There is a misogynistic aspect of Buddhism that no one talks about – Quartz India

Hinduism is patriarchal. No doubt about it. The same is true of Christianity and Islam, Sikhism and Shintoism, Jainism and Judaism. But Buddhism? It is not the first religion that comes to mind when it comes to misogyny.

The assumption is that Buddhism is rational, modern, agnostic and liberal in matters of gender and sexuality. Book after book has conditioned us to see the celibate and chaste Buddha as some sort of androgynous, asexual, gentle sage with a blissful smile. Yet some of the oldest and most systematic documents on the rejection of female sexuality in Indian literature come from Buddhist scriptures, especially the rules of monastic discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), traditionally attributed to the Buddha himself.

Rules of monastic discipline

Consider this:

“Better that you put your manhood in the mouth of a poisonous snake or a pit of hot coal than a woman.”

“Of all the smells that can enslave, none is more deadly than that of a woman.”

  • There are more rules for nuns (bhikkunis) that the monks (bhikkus), 331 against 227, because if 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 in which women had sex with a monk while he was apparently sleeping under a tree. Monks who do not wake up, or give in to temptation despite the collisions of women for sexual pleasure, are considered innocent and not expelled from the monastic order. Monks who voluntarily submit to female charms are declared defeated (parajita).
  • In Sudinna’s tale, a young monk breaks his vows of celibacy after his elderly parents begged him to give a child to his wife, whom he had abandoned, so that his family line could continue. When this is revealed, the Buddha admonishes him thus: “It is better that you put your manhood in the mouth of a poisonous snake or a pit of burning coal than a woman.
  • In a conversation, the Buddha declares: “Of all the smells that can enslave, none is more deadly than that of a woman. Of all the tastes that can enslave, none is more deadly than that of a woman. Of all the voices that can enslave, none is more deadly than that of a woman. Of all the caresses that can enslave, none is more deadly than that of a woman.
  • Buddhist monks, unlike other monks of this period, are not allowed to roam naked for fear of attracting women with their charms, which are believed to be strengthened due to their chastity and celibacy.
  • Monks are advised to walk straight, without moving their arms and body too much, looking down and not overhead, for fear of being enchanted by “a woman’s gaze”. Monks are also advised not to walk with single women, or even sit in the company of men, as this could lead to gossip.
  • In a conversation with Kassappa, Bakulla says that in his 80s, he not only didn’t have sex, he didn’t even think about women, see them, or talk to them.
  • Once a woman laughed and showed Mahatissa her charms, but he remained unmoved. When asked by her husband if he finds his wife unattractive, Mahatissa said he saw no women, only a pile of bones.
  • In the story of Sundarasammudha, who leaves his wife to become a monk, the wife approaches the husband and says to him, in what is an allusion to ashrama system of Hinduism, that they should enjoy the pleasures of married life until they are old and only then join the Buddhist order and achieve nirvana (liberation by cessation of desires). The monk replies that he would never submit to such seductions which are the traps of death.
  • The texts repeatedly describe celibate monks as incarnations of dhamma (the path to enlightenment) while insatiable and lustful women are portrayed as embodiments of samsara (the cycle of deaths 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 marital or paternal instinct and is therefore praised by Buddha for having achieved true detachment and enlightenment. A real monk, for whom “female sexuality is like the flapping wings of a gnat in front of a mountain” is a turned (hero).
  • Buddha brings his half-brother Nanda into the monastic order, but Nanda is engaged to marry the most beautiful woman in the land and longs for her. So Buddha shows him heavenly nymphs who live in the heaven of the 33 gods (Swarga of the Hindu Puranas). Buddha asks Nanda if his bride is as beautiful as these nymphs, and Nanda says she is like a misshapen monkey compared to these nymphs. Buddha says that if he continues to walk the path of dhamma he would be reborn in this paradise and could enjoy these nymphs. Driven by this thought, Nanda actively and diligently engages in monastic practices. By the time he attains enlightenment, all desires for the nymphs and the bride are gone.
  • Different types of queers (pandaka) are listed that should not be ordained monks. These include hermaphrodites, transsexuals, eunuchs, transvestites, and effeminate homosexuals. This is done as a result of stories of monks seduced or courted by pandaka, and also because the keepers of a neighboring elephant stable make fun of a monastery because one of its members is a pandaka, who constantly courted them sexually.
  • Hermaphrodite women, women who dress like men, or those with deviant sexuality or just those who do not look like women and are women “like men” cannot be ordained religious.
  • There are rules that refer to bestiality. The monks are warned against too much affection for cows and female monkeys.

