The politics of the Buddha’s genitals

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Yes, Anagarika, and yet it’s interesting that the tradition seems to offer different Buddhas for different kinds of believers.

One thing we can keep in mind is that there were people in the Buddha’s circle - including his cousin Ananda, and aunt/stepmother Mahapajapati - who would have had plenty of intimate knowledge about what the Buddha looked like as a boy and young man. So, for example, the fact that the Buddha was a “shaveling” monk doesn’t mean we can’t trust the claim hat he had very curly black hair as a young man.

And if he did have unusual, intersex primary sexual features, Pajapati would certainly have known, even if the Buddha himself were very discreet about the fact. So that’s one possible way in which the report might have passed into the tradition.

Also, if there were something physically unusual about the Buddha’s sexual organ, that might have contributed to the feeling of “not fitting in” among his fellow young khattiya braves, and add an additional poignant touch to the ultimate decision to go forth from household life.

But to me, the account of the marks has the feeling of something that came from a legendary package of traits. Perhaps there had been some great leader or figure in the past who had possessed such an unusual set of physical features. (for example, the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten is frequently hypothesized to have have possessed some genetic abnormalities - including elongated arms and fingers.)


Hi Dan. Yes, and I think some of the myth filters into the public domain, causing some to dismiss the Buddha as a myth, or attribute mythlogical traits to him that lessen the saddha of those new to Buddhism, without bothering to inquire as to the historicity of the Buddha, and the story of his life in the EBTs. Far later Mahayana sutras then carry the same evidentiary weight, in the eyes of some, as the early Pali and Chinese texts.

And “Yasodharā” would come to mean “the disappointed one.” :slight_smile: Sorry, bad joke. I’m guessing that Gotama was completely normal, and had normal equipment. As a young warrior prince, can you imagine the stories that would come out of the young warrior clansmen’s locker room?


In one of the Chinese taoist yoga lineages , they say that the retractable penis, attainable by any serious meditator, not just a Buddha, just means a forest monk, mountain hermit, yogic lifestyle with lots of meditation and a simple healthy diet tends to shrink the penis quite a lot (relative to their penis size engaged in worldly life) and draw inwards, with the result that their penis looks more like a baby boy’s penis rather than something that can completely retract and become invisible.

I suspect all 32 marks maybe have a real basis but became exaggerated by commentators embellishing a story and having no personal experience of the marks.

I’m not trying to defend the 32 marks in the EBT. Even if they are completely true, I don’t see how it helps in teaching the dhamma, how it leads to dispassion and cessation and nirvana. In my mind, 32 marks are not part of the EBT.


That’s interesting, I wonder if it has an Indic origin. I know the thing about the long tongue is found as a yogic practice; Iyengar talks about it.

You just have to be clear about what you mean. The texts are as they are: nothing changes that. When I talk about EBTs, I simply mean the early strata of texts. Of course, we have to accept that not everything in the EBTs is authentic: the two are not synonymous. “Early” does not mean “original”.

A Buddhist Council Guide for EBT enthusiasts

Yes, everything in the EBTs are not authentic such as the following passage which narrate the bhikkhuni ordination,

BD.5.356 “If, Ānanda, women had not obtained the going forth from home into homelessness in the dhamma and discipline proclaimed by the Truth-finder, the Brahma-faring, Ānanda, would have lasted long , true dhamma would have endured for a thousand years. But since, Ānanda, women have gone forth … in the dhamma and discipline proclaimed by the Truth-finder, now, Ānanda, the Brahma-faring will not last long, true dhamma will endure only for five hundred years.

“Even, Ānanda, as those households which have many women and few men easily fall a prey to robbers, to pot-thieves, even so, Ānanda in whatever dhamma and discipline women obtain the going forth from home into homelessness, that Brahma-faring will not last long.

“Even, Ānanda, as when the disease known as mildew attacks a whole field of rice that field of rice does not last long, even so, Ānanda, in whatever dhamma and discipline women obtain the going forth … that Brahma-faring will not last long.

“Even, Ānanda, as when the disease known as red rust attacks a whole field of sugar-cane, that field of sugar-cane does not last long, even so, Ānanda, in whatever dhamma and discipline … that Brahma-faring will not last long.

“Even, Ānanda, as a man, looking forward, may build a dyke to a great reservoir so that the water may not overflow, even so, Ānanda, were the eight important rules for nuns laid down by me, looking forward, not to be transgressed during their life.”

According to @sujato ,

I do not believe the Buddha said anything like it. If he did, he was superstitious, sexist, and wrong!

It is found in various other Vinaya texts. In my view, this, and the whole narrative of the ordination of Mahapajapati as we have it today, were added around 100 years after the Buddha’s death, some time around the Second Council.

Bhante , can we consider this( 32 marks ) to be a later addition as well ?


Yes, I would agree that both the account of Mahapajapati’s going forth and the 32 marks are very likely to be later additions.


I haven’t looked at all of the passages on this matter carefully, but i would be interested where the sexist portions are.

The text you quoted might simply mean that women and men ordained having close proximity are liable to fall to temptation, making Buddhism as an institution die out more quickly than if one of the sexes was not present, and hence more physical seclusion.

If you’ve ever read Ajahn Chah’s biography, he had already made arrangements to marry a girl, and it was because her parents didn’t think him a suitable candidate and voided the engagement that we were able to have the privilege of Ajahn Chah the forest monk. Ajahn Chah also talked about the temptations of sensuality and women when he was a young monk, and how it got better as he aged.

This is one of the great Masters we’re talking about. Imagine how all the non-masters are, if you have a bhikkhu and bhikkhunis living in close proximity? It seems very obvious to me that Buddhism as an institution would have a harder time surviving than if the sexes were completely separated. Nothing sexist about it, just defilements of lust affecting both male and female.


Yeah you’re right, I don’t know if the term ‘sexist’ is the best fit to describe the passages above.

I think “misogynist” would be better.

dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.
"she felt she was struggling against thinly disguised misogyny"

Particularly the second passage seems to ‘allude’ to the generalization that women are weak and cannot ‘protect’ a home or the Dhamma. Because this is a stereotype, it is sexism.

prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
“sexism in language is an offensive reminder of the way the culture sees women”

In the first passage, it’s a bit more subtle, but it’s founded on misogyny. So the whole downfall of the Dhamma is due to women mixing with men? Gimme a break. How weak do we think the Dhamma is?

So men have had a chance to ordain for the last 2,500 years (more than the proposed 500 years funnily enough…). Now it’s woman’s turn. If they can’t mix should all the men disrobe? So shall we turn it into…

“If, Ānanda, men had not obtained the going forth from home into homelessness in the dhamma and discipline proclaimed by the Truth-finder, the Brahma-faring, Ānanda, would have lasted long , true dhamma would have endured for a thousand years. But since, Ānanda, men have gone forth … in the dhamma and discipline proclaimed by the Truth-finder, now, Ānanda, the Brahma-faring will not last long, true dhamma will endure only for five hundred years.

Sound sexist now?


Not to mention the fact that the passage as quoted conveniently leaves out the most sexist parts.


If the Buddha was a woman, formed a nun order, and only after repeated pleading by her disciples did she finally relent and allow a monk order to be formed, and then stated:

I find it completely plausible that the True Dhamma would not endure as long, for the reasons stated in my previous post. I don’t find the above paragraph above sexist or misogynist, just a realistic accounting of the difficulties with the defilement of lust.

And if the female Buddha had garudhamma rules added that discriminate against men, I would think the rules unfair, but from a logistical management standpoint it makes sense. It would be easier to govern and maintain order, and I wouldn’t consider her (the buddha) misogynist based on those rules.

By definition, an Arahant, a Buddha are not going to identify with class, gender, species, so discrimination and social biases may be our unenlightened projections and misunderstandings (I’m not ruling out textual corruption). But there are plenty of vinaya rules that are not fair to some group or other, but they came into existence for practical reasons, and not for the purpose of discriminating against said group.


But your premise is flawed on so many levels.
First of all, you ignore the paragraphs following your quoted text which are clearly intended to explain it. Nuns (women) will cause the downfall of the Dhamma by weakening it like a house prone to theives… crop disease…flood. These concepts are so inherently misogynistic, it’s hard to escape it.
The above seem to be indicative of women’s weakness, their corruption and seductiveness, and domination respectively. All very, very misogynistic concepts. It’s not about the monks being misled by lust, it’s the nuns who in themselves as women are the cause of downfall.

Secondly, you assume that monks and nuns communities were living closely together where you posit such lust would occur, whereas everywhere in the texts we don’t find this to be the case. We see examples of monks and nuns running into each other on alms round, but in the vinaya the impression is given that the nuns have to travel quite a way to the monks dwellings.
Why would a monk be ‘tempted’ by a nun when there are so many lay women around who are in some cases, literally throwing themselves on the monks (apparently)? Why be so prejudiced against the nuns in particular then?

There are many problematic sections in the Buddhist texts that as a woman, you either have to find some explanation for, or accept that they are sexist. That’s just the ugly truth, and personally I don’t think there’s an adequate explanation to make me ‘feel better’ about every little bit. But I have no problem about categorizing this into the ‘later additions’ bundle, because it fits there very well in many ways.

