The buddha and the bhikkhuni order

Why is there a need to compare?


If you look at the Sutta or Vinaya, Buddha only said to one who has entered the order/Sangha or one who take refuge, but misrepresented his teaching.

Rarely, he said the words (foolish) to outsider who doesn’t have any interest in his teaching. In fact, he will not say something in conflict with the world. Buddha and other ariya(s) will live in harmony with the world, because of perfected precepts.

If you look at the words that are translated, actually these words can also be translated as:

  • moghapurisa = Mogha (moha) + Purisa = a person who don’t understand (i.e. empty of knowledge about teaching or ignorant person) → most vinaya
  • bala = a young/ child (a person who is still learning, may not understood yet) → SN 47.8

But I guess to simplify in english, most translator just said as a Foolish, which can be too strong for an outsider to chew nowadays. :slight_smile:

But try to understand from a teacher perspective, when someone that has entered the order/sangha. But he/she do something that misrepresent the teaching. How would the teacher (Buddha) feel about the incident? Would he be grumpy and concern? Would he be not concern how other who might be on fences to get in or look at him as a the best teacher?

As Buddha is called:


Unsurpassable trainer of personality
Teacher of Gods and Humans

full context of that quote is here:

Further, if the count of times that the word ‘fool’ is applied by the Buddha to either men or women is the criteria, to my knowledge, men are clearly the more foolish. Various male monastics and laypeople are repeatedly referred to a fools or foolish by the Buddha throughout the suttas.

no need to compare at all, but the poster seems to have been under the misapprehension that the message of the suttas is “women are foolish”. while that’s undoubtedly true for some beings who are currently female, it’s also true for other beings who are currently male, and it will undoubtedly change.

this modern infatuation with gender is not what the buddha advocated.

i am male. unless i attain stream entry, it’s certain that i will be female in some future life. i am female. without enlightenment, it’s certain i will be male soon enough.

those who were male before are now female, those who are male now will be female in the future. it’s bizarre that we attach so much to an identity that is so fleeting.

1 Like

See note 43: Cf. Bodhi (2000), p. 802, note 289:

Khamatha bhante Kassapa bālo mātugāmo. I have translated this sentence with complete fidelity to the text, aware that some readers might find the rendering provocative. One consultant told me, “You’ve just lost half your readership”, and suggested bālo mātugāmo as “she is a foolish woman.” To my mind, this would distort the meaning of the Pāli in subservience to current views of gender. I do not see how the sentence could be construed in any other way than I have rendered it. I leave it to the reader to decide whether Ānanda himself could actually have made such a statement or whether it was put into his mouth by the compilers of the canon”.


I am no Pali expert. You may be correct on the translation.

However, the omission / addition of the definite article (‘the’) makes a huge difference even to your translation:

‘Women are foolish’

is very different to

‘The women are foolish’

Committing yourself to the former is likely to lose you friends, but, more importantly, is out of keeping with the context of the sutta. That translation unfairly suggests that Ananda thought less of women as a group. That’s clearly not the case from his story - he was well respected by the female followers of the Buddha because he was an advocate for them.

The sutta you’ve referred to here is in the context of an insult by the nun Thullananda to the arahant Maha Kassapa - I believe that Thullananda was so devoted to Ananda that she spoke against Kassapa. The context for either translation then, is that the phrase refers to either both nuns involved in the incident (Bodhi translation) or the single nun Thullananda (Sujato translation).

But an interpretation of ‘All women are foolish’ is a corruption of the suttas words and context, and I think, unfairly maligns Ananda.

I strongly suggest that the interpretation of ‘(All) women are foolish’ is incorrect. At this time, I believe Ananda was now an arahant, and the Buddha had passed away. It would be very very very unlike Ananda to say something that the Buddha had not (and there is no record of the Buddha ever having said such a thing in the suttas Ananda recorded).

I hope this helps. Best wishes to you.

I agree with the consultant’s suggestion and find Bhikkhu Bodhi’s statement a surprising admission. It seems that despite translating the whole of the Samyutta and Anguttara Nikāyas, the venerable has failed to notice the difference in patterns of usage between mātugāma and itthī.

In brief:

  1. Both mātugāma and itthi are used to denote either particular women or women in general.

  2. When they denote particular women, there is no discernible difference between them.

  3. When they denote women in general, mātugāma is used when the speakers are indicating distinctions within the class, and itthi when they are making categorical statements about the whole of the class. For example, in statements that women who behave in such and such ways make good wives or women with such and such qualities will go to heaven, while those with the contrary qualities will go to hell, mātugāma is consistently the term used. On the other hand, generalisations about women’s minds being obsessed with the sight, sound, smell, etc., of men, or women being like black snakes or having “mere two-fingered wisdom”, are consistently expressed with itthī or itthiyo.

