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December 12th, 2006

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01:16 pm - Buddha and Sexism

Was the Lord Buddha a sexist?

Yeah, it's the burning question. I'm glad to have found a monk (a Theravadan monk, no less) who was able to combat the charges of sexism that surround Buddha thanks to that scene in the Tripitaka where he first doesn't want to ordain women, and then he lays the "Eight Heavy Duties" on nuns after Ananda convinces him to allow nuns.

I can't tell you how long I've choked on the idiots who line up to defend Buddha by saying "Oh, he clearly just knew that the social norms of his times would put women in danger if he allowed them to enter the religious life; he was just watching out for women" and all that GARBAGE. The reason why this defense doesn't work is because we're talking about the man who was supposedly "fully enlightened", and more than able to see through _every_ single other "social norm" of his times, and who was known for acting outside of them.

But the great Bhikkhu has finally cut to the chase. Read this and weep, you sexist pigs out there!

Was the Lord Buddha a sexist?
By METTANANDO BHIKKHU, Bangkok Post, May 9, 2006

This question is not intended as a blasphemy against the Lord Buddha or his teachings, but it is pertinent to the survival and progress of Buddhism in the modern world.

Determining the Lord Buddha's attitude towards women is directly related to the very nature of Buddhism itself, and whether or not Buddhism supports the human rights movement for equality and democracy. In answering this question, one can always argue that there is no way to verify the answer, since the Lord Buddha has long since passed away into Nirvana. However, passages in the Tripitaka, which is the largest body of religious teaching in the world, serve as a good reference in our quest.

In order to find out whether or not the Buddha discriminated against women, the Tripitaka is the only appropriate historical source for reference. Nevertheless, the method is not simple.

The interpretation of Buddhist texts depends largely on the method employed in the reading, i.e., taking the words literally as many traditionalist Buddhists do, or using a more holistic approach to understanding, as many modern scholars do.

The latter also requires critical analysis and the art of reading between the lines. Like most religious texts handed down from antiquity, the Tripitaka offers conflicting information regarding the status of women.

One of the key references that strongly discriminates against women is the legend of the origin of the nuns (bhikkhuni), in which the Buddha showed his strong disapproval of women's ordination as requested by Prajapati Gautami, his aunt and stepmother. Ananda, the Buddha's close attendant stepped in and negotiated on her behalf. As a result, the Buddha laid down a set of special rules, or the so-called Eight Heavy Duties (Garudhammas) that established the conditions for women's ordination, and nuns were required to strictly adhere to them for the rest of their lives.

The Eight Heavy Duties are:

1. A nun, even if she has been ordained for 100 years, must respect, greet and bow in reverence to the feet of a monk, even if he has just been ordained that day. (Monks pay respect to each other according to their seniority, or the number of years they have been ordained.)

2. A nun is not to stay in a residence where there is no monk. (A monk may take an independent residence.)

3. A nun is to look forward to two duties: asking for the fortnightly Uposatha (meeting day), and receiving instructions by a monk every fortnight. (Monks do not depend on nuns for this obligatory rite, nor are they required to receive any instruction.)

4. A nun who has completed her rains-retreat must offer herself for instruction to both the community of monks and to the community of nuns, based on what is seen, what is heard and what is doubted. (Monks only offer themselves to the community of monks.)

5. A nun who is put on probation for violating a monastic rule of Sanghadisesa must serve a 15-day minimum probation, with reinstatement requiring approval from both the monk and nun communities. (The minimum for monks is a five-day probation with no approval by the nuns required for reinstatement.)

6. A woman must be ordained by both monks and nuns and may be ordained only after a two-year postulancy, or training in six precepts. (Men have no mandatory postulancy and their ordination is performed by monks only.)

7. A nun may not reprimand a monk. (A monk may reprimand a monk, and any monk may reprimand a nun.)

8. From today onwards, no nun shall ever teach a monk. However, monks may teach nuns. (There are no restrictions on whom a monk may teach.)

The legend recalls that, after memorising the Eight Heavy Duties, the Lord Buddha's disciple Ananda returned to inform Prajapati the aunt, of the Buddha's words. She accepted all eight rules without reservation. Delighted, she said:

''I accept all the Eight Heavy Duties, and shall abide by them without fail throughout my life, like a young girl or boy who enjoys her beauty, having bathed and shampooed, accepts a garland of jasmine or lilac, accepts it with her hands and puts it on her head.''

Apart from these discriminatory regulations against women, the Buddha further prophesised that because of the women's ordination the core teaching of his religion would be cut short from 1,000 to 500 years. This is stated in the following passage in Tripitaka:

At that time, the Venerable Ananda went to see the Lord. Having sat at one side, he said to the Lord, ''Lord, Mahaprajapati Gautami has accepted the Eight Heavy Duties. The aunt of the Lord has now been ordained.'' The Lord said to Ananda, ''Ananda, if women had not renounced their household lives and ordained in the religion of the Tathagata, the holy life would have lasted long, the core teaching of Buddhism would have remained for a thousand years. Because the ordination of women has occurred in this religion of the Tathagata, the holy life will not last long; the True Dharma will last for only 500 years. Ananda, in whatever religion women are ordained, that religion will not last long. As families that have more women than men are easily destroyed by robbers, as a plentiful rice-field once infested by rice worms will not long remain, as a sugarcane field invaded by red rust will not long remain, even so the True Dharma will not last long. Ananda, as a man builds a large surrounding dike to prevent the flow of water, I prescribe the Eight Heavy Duties for the nuns to adhere to for the rest of their lives without fail. (Vin. II, 256)

Of course, Buddhists who are traditionally trained take for granted that the passage above is an actual quotation from the Buddha. Therefore, they take it to mean that women are inferior to men, and they are cause of destruction of the religion.

If this is true, then there is only one conclusion: the Buddha was a sexist. However, the word ''sexist'' is too strong for most Buddhists. No traditional Buddhist would want to acknowledge the Buddha's prejudice. Instead, they usually stand up to defend the message of the Eight Heavy Duties, claiming, ''This is the way things are. This is the Dharma of the Universe, and there is nothing we can do but accept them [the Heavy Duties] as they are authentic messages of the Buddha.''

This fundamentalist interpretation has isolated Buddhists from the belief in democracy based on human rights and gender equality. Buddhism has become a tool used to marginalise half of the world's population. Educated people often turn away from Buddhism in repugnance since they see the religion as a part of the problem rather a solution for social progress.

However, another way of answering the question is through a critical reading of the Tripitaka. This is the methodology of modern scholars. It clearly shows a different picture of the Buddha's attitude towards women. According to other parts of the Tripitaka, the Eight Heavy Duties are against the Buddha's principles of compassion and the nature of humanity. According to the Buddha's version of the Genesis, male and female characters emerged as a result of continuous decay of the physical world, i.e., they do not belong to the true nature of what we are. Since gender is only the external appearance of our true nature, both men and women are enabled with an equal ability to attain the highest enlightenment.

Moreover, when this particular part of the Tripitaka _ the legend of the origin of the order of nuns and the Eight Heavy Duties _ is compared to other parts of the Tripitaka, there are many discrepancies and contradictions. For example, in the Books of Theragatha and Therigatha (psalms composed by enlightened monks and nuns) we see a situation in which a monk became enlightened by the teachings of a nun who, as a result, was respected as his mother. This contradicts the last rule of the Eight Heavy Duties, which prohibits a nun from teaching a monk.

Also, the phrase ''from today onwards'' suggests that there had been nuns who were previously teaching monks, and the rule was issued to stop the activity in the name of the Buddha. This is also supported by the metaphor of the ''dike'' used in a later part of the story. This part of the story tells of a dike that was built to quarantine rice and sugarcane fields in India once a farmer saw the fields being infested by rice worm or red dust. The dike had to be built as soon as the farmer spotted the pests, but not earlier than that. The use of the metaphor is against the logic of the condition that the rules were set before the community of nuns was formed. Rather, these eight rules were post-dated some time after the foundation of the order of nuns. These small hinges suggest that the legend of the Eight Heavy Duties were interpolated in the Tripitaka as a part of the Buddha's teaching. It seems, then, that the Duties were the work of a younger generation of monks who had negative attitudes towards women.

Elsewhere in the Tripitaka, we see no evidence of nuns acting as a cause of decay to Buddhism. On the contrary, several sutras, dated before the passing of the Buddha, never describe a visit of a king to a monk in order to learn the Dharma. However, three references in the Tripitaka mention visits of a king to see a nun while the Buddha was alive. In one episode, King Pasenadi of Kosala praised the teaching ability of nun Khema in front of the Buddha; he claimed that her teaching was as good as the Lord's himself!

Also, in the Books of Theragatha and Therigatha, we see that Buddhist nuns were more active than monks in the promotion of the Dharma. While monks tended to enjoy living a solitary life rather than living in a community, the nuns had stronger community ties where they were very much engaged in teaching and learning. One passage even describes a nun who professed boldly to the public, come and listen to my teaching! Such evangelical expression is not described in regard to any monk in the Tripitaka. The Book of Therigatha was the first religious literature in the world known ever known to be composed by women. It shows the period at the earliest history of Buddhism when women enjoyed equal rights with their male counterparts.

These small pieces of evidence scattered in the Tripitaka confirm that the original teaching of the Buddha did not favour men over women. Unfortunately, however, elements of sexism found their way into the Buddhist community soon after the passing away of the Lord Buddha in order to reinforce men's superior status over women. The Eight Heavy Duties, as formatted in the legend of the origin of the order of nuns, became a social tool to gain control over the nuns, many of whom were outstanding teachers and successful enough to enlighten some monks.

The rules were not just a part of the Buddhist canon, but were enforced in the nuns' community through repetition and affirmation every fortnight. The period of suppression of the nuns is suspected to have lasted a few generations before the nuns' order finally disappeared from India. It was not long before Buddhism disappeared also. This hypothesis is substantiated when Buddhism is compared to the Jainism, or the sister religion of Buddhism, founded by Mahavira, a contemporary spiritual leader of the Buddha.

Like Buddhism, Jainism was seen as heterodox by the Hindus and later by the Muslims. The Buddhist community and Jain community share the same structure, being composed of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen; Buddhists worship statue of the Buddha, whereas Jains worship the statue of Mahavira.

While Buddhism disappeared from India, Jainism did not. Many historians blame the extinction of Buddhism in its own motherland to the Muslim oppression, but this theory cannot explain why Jainism was not also destroyed since the two religions held the same position for Muslims. The significant difference lies in the treatment of the nuns: in Jainism, the nuns were not discriminated against as in Buddhism. Even now, nuns in Jainism enjoy their liberty in teaching equal to their male fellows. There are no such rules as the Eight Heavy Duties in the teaching of Mahavira.

In this light of analysis, the evidence points to the fact that sexism in the Buddhist community was responsible for the destruction and extinction of the Buddhist religion from its own motherland. It was the result of the karma committed by sexist monks of later generations soon after the passing away of the Buddha.

Sexual discrimination or sexism was not at all a part of the original teaching of the Buddha, who excluded no one. The Lord Buddha, we may conclude, was not a sexist.

Sadly, the karma of sexism is still healthy and strong today in most Buddhist countries, such as Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Only some communities in Sri Lanka ordain women.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, ordination of women is illegal. The Ecclesiastical Council of Thailand, for example, announced publicly that any monk who supports the ordination of women will be subject to severe punishment.

Nevertheless, in the Theravada tradition as a whole, the Eight Heavy Duties are followed faithfully as authentic words of the Lord Buddha.

In Theravada countries, Buddhist religion has never been in support of human rights and social justice. As long as there is no reformation of the religious education system in Buddhism and the Tripitaka, the religion will remain the biggest obstacle for the development of democracy and social justice in these countries.

Mettanando Bhikkhu is a Thai Buddhist monk and a former physician. He studied at Chulalongkorn University, Oxford and Harvard, and received a PhD from Hamburg. He is special adviser on Buddhist affairs to the secretary-general of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.

(52 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:December 12th, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC)
While it's a good read and a very good message, what exactly is accomplished by trying to use it as an attack against people who might not agree with your views?
[User Picture]
Date:December 12th, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC)

People who have sexist views deserve no respect for their views, nor protection for them. If they get attacked for their views, that's what they get, and they deserve no less. In fact, I believe that people who hold sexist views should have their views attacked, at every possible opportunity, by people who have right views.

People who know the truth of equality have a duty to attack wrong views whenever and wherever they find them. To do any less would be to not only prolong suffering, but to encourage it through inaction.

So this isn't a case of those poor folks who "may not agree with my views". My "views" as you call them, regarding sexuality, are not just my opinions- they are facts.

Men and Women are spiritually, mentally, and in every way ontologically "equals" to one another. This is not merely my "view". It's a statement of reality.

People who disagree are disagreeing out of sheer ignorance, or to maintain more pernicious agendas and positions for other reasons. They deserve to be shot down at every opportunity for the reasons I listed above. And no one, I think, has the right to "disagree" with the idea that men and women are equal.

Every person is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. The fact is that men and women are equals, and those who fight for the right to disagree are personally, directly responsible for helping to maintain the mindset that has caused all the tragic and horrendous things that have ever happened to women in patriarchal and post-patriarchal societies.

Date:December 12th, 2006 08:08 pm (UTC)
All people deserve respect, regardless of their views. No one who isn't enlightened can claim to be a holder of The Truth, and therefore no one, regardless of how righteous they consider themselves to be, has the right to attack someone else based on their beliefs.

Besides, it's not at all productive to be confrontational with people if you're trying to educate them. It's just going to cause them to get defensive and cling to their own beliefs all the more strongly. You're damaging your own cause by the methods you choose to try and further it with. If your position is backed up by observable fact, then you shouldn't need to use force to get your point across.

I think it's safe to say that the Buddha's ideas were different and at odds with the prevalent beliefs of the times. But did he resort to attacking people to force them to accept his ideas?
[User Picture]
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC)

I never said that people didn't deserve respect. I said that wrong views didn't deserve respect.

Quoth me:

People who have sexist views deserve no respect for their views, nor protection for them.

You then said:

"Besides, it's not at all productive to be confrontational with people if you're trying to educate them."

I'm not trying to educate people.
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:38 pm (UTC)
If you respect people that hold wrong views so much, why aren't you trying to educate them and help them out? If their views are wrong, then they'll reap negative consequences as a result of them. The compassionate thing to do would be to help bring them to hold right views so that they can be spared any further bad kamma.
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Date:December 12th, 2006 08:38 pm (UTC)
You know, I never in a million years thought I'd find myself defending owl_clan, but it's at this point that I feel compelled to.

Owlie made no personal attacks on anyone in this post. She (sorry, still not sure) made no mention of names, nor any allusions to specific examples. I don't see any attack; I see a response, and a passionate one, but not a personal one. It's an agenda, not a vendetta.

I once spoke with a friend who traveled to Burma to help with the Peace Corps, or something to that effect. He was with a team of professionals who were attempting to get through to some of the local monasteries there, asking for the monks' help in educating the laymen about the dangers of AIDS. You see, in those regions, the laymen believe that when they've committed sins, they can perform equally good acts to "atone" for them. So -- if you've done drugs, or had sex with a prostitute, why not give a pint of blood to make up for it? BAD IDEA, right? Well, the monks were stolid. They were passive. They were reticent to interfere with these peoples' lives, simply because they thought their behaviors were their own, and not their responsibility.

When, for skies sake, does our hermitage stop, and our want to try to help each other begin? We can do so without conflict, and we should. We have a responsibility to teach and to help. Not just sit and be quiet and watch the world explode on its own!
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:52 pm (UTC)
'Read this and weep, you sexist pigs out there!'

I agree entirely that we should try to help each other. That's why I took issue with the way she presented this article.
[User Picture]
Date:December 12th, 2006 07:54 pm (UTC)
A truly excellent post. It always irked me how an enlightened being such as the Buddha could make petty distinctions between men and women when clearly this body is nothing more than a temporary shell containing the karma from uncountable incarnations, both male and female. It just didn't make any sense. Good to see this rather troubling piece of Buddhist lore finally discounted.
Thanks. I will sleep soundly tonight. :P
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Date:December 12th, 2006 08:14 pm (UTC)
I got the impression the author was saying the Buddha hadn't professed all that business about women being the banality of the Dharma, rather, that sexist monks after the Buddha imposed that text themselves. It was a little confusing, tho'.

Either way, I keep running into this. I'll be going along, just fine in whatever area, be it Physics with Calculus at school, Buddhism here, politics anywhere... and then someone'll say, "Oh but you can't do that as well as I, a male, can by virtue of your being a female." It's very surprising, that my femaleness is the root of all my problems in whatever subject area. All I can wonder is what, exactly, is the root of all the male's problems in their subject areas, if maleness is superior to femaleness.

Either way it's a little relieving to read things like this, after being constantly bombarded by sexism, however subtle or candid.
[User Picture]
Date:December 13th, 2006 05:00 am (UTC)
Be careful you are not generalizing. I know you do not mean to, but men and women are built differently, physically speaking. Owl addresses their social/mental inequalities in some Buddhist societies, but there are certain physical differences. If a female friend of mine keeps working out her legs, she'll surely be able to push more weight than I can. Likewise, If I was to max out my body, i could likely curl more than she could. There are, of course, extremes on both sides, but to say men and women are perfectly alike would be an obvious generality.

I know that's not what you are saying, Just wanted to insert it for posterity.
[User Picture]
Date:December 13th, 2006 05:35 am (UTC)

The fact that our muscles are different or develop differently doesn't make us unequal on some ontological level.
[User Picture]
Date:December 13th, 2006 05:58 am (UTC)
Of course, but the natural differences that occur between the sexes are, as far as I have researched, practically negligle in the modern world in which we live. The socially constructed differences, on the other hand, are a completely different matter.

But yes, as owl_clan said, this has little effect on the metaphysical development of the individual. Physicality means next to nothing-- it's like saying males are better at penetration because of their physique and therefore should be considered different than females. I don't think this is what you were saying, however, you were merely pointing out that males and females are not indentical in every way, right?
[User Picture]
Date:December 12th, 2006 07:55 pm (UTC)


Interesting and a good examination of the Tripitaka. I do not have any answers as to this question, but this scene from the Lotus Sutra adds an interesting bit to this discussion.


This isn't the best translation, but it's what I could find on short notice. Anyway, the Buddha states that a Dragon's Daughter, a woman, will achieve enlightenment in her current lifetime. When those in attendance make it clear that they do not believe him, he calls the girl from her father's home. Once there, she shows them that she can, indeed, achieve enlightment by doing so, right in front of them. The passage states:

"At this time, the Dragon King's daughter proceeded to offer the most precious jewel in the universe to Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha saw the sincerity of the faith of the daughter of the Dragon King and accepted it.

The Dragon King's daughter stated, "Sharihotsu, Chishaku . . . did you see that Shakyamuni Buddha received the jewel I offered to him which signifies proof of my having attained enlightenment?"

Instantly she was mystically changed into the form of a man and flew up into the heavens. She appeared in a world to the south called the "Land without Impurities" sat on top of a lotus flower, and was endowed with the thirty-two features and eighty characteristics of a

The Lotus Sutra is one of the major writings of the Mahayana Tradition. Many tout this chapter as meaning that women can achieve enlightenment without being reborn as men. However, if you really read it, that's not true. While the Dragon's Daughter can become enlightened, she must "gain a male body" before doing so. Some argue that this means a "gender nuetral body", but...well, there are ways to say "without gender" when you need to say it. As a woman, I've decided that the defense you see put forth by many Buddhist practioners is a sign of change. There seems to be a real desire for change and acceptance of women among Buddhist and that's more important to today's practioners than ancient texts that may or may not have actually come from the Buddha.
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful article. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and found that it expressed a more direct and honest approach to dealing with these issues than many writings addressing the same topic. Mettanando Bhikkhu may be exactly right, that the sexist material in the Tripitaka was not originally taught by the Buddha.

But I am not fully comfortable with simply taking what is dislikable in the teachings and deciding it is inauthentic. The main reason in this instance is that I think that this problem of Shakyamuni's potential sexism points to an important underlying issue that also reflects on modern-day teachers and students' relationships to them. This is that I think it is possible to be wise, even enlightened, and still to have flaws in one's personal behavior and understanding.

The way I see it, when a human being comes into wisdom, the clear light of that wisdom must be translated through the knot of factors that makes up that person, and inevitably, there will be some distortions in the process, some karmic particles that come into the mix. I thoroughly disagree that any living being in this world (not counting spiritual beings of whose nature I am uncertain) can in any way escape the tugs and pulls of karma and the nature of worldly existence, no matter how they live or what they realize; they can only learn to see it for what it is.

Sexism has been a wrong view and wrong practice among many human cultures for a long time; that it would have influenced the Buddha does not shock me or seem unlikely. If one considers too the Buddha's own past experiences and the language he used to describe sex, the body, and other worldly things, it seems quite possible he had some hang-ups or bitter feelings about certain realms of human experience. Of course, as Mettanando suggests, it is also possible this was not the case.

But I think it's important to consider that even the most remarkable teachers can be remarkably flawed beings. One of the most influential Zen Buddhist teachers in America, Maezumi Roshi, had all sorts of personal flaws and issues that were quite well noted and documented; he basically drank himself to death, as did another remarkable and influential teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. We can take the easy road out and simply dismiss teachers with larger-than-life flaws, but it seems to me the reality is not so straightforward. And I think it may have been the same way with Shakyamuni.
[User Picture]
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:27 pm (UTC)

This is that I think it is possible to be wise, even enlightened, and still to have flaws in one's personal behavior and understanding.

hmmm.... I'm sure you know that many Buddhists and Hindus would disagree here... as well as most other half-involved folks...
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:46 pm (UTC)
I know, and I am far from having come to a full understanding of this matter. All I know is that I've been around many wise people, even many potentially enlightened ones (mainly Zen teachers), and not a one of them didn't also exhibit various quirks on a spectrum of 'naughty.' This used to trouble me, but not so much any more, and it just strikes me as part of the nature of this world that we live in, that Wisdom has its own strange way of revealing itself, and that one doesn't have to have passed some spiritual 'purity test' to be able to realize or express it. That said, I do think there is much to the motif in folktales of certain gates or places only admitting those who are 'pure of heart'; I think there is a certain requirement, that has to do with courage and sincerity. But having a heroic bent of heart and mind does not necessarily exclude falling into error; the most brave and sincere people can fall into various errors. Wisdom coexists with all else that mysteriously comes and goes in this world; that is its nature. I experience this in myself, as even on the heels of a powerful experience of heart-opening and understanding, I can still find some of the most petty thoughts wandering back through my mind. There's that quote, that I think is from Hakuin, that there are no enlightened individuals, only enlightened actions. Understanding this has helped me come to peace with a lot of experiences I've had, with others and in myself. The moon of enlightenment shines no less clearly when clouds pass in front of it; I think we all have our 'clouds,' some being more wispy than others. Maybe the Buddha had some clouds in the shapes of women? Or maybe there truly are some who can chase all clouds away for good? I don't know.
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:54 pm (UTC)
Just did some Googling, and the quote is from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (though he could have, of course, also been paraphrasing another teacher):

"Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people; there is only enlightened activity."
[User Picture]
Date:December 12th, 2006 10:50 pm (UTC)
Can we be sure that everything that is attributed to the Buddha was actually uttered by him? Doubtful. Can we know for certain that the apparently sexist rules you cite were not overlaid later by the persons who wrote down the dharma, deliberately or by misinformation or by happenstance? I don't think we can be 100% certain.

The Buddha lived in a very different time than ours. Even if these "quotes" or attributions are in fact correct, the Buddha lived in his time, while we live in this one with a very different set of viewpoints than existed then.

I am not detered that there is truth in the core if not the whole of the dharma. Suffering exists; we extend and create suffering with poor understanding and unskillful action; there is an end to suffering.
[User Picture]
Date:December 13th, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC)
A disclaimer here: the point of view I'm about to espouse is a specifically Zen perspective, and may not be too agreeable to followers of other schools of Buddhism.

Anyway, that said: I think this is a good example of why it's a bad idea to rely too heavily on scripture. Like the scriptures of most religions, the Buddhist scriptures were written down much after the fact -- actually, long after Shakyamuni Buddha himself had died. We don't know all the details of how they were composed or who wrote them down. Tradition says that they came right out of Ananda's memory, but that's hardly a historical fact.

We also should remember that these writings were composed in a time and culture where it was commonplace for authors to inject lots of supernatural stuff -- magic, spirits, gods, reincarnation stories, etc. -- to spice up the story a bit, or to metaphorically illustrate points of importance. For example, the story of the Buddha's early life is told in extremely similar detail to those of other Indian religious leaders. Some of the miraculous instances of the story (such as the version where he's born from his mother's side and walks seven steps with lotuses blooming from his footprints) are pretty typical in these stories. The Mahayana sutras were composed a few centuries after the Buddha and are rife with this kind of stuff.

We need only look to see loads of contradictions in the sutras also. For example, on everybody's favorite topic (vegetarianism), Buddha seems to permit meat-eating in the early Vinaya, but then expressly forbids it in the Lankavatara Sutra. Well, for Theravadans there's no problem, but for us Mahayanists there sure is. This is only one of many examples.

Here's the point I've been getting to: there's a lot of good stuff in the sutras, and a lot of useful instruction on Buddhist practice. But to take them as literal, historical truth would be a mistake, and put us in the same boat as the people who want to teach the Bible in science classes. In fact, the later sutras (rather, the Mahayana sutras) are works of fiction by our modern way of thinking -- but that doesn't mean they're not useful or that they don't teach true Dharma. It's important to remember, though, that they do not necessarily record the exact words of the Buddha, and that they may have changed over time.

What's even more important to us, as Buddhist practicioners, is the living lineage of the Buddha's teaching. There are teachers around, right now, who have come to the same realization as the Buddha, and can teach it. We know this because the lineage has been authenticated for 2500 years. If we meditate and practice with an authentic teacher, we can get personalized, one-on-one instruction that's just as true as any sutra and even more relevant to us. The Dharma isn't words on a paper, or even words at all; it's a direct pointing to the true nature of mind. Reading a book can't show us this; only someone else who's seen that true nature can show it to us.

Therefore (at last!) I think it's important, when we find something in the sutras that doesn't ring true with us, to look into our own practice and see what comes up.
[User Picture]
Date:December 14th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC)
I read a perfect buddhist sutra drawn
In the mud and it was truly beautiful.
But then it rained and now its gone.
All I have left is a delightful memory.
Date:December 15th, 2006 12:57 pm (UTC)

Women and Men are Different!!!

Part 1

[quote]Ven METTANANDO BHIKKHU writes - "The significant difference lies in the treatment of the nuns: in Jainism, the nuns were not discriminated against as in Buddhism. Even now, nuns in Jainism enjoy their liberty in teaching equal to their male fellows. There are no such rules as the Eight Heavy Duties in the teaching of Mahavira.

In this light of analysis, the evidence points to the fact that sexism in the Buddhist community was responsible for the destruction and extinction of the Buddhist religion from its own motherland. It was the result of the karma committed by sexist monks of later generations soon after the passing away of the Buddha.

Sexual discrimination or sexism was not at all a part of the original teaching of the Buddha"[/quote]

Unfortunately the Venerable Mettanando is incorrect regarding his analysis of Jainism. The treatment of women is yet another example of the common origin of both Jainism and Buddhism, both being inheritors of the Parshvanath Sramanic tradition [something of which many Buddhists are unaware, but which many Jains are]. That he should suggest that Buddhism became extinct in India due to later 'sexist karma' and 'sexist' textual interpolation is not only a modern prejudice but quite unwarrented and an overreaction to say the least.

Digambara Jains believe that a woman must be born male before they can attain liberation [a more Vedic Hindu approach], and though Svetambara Jains are more egalitarian regarding the sexes [more in line with Buddhism], yet they retain similar 'heavy rules' regarding nuns, due to the common belief that womans nature is more 'wayward' - a belief not only held in early India, but within many other cultures throughout the world.

Even many Native American cultures [often regarded as the measure of all egalitarian nature societies] regarded women as aggressively survivalist as opposed to the nurturing nature of the male, a position that the modern west has turned on it head due to modern feminism. If we should just note the behaviour of modern western females, when treated the same as males [due to modern 'anti-sexist' perceptions], a propensity to be 'wayward' amongst females, does seem to be manifesting itself in a rather sinister way.

Of course Im sure many an argument regarding waywardness could similarly be made against men, as it so blatantly and acceptably is these days, socialy and in the media, in a very anti-male way, by post-feminist females who are now no less 'sexist', than the 'sexist' men that they themselves deplore, but many social scientists are now becoming very concerned by the behaviour of modern post-feminist females.

Many of the 'heavy rules' for Buddhist nuns are a simple safeguard against any sexual temptation for both males or females, and thus only sensible within traditions such as Jainism and Buddhism, that are both 'ascetic' and would encourage the medicant to avoid sensual compulsion.

[part two below]

Date:December 15th, 2006 01:00 pm (UTC)

Re: Women and Men are Different!!!

Part Two

As for the 'apparent submission' of females to males, such a rule would obviously stick in the craw of any 'liberated' male [especialy men, afraid of being accused of 'sexism'] or female raised in a 'post-feminist' western society. Yet modern science, if we like it or not, has increasingly shown that men and women are not equal, and exhibit very different traits, which are not just environmental [believed to be the core of those differences in the 1960's], but very natural to the sexes, and it would seem that the majority of human cultures over the last 100,000 yrs have responded to these differences in almost exactly the same way, by creating certain similar social rules for both men and women.

