"There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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"There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by DNS » Wed May 25, 2016 4:13 pm

An article on Buddhism & Misogyny:

There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about

And here is a response from Ven. Dhammika (reprinted with permission from Ven. Dhammika):

Bhante S. Dhammika

Devadutta Pattanaik’s article on supposed Buddhist misogyny is too full of generalizations, unsubstantiated claims and factual errors to be of much value. The article’s first thesis seems to be to explode the myth that Buddhism had a 21st century attitude to woman. This may have been a myth that Pattanaik subscribed to but I don’t know anyone else who does. All informed Buddhists, academic and lay, recognize this problem, acknowledge it and deal with it while recognizing that Buddhism has remarkably little misogyny considering how long ago the Buddha lived.

Pattanaik claims that this issue is “not talked about”. Keeping abreast of both popular and academic literature I get the impression that it is widely talked about and discussed and has been for some time, and it is only right that it is. The second thesis of the article is to place the blame for the Indian (i.e. Hindu) attitude to woman on Buddhism. History shows otherwise but I do not have the time to go into this. Suffice to show that the author’s knowledge of the Buddhist scriptures is limited and that he/she ignores textural evidence that does not fit his/her thesis.

(1)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.” Where does it say that? The majority of the extra rules pertain to issues unique to women such as menstruation, the possible dangers of them living alone, etc.

(2)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). The Sangha was from the beginning an institution which requited celibacy. If a monk or nun contravened this rule he or she was expelled. What’s wrong with that? It is no secret that the Buddha had a poor view of sex, and his Sangha was not a Club Med or a swingers’ club. It was and remains for those who wish to focus fully on the spiritual quest. If one wanted to have sex one was free to join some other institution.

(3)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.” “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.”  The Buddha had a poor opinion of sex. Get over it! And another thing; with all the sex scandals to coming to light today, all the cases of sexual molestation, clerical misbehaviour, incest, teenage pregnancy, the bourgeoning rates of VD, sexual harassment, the blanket use of sexuality in advertising, etc. perhaps today’s society could benefit from a bit more of the Buddha’s de-emphasising of sexuality.

(4)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.” If the author had bothered to read the very next suttas in the series he/she would have noticed that it says exactly the same thing only reversing the men to women part (A.I,2). Clearly the two suttas were meant to be a warning about sexual temptation for both men and woman.

(5)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. Again I ask where this is stated? I can find no reference to it and the author fails to give one. When a certain monk went naked because he thought it indicated a higher renunciation the Buddha rebuked him saying: “It is not becoming, not suitable, not worthy of a true ascetic, not allowable and not to be done” (Vin.II,305). As with other austerities, the Buddha considered nakedness extreme and useless for spiritual growth. At Vin.II,292 a woman says; “Nakedness is ugly, it is objectionable.” which was probably a common perception at the time. Even some Hindu texts object to the nakedness of some ascetics.

(6)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. I can find no reference to this in the text and here as elsewhere the author fails to give any.

(7)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. so what’s so bad about that? A bit extreme perhaps but clearly he was scrupulous about maintaining his celibacy. If one has problems with temptation isn’t it sensible to avoid those situations that might cause temptation?

(8)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. See answer above. The Therigatha, the poems by nuns, frequently make reference to the freedom some women exalted in by being free from the demands and strictures of their husbands. It was not just monks who were glad to be free of the shackles of sex. As almost everywhere else, whatever the Buddha said about male sexual behaviour/problems/temptations is applicable to women too

(9)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. See answer above. Also, the author is wrong about the asrama concept. If he/she reads P. Olivelle’s The Asrama System,  The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution (1993) he/she will learn that the Hindu asrama system did not evolve until centuries after the Buddha.

