Thought experiment - a genderless vinaya

hmmm … a hot topic! :slight_smile: Let us just please not forget that this is Ayya @vimalanyani sharing ideas and thinking aloud with us! Even the topic title says “thought experiment”. So let’s set back and relax and do that kind of experimentation of though where there is nothing to lose and everything to gain! :stuck_out_tongue:

Ayya @vimalanyani I agree with you that this kind of detailed Vinaya training is far from being suitable to everyone, on the psychological level, and especially at the beginning of the going forth. But it is also important to remember that one gradually gains confidence and experience in it, absorbs it naturally, and even depend on it. The problem is often in the way Vinaya is taught or enforced, but I don’t think it is inherent in this kind of practice. Further it is also important not to filter out those who might actually need and want that kind of training, and who might benefit from it. And there is another factor, if you do establish such community successfully, you yourself will soon be surprised by your own need to “restrain those lacking shame” in your community. Training in “higher virtue” does not come naturally to everyone! :slight_smile:

It would of course be great if ‘everything’ in monastic life can be a matter of individual choice. But the way communities ‘actually’ develop, i believe, follows a different path characterised by utter reality and practicality than ideals. It’s hard to establish communities and harder to sustain them over time; that’s why there is a propensity towards rotting!! The resources are also quite limited in a renunciate context, even in the event you will confine your needs to the bare minimum! If Sangha around the world adopt the new system (fancy!), than resources can certainly be relocated, but otherwise, you are very dependent, extremely dependent (there were times when certain communities even in Buddhist countries nearly vanished due to lack of support)! If you have a community which members choose whether monk and nun can live in the same monastery, then you will need “three” monasteries, one for those living together, and two for those living separately! And then if other things are determined in the same way (other rules about contact between monks and nuns for example), then you might have further divisions within each monastery. At this point you will find that, perhaps, this is not really a community, but more like a commune, where people are living in the same place but do not necessarily have much in common. Perhaps that’s the idea?! :slight_smile:

Anyways there is actually much to learn from those who have already embarked on similar adventures, for there are some here and there, and they seem to be growing and appearing slowly, and gaining respect gradually. Same story of every new monastic tradition or group. Most of the time in history, this is built around an influential or famous persona which is experienced in both Teachings and practice, and endowed with the kind of social skills and leadership that would be required for establishing something like this and to sustain it successfully (maybe that’s gonna be you Ayya!) :slight_smile:

On the side: I sometimes think that an ideal monastic community is one where no one has the power to tell another what to do! But when I come to think of it; it’s impossible to have such community without something very similar to the Vinaya we already possess, that is, without having something to tell us all what kind of stuff not to do! Otherwise it becomes a mess! It is a mess!!

But I will say that, must always remain calm and soft inwardly, while attending to how things should otherwise be! There isn’t time! And these are mundane things.


Thank you Venerable! I second that.


should mention friend @Media in this thread!! :slight_smile: and here are some relevant threads from before:


Me too!!

I have mentioned somewhere earlier that I hope you will pool your resources and connections together and start alliances or organisations to support women wishing to go forth in respectful and independent monastic environments. In nearly every field there are organisations which offer various kinds of support to women empowerment, in arts, sports, even science, so forth - about time monasticism as well. :slight_smile:


Erm… I don’t quite understand. This is a thought experiment where we should ignore potential negative conequences of our imagined actions? :thinking:

Honestly, Venerable, I don’t know what you are talking about. I enjoyed this thread and the discussion immensely, at no point did I felt that someone, including me, was acting or saying something rude or inappropriate. I wish that more discussions on the SC would be like that, actually :grinning:


Sādhu! I hope you will write about it one day! :slight_smile:


@vimalanyani, @Cara
Nowadays the Mahayana nuns may have what the Theravada females nuns want .
They has same status ie equality with the monks . But , the teachings may not suit your thinkings though .

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Their pratimoksas have the same subjugation of women, and their communities have been discussing about it for a very long time, too.


That’s an interesting idea… who here would agree?

Have you been to Taiwan ? Maybe you can see that in terms of equality , status , freedom etc the leniency that of Taiwanese Mahayana nuns are far more than in Theravada tradition .

Probably not. (what’s with the passive-aggressive rhetoric?)


Thanks Ayya, this is mostly what I hear when I ask nuns (and some monks). It’s ok, I’ve gone through the pain now, had a taste, I’d be ready to join despite that. At the moment I just can’t find myself able to join and implicity endorse what is clearly set up to be a patriarchal structure, which as a result of that structure, harms women (and men).

We need to STOP thinking about this problem affecting ‘progressive (usually white) women’. When I was in Asia, when I could talk openly with women, they told me about how their oppression made them unhappy. Why should we believe it’s any different for them!
The thing that really broke my heart was when I was on work assignment at a very conservative Theravada monastery in Malaysia, cleaning out the library with an experienced laywoman who regularly visited this temple. On our way back, I went out on a limb and told her that what I saw happen to women in monasteries made me sad.
She said “We all feel that way. We’re all sad.
After that I have to leave.

The only benefit ‘progressive women’ have is the social status and wealth (thus independence) to speak out.

When in Thailand, people told me Sanghadisesa 6 was not kept because kutis were built outside the measurements. Obviously there’s other factors and conditions there which I can’t assess (was it fully sponsored), but it was said to happen often enough.


