What is the 'legal' thing to do here (about transgender going forth)?

I think we also have to remember here that the Vinaya is not a law-book. It’s the guidelines for our practice. The Buddha always chose for the compassionate approach.


I’m sorry, I remembered wrongly, it is “sprinkled one” as a translation for asitta-pandaka from DW by Ajahn Dhammanando. I believe this translation renders “pandaka” as “one” which doesn’t help us here.



That gives me a chance to review the commentarial literature on this. Note that I am not very familiar with this literature, and must rely on the search at tipitaka.org.

In an earlier draft of this note, I made some mistakes, especially by saying the fivefold classification of pandakas was not found in the commentaries. It is, and I have corrected the following to account for this.

Let’s start with a look at the commentaries by Buddhaghosa. While they are not canonical or authoritative in the same sense as the Vinaya itself, they are very influential in Theravada countries. While the editor and compiler of the commentaries is Buddhaghosa, for the most part they record the ideas and opinions found in the older commentaries on which they are based.

Mahāvagga-aṭṭhakathā 1. Mahākhandhakaṃ

This seems to be the primary source of the most important passage on the pandaka, the fivefold categorization. Here I’m just going to translate the main passage as literally as I can, and summarize any other relevant material, without interpretation.

Paṇḍakobhikkhaveti ettha āsittapaṇḍako usūyapaṇḍako opakkamikapaṇḍako pakkhapaṇḍako napuṃsakapaṇḍakoti pañca paṇḍakā.
“Monk pandaka” means: In this context there are five pandakas: the “sprinkled pandaka”, the “jealous pandaka”, the “castrated pandaka”, the “periodical pandaka”, the “genderless pandaka”.
Tattha yassa paresaṃ aṅgajātaṃ mukhena gahetvā asucinā āsittassa pariḷāho vūpasammati, ayaṃ āsittapaṇḍako.
Therein, one whose passion is satiated by being sprinkled with semen after having taken the genitals of another in the mouth is a “sprinkled pandaka”.
Yassa paresaṃ ajjhācāraṃ passato usūyāya uppannāya pariḷāho vūpasammati, ayaṃ usūyapaṇḍako.
One whose passion is satiated by the arising of jealousy when seeing the transgression of others is a “jealous pandaka”. (Note: I translate according to the normal meaning of usūya, but here obviously “voyeur” is more idiomatic. )
Ekacco pana akusalavipākānubhāvena kāḷapakkhe paṇḍako hoti, juṇhapakkhe panassa pariḷāho vūpasammati, ayaṃ pakkhapaṇḍako.
And someone who due to the power of the ripening of unwholesome kamma is a pandaka on the waning lunar cycle, but whose passion is satiated in the waxing cycle should be known as a periodical pandaka.
Yassa upakkamena bījāni apanītāni, ayaṃ opakkamikapaṇḍako.
One whose testicles have been surgically removed is a castrated pandaka.
Yo pana paṭisandhiyaṃyeva abhāvako uppanno, ayaṃ napuṃsakapaṇḍakoti.
And one who at the time of rebirth manifested no gender is a “genderless pandaka”.
Tesu āsittapaṇḍakassa ca usūyapaṇḍakassa ca pabbajjā na vāritā, itaresaṃ tiṇṇaṃ vāritā.
Of these, the sprinkled pandaka and the jealous pandaka are not prevented from going forth, while the remaining three are.
Tesupi pakkhapaṇḍakassa yasmiṃ pakkhe paṇḍako hoti, tasmiṃyevassa pakkhe pabbajjā vāritāti kurundiyaṃ vuttaṃ.
It is said in the Kurundi commentary that the periodical pandaka is only prevented from going forth on the half of the lunar cycle when they are pandakas.
Yassa cettha pabbajjā vāritā, taṃ sandhāya idaṃ vuttaṃ – ‘‘anupasampanno na upasampādetabbo upasampanno nāsetabbo’’ti.
This was said (in the canonical passage on which this is commenting) in reference to those in this context whose going forth is prevented: “If they have no taken ordination they should not be ordained, and if they have ordained they should be expelled."

Note that the term I’m translating as “passion” here is pariḷaha, literally “fever”, which is an unusually strong term for lust, but one that is regularly used in this context.