Anyway, I am not going to talk about this further here. Ultimately, of course, it’s up to you how you decide to interpret the text :slight_smile:


The passage seems to go beyond the supposed dangers of lust, and to be arguing that women are in some more general sense weaker, and thus subject to all sorts of corruptions and defilements, and therefore they cannot protect the dhamma. Partly, this seems to be of a piece with other passages in the suttas that demean the intellects of women. Ananda, for example, was regarded as the guardian of the dhamma because his memory was so prodigious and reliable. If some of the composers of these texts thought women had weak intellects, they would also then conclude women cannot protect the dhamma as well as men.

Throughout some of the texts there is also some kind of suggestion of a certain kind of conquering soldierly vigor and steadfastness that translates into spiritual power. The Buddha is said to have had the option of becoming a wheel-turning monarch or a buddha. And as Buddha, he is depicted as doing constant battle with the armies of Mara, yakkhas, etc. These kinds of themes might partake of a masculinist bias, where spiritual attainment is analogized to warfare, and women are seen as simply not being able to cut it in spiritual warfare, just as they cannot even defend their own homes, property and bodies against marauders. Somehow a lot of this strikes me as the permeation of surrounding magical lore and martial ethos into Buddhism.

It’s an interesting question in Buddhism how the Buddhist community manages to physically protect and preserve itself over time, given that its practitioners have all - no matter what gender - given up the rod of violence. To some extent, this is seen as the work of lay protectors who earn merit in the process. There is another tendency in the texts to see the pre-eminent achievement of the arahant as peace, and the suggestion that the guardian forces of the world are pre-eminently benevolent, and protect the peaceful. But the dhamma itself is seen as the ultimate protector. In some way, the achievement of complete peace, virtue and universal friendliness disarms enemies and make one invisible to Mara. This is a sublime faith, and there doesn’t seem to be any inherent role for gender or sex differences in this idea.


Based on the above quoted sutta text, I don’t see how the passage about the simile of house being weakened must be misogynistic. If a lion or lioness is going to attack a herd of humans as prey, wouldn’t s/he go after kids, then women, maybe the infirm, and men as the last priority?

I wouldn’t say the lion is ageist, sexist, misogynist, based on that. A thief likewise would go for low hanging fruit first, attacking houses which are easier to take. And as children and women have lower body mass, culturally tend to train less in fighting arts, they would be easier targets to fight and overtake. I wouldn’t consider the thief of being misogynist or ageist, just practical. He’s not making a moral or value judgement on a group or class that makes them less equal in terms of civil rights or human rights.

There are misogynistic passages in the suttas, and IMO there are corruptions in the EBT, but I think don’t feel its helpful to the cause of promoting equal rights for all groups if we take too strong of a position in cases where other possible positions are also likely.

The muslims going through India burning down monasterys and killing the pacifist monastics helped Buddhism die out there. It’s not the only cause, but it certainly didn’t help.


Frank, I am judging at this weekend. I’ll mention this to :wink:

Given only the opportunity and the training, women can outshine men in the combat sports (here’s the analogy with monastic life). Some years ago, the president of one of the largest global MMA organizations stated publicly he’d never allow women in his promotion. Now, some of the female fighters are top draws to his events, and are main event fighters. All it took was the opportunity, and women proved their mettle and excellence in spades. I can say that as a judge, women fighters are often more technically sound than the men, and bring as much intensity to their fights as the men do.

Opportunity + Training + Support = Success and Equality.


Well, the Buddha didn’t declare that the goal of the holy life was to perpetuate “Buddhism”.


How are these considerations relevant? The Buddha recommended abandonment of the household life. Why does it matter, then, for the protection of the dhamma, which classes of people might or might not be physically capable of defending households against marauders?


I think the misogyny lies in the idea the the nuns will be the sole cause of the Dhamma’s downfall. Now, if the monks also contributed to the downfall of the Dhamma, then maybe it would not be misogynistic. But because the weight of eliminating the Buddha’s teachings is placed entirely upon the women, there is the idea that there is something inherent in them that will bring about destruction.

I see what you’re trying to do here and I find it commendable, but I don’t think one can flip the paradigm from a male Buddha to a female Buddha and say they are equal paradigms. What I mean by this is that there’s a reason the texts are written and spoken largely by men, as the women during (and after) the Buddha’s time would not have had the same voice or high role in society as the men. Though it is an interesting thought experiment, imagining a scenario in which women would have dictated to the men is implausible precisely because the social hierarchy likely would not have allowed it to occur.


This is veering off-topic. Let’s try to stay within the subject matter of this thread, please. Thank you!


Sorry. I quoted a line from your post and responded to it not as a personal response to you or against any of the points you made in your post, it just reminded me of a historical fact that irks me personally.


For those who are interested in the origin of bhikkhuni ordination here’s a lecture conducted by Dr. Richard gombrich based on Ven. Analayo’s academic work .