Thank you, Cara, for pointing this out so clearly. That’s my experience, too.
And it is not just a female problem. Quite a few men are very uncomfortable in that kind of system, too. It is harmful to all sides. We have been debating it over and over again. All arguments have been exchanged. But what actual consequences do these debates have?


You are exactly right! See, I couldn’t see that from my point of view at first, even though I know for a fact I have a male friend who feels hesitant to ordain because they don’t want to be in a patriarchal environment.

Look I really don’t know. My current plan is to focus on enlightenment. If I can be enlightened as a laywoman there’s still the dying within 7 days right? Seems like a plan :unamused:
The fact is that I feel most people are so blind to how deep and essential the patriarchal structure and worldview pervade our psyches and ‘religions’ that trying to argue about this in the public forum is like trying to light a match underwater.
I think inquiry is good for those of us who can persist. The two years of trying to understand were incredibly painful, but light has begun to shine through, not from answers outside, but from answers within!


I think Asian women can also be progressive. Did this Asian woman you talk about want to join the Sangha?

But let me give you an example here in the USA that happened just a few weeks ago: Three nuns, of which two western and one Burmese went to a temple to see a certain teacher from Burma. This teacher was known for his support of the nuns and had many Sayalays staying with him too. During the Dhamma talk he kept on stressing that women are less intelligent and inferior to men. The one western nun could not believe it. She looked around her but all the other nuns just sat there staring in front of them and nobody said a word. In the car back she asked the Burmese nun what she thought about it. She just said she had heard these things so many times, it did not affect her.

When I was in Burma, I have also heard the same story and many women that came to our monastery actually believed this is true i.e. women are inferior and less intelligent and as a nun you have to serve the monks and then you can get a rebirth as a man. Unfortunately it is a wide-spread belief but I also think that gender-perceptions in various Asian countries are slowly changing too.


No passive-aggressive rhetoric here. That’s only a very polite way to pose a question. If you or anyone could provide the answer, that’d be great.

I wonder how much higher incidences of the “vipassana romance” phenomenon would occur in a gender neutral sangha. Gil Fronsdal gently and humorously relates in this talk on Solitude (at 11 minutes in) how he fell in love with a woman at a meditation retreat just by watching her breathe and that they wound up dating for a couple years.

Recognizing gender fluidity is fine and all, but most people will still mostly fall into mostly male and female categories and most will be mostly attracted to people who have mostly characteristics of the opposite general sex category. And most will still have sexual desire, since that doesn’t get eliminated until one becomes a non-returner.

It seems to me that a genderless community might not be the most conducive to living a celibate life, no matter how progressive we are at labelling others. But I suppose that is an empirical question, so maybe we’ll need to set up a genderless community first to find out :sunglasses:


Your question makes incorrect and offensive assumptions and your post indeed sounded disrespectful to Ayya Vimalnyani.

Enlightened theris were going alone to the forest (against the current vinaya) and celebrating their freedom from the patriarchy too.

This did not start with us. We are continuing the voices of our foremothers before us

Sure. But what about the ones who don’t. Saying “Most people are like this, so we should force the minority into the same circumstances” is the same as saying “The minority is like this, so we should force the majority into the same circumstances”.
No one is saying everyone would have to follow a genderless vinaya if it did exist.
But for some people, it might be the most sensible option.


One reason there are fewer awakened nuns, perhaps, is because the Theravada monastic sangha has relied on an absurd vinaya literalism to kill off the Bhikkhuni order, and keep it killed off.


Yeah, in those cases, my understanding is that the current vinaya would have to be disregarded. There seems to be a rule in the vinaya stating that intersex ordinations are invalid, and, perhaps worse, that monastics are supposed to expel non-binary ordinands.

“A hermaphrodite, if unaccepted, is not to be given Acceptance. If accepted, he is to be expelled.”—Mv.I.68 Buddhist Monastic Code

I’m uncomfortable with the term “hermaphrodite” but it seems that this must be referring to intersex people. Also, those who lack the respective genitalia might be precluded by the vinaya as being eunuchs of some sort.

Going-forth. Even if they receive ordination, they do not count as ordained. Once the truth about them is discovered, they must immediately be expelled.

  1. The prohibition for abnormal gender covers pa°˜akas and hermaphrodites. According to the Commentary, there are five kinds of pa°˜akas, two of whom do not come under this prohibition: voyeurs and those whose sexual fever is allayed by performing fellatio. The three who do come under this prohibition are: castrated men (eunuchs), those born neuter, and half-time pa°˜akas (those with the sexual desires of a pa°˜aka during the dark fortnight, and none during the bright fortnight (?)). Buddhist Monastic Code

There is also a problem with people who require ongoing medical care, e.g. hormone treatments, becoming monastics, since they live off the generosity of lay people and are supposed to be content with urine for medicine.

So I’m not sure if these non-binary individuals could ever be considered as Theravadin monastics. An entirely different ordination lineage might need to be cooked up if one were to provide the possibility for them to live a monastic lifestyle. But anyway, you’d have to ask vinaya experts about this. I wouldn’t dare tag any bhikkhus on this forum to this issue though, since it would likely put them in an awkward position.