth as a Buddhist monk, and eventually becomes an arahant. The article first presents the narrative and the canonical stanzas in light of their literary antecedent in the Baudhāyana-śrautasūtra, one of the oldest ritual manuals stemming from the Taittirīya exegetical school of the Black Yajurveda (sections I–III). It then reviews a reading proposed by Reiko Ohnuma (2007 and 2012) that sees gender-discourse relevance in the narrative and the verse this encapsulates, as if they were expressions of “Buddhist ambivalence” towards or “devaluation” of “mother-love” (section IV), followed by a few closing thoughts on the Buddhist “super-valuation” of world detachment (section V).

Dhammadinnā 2019 Soreyya-ā.pdf (1.2 MB)

Soreyya changes sex. Kathaluwa Purvārāma Mahāvihāraya (Ahangama, Galle District, Sri Lanka).
Caption: Soreyya siṭānō istriyāva vū vagayi, “That treasurer Soreyya became a woman.”