Skip to main content

Enlightened Buddha didn't want monks to get enchanted by the glance of a woman


By Rajiv Shah
Some of my Dalit friends, including Martin Macwan, whom I respect as one of the best human rights activists I have met, have a great fascination for Buddhism. Nearly all Dalit rallies or functions I have attended carry with them Buddha’s photographs. Probably, one reason could be that Dalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar converted to Buddhism because he believed this was the only religion of India which does not believe in casteism. Many Dalits, not without reason, get converted to Buddhism.
Among others, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen highly rates Lord Buddha, the word that means “enlightened.” I personally know next to nothing of Lord Buddha’s philosophy, except that it shows the path to enlightenment attained through meditation and wisdom. Sen wrote, “Our world may be very different from what Buddha faced in the sixth century BC, but we can still benefit greatly from the reasoned approach to ethics, politics, and social relations that Gautama Buddha brought to the world of human understanding.”
Recently, I came across an article in scroll.in, “Why is Ram misogynist, but not the Buddha?”, with a sub-heading “The world is conditioned to see the Ramayana and Manu-Smriti as anti-women, but not the Buddhist lore”, by Devdutt Pattanaik, appearing way back  in January 2016, and I immediately got attracted towards it, because, though I have been seeing this news site ever since it was founded, I strangely missed this article for three plus years.
Martin Macwan
The article wonders as to why Buddhism “is not the first religion that comes to mind when we talk about misogyny”, even as pointing out that it is assumed “Buddhism is rational, modern, agnostic and liberal in matters of gender and sexuality.” Yet, it says, “Some of the earliest and most systematic documentation of rejection of female sexuality in Indian literature is from Buddhist scriptures, especially the rules of monastic discipline (Vinaya pitaka), traditionally attributed to the Buddha himself.”
I don’t know if she has seen it, but the article should come as a shocker to Gujarat’s articulate feminist Dalit rights activist Manjula Pradeep, who got converted to Buddhism in 2016 at a formal ceremony in Nagpur, taking deeksha along with 200 others.
Nor do I know who the author Pattanaik is, as the site does not introduce him, though Wikipedia describes him as “an Indian author known for his work in mythology and interpretations of ancient Indian scriptures, stories, symbols and rituals. He has incorporated Vedic knowledge into human resource management.”
Manjula Pradeep taking deeksha to get converted to Buddhism
The article quotes from “rules of monastic discipline”, attributed to the Buddha, though without citation, a rate thing for a researcher to do, or providing hyperlink to the original document. Yet, I am tempted to quote these rules:
  • There are more rules for nuns (bhikkunis) than monks (bhikkus), 331 as against 227, because while everyone has to control their desires, women have the additional burden of not “arousing the desires of men”.
  • Monks are advised to sleep indoors, not outdoors, after an incident where women had sex with a monk while he, apparently, was sleeping under a tree. Monks who do not wake up, or do not yield to temptation despite being accosted by women for sexual pleasure, are seen as innocent and not expelled from the monastic order. Monks who voluntarily submit to female charms are declared defeated (parajita). 
  • In the tale of Sudinna, a young monk breaks his vows of celibacy after his old parents beg him to give his wife, whom he had abandoned, a child so that his family lineage may continue. When this is revealed, the Buddha admonishes him thus: “It is better for you to have put your manhood in the mouth of a venomous snake or a pit of burning charcoal than a woman.” 
  • In one conversation, the Buddha states, “Of all the scents that can enslave, none is more lethal than that of a woman. Of all the tastes that can enslave, none is more lethal than that of a woman. Of all the voices that can enslave, none is more lethal than that of a woman. Of all the caresses that can enslave, none is more lethal than that of a woman.” 
  • Buddhist monks, unlike other monks of that period, are not allowed to wander naked for fear they would attract women with their charms, believed to be enhanced because of their chastity and celibacy. 
  • Monks are advised to walk straight, without moving their arms and bodies too much, looking at the ground and not above, lest they get enchanted by “the glance of a woman”. Monks are also advised not to walk with single women, or even sit in the company of men, for it might lead to gossip. 
  • In a conversation with Kassappa, Bakulla says that in 80 years he has not only not had sex, he has not even entertained thoughts of women, or seen them, or spoken to them. 
  • Once a woman laughed and showed her charms to Mahatissa, but he remained unmoved. When asked by her husband if he found his wife unattractive, Mahatissa said he saw no woman, only a heap of bones. 
  • In the story of Sundarasammudha, who leaves his wife to become a monk, the wife approaches the husband and tells him, in what is an allusion to the ashrama system of Hinduism, that they should enjoy the pleasures of marital life till they are old and only then join the Buddhist order together and attain nirvana (liberation through cessation of desires). The monk replies that he would never submit to such seductions which are the snares of death. 
  • The texts repeatedly describe celibate monks as embodiments of dhamma (the path of enlightenment) while the lustful insatiable women are described as embodiments of samsara (the cycle of death and rebirths). 
  • Sangamaji left his wife and son to become a monk. One day, his wife and son come to him and beg him to come back but he does not respond, and shows no sign of husbandly or fatherly instincts and so is praised by Buddha of achieving true detachment and enlightenment. A true monk, for whom “female sexuality is like the flapping wings of a gnat before a mountain” is a vira (hero).
  • Buddha makes his half-brother Nanda join the monastic order but Nanda is engaged to marry the most beautiful woman in the land and pines for her. So Buddha shows him celestial nymphs who live in the heaven of the 33 gods (Swarga of Hindu Puranas). Buddha asks Nanda if his fiancée is as beautiful as these nymphs, and Nanda says she is like a deformed monkey compared to these nymphs. Buddha says that if he continues to walk the path of dhamma he would be reborn in this heaven and be able to enjoy these nymphs. Spurred by this thought, Nanda actively and diligently engages in monastic practices. By the time he attains enlightenment, all desires for the nymphs and the fiancée are gone. 
  • Different types of queers (pandakas) are listed who should not be ordained as monks. These include hermaphrodites, transsexuals, eunuchs, cross-dressers, and effeminate gay men. This is done following stories of monks being seduced, or courted, by pandakas, and also because keepers of a nearby elephant stable mocks a monastery because one of its members is a pandaka, who constantly courts them sexually. 
  • Female hermaphrodites, women who dress like men, or those of deviant sexuality or simply those who do not look like women and are “man-like” women cannot be ordained as nuns. 
  • There are rules that refer to bestiality. Monks are warned against too much affection for cows and female monkeys. 
Pattanaik
After jotting down these “rules”, the author states, “Initially, none of these strictures were codified. There was no Vinaya Pitaka. But as many people joined the monastery (vihara), they started behaving in certain ways that were deemed unworthy of monks and seekers of Buddha-hood. People also started making fun of the Buddhist way. So to protect the reputation of the dhamma and the sangha, Buddha began putting down these rules.”
He adds, “These codes were compiled orally and narrated by Upali (a barber before he became one of Buddha’s 10 chief disciples) in the first Buddhist council, a year after Buddha’s death. This happened 2600 years ago. A thousand years later, these rules were systemised and codified by one Buddhaghosha who lived in the monastery at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.”