Returning to the Mahākhandhakaṃ, there is one more passage of note:

Paṇḍakāti ussannakilesā avūpasantapariḷāhā napuṃsakā; te pariḷāhavegābhibhūtā yena kenaci saddhiṃ mittabhāvaṃ patthenti
"Pandaka" means: full of defilement, with unsated passion, genderless. They’re completely overwhelmed with passion no matter with whom they wish to befriend.

I’m not entirely sure what the “friend” thing here is about.

The description of the pandaka as “full of defilement, with unsated passion, genderless” occurs in a few other commentaries.

Pārājikakaṇḍa-aṭṭhakathā 2. Saṅghādisesakaṇḍaṃ

Mentions pandakas a number of times, but with little of substance. It mentions the idea of a “female pandaka”:

Itthipaṇḍakāti animittāva vuccati
"Female pandaka" means: they’re said to be completely without gentialia.

Majjhima Nikaya commentary on MN 22

In a discussion of those whose kamma is an obstruction, the pandaka is mentioned as one whose rebirth kamma is an obstacle due to the result of past kamma.


The five-fold categorization of pandakas clearly became the standard passage on the topic. It appears in four Vinaya subcommentaries (ṭīkā) and another text categorized as “other”. All of these must post-date Buddhaghosa’s work in the 5th century, but I can’t date them any more precisely than that. There are minor differences, but they are pretty similar.

A further explanation for the periodical pandaka is added in the Sīmavisodhanīpāṭha, that one may be a woman for the waning fortnight, a man for the waxing fortnight.

Regarding the periodical pandaka, the Sīmavisodhanīpāṭha notes a difference of opinion. If they ordain while not a pandaka, some say they must be expelled when they transform into pandakas; while others say that if they succeed in ending the defilements they may remain in robes.

Dvemātikāpāḷi Pārājikakaṇḍo

In addition to the sources quoted above, this is the only other relevant passage in the late literature on the pandaka I can find. This doesn’t have the same passage, but rather paraphrases it to the same effect, in the context of who is allowed to take full ordination.

Tesu āsittapaṇḍakañca usūyapaṇḍakañca ṭhapetvā opakkamikapaṇḍako napuṃsakapaṇḍako paṇḍakabhāvapakkhe ṭhito pakkhapaṇḍako ca idha adhippeto.
Of these, leaving aside the sprinkled pandaka and the jealous pandaka, what is referred to here is the castrated pandaka, the genderless pandaka, and the periodical pandaka so long as the period lasts.


So this little inquiry reveals a number of interesting details. Since these passage all occur in late literature, none of them are normative. They represent the opinions of certain teachers, no more.

  • Only two kinds of pandaka are absolutely prohibited from ordaining: the castrate and the one born genderless.
  • The sprinkled and the voyeur refer to behaviors, to habits, “vices” or “fetishes” if you will, rather than biological characteristics. Thus it makes sense that if they can change their behaviors they can ordain.
  • The periodical pandaka is clearly mythological.
  • As to the genderless one, the definition is quite explicit here. It would not include someone who had unusual gender characteristics, but only someone genuinely devoid of any genitals.
  • The castrated one refers to the removal of “seeds”, so this would not include a woman who had suffered female genital mutilation.

Further to these clear conclusions, let me make a few more interpretive reflections.

The definitions of the “sprinkled” and the “voyeur” are, of course, a little weird. But I think it would be reasonable to take these as referring to sexual fetishists in general.

The problem here is that the core sexual act discussed in the Vinaya centers on “normal” penetrative sex; other sexual acts don’t require expulsion. But for some fetishists, penetration is irrelevant or at least not central. So if someone enjoyed being strapped up and whipped, they could probably get away with it according to Vinaya.

We could take this as a precedent to cover such cases. If someone does enjoy some form of non-penetrative fetish, they need to give it up before ordination.

The definition of the castrate does not address the question of whether they have been castrated by their own choice, or by some outside force. The relevant term upakkamati is used in both senses.

It seems, however, that part of the idea of the pandaka is that such a state is a product of bad kamma; or at least, this is explicitly stated in the case of the periodical pandaka.

If this was taken to apply also to the castrate, it would mean the term only applied to those who have chosen to castrate themselves. Acts of violence by others, or medical conditions, have no necessary connection with past kamma.

It is not unheard of in ancient religions for men to deliberately castrate themselves as a spiritual deed, and indeed such a case is recorded in the Vinaya, and condemned by the Buddha: “You left what should have been cut off, and cut off what should have been left!”

Someone who was castrated for medical reasons, or through violence, would not count. So anyway, I don’t think the text is definitive, but it would not be unreasonable to restrict this to cases of deliberate self-castration.


It is unfortunate that certain acts seems to preclude groups of people. I would have rather preferred to keep the groups of people but ban the acts. :thinking:

With metta


Thank you all for the interesting discussion here! I would just like to share some thoughts that occur to me when reading this.

As the discussion shows, the way the Sangha has been established is clearly built on a binary view of gender. There is the Bhikkhu and the Bhikkhuni Sangha, and someone willing to ordain has to somehow fit into one or the other. This binary view is also reflected in the Buddha’s famous statement about his mission, namely to establish the fourfold community of disciples, both male and female monastics and lay practitioners. The idea that gender can be other than binary did simply not exist at the time, and didn’t indeed until very recently.

On the other hand it is also very central in the Buddha’s teaching that gender as such doesn’t matter much for the practise of the path, and even for those who are not interested to practise anything gender isn’t in any way fixed or permanent. Are we allowed to conclude from there that the binary way of setting up the Sangha is nothing else but a compromise to the way gender was perceived at the time? That this very fact of having a binary Sangha can be considered as one of the “minor rules” laid down by the Buddha that can be abandoned after his passing?

Today we live in a society where gender isn’t strictly binary any more. Maybe for large parts of the population it still is, but there are this kind of discussions now, and there are (and have always been) the people who just can’t fit into the binary system. What to do?

In order to do justice to this situation it would probably not be enough to establish a genderless vinaya as proposed by Ayya @vimalanyani in her thought experiment:

Let us just take the thought experiment one step further: Do we need a genderless Sangha and a genderless ordination ceremony? Maybe there is even a precedent for that in the EBTs: The “come, … [name]” ordination.

Sure, not many monastics (and laypeople) living in the world today would consider this as a valid ordiantion… but just dreaming! :rainbow: :blossom: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


If we are nothing but aggregates, what does anything matter? Lay, ordained, male, female?

I think it is important to clearly be in one (conventional) reality, otherwise a discrepancy will form with the rest of the world (ie lay supporters) and not many will ‘support’ this ‘Dhamma madness’ of these apparent monks and nuns.

When discussing matters of aggregates (sense bases and elements) just do that, in that ‘reality’. When discussing conventional matters, it is better to based in conventional conceptual ‘world’; but clearly understanding the interface of both ways of looking at phenomena. The most likely thing lay supporters from Sri Lanka will think is these monks (and nuns) are trying to live together, under a pretext of enlightened thinking…

This is not to say that the Vinaya should be made suitable for the 21st century onwards. Representations should be made, and interesting discussions should ensue.

with metta


Thank you everyone, for this very interesting discussion.
I find your perspective really interesting @sabbamitta . . . it stretches the mind.
Coming from the perspective of a Westerner who spends half her time in Asia, I have the blessing of seeing both sides, but the curse of being a little behind the perceptual curve.

Well, some of you do. But outside of liberal western enclaves most of the world has different and more traditional ideas of reality as far a gender is concerned. I was talking to a Burmese friend about gender re-assignment and she was horrified that people would (in her words) ‘torture themselves that way.’ Even more cosmopolitan and well-traveled Burmese friends think it’s exceedingly strange.

I am completely sympathetic, but think the situation as it is now (with only two genders) is complicated enough; the added burden of dispute and divisiveness posed by adding a genderless ordination would likely be exponentially larger.

The practice always brings me back around to kammasaka. There are some things I cannot have, and what I do have is a practice that helps me relate to that without falling into child-like self pity.
Fortunately, kamma is always fair.

I have been wondering about this, thinking of the people I know who have been castrated for medical reasons (cancers of one sort or another). I’m not following you, bhante, when you say:

But more often than not they do at least to some extent, right? Along with with causes and conditions. It’s impossible to determine what is what in that mix.

Textual ambiguity aside, I would hope compassion would prevail in the case of someone who had been castrated for medical reasons (there are plenty of men out there in that boat).


Well, this is not more of an issue than a gay man living in a male community, or a lesbian woman living among females. Only that one is more visible than the other.

As I said,

and as Ayya @Viranyani says,

I think this is very unlikely to happen any time soon… :grin:

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Probably I’d still like to add:

I once heard of a case of a gay man who was accepted for ordination in a monks’ community, but he felt so much more comfortable living in a nuns monastery. In the end he gave up the idea of ordination, because, hmm… they didn’t want to ordain him among the nuns. :wink:

The reason why thoughts as the one exposed here by me come up in the first place is because there will always be individuals who encounter sad experiences like this—who just can’t fit into the boxes.

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Correct. But coming back to those mundane supporters, today I had to be extra nice to some GPs as they hold the budget for all hospital medicine including psychiatry in UK. Paymasters are positive, in that they help manage the power imbalance, especially between monk and lay people. It’s in the name of checks and balances.

I think ‘reforms’ which involves the least amount of externally visible change but which still address the issue efficiently, are most likely to succeed.

Gay people would have entered the monkhood for thousands of years. As mentioned I think we could possibly separate acts of sex from gay people. However if their intentions are to deceive and enter into a same sex order, if they aren’t able to engage with celibacy, it possibly would not be the healthiest place for them or others.

A lot comes down to the intensions.

With metta

Well, the Buddha’s main concern was to sever the link between these things, a point he made on multiple occasions. Yes, medical conditions may sometimes be due to past karma, but we can’t say it’s “most” of the time. We just have no idea.

As for acts of violence, these are the present day deeds of the people committing them, and have nothing to do with past karma.


Most, I would say.

Now I’m confused. So I’m glad this has come up because I may have understood incorrectly. I thought such things were kammavipaka - taking as Mahamoggalana’s death as an example. Sorry, this is definitely off topic; if it’s a long answer, I can start another thread.

Umm, proud to be staying in Taiwan for the past year. We passed same-sex marriage laws before backwards countries like Australia. :rainbow:

Oh, and how many “liberal” western countries have an anarchist hacker transgender woman in their Chief Executive cabinet?

The notion of “traditional” really gets on my goat, I’m afraid. Most of Asia for thousands of years had a much more inclusive and less discriminatory attitude towards LGBTQI people than is found in many modern countries. The contemporary homophobia found in many places is largely a product of modernity, specifically the influence of Christianity and Islam.

From Wikipedia, on the history of homosexuality in India:

The Goa Inquisition once prosecuted the capital crime of sodomy in Portuguese India, but not lesbian activity.

The Mughal Empire combined a number of the preexisting Delhi Sultanate laws into the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri, mandating a common set of punishments for Zina (unlawful intercourse), these could include 50 lashes for a slave, 100 for a free infidel, or death by stoning for a Muslim.

The British Raj criminalised sexual activities “against the order of nature”, arguably including homosexual sexual activities, under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which entered into force in 1861.

That it was the British who outlawed homosexuality was supported by Attorney General G E Vahanwati in 2012:

It would appear that the introduction of Section 377 in India was not a reflection of existing Indian values and traditions. Rather, it was imposed upon Indian society due to the moral views of the colonizers.

I’m not very familiar with Chinese history, but following the links on Wikipedia it seems that the first prohibition against same-sex intercourse was in the reign of the Jiajing Emperor Zhu Houcong. Surely, he must have been a man dedicated to upholding of pristine and pure moral values, right?

The Jiajing Emperor prevailed and hundreds of his opponents were banished, flogged in the imperial court (廷杖), or executed. …

The Jiajing Emperor was also known to be a cruel and self-aggrandizing emperor …

The Jiajing Emperor’s ruthlessness and lecherous life also led to an internal plot by his concubines and palace maids to assassinate him in October, 1542 by strangling him while he slept. His pursuit of eternal life led him to believe that one of the elixirs of extending his life was to force virgin palace maids to collect menstrual blood for his consumption. These arduous tasks were performed non-stop even when the palace maids were taken ill and any unwilling participants were executed on the Emperor’s whim. … all of the palace maids involved [in the assassination attempt], including the emperor’s favorite concubine (Consort Duan) and another concubine (Consort Ning, née Wang), were ordered to be executed by slow slicing and their families were killed. …

The Jiajing Emperor was a devoted follower of Taoism and attempted to suppress Buddhism. …

the emperor moved out of the imperial palace, and lived with a 13-year-old teenage girl who was small and thin, and was able to satisfy his sexual appetite …

He would forcibly recruit young girls in their early teens and engaged in sexual activities in hopes of empowering himself …

When we speak of the Chinese “tradition” of opposition to LGBTQI rights, it’s important to know who it started with: a pedophile, a murderous monster who tried to suppress Buddhism.


This is a late commentarial story. There is no such idea in the EBTs.

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The Angulimala Sutta seems to straightforwardly suggest that assault can be the fruit of past kamma:

Then Ven. Angulimala, early in the morning, having put on his robes and carrying his outer robe & bowl, went into Savatthi for alms. Now at that time a clod thrown by one person hit Ven. Angulimala on the body, a stone thrown by another person hit him on the body, and a potsherd thrown by still another person hit him on the body. So Ven. Angulimala — his head broken open and dripping with blood, his bowl broken, and his outer robe ripped to shreds — went to the Blessed One. The Blessed One saw him coming from afar and on seeing him said to him: “Bear with it, brahman! Bear with it! The fruit of the kamma that would have burned you in hell for many years, many hundreds of years, many thousands of years, you are now experiencing in the here-&-now!” MN 86


Well, maybe, but this is also of dubious authenticity.

Perhaps we might say that the feelings he experienced were the result of past karma, but not that the actions of others were determined by his past karma. This simply contradicts everything we know about karma.

One of the classic passages on this is the list of causes of disease at AN 10.60 Girimananda, and in various forms in different places. There it lists illness due to violence (opakkamikā ābādhā) and illness born of past karma (kammavipākajā ābādhā) as two separate causes.


Yes, I also think it would be problematic to think that someone else’s past kamma could determine another’s actions. However, we could imagine that someone’s past kamma would put some kind of probabilistic constraint on them such that they would tend to find themselves in situations where the chances of something bad happening are higher than normal.

I wonder if the Girimananda Sutta and Sivaka Sutta put forward a kind of karma of the gaps theory, whereby the role karma could be said to play in human lives shrinks as knowledge of causality increases. This would of course be problematic, and would be pretty much a knock down argument against the existence of karma. These suttas seem to be, at least potentially, in conflict with other suttas such as the Culakammavibhanga Sutta and other suttas that mention how human qualities in the present life are the result of past kamma.


There are Buddhist who have taken refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha but do not agree to keep the five precepts - one of the Mahanama suttas. This includes the third precept of sexual misconduct. Then there are those lay Buddhists who have taken refuge and keep the precepts (‘virtuous lay buddhist’). These Buddhists aren’t celibate.

In a community of renunciates and celibates an obvious precondition is celibacy and renunciation. When the Buddha admonished a monk saying having sex was as bad as putting one’s penis in a cobra’s mouth, he seemed to have meant it for monks. It wasn’t meant to be a blanket statement for everyone. Unlike all other renunciate communities he left Buddhist Bhikkhus with many effective techniques to overcome sexual cravings to reduce it a great deal. If you want to have sex heterosexual or homosexual and be ordained I believe some Mahayana sects allows marriage which seems like the alternative way forward.

If I signed a contract and joined a company I would be expected to keep my conduct within boundaries. Otherwise there would be sexual harassment law suits and breach of professional conduct and be struck off the register for that professional body. These things are in place to safeguard those employees (and customers), and not just to place an unnecessary burden on employees by employers. These laws arose through necessity to make sure the task at hand is carried out without difficulty.

There maybe 2-300 rules, but if you don’t have any intention to violate them there might as well be none that is applicable, right?

With metta

Awesome discussion covering a broad range of deep knowledge of the Buddha’s doctrinal approach to sex and gender. Naturally I, as a post operative transsexual woman. fall right into the middle of this wide ranging discussion that serves to confuse and enlighten me, as I read these erudite comments, and wonder:

This ‘strangeness’ to which you refer is based on the causes and condition of ignorance which affect us all. Gender, and sexual preference are now and always have been a continuum and a condition of human relations whether we accept it or find it strange.

Or another reality-my reality is created by an ‘inner force’ not completely understood in Buddha’s time called Biology

So…a pandaka like me who had their genitalia removed and recreated using the same flesh- a trans Pandaka so to speak would still be allowed to be ordained?

And last, if aggregation is a supreme principle related to dependent origination [pardon me if I speak out of ignorance] then how is one aggregate superior to another. Humbly asked without prior knowledge. Thank you for an excellent discussion.