For Ānanda’s statement to mean what Bhikkhu Bodhi takes it to mean, we should expect it to read bālā itthiyo, not bālo mātugāmo.


Are both terms (itthiyo, mātugāmo) referring to singular (woman, one female individual) or plural (women)?

In the case of itthī, the form itthī can be both nominative singular and plural, while the form itthiyo is unambiguously plural. Both forms are to be found in the texts.

In the case of mātugāma, we meet with both the singular mātugāmo and the plural mātugāmā. However, though mātugāmo has a singular inflection, sometimes it conveys a plural meaning, as in such English expressions as “womenfolk” or “womankind”. I would guess that this is the reason for Bhikkhu Bodhi translating in the way he has, even though it’s at odds with the usual pattern of usage of this term, i e., its non-use for making generalisations about the entire class.

1 Like

So, one should not expect it to read bālā itthiyo , not bālo mātugāmo.

So, the reading can be “womenfolk/womankind” for making generalisations about the entire class.

We should expect it to read bālā itthiyo or bālā itthī if it is to carry the meaning found in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation.

No. In those cases where mātugāmo (and other singular forms) are used in the sense of “womenfolk”, the word is usually the object of the sentence, not the subject, and nothing in particular is being predicated of women’s character. For example:

Kathaṃ mayaṃ, bhante, mātugāme paṭipajjāmā ti?

“How, bhante, are we to behave with regard to womenfolk?”

we’re fortunate to have the dhamma as a backdrop to the suttas, that we can use to discern the correct interpretation when we are ever uncertain.

for example:

ananda was at the very least a stream enterer at this point.

if we accept the buddha’s words on stream entry, then we must accept that he did not lie.

we know that the statement “all women are foolish” is false.

hence, we know that that translation is incorrect.

Just imagine a scenario:

Instead of having said “Foolish are women”, Ven. Ananda said: “Protective nature are of women” to bring up sympathy for the nun.

Would that scenario makes normal unenlightened persons like us happy now and end the debate on the translation which angers half the readership?


(Tiny footnote: However, in the eye of the awakened, protective maybe very well just another name for ignorance or foolishness)

i don’t think this changes anything.

if we accept that stream enterers abide by right speech, then stating “all women are x” or “all men are y” would not be something such beings would say unless it was not technically a lie.

in this case, “all women are of a protective nature” is a false speech - clearly not all women are protective, just as they are not all foolish, just as all men are not protective or foolish either.

i can’t see a noble being speaking such foolishness, especially one who has spent a lifetime associating with the buddha.

Ah well, technically, the word “all” was never mentioned anywhere though. I feel poor for Ven. Ananda in a tough spot…

Are we unenlightened normal person still unhappy if Ven. Ananda had said “Protective nature are of many women”? I don’t know how you judge this statement, but for me, I don’t consider that statement as false speech. I don’t feel bad or feel ashamed of thinking that statement in my head or saying it to another being.

Well, in case I am judged as wrong, please do not execute me on the spot… :sweat_smile:

How about this expression: Mātugāma Saṃyutta

technically, the word “all” was never mentioned anywhere though

Yes, you’re correct that ‘all’ was never mentioned. However, the translation ‘Women are foolish’ seems to be making an inference - i.e., ‘(All) women are foolish’. I feel that adding in ‘(Many) women are foolish’ suffers from the same issue - it’s inferring quantity.

Literally, the translation seems to be ‘The woman is foolish’ within the localised context of Ananda referring to the nun Thullananda who had insulted Maha Kassapa because she felt Ananda was more qualified to give a talk to the nuns that the elder. It’s referring to a single nun who eventually disrobed and was the cause of the creation of a number of Vinaya rules I believe. The translation ‘Women are foolish’ is unsupported on the discussion of the Pali above.

My addition to the grammatical discussion above is based in the premised of the Dhamma. A noble attainer would not use language loosely. They would certainly not make a statement such as ‘(All) women are foolish’. Right speech is using language in ways that are very specific and precise. This is not so.

Your hypothetical of ‘(Many) women are foolish’ could be are true statement if we consider the Buddha’s words that most people (both male and female) are unlikely to obtain benefit from the Dhamma in this lifetime, despite the teaching being available here and now for us. But I suspect these sorts of statements in the Suttas are either qualified by the Buddha, or gender neutral (“an ordinary, uninstructed worldling”).

