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.
S. Devendra said…
The fact that author hasn't given any citations or sources to support his views is very seriously problematic. Not only are the rules and instances given out of context, they are forced to look like misogyny. The rule for chastity applies to both monks and nuns. Does this imply misandry ? The more number of rules is for the protection of nuns (since they have cut all family ties and are thus vulnerable and homeless) and prevent their exploitation at the hands of monks. The Buddha's admonishing to Sudinna who breaks his vows of celibacy is not because of him engaging physically with a woman, but rather because of the results his breaking of vow would bring,"....haven't I taught the Dhamma in many ways for the fading of passion, the sobering of intoxication, the subduing of thirst, the destruction of attachment, the severing of the round, the ending of craving, dispassion, cessation, unbinding? Haven't I in many ways advocated abandoning sensual pleasures, comprehending sensual perceptions, subduing sensual thirst, destroying sensual thoughts, calming sensual fevers?...it would be better that your manhood be stuck into the mouth of a poisonous snake than into a woman. It would be better that your manhood be stuck into the mouth of a black viper than into a woman. It would be better that your manhood be stuck into a pit of burning embers, blazing and glowing, than into a woman. Why is that? For that reason you would undergo death or death-like suffering, but you would not on that account, at the break-up of the body, after death, fall into deprivation, the bad destination, the abyss, hell. But for this reason you would, at the break-up of the body, after death, fall into deprivation, the bad destination, the abyss, hell..." Thus the "instances" of misogyny are taken out of context and incompletely. This raises serious doubt about the author's intention and knowledge.

TRENDING

You promised 50 lakh houses, give us one: Ahmedabad migrant women's plea to Modi

Women display letters containing rakhi for PM    By Hirabhai Solanki, Bhartiben Dantani, Ramesh Shrivastav*  Poor labouring families, including seasonal or long-term migrants of nearly 15 squatter settlements -- working as construction and casual workers and petty vendors, providing cheap but critically important labour for Ahmedabad city, living under plastic sheetings -- have reminded the Gujarat and Central Governments about the promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of building 50 lakh dwellings, wherein every pavement dweller and homeless would be given a decent home by the end of 2022. Holding a meeting in Ahmedabad under the aegis of the Majur Adhikaar Manch, they also referred to the appeal of the Prime Minister to poor and labouring women, seeking his support as brother by sending rakhis to protect their humble basti dwellings and provide them with decent housing, which is secure for them and their families. So far, about 300 women have posted rakhis to the Prime Ministe

Kailash Satyarthi NGO floats new centre in Delhi to 'empower' underprivileged children

By Our Representative  A voluntary organisation linked with Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi-supported NGO has floated a unique children’s resource centre at Sanjay Camp, Chankyapuri, New Delhi, in order to facilitate in imparting remedial education, recreational training and holistic development of children of around 2,500 under-privileged slum-dwelling families. Virender Singh Kadian, MLA of Delhi Cantonment, inaugurated the centre, which is called Shaheed Kalu Bal Vikas Kendra. The resource centre is in memory of Kalu Kumar, who died at an young age serving and working towards the development of under-privileged children, said an NGO source. A firebrand activist, Kalu Kumar was trafficked from Bihar to the carpet manufacturing belt of Allahabad when he was six. He was rescued by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan at the age of 10. A bright student, Kalu he covered up the lost ground very quickly and grew up to become a leader fighting for the rights of other child slaves at Bal Ashram. In

A countdown to disaster: Breach in fly-ash bunds of Nagpur's thermal power plants

Fly-ash dyke, Koradi thermal power plant  By Dhwani Shah, Deepmala Patel*  Last month the residents of several villages of Nagpur district woke up to the nightmare of being inundated with fly-ash. Located in the north of Nagpur city are Koradi and Khaparkheda thermal power stations which have their ash dykes in the vicinity. On July 10, 2022 at 3 am, the ash dyke of the Khaparkheda thermal power station broke, leading to ash contaminating the Kanhan river. Though the authorities claimed to have acted quickly and the fly ash dumping in the river was stopped, the claim stood to be misleading and false. Even today, the Kanhan river continues to be polluted with fly-ash, and the water supply to the city is affected. Not only did ash dyke of the Khaparkheda power station break, on July 16, 2022, the ash bund of the Koradi thermal power plant also broke. Fly-ash and water stored in the dyke gushed downstream to six villages -- drowning houses, water bodies and farmlands. With such large-

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”

