The politics of the Buddha’s genitals

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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 .


Ok, I see your point. The english translation says, if there were no nun order formed, True Dhamma would last 1000 years. Because of forming the nun order, it would last 500 years (only half as long). There are ways to state those facts without being misogynistic, but looking again at the english, I can more clearly see how those english words are perceived as misogynistic.

the english translation the discussion was based on :


It seems to me the entire 500 year argument falls when one takes a good look at the evidence in Ven. Analyo’s essay in The suggestion that the Buddha understood that the ordination of women into the Sangha would compromise it, or compromise the lifespan of Dhamma, runs afoul of the Buddha’s own attitudes re: the imporance of the full Sangha to the longevity of the Dhamma. It seems to me such a theory runs counter to the Buddha’s own awakened wisdom, and pure sense of reasoned, gender nonspecific, and balanced ethics.

The order of bhikkhunīs: the duration of the teaching
The passages surveyed so far help to set into context the prophecy that because an order of bhikkhunīs had come into existence during the lifetime of the Buddha, the duration of the teachings will be shortened to 500 years (Cv X.1). Now this prophecy is surprising, since once would not expect the Buddha to do something which he knew in advance would have such an effect. In fact, the prophecy in the way it is recorded in the Vinaya has not come true, as after 2,500 years the teaching is still in existence. Even the bhikkhunī order was still in existence in India in the 8th century and thus more than a 1,000 years after the time of the Buddha.

It also needs to be noted that the basic condition described in this prophecy has been fulfilled when an order of bhikkhunīs came into existence during the Buddha’s lifetime. The prophecy has no relation to whether an order of bhikkhunīs continues or is revived nowadays.

It seems, then, that here we have another presentation that is not entirely straightforward. On following the same principle of the four mahāpadesas, we now need to examine what other passages have to say about possible causes for a decline of the teaching. A discourse in the Aṅguttara-nikāya describes how each of the four assemblies can contribute to the thriving of the Buddha’s teachings. Here a bhikkhunī can stand out for illuminating the Buddhist community through her learnedness (AN 4.7). Another discourse in the same collection indicates that a bhikkhunī also illuminates the community through her virtue (AN 4.211). These two discourses reflect a clear appreciation of the contribution that learned and virtuous bhikkhunīs can make to the Buddhist community, instead of seeing them as something detrimental.

Other discourses more specifically address what prevents the decline of the teaching. According to a discourse in the Saṃyutta-nikāya, such a decline can be prevented when the members of the four assemblies, including bhikkhunīs, dwell with respect for the teacher, the Dhamma, the Saṅgha, the training, and concentration (SN 16.13). Here the bhikkhunīs actually contribute to preventing decline, rather than being themselves its cause.

Similar presentations can be found in three discourses in the Aṅguttara-nikāya. In agreement with the Saṃyuttanikāya discourse just mentioned, these three discourses present respectful behaviour by the members of the four assemblies, including bhikkhunīs, as what prevents decline (AN 5.201, AN 6.40, and AN 7.56). Besides respect for the teacher, the Dhamma, the Saṅgha, and the training, these three discourses also mention respect of the four assemblies for each other, heedfulness, and being helpful (to one another).

These passages clearly put the responsibility for preventing a decline of the teaching on each of the four assemblies. It is their dwelling with respect towards essential aspects of the Buddha’s teaching and each other that prevents decline.ControversywithTranslations_Analayo-2015.pdf (3.7 MB)


I don’t know if “true Dhamma” lasted more than 500 years. What Ven. T (Thanissasro) said makes sense to me, that 2500 years later, this doesn’t mean that “true Dhamma” can not be found at all, but that counterfeit Dhamma has become the norm, and true Dhamma no longer the dominant currency. At what point in history this happened, I don’t know, but even a number less than 500 years wouldn’t surprise me. Just my opinion, and it has nothing to do with women at all, just what I perceive as the difficulty for the Dhamma that is true and beneficial but diametrically opposed to people’s base desires naturally would have difficulty surviving.

Just like if I want to start a restaurant I can guarantee failure in less than 2 years, because I’m going to prepare food that is healthy, optimal meditation fuel, not food designed to appeal to people’s addiction to stimulate their taste buds.


I see your point, Frank. I have a sense that Ajahn Geoff was more than a little militant in supporting the opposition to Bhikkhuni ordinations. I had spent some time at Wat Metta some years ago, but was disappointed in his written brief opposing the ordinations of women, and his verbal responses to women who asked him why females couldn’t ordain (that there was no one to teach or train them (?) ). I’m of the view that the “true” Dhamma is actually healthier than it has been for very many years. Sure, in the US, for example, there is a built in bias for Zen, and the odd cultural artifacts left by teachers like Chogyam Trungpa. But, thanks to the internet and ajahns such as we have here on SC, people actually finding the western dharma lacking are able to put in the effort and find and study a “true” Dhamma. I’m bullish on the Dhamma’s future, especially as the west progresses to higher and faster screwed up states of greed, aversion and delusion. :slight_smile:

The best argument against the 500 years theory seems to be the evidence that the Buddha saw Bhikkhunis as indipensable to the establishment, growth and survival of the Sangha and the Dhamma. To hold Bhikkhunis in such esteem, and yet at the same time suggest that they will be a root cause of a future failure, is completely inconsistent. Ven. Analayo makes this case well in his essay.


Interesting addition: Snp 5.1


It is inescapable that, whatever the reading, according to the early texts the Buddha did not have “normal” genitals. And the only reading actually supported by a canonical text is that the Buddha was intersex, and his genitals looked like a woman’s.

Buddha was a hermaphrodite? He was married and had children at one point right? Sorry this is all new to me. :neutral_face: