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.
Finally someone with some actual knowledge and experience on the topic!
Interesting point, I’m not sure quite how to take it into account.
I believe so. As was mentioned in passing earlier, there is a precedent for trans people to be accepted within the Sangha. This precedent stems from the canonical texts themselves, not mere commentaries.
Sure, of course there is no question of any ultimate sense of “better” or “worse”. Just remember that almost everything we discussed above is simply the opinions of certain teachers, and not from the Buddha.
There are of necessity certain practical limits on candidates for ordination. For example, candidates cannot ordain if they are in debt, or with certain illness, or wanted criminals. Most of these are reasonable and we can understand that they are for simple pragmatic reasons and do not imply a moral judgment on that person.
The problem with the treatment of the pandaka is that it is not clear what the practical point is. If we take the origin story as our guide, the real issue is toxic and extreme sex addiction. Perhaps it is what is today called hypersexuality:
Practically speaking, it is quite likely that someone suffering such a condition might seek out ordination in an effort to cure or control themselves. And obviously, it would be problematic to include such a person in the Sangha.
However, this would seem to apply to the first three kinds of pandaka only, and as we have seen they are not excluded from ordination. Which brings us back to the problem that the very idea of the pandaka seems incoherent and ultimately unkowable.
My own personal opinion, setting aside textual research for the moment, is that the concern for the pandaka in the Vinaya is a symptom of an anxiety about the blurring of lines, especially the lines separating the male and female Sanghas. As such it is an expression of a hetero-normative view, based on a lack of understanding of people who don’t fit into that category. Rather than addressing that lack with compassion and a desire to help those who have suffered as outsiders, the reaction is based on fear, on excluding anyone who might disturb the order of the community.
This is obviously problematic in a spiritual and ethical sense. But it is also a failure from a practical point of view. If the pragmatic aim is to safeguard the sexual fidelity of the celibate Sangha, then this doesn’t help, as there are gay, lesbian, and bi Sangha members. And anyway, even hetero monastics can find a way if they really want! The only thing that really works in the end is the integrity of the Sangha.
In modern times we have winessed certain attempts to make the Sangha more exclusive and discriminatory by expanding the category of the pandaka to include, for example, gay men. At the very least with some clear understanding of what the texts actually say we can avoid such unnecessary mistakes and ease the problem somewhat.
But there is a limit to what can be done with mere text-critical work. In the end, we all have to make our own judgment as to what is right and what is wrong.
We have to make a difference here between what the EBTs say and what the commentaries say. In the EBTs, the word Pandaka is not really defined. It is not sure what a Pandaka really is. And if you would want to ordain as a nun, I cannot see any objections to that.
Some years ago there was an article by Ajahn Bhram in the West Australian newspaper in response to a report that the Dalai Lama said that gay people cannot be ordained. In it, AB said he would have no problem ordaining gay people as long as they, like all monastics, observe celibacy. He was invited to an LGBT breakfast as a result. So compassion trumps the vinaya it seems. Sorry I don’t have a link or even a date.
Ajahn has been very supportive of same sex marriage and other GLBT issues. This was just a specific comment re vinaya, trans and ordination which I was thinking of. My memory might not be 100% though so don’t quote me on it
Bodies considered “abnormal” in X way generally are not allowed to ordain? Is this not a thing?
For instance, if your genitals are considered “normal”. If the size & proportions of your body are not considered “normal” (for instance, dwarfism), then you cannot ordain.
It seems ability to participate in ordination is based, in part, on (perceived) prettiness.
This has parallels in other dharmic religions. For instance, in Nepal, the “living goddesses” (kumari) have to have an immaculately beautiful appearance, clear skin, bright eyes, etc. There are more examples. In Tibet, in addition to having to pass tests, tulkus must be beautiful children ideally with specific bodily dimensions.
A Buddha also has to have very interesting bodily dimensions, described as beautiful despite their strangeness to modern audiences, to be called a Buddha, in many traditional Buddhisms.
…by explaining that, based on my personal experience, the condition of transsexuality is not a choice but is biological in its origin. This is a scientific fact. Hope that clears up your confusion. If not I am available for further discussion.
Humorous irony perhaps unintended. But I’ll take all the laughs I can find. Thanks
I really appreciate your appraisal, and would concur from a subjective perspective. Namaste, Friend
One can think of it as irony, but I actually think it’s something of a flaw in the way that many Buddhisms have been passed down: this focus on aesthetics and “normal bodies” in what otherwise is a tradition centered in mind. ‘Little people’ for instance are arbitrarily barred from some ordination in additions to those whose bodies are deemed irregular with regards to their genetalia. What about a ‘little person’ makes them a worse candidate than someone who is ‘regular’ sized? I see this as an intersecting web of issues, with treatment of trans* bodies as one facet of many.
AFAIK discrimination against disabled people, sick people and little people came about because they were deemed a burden on the Sangha’s resources. These people having extra healthcare requirements.
Obviously the does NOT apply to a trans person, unless they need to take expensive medications to manage hormones. Then it’s an exclusion, just like anyone with long term major existing medical/medication conditions. But as far as I can tell the Buddha ruled a trans person can ordain with the gender they identify with.