Multi-crore NRC updation scam? Awaited: Assam media's self-cleaning mechanism

By Nava Thakuria  If some editor-journalists are allegedly involved in a financial scam, shouldn't the people get an opportunity to identify them? As the mainstream newspapers and news channels of Assam are avoiding the issue in their coverage, how come the actual picture will come to the public domain? If the mainstream media outlets intentionally kill the news, reasons best known to the editors, should the social media users take a lead? By now a number of senior journalists (with experience in print journalism for many decades) have highlighted the issue in social media. Their message is loud and clear- identify the corrupt television journalists who grabbed a huge amount of money which is actually meant for thousands of Assamese professionals. It all began when a second first information report (FIR) was filed by the outgoing State coordinator of National Register of Citizens (NRC) against his predecessor alleging corruption and money laundering while updating the 1951 NRC in A

US rights groups claim 'continued violation' of basic freedoms in J&K since August 2019

By Our Representative  Top US-based non-profit, Human Rights Watch (HRW), headquartered in New York, and the Washington DC-based Indian diaspora group, Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), recalling the abrogation of Article 370 three years ago, have taken strong exception to "continued restrictions" on free expression, peaceful assembly, and other basic rights in Jammu and Kashmir. Claiming that after revoking the region’s special autonomous status on August 5, 2019, the government’s “repressive policies and failure to investigate and prosecute alleged security force abuses have increased insecurity among Kashmiris”, in a statement, HRW said, “The government action was accompanied by serious rights violations including arbitrary detention of hundreds of people, a total communications blackout, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement and peaceful assembly.” It added, “Since then, the authorities have released many of the detainees and restored the internet, but have

Why global recession is 'big threat' to India, despite Nirmala Sitharaman’s bravado

By Prasanna Mohanty*  It would be imprudent to assume that a global recessionary trend will bypass India. In fact, a day after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman categorically ruled out the possibility of recession and stagflation (with high unemployment and high inflation India is technically witnessing stagflation) hitting India in her responses to the Parliament earlier in the week, Commerce Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam dropped a bomb shell. He released latest trade data showing fast deteriorating trends. The data showed, in July 2022, exports fell to five-month low of $35.2 billion and imports sequentially increased to $66 billion. The details revealed a fall in seven of top 10 export items: engineering goods, petroleum products, gems and jewellery, pharmaceuticals, readymade garments, cotton yarn and plastics. All this happened, Subrahmanyam acknowledged, due to the growing recessionary trends in developed countries and elevated commodity prices. The trade deficit (merchandise g

Bangladeshi women crossing borders: Demand to sensitise cops, BSF personnel

Counterview Desk  Bringing more instances of how the security personnel along the borders in West Bengal refuse to probe the human trafficking angle while arresting Bangladeshi women, human rights leader Kirity Roy has said, they are treated as accused in violation of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Government of India and the Government of Bangladesh on Bilateral Cooperation for Preventing of Human Trafficking, especially trafficking in Women and Children. In a letter to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), and national convenor, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI), Hooghly, said, “The victims should be immediately repatriated to their own country and the criminal charges against them must be withdrawn at the earliest”, insisting, “The matters must be handled by the police or the BSF personnel with a human approach.” Text: I am writing this complaint regarding det

A tale of horror and fraud: Profits in trillions of dollars for vaccine manufacturers?

By Aruna Rodrigues*  John Leake is a best-selling and “experienced non-fiction, true crime author”. Having just read what must be described as an extraordinary ‘telling’ of the Covid-19 saga, his book “The Courage to Face Covid-19: Preventing Hospitalization and Death While Battling the Bio-Pharmaceutical Complex”, co-authored with Peter A McCullough, MD, MPH, is the narration of true crime on a scale that could top the list in the history of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’. The book chronicles the unique role of national governments across the world and their health agencies, led by the USA and WHO, which followed an agenda that led to completely avoidable fatalities numbering several million. The question is why? The usual culprits are money and power. But to ascribe cause to these two is woefully insufficient. The sheer magnitude of the ‘dark agenda’ – coordinated and played out by governments, health agencies, the medical establishment (hospitals, doctors and chemists) and the massive a

Draft notification: MoEF&CC should 'critically protect' eco-sensitive Western Ghats

Counterview Desk  In a detailed representation to the secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Shankar Sharma, power and climate policy analyst, commentin on the draft gazette notification of the MoEF&CC dated July 6, 2022 on the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) of the Western Ghats (WGs), has said that the political class, having vested interests in Karnataka, has been opposing such a move for many years. Stating that there is no “rational basis to do so”, and stating that the opponents do not even seem to have even read the recommendations of Dr Kasturi Rangan committee report or the actual draft notification itself, Sharma underscores, the only aim of the vested interests, who have “unauthorisedly occupied massive pieces of forest lands”, to continue to do on in near. “These vested interests are continuing to be ignorant of the fact that Western Ghats not only harbour rich biodiversity of critical importance to our people, but also support