I’m surprised by the degree of attachment people have to gender. It’s interesting to consider that according to the Buddha, attachment to our own gender, and the definition of difference between our own sex characteristics and those of another, are kamma for future births based on sex / gender differentiation. If you think about it, infatuation with one’s own sex characteristics means can easily slip into infatuation with the opposite gender, leading to rebirth as the opposite sex. Whilst that may not be frightening for most people, I can imagine that for some who have built up their identity around their sex / gender, and habitually engage in discrimination on the basis of sex / gender, that could be quite a concerning proposition.

That’s still very much an active debate while Ven. Bodhi has clearly stated his position with the acknowledge of the consequence of his translation. So no clear conclusion yet on which translation can satisfy both the angers of half of common worldling and also satisfy the expertise of Ven. Bodhi’s years of Pali translation.

That’s also the reason I put up another scenario where Ven. Ananda could have said something else more acceptable to the uninstructed worldling but in the eye of the awakened would eventually results in more or less same meaning.

“Many women are foolish due to their protective nature, in the eye of the awakened” is still a small price to pay for result where people can at least cool down and lend their ears.

I am not sure whether many man would get upset, stand up and argue against a statement like “Many men are foolish due to their nature thirst to conquer others, in the eye of the awakened”?

If people are confident that they are not foolish then there is no need to lend their ears anymore. After all, the purpose of my suggestive scenario is for people to cool down and lend their ears. My purpose is not to stir up unending debate.

Note: There are many more suttas (ex: AN 5.229, AN 5.230, AN 2.61, AN 5.55, AN 4.80, SN 37.28) which can raise much more eyebrows than such statement “Foolish are women” above. They are much more difficult to present a different interpretation or suggestive scenario as I did above.

If we can’t (yet) interpret them in a harmonious/beneficial way, it’s recommended to leave them aside and read + practice more until we are more ready. It would be a mistake to getting upset, pointing fingers, creating division or doubting the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha.

This post will mark the end for my contribution to this thread. Hope that it’s beneficial to at least somebody.

Dear All,

Just a reminder:


In the Pali text of the SN it is actually written as Mātugāmasaṃyutta. In other words, it’s not two separate words, but rather a compound comprising two words. There is nothing in the form of a Pali compound that will tell us whether the first item (i.e., mātugāma-) is to be taken as singular or plural. That being so, “woman”, “women” and “womenfolk” are all possible translations of mātugāma here. To determine which is desirable we need to consider the content of the 34 suttas contained in this saṃyutta.

Now the first 33 suttas all refer to women using the word mātugāma rather than itthī, and all of them are concerned with making distinctions among women rather than generalisations about them. As such, they exemplify my earlier point:

The exception is the 34th sutta, which is only concerned with those women who are noble disciples. In this sutta neither mātugāma nor itthī is used. Only ariyasāvikā.

In the light of the above, I would concur with Bhikkhu Bodhi’s rendering of Mātugāmasaṃyutta as “Connected Discourses on Women”.

My last contribution to this thread as well :slight_smile:

A note regarding the possible translation of ‘Women are foolish’ in light of @ORsEnTURVi’s observations above.

Even if the translation refers to a plural (‘women’), rather than singular (‘woman’), the omission of the definite article (‘The’) arguably makes a difference to the connotation of the translation.

‘The women are foolish’ is a different statement to ‘Women are foolish’. I’ve made my argumaents on the basis of the Dhamma, why the latter sentence isn’t consistent with right speech, and hence isn’t likely.

Syntactically, to my knowledge, both sentences are equivalent in the Pali, but the translation that a particular translator elects for has implications - we can be misrepresenting the Dhamma here with our words, so we need to be careful how we translate, and (even as readers) what we endorse.

Even the sutta’s @ORsEnTURVi has noted above can be understood in slightly different way that give slightly different connotations. For example:

Asuci, duggandho, sabhīru, sappaṭibhayo, mittadubbhī. AN 5.229

Could be translated as:

filthy, stinking, cowardly, frightening, and treacherous.


Impure, ill-smelling, fearful, dangerous, and bound to betray one

The Buddha’s denigration of women’s bodies as foul isn’t surprising - the Buddha says the same things of his own body. The ascription of certain qualities to women by the Buddha in these suttas needs to be seen as contextual to the audience of bhikkhus who he is trying to lead away from sensual entanglement - it’s consistent with his encouragement for us to see the drawbacks of things that we are infatuated with.

Finally, just to reiterate the original post was on the evidence for an absence of any sexist intent in the Buddha’s institution of the garudhammas. This current discussion of a subsidiary statement of Ananda’s is sideline, and I do not wish it to detract from the message of my original post - namely that the Buddha did not intend any sexism in the institution of the garudhammas. If sexism exists within the monastic disciplines today, that perhaps reflects the sense of self and defilements of the individuals involved - it’s not the Buddha’s intent.

Best wishes to all.