(10)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). Again the author gives no references to back up his/her claims. I know of nowhere where such a thing is stated, although it is hardly a secret that the Buddha has a low opinion of sex, both of men’s sexual drive but also of women’s. And a little research would have shown the author that the Buddha praised everyone – monks and nuns, lay men and lay women who practiced the Dhamma. “Whoever is wise and confident, learned, upholding the Dhamma and living in accordance with it, they are called Light of the Sangha. The monk who is virtuous, the nun who is learned, the lay man or lay woman who is full of faith, they are rightly called Light of the Sangha” (A.II,8). According to this, women, celibate or not, are shining lights of the Sangha if they are fully committed to the Dhamma.

(11)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). I can find nothing in the Sanghamaji Sutta about “the flapping wings of a gnat, etc. (Ud.6-7).

(12)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. “Of all the scents that can enslave, none is more lethal than that of a woman.”  All the author had to do was read the sutta to know that he/she is wrong. Again! The sutta clearly says that Nanda was motivated to practice and meditate, not by desire for heavenly nymphs, but by the jeering and teasing of the other monks.

(13)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. The meaning of pandaka is not clear but it probably does not refer to homosexuals per say but what we might call the “screaming queen”, the homosexual type who tries to be obvious and who is highly promiscuous. This is clear from the background story to the rule. Even in the US today there is heated controversy about which public toilets trans people should use. Exactly where sexually ambiguous individuals would have fitted into a well-defined male/female institution such as the Sangha would have given rise to even more complex problems, particularly in an ancient, far more conservative society. Give the Buddha a bit of slack.

(14)There are rules that refer to bestiality. Monks are warned against too much affection for cows and female monkeys. So what? I fail to see what the author’s point is. Would he/she be more satisfied if the Buddha would have allowed bestiality? Bestiality is one of the more unpleasant manifestations of human sexuality and has always existed in predominantly rural societies as the Buddha’s India was. The Buddha was realistic enough to see it as a potential problem and right to warn against it.

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Re: "There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by Mkoll » Wed May 25, 2016 6:00 pm

That is a hit-piece for clickbait, not a serious article.
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Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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Re: "There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by Nicolas » Wed May 25, 2016 6:41 pm

One could contact the author of the article to let him know of his mistakes: http://devdutt.com/contact

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Re: "There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by samseva » Wed May 25, 2016 7:50 pm

The conclusion of the article pretty much demonstrates the quality—or lack of it:
Abandoning sex, which effectively means abandoning women, for a “higher” purpose—be it enlightenment or spirituality or service to the nation—has since become a popular model, embraced by religious sects, as well political organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It has been glamorised and valorised as the ultimate indicator of masculinity and purity. We can trace, at least one major tributary of this idea, to the Vinaya Pitaka of the Buddha, who abandoned his wife, without her consent.

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Re: "There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by Karunamayi DD » Wed Nov 07, 2018 8:08 am

Thanks for this article.
Im tired of people trying to make exalted personalities such as Lord Buddha to be a woman hater.
He stands for Truth and Dharma, all that's good.. Honestly most people can't handle the truth that's why they're bound in meshes of ignorance, far from release.
This is why I think a bit of dukka in one's life is a necessary calayst for prompting spiritual growth and there lies your greatest prospect.
I am a devotee of Lord Krishna. However, my love and respects towards all who follow Dharma and hold up the much needed Pilar's of compassion and truth.
Hare Krishna!

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Re: "There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by chownah » Wed Nov 07, 2018 11:54 am

Misogyny is definitely the wrong word.
chownah

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Re: "There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by Sweeney » Wed Nov 07, 2018 5:42 pm

DNS wrote:
Wed May 25, 2016 4:13 pm

(1)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.” Where does it say that? The majority of the extra rules pertain to issues unique to women such as menstruation, the possible dangers of them living alone, etc.


You might want to try the four extra parajika offenses to start with. And before any men on this forum decide that they're entitled to spout off their opinions on such matters, it would be nice to hear from some actual women!