The influence of the code

Initially, none of these restrictions were codified. There was not Vinaya Pitaka. But as many people joined the monastery (vihara), they began to behave in certain ways deemed unworthy of monks and scholars of Buddhahood. People also started to laugh at the Buddhist way. Thus, to protect the reputation of the dhamma and the sangha, Buddha began to state these rules.

These codes were orally compiled and told by Upali (a barber before becoming one of Buddha’s top 10 disciples) at the First Buddhist Council, one year after Buddha’s death. It happened 2,600 years ago. A thousand years later, these rules were systematized and codified by a Buddhaghosha who lived in the monastery of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.

One could even say that this code of the monks influenced the anti-women position outside India, also in Christianity.

By the time Islam arrived, Buddhism had already declined in most of the countries of India. But the Buddhist idea equating women’s sexuality with entrapment and pollution informed Hindu monastic orders (mathas), especially those instituted by Adi Shankara. Shankara was often referred to as a Buddhist with Hindu wrapping, by his detractors. In his monastic order, he went further: there were no nuns.

If we believe the theory that “Jesus lived in India”, we could even say that this code of the monks influenced the anti-women position outside India as well, in Christianity as well, because while the Buddha abandoned his wife, Yashodhara, Jesus never married at all. Significantly, Buddhaghosa lived around the same time that St. Augustine of Hippo came out with his anti-sex and anti-women trope in the Catholic Church.

The “good” Buddhism, the “bad” Hinduism

It is interesting to note that in all the writings on patriarchy and misogyny related to India, scholars cite the Ramayana and the Manu Smriti, yet historically these were composed after the Vinaya Pitaka. Buddha lived in the pre-Mauryan era while the Ramayana, with its concern for royalty, was written in the post-Mauryan era. Arguments from oral traditions and astrology-based dating that place Ram in the pre-Buddhist era appeal only to nationalists, not historians. Manu Smriti and other dharmashastras were written during the Gupta era when the Brahmins played a key role in legitimizing kingship in much of peninsular India. Pre-Buddhist Vedic rituals speak of female sexuality in positive terms as they are primarily concerned with fertility and wealth generation. The pre-Buddhist Upanishads doesn’t pay much attention to gender relations and is more interested in metaphysics. Much of Buddhist literature was written long before the Sanskrit texts (the Ashokan edicts in Prakrit date back 2,300 years; the earliest royal Sanskrit inscriptions date back to only 1,900 years ago). This makes Buddhist writings the turning point in Indian literature, after which femininity has become a pollution, obstacles on the path to wisdom.

The complete silence on the subject of misogyny so firmly entrenched in Buddhist scriptures, and attributed to the Buddha, is quite remarkable.

We could, of course, argue that most educated Buddhists were originally Brahmins and therefore transplanted the Hindu patriarchate into Buddhism, that the Buddha had no such intention. We can stress that the Vedas, and only the Vedas, are the source of misogyny. This follows the pattern of “good” Buddhism and “bad” Hinduism that we find in most colonial and post-colonial academic papers.

The complete silence on the subject of misogyny so firmly entrenched in Buddhist scriptures, and attributed to the Buddha, is quite remarkable. Research on this subject is well known but limited to academic circles. There are Buddhism after the Patriarchate by Rita Gross and Bull of a man‘by John Powers, for example. But there is a strong desire in these books to explain patriarchy, rather than putting the spotlight on them. It is almost as if scholars are irritated, even embarrassed, that the facts interfere with contemporary perceptions of the Buddha.

Giving up sex, which actually means giving up women, for a “higher” purpose – be it enlightenment, spirituality, or service to the nation – has since become a popular model, adopted by religious sects, as well. than by political organizations such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It has been glamorized and valued as the ultimate indicator of masculinity and purity. We can trace, at least a major tributary of this idea, to the Vinaya Pitaka of the Buddha, who abandoned his wife without her consent.

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