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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.

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