Though such social rules may appear prejudical on the surface, they are in truth liberating and helpful to both sexes, and it is the supposed 'freedoms' that modern feminism has forced upon western culture and the western psyche that has ultimately become oppressive. For though Victorian pre-feminist 'sexism' was itself oppressive, the post-feminist response has likewise become aberant.

Of course any suggestion that males and females must play different roles and be treated differently, or with positive discrimination in view of those differences, will be regarded with abject horror and disgust by modern post-feminist westerners, but it must be remembered that difference does not mean oppression, and should never be regarded as better or worse, just different. That certain people have used such differences to fuel their own oppressive prejudices is their own failure, but it was not a failure of Gotama Buddha [or early Buddhism] to recognise these differences and set in motion 'rules' that protect, not oppress, the sexes, by recognising the truth of those differences, and not pretending that both genders can be treated 'equaly', or the same.

Nowhere does Gotama Buddha deny that females can attain liberation, or can be taught dhamma [unlike Vedic Hinduism], only that this must be attained in a somewhat different way. Are we to assume that Gotama Buddha never suspected that females would one day wish to participate in the Sangha [considering that females have always outnumbered males in 'spiritual' persuits], I think not. It simply seems that he insisted females petition him with greater ernest, a greater ernest that Im sure many modern post feminist females would regard as prejudicial, due to their own prejudices against difference.

Even so sometimes we must put our own cultural conditioning and demands aside and try to look more carefully at the differences that exist between males and females, and at a more sensible response to those differences. As a gay man I am equaly troubled by Gotama Buddhas response to the 'Pandaka', which it seems was purely a response to social esteem - as he initaly allowed the Pandaka to join the Sangha, but then later withdrew that liberty [the opposite way round to the female situation], but that is a whole different story, but one that must also be addressed in the light of modern understanding and culture, 2500 yrs on from the life of Gotama Buddha himself.

We can argue till we are blue in the face that the Nikayas are unreliable, tampered with and not univerasly authoritative, and from a Buddhist perspective this is quite acceptable [well to many Buddhists LOL], but I would also suggest that to try and adjust 'scripture' or Gotama Buddhas thoughts to suit our own modern cultural norms is equaly unacceptable, as it is very possible that what we know and understand today is completely wrong, and that at some future date the wisdom of Gotama Buddhas 'discrimination', will become better known to us, either through meditation or science.

(Deleted comment)
Date:December 15th, 2006 02:32 pm (UTC)

Re: Women and Men are Different!!!

Intepretation of what and who a Pandaka was has been argued incessantly from time. Some scholars translate this word as meaning simply gay men, others as effeminate or castrated men. Either way the story behind the Buddhas decision to ban their entry into the Sangha is very telling, and suggests that Gotama Buddha was as equaly influenced by cultural norms of his day as he was awakened.

The Pandaka in question was noticed to sexualy proposition many of the young monks, and a complaint was made to the Buddha that this would bring the Sangha into disrepute, so Gotama decided to ban all Pandakas from the Sangha, even though he had initialy allowed them to become monks [which in itself suggest his inital pregressiveness].

Now why Gotama Buddha should treat all Pandaka's alike simply because of the behaviour of this one Pandaka, be they gay, effeminate or castrati, has always troubled me. Was it like banning all blonds because one is dumb, or did the Buddha recognise the uniqe qualities that make all pandakas as equaly different from men and women, as women are from men, and vice versa.

Even so on his death bed the Buddha also mentioned that minor rules could be changed, and scince this rule was obviously a response to social stigma and prejudice [rather then 'universal truths'], one could assume this to be a minor rule that could be changed according to circumstance, time and place.


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Date:July 9th, 2007 02:45 am (UTC)

A Mystery

Its interesting that just like Christians who many believe corrupted what would be the true teachings of Christ (Jesus having Mary Madgalene at his right side and as one of the Apostles) to the later subservience of Christian nuns, the Buddhists may have done that as well by their sexism coloring the true enlightened teachings of Buddha regarding women's equality. It is a mystery for both however what the original intentions were.
This may seem less important to some, but I first started searching this thread after finding out that Buddha left his wife and newborn son. I have been looking into Buddhism having received a book "Buddhism for Mothers" and liking many of the teachings. However, with Buddha leaving and the part of the philosophy of having "no attachments", it struck me as a sort of "mid-life crisis" stereotypical male "freak-out" sort of reaction to leave his new baby and make it something other - to justify it as something noble.

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