Comments

Pushpa Surendra said…
All very true but never discussed by Indian Buddhists. Add to this the fact that wherever Buddhism went , it compromised with the elites of that country so that the religion would be accepted. Buddhism was dependent on state patronage whether China, Vietnam, Korea or Japan. As state religion it was not less oppressive but Brahmanic Hinduism is a class apart. I have raised this issue with some Dalit friends but they don't take it seriously and just say we go by what Ambedkar says. With all due respect to Ambedkar, he was not a scholar of Buddhism. Having said this, I would say Buddhism considered women to be human. There were no prohibition on women from learning , no notion of ritual purity , pollution etc. In Buddha's own time despite reservations , he admitted women to the Sangha.

TRENDING

Mallika Sarabhai releases speech she was 'not allowed' to give at NID Convocation on Feb 7

Counterview Desk
The National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, a Ministry of Commerce and Industry body, landed itself in controversy following its decision to put off its 40th convocation ceremony, where noted danseuse Mallika Sarabhai was invited as chief guest. The ceremony was scheduled to be held on February 7.

Modi, Shah 'forget': Gandhi’s first Satyagraha was against citizenship law of South Africa

By Nachiketa Desai*
Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi once on January 30, 1948 but his followers raising the war cry of ‘Jai Sriram’ are killing the Mahatma every day. In his home state of Gujarat, Gandhiji was killed a thousand times in 2002 when over 2,000 Muslims were butchered, their women raped, homes and shops plundered and set on fire and even unborn babies ripped out of the wombs of their mothers.

As corona virus 'travels' to rural areas, NGO begins training tribals, marginalised women

By Souparno Chatterjee*
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared corona virus a pandemic. Originating from Wuhan in China, it has traversed the entire globe, almost, and claimed more than 16,000 lives already. That’s largely the urban population. In India, despite all the preparedness and war-like promptness to safeguard against the pandemic, several lives have been lost , and hundreds of individuals have tested positive.

Rani Laxmi Bai, Tatya Tope 'martyred' by East India Company, Scindia's forefathers

By Our Representative
In an email alert to Counterview, well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam has said that was “shameful for any political party in democratic India to keep children of Sindhias in their flock” given their role during the First War of Indian Independence (1857). In a direct commentary on Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia moving over to BJP, Prof Islam has quote from a British gazetteer to prove his point.

COVID-19: Dalit rights bodies regret, no relief plan yet for SCs, STs, marginalized

By Our Representative
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the National Dalit Watch-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, endorsed* by several other Dalit rights organizations, have insisted, the Government of India should particular care of the scheduled castes and tribes, trans folks, persons with disabilities and the women and children from these communities, while fighting against COVID-19 pandemic.

Big 'danger' of NPR: A babu can tag anyone as doubtful citizen, Jharkhand meet told

' By Our Representative
People in large numbers from across Jharkhand gathered at the Raj Bhawan in Ranchi to demand that the Hemant Soren government reject National Population Register (NPR) and stop all NPR-related activities. The people’s organisations which participated in the dharna under the banner of the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JMM) resolved to intensify their struggle, insisting, NPR is not a Hindu-Muslim issue but is essentially anti-poor.

Coronavirus scare ‘pushing’ people from Northeast India into more hardship

By Rishiraj Sinha, Biswanath Sinha*
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela
***

Gujarat govt plan to 'banish' Gandhian activist anti-democratic, unconstitutional

By Rohit Prajapati*
The current Central and Gujarat governments, and their bureaucracy, have been and are still unable to answer and address the concerns raised, with facts, figures, and constitutional provisions, regarding the terror of tourism in the name of the Statue of Unity and tourism projects surrounding it.

Haridwar Swamis lead Khudai Khidmatgar peace march in Delhi 'riot affected' areas

By Our Representative
A Khudai Kidmatgar team, which visited the riot-affected regions along with Swami Shivanand Saraswati and Swami Punyanand, has insisted that India's true heritage is the lesson of ‘vasudhaiv kutumbakam', and it is the responsibility of all to carry froward this legacy. Originally founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in 1930, also known as Frontier Gandhi, Khudai Khidmatgar is claimed to have been revived by young Gandhian activist Faisal Khan in 2011.