Saturday, April 26, 2014

Do I need a penis? (Buddhist Monastic Code)

Pat Macpherson, Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly; Abbot Thanissaro (Metta)
Young novices in Tergar home to 150 from Tibet, Nepal, AP and UP India (Groobo/flickr)
Buddhist Monastic Code II
A male monastic (bhikkhu) who cuts off his own genitalia [is in violation of the Disciplinary Code and] incurs a thullaccaya ["grave offense"].

Now at that time a certain monastic, tormented by dissatisfaction, cut off his own penis. The others reported this matter to the Blessed One (who said), “When one thing should have been cut off, that foolish man cut off something else.”

The “thing that should have been cut off,” the Sub-commentary notes, was the obsession for [sensual] passion. The Commentary adds that cutting off any other part of one’s body -- such as an ear, nose, or finger -- out of spite [is also a violation and] entails a dukkata ["misconduct" or "wrongdoing").

However, one is allowed to cut or cut off any part of one’s body for a medical purpose (as in an amputation); or to let blood, for example, when bitten by a snake or an insect, or to treat a disease that calls for blood-letting (see Chapter 5; Mv.VI.14.4).

Disciplinary Code
Wisdom Quarterly (COMMENTARY)
Older translations exist (i.e., Rhys Davids)
While Wisdom Quarterly is pro-sex, we are also pro-monasticism, which entails submitting oneself temporarily to celibacy of mind and body. Why would that ever be a good idea?

One can make excellent progress on the path to enlightenment in a very short time living as the Buddha prescribed the "high life," the "holy life," the "supreme life" (brahmacharya) -- or teaching that leads to the "supreme" attainment -- IF one enters into it with the right view and motivation rather than because of delusion, guilt, debt, aversion, with an aim to win fame and gain, or to be in the constant company of men or women (if gay), and so on.

High morals and even higher ideals have a strong tendency to lead to hypocrisy. The Buddha set out a path that works and that has worked for thousands of years. One must find it, rediscover it, and practice it to get ahead. Most Vinayas are corrupted and misinterpreted in practice, but the books remain. Enter with eyes wide open.

Does one need a penis?
Bush, okay, but who really needs Dick?
That is, Does a male intending to become a Buddhist monk need a penis? Absolutely, yes. One will not be allowed in without one, which may be due to the banning of pandakas [a term we have attempted to explain in many posts], a difficult term that has long been mistranslated as "eunuch." Another explanation is that what one needs to overcome is not the physical member but the mental motivation behind it, and to do that a penis is necessary.

Monastic Life
The Buddhist monastic life, at least in the older and stricter Theravada school (and particularly the revivalist super strict Thai forest Thammayut sect Ven. Thanissaro is a part of), is circumscribed on all sides.

The Buddha laid out a Disciplinary Code (Vinaya), a Path-to-Moksha or Liberation (Patimokkha), with explanations for each rule. 

The hundreds of self-imposed guidelines for fully ordained monastics -- 227 for monks, 311 for nuns -- living supported by the generosity of donors are divided into sections based on their seriousness.
The largest body of guidelines, which are in addition to these rules, concern etiquette and make for the relative peace of communal living in a monastic setting for monks and nuns, who dwell separately.

In contrast the smallest, most serious, and most important group of rules are called defeat-offenses (parajikas). They are strict prohibitions on killing, stealing, sexual contact, and falsely claiming attainments (such as the stages of enlightenment or magical powers).

Sexual indiscretion is perhaps the most common problem faced in a celibate order of ascetics trying to live as a community in a monastery, caves, or a forest hermitage (aranya). It is easy to control if one does not come into contact with temptations, but the Buddha ensured that one would constantly be in contact with the lay community, who visit to provide food and hear the Dharma.

Why did the Buddha have to make rules?
People often lose sight of the three reasons for a formal Disciplinary Code:
  1. to provide a speedy vehicle to enlightenment, a direct path, a prati-moksha (path-to-supreme-liberation),
  2. to encourage new meditators and comfort those who have already attained (enlightenment stages, absorptions, etc.),
  3. to preserve the Dharma as a living tradition with "saints" (arhats) for many generations.
Wouldn't it be so much better for me, as a monastic, not to tell you what to do and not do -- and, conversely, have you not tell me what to do and not to do? No, no, no. One can live on one's own with that kind of attitude. The Buddha set up a system dependent on lay people, dependent on others, dependent on the Doctrine-and-Disciples (Dhamma-Vinaya)

Being a recluse (bhikkhu/bhikkhuni) or wandering ascetic (samana) usually means mental rather than physical seclusion. There is plenty of good company in kalyana-mittas ("noble friends"), but one withdraws to contemplate and meditate successfully -- progressing through the stages of absorption and insight that make Buddhist monasticism a delight with many fruits. (See "The Fruits of Recluseship Discourse," Samanaphala Sutta where the Buddha outlines the advantages of monasticism over living an ordinary household life).

Buddhist Monastic Code I
Wisdom Quarterly is in no way fond of Ven. Thanissaro (Geoffrey DeGraff)'s eccentric and misleading translations, interpretations, grammar, style, or general deportment as a person and monk pushed out of Thailand. But he has done a great service to the English-speaking world in at least one way: He long ago translated the Vinaya (Buddhist Monastic Code I and II), which most lay Buddhists are completely unfamiliar with, and he has freely provided his strained and oddly interpreted version of the Dhamma through many translations from Thai and Pali available through We speak from years of knowing him personally and his few American disciples not from merely trying to read his free works.

Destructive behavior
The Vibhanga to Pr 2 states that a monastic who breaks, scatters, burns, or otherwise renders unusable the property of another person incurs a dukkata. Cv.V.32.1 adds that a monastic is not allowed to burn underbrush. However, if a brush fire is burning, a counter-fire may be lit and protection (paritta) made. This last phrase apparently means reciting a protective charm [mantra-like chanting of Buddhist sutras], such as...

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