The meaning of pandaka is not clear but it probably does not refer to homosexuals per say but what we might call the “screaming queen”, the homosexual type who tries to be obvious and who is highly promiscuous.
I would be careful about the words you use here and the stigmatization you associate with "screaming queens". And while yes to some extent I would agree that it would be hard to fit what can seem like such ambiguous individuals into an ancient monastic setting, I think it is still a topic worthy of discussion just as it is today, as there are a lot of misconceptions out there.

But yes, in general it is very poorly written and researched. Which is why I must ask, why even post this? In doing so you may as well be saying that there are no misogynistic aspects of Buddhism that need to be looked at. You've chosen a badly written article to what? Pass it off as nonsense even though misogyny is a very serious issue and needs to be looked at properly, not just presented through a glass darkly. Because you know what that is? That is misogyny! Sugar coat it all you like, you should know, more so than most here, what an intelligible and useful discussion on Buddhism is. And this is clearly not. There's already a pandaka thread, how about making a thread to discuss certain extra rules for bhikkhunis, as well as other aspects of Buddhism that could come under this scope.
Karunamayi DD wrote:
Wed Nov 07, 2018 8:08 am

Thanks for this article.
Im tired of people trying to make exalted personalities such as Lord Buddha to be a woman hater.
He stands for Truth and Dharma, all that's good.. Honestly most people can't handle the truth that's why they're bound in meshes of ignorance, far from release.
This is why I think a bit of dukka in one's life is a necessary calayst for prompting spiritual growth and there lies your greatest prospect.
I am a devotee of Lord Krishna. However, my love and respects towards all who follow Dharma and hold up the much needed Pilar's of compassion and truth.
Hare Krishna!
What are you even doing here? A Vaishnava such as yourself should be more concerned about the misogyny within your own tradition, rather than sticking your nose into what you probably consider nihilism anyway. By posting in this forum you are only making it clearer that these are some serious issues that need to be dealt with and discussed correctly, not fobbed of as mere speculation.
Last edited by Sweeney on Wed Nov 07, 2018 5:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by dharmacorps » Wed Nov 07, 2018 5:53 pm

Thanks for posting this, DNS. Interesting. I have read a few articles like this which are basically "let's review this religion and find all the politically incorrect things wrong with it from a modern perspective".

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Re: "There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by Manopubbangama » Wed Nov 07, 2018 7:04 pm

Buddhism is often viewed through the prism of conceptual binary us/them categories based on people's preconceived political indoctrination and attachments.

To many Europeans of the first half of the 20th Century, such as Julius Evola, Buddhism was an "Aryan" aristocratic, gentlemanly alternative to plebeian Christianity. Fascism and Buddhism blended together like water in milk.

Some people today want Buddhism to conform to their political ideas as well.

If they find something in Buddhism outside of their political affiliation they gloss over it, reinterpret it to make it palatable, or condemn the Dhamma altogether.

I'm assuming this goes on in every society that adapts Buddhism, and has been for 2500 years.
Sabbe Sankhara Anicca - Sabbe Sankhara Dukkha - Sabbe Dhamma Anatta

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Re: "There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by salayatananirodha » Wed Nov 07, 2018 7:31 pm

Did I end up on the dharma wheel engaged forum?
16. 'In what has the world originated?' — so said the Yakkha Hemavata, — 'with what is the world intimate? by what is the world afflicted, after having grasped at what?' (167)

17. 'In six the world has originated, O Hemavata,' — so said Bhagavat, — 'with six it is intimate, by six the world is afflicted, after having grasped at six.' (168)

- Hemavatasutta


links:
https://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/index.htm
http://thaiforestwisdom.org/canonical-texts/
http://seeingthroughthenet.net/
https://www.dhammatalks.org/index.html

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Re: "There's a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about"

Post by DNS » Wed Nov 07, 2018 8:50 pm

salayatananirodha wrote:
Wed Nov 07, 2018 7:31 pm
Did I end up on the dharma wheel engaged forum?
Someone who identifies as a Hare Krishna necro-posted this thread back up. If he/she wants to discuss further they should do so at DWE or at DP.
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