The kind of castration I was thinking of at that point was not a transsexual, but someone who had the twisted view that by cutting off their genitals they could be free of desire, or otherwise advance spiritually. This idea is still around; not long ago there was a guy on Quora going around insisting he was going to do this, and asking for advice. Maybe he was troll, but still.
As it happens, just this morning I wrote a summary of SN 21.6 on the “little person” Lakuṇḍaka Bhaddiya. Not only was he allowed to ordain, but the Buddha praised him as an arahant, and warned the monks against despising him on account of his appearance.
Once again we see perhaps an early/late divide in Buddhist literature. From the Mahavagga:
At that time the bhikkhus conferred the paddagga ordination on a person whose hands were cut off, on a person whose feet were cut off, whose hands and feet were cut off, whose ears were cut off, whose nose was cut off, whose ears and nose were cut off, whose thumbs were cut off, whose tendons were cut, who had hands like a snake’s hood, who was a hump-back, or a dwarf, or a person that had a goitre, that had been branded, that had been scourged, on a proclaimed robber, on a person that had elephantitis, that was afflicted with bad illness, that gave offense by any deformity to those who saw him, on a eye-eyed person, on a person with a crooked limb, on a lame person, on a person that was paralyzed on one side, on a cripple, on a person weak from age,
They told this to the Blessed One. 'Let no person, O Bhikkhus, whose hands are cut off [the list is reproduced] receive the pabbagga ordination. He who confers the pabbagga ordination on such persons is guilty of dukkhata offence.
The term for “dwarf” here (vāmana) is different than lakuṇṭaka, but I haven’t researched this problem.
Note, however, that this passage does not render such ordinations invalid. There are two forms of fault with ordination procedure:
In one kind of fault, for example if a candidate is under 20 years of age, they must not be ordained, and if they are, they are not properly ordained and must be expelled. This is spelled out clearly and explicitly in the text.
However, many faults, such as the ones in this example, say nothing of an invalid ordination, nor do they require expulsion. They merely say that a minor fault (dukkaṭa) is incurred (for the preceptor). There is no fault for the candidate, and they are still ordained.
For practical purposes, a preceptor may make a judgment call in such cases. For example ones’ parents’ permission is required, but this may be waived. Similarly, in cases of medical conditions, a preceptor can take into account medical practices and treatment and how this may have changed.
Given that the entire category of dukkaṭa offenses appears to be late, I concur that this passage is likely a late one.
It’s a subtle thing, perhaps. Something in my memory tells me about a story Buddha told, that a village has been killed off by invader tribe because these villagers were all fishermen in the past who killed a lot of fish. Something like that. Of course it does not mean that the kamma of villagers made the invaders attack, but the fact that they have died prematurely - does.
As for the discussed topic… As on genders, as far as I know even in Buddha’s times there were people who could be considered “transgender”. Yet, Buddha never mentions that as a separate issue, even in superimportant questions as organization of the Sangha. He specifically mentions only two. So yes, on one hand we can say that eastern communities of old times were more tolerant to people of various sex preferences and gender self-identifications, but on the other hand we have to notice that there was no need to invent additional genders or gradients of it. Contemporary multigenderism is a modern western cultural product, very in line with postmodernist philosophy, nothing more. There is no need whatsoever to adapt buddhist practice to this particular cultural product, as we can see two genders are just fine for every religious (buddhist) occasion, especially considering Sangha. You can be in Bhikkhusangha, or in Bhikkhunisangha (of course you have to fit one or the other, so when in doubt, choose and adapt ), and there’s really no point in creating a third (fourth, …), or mix them together.
Dear Friend, I know this is rather late, and I reread your comment without the burnout that accompanied my previous exchanges. But from an experiential perspective, I can not understand how you, from the third person perspective could possibly ‘prove’ this point. I happen to know from personal experience that, at least in my case, that there is nothing culturally or philosophically engendered regarding gender variation.
Gender as it relates to sexual morphism is deeply embedded in brain sex…that is the soup of chemicals from which sex and gender identity is produced. The waters are muddied by the fact that no one can determine nature or nurture of the identity it produces. For example you cannot identify the causes of you personality, and/or gendered sexuality…nor can I. But through a lifetime of driven introspection I can say what is not the cause: I had no knowledge of postmodernism when I became aware of my gendered conundrum at the ripe old age of 5 or 7 years.
So I ask with open heart and ears how you could possibly know the genesis of gender?
This is a fake quote. The Buddha said nothing like this. There are plenty of stories along such lines in the Buddhist traditions. They have been created by the traditions to illustrate their own doctrines of kammic determinism. The reason they invented their own stories, of course, is that there are none in the suttas.
Honorable Sir, allow me to display my ignorance. The dictionary defines Sadhu as “An ascetic or practitioner of yoga (yogi) who has given up pursuit of the first three Hindu goals of life: kama (enjoyment), artha (practical objectives) and even dharma (duty).”
Sadhu! is commonly used as an exclamation in the sense of “it is good”, “let us rejoice”, “well-done”, and the like. This is found in the suttas, and commonly in Theravadin lands today. Basically, when in doubt, say “Sadhu!”.
It’s also been used since the early days in the sense above, an ascetic or renunciate who lives a “good” life. We find this usage in the story of the Bodhisattva’s going-forth.
The former usage is more common in Buddhism; the latter, I believe, in Hinduism.