Women in Buddhism: Questions & Answers


It is often said that “women are enemy to the life of purity.” How do you explain this saying?


This is the Buddha’s instruction to the monks as found in the Tripitaka. The Buddha warned them to be careful of women. As a result, in Thailand, it is a custom when a woman wants to make offering to a monk, the monk always has to lay a piece of cloth to receive it. Women tend to feel themselves lowly and not worthy, some would even see themselves as obstacles to the purity of monks.

We have to take this teaching in a new light. This is one of the examples showing how the teaching is androcentric by nature, giving the teaching from the standpoint and interest of monks.

Newly ordained monks with little mental training might easily be led by defilements through contact with women. It is not the fault of women, but rather the weakness of the monks, so they have to be mindful when they come in contact with the opposite sex. Even without women in front of them, some monks still face problems from “Women” in their own imagination and thoughts. Women cannot be held responsible for any failure on the monks’ side. The monks themselves have to train and uplift themselves from sexual desire. Those who are already enlightened have transcended gender differences. The Buddha never had to avoid women, as they no more appeared to him as sex objects. He was well balanced and master of all desires.

In the conversation with Ananda, the Buddha instructed him not to look at women, and not to linger while talking to them. “There is no stronger bonding for men than women”. At the same time he also warned women “there is no stronger bonding for women than men,” and “men are also enemy to the purity of women.” But the latter teaching is not applicable to monks, and as we have only monks giving teaching in Thailand we hear only a one sided teaching for men. As a result society tends to blame women as if women are the only source of impurity.