‘Buddhism cannot be understood by acquiring degrees; it can only be understood by the heart’

'Buddhism cannot be understood by acquiring degrees; it can only be understood by the heart'
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I am surprised that you could allow an essay as historically flawed as this to be published (“Why is Ram misogynist, but not the Buddha?”). As a scholar working on Buddhist objects and lived histories and as someone relatively well versed with the Pali canon as well as the social history of Buddhism, let me put forth my objections and interventions:

1. The writer does not account for the fact that Mahayana (which developed within a few decades after Tathagata’s death) is extremely pro-woman and that Vajrayana foregrounds Tantra and sexuality.

2. The article does not even look at the figure of Ananda, one of the earliest proto-feminists in Indian literature. It was Ananda who in the Vinaya Pitaka intervenes on behalf of Gotami and Yasodhara and persuades Siddhartha to create a sangha for the bhikkunis(nuns).

3. The quotes and incidents presented from the Vinaya Pitaka are random and completely out of context. Vinaya (the name itself means discipline in Pali) is a code of conduct book for bhikkhus, and the focus is not on women per se, but rather the abstention from sexual intercourse with women, homosexuals, everyone. The thrust in the text is anti-family and anti-private property, the exact opposite of what Brahminism stood for.

4. To read these quotes as instances of misogyny is pure ignorance, given the fact that the thrust in Vinaya is anti-Eros (kama) as a means of moksha and not on women per se. Unlike Manu-Smriti, women are not seen as lesser beings, neither are Dalits (chandals, chamars, etc). The Vinaya Pitaka is a remarkable text when it comes to the idea of compassion and empathy for all beings.

5. In one section, this essay talks about pandakas. There is a lot of literature on homosexuality and Buddhism and how pandakas do not translate as queer and how only monks are asked not to sexually engage with them.

6. Also, as Buddhism evolved, most schools of Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan and Zen Buddhisms have been most accommodating towards women and homosexuals. Simply citing a few quotations from one Pali text cannot sum up the complex social practices of Buddhism.

Buddhism, in its myriad forms, has perhaps been the most “progressive” (to use a modern “secular” frame of reference) when it comes to gender, sexuality, queer and women.

This article comes off as an ignorant attempt at vilifying Buddhism at the cost of justifying Manu and Brahminism. It is completely flawed and ahistorical in its selection of random quotes and in its inference that modern taboos regarding women can be traced back to theVinaya Pittaka.

I hope you shall at least be more careful in future before publishing such articles. Parjanya Sen


Sikhism is erroneously included in the list of religions that believe in patriarchy. In Sikhism, women are on par with men and have same rights as them. If you don’t agree, I can send you quotes from the Guru Granth Sahib. Btuli on email


The author is ignorant and is merely beating about the bush. How much does he know about Islam to call it a misogynistic religion? Fahad Usmani


Is the article supposed to be an advertisement against Buddhism? Terrible journalism. Sourav Agasti


The real question may be whether celibacy is misogynistic. The things that Buddha spoke or what his followers wrote are universal in all religions that practice chastity as instructions for young men. There is likely exaggeration for both the sake of efficacy and also the knowledge that others will read them; the intended audience of young boys has to be taken into account. But your point that Buddha is right up there with the strictest anti-sexualists is well taken.

However, when one actually looks at how the religions are practiced when Ram and Buddha are set aside, Hinduism trumps all in terms of misogyny.

And at the end of the day, everyone knows Buddhism is far more egalitarian; that’s why people think Buddha was so nice. Marc Leonard


This article clearly intends to prove that Ram was not the only misogynist. All the tales referred to in the story may be true. The Ramayana is clear in its depiction of what makes Ram a misogynist. It’s not a conclusion that is drawn but it’s what is clearly mentioned. Even so, the topic is still debated.

But without understanding the time, space and capacity aspect of Buddhism, your proclamation that Buddha was a misogynist is very selfish and arrogant.

The article reads, “In one conversation, Buddha said…”. Please mention your source so that people may refer to it and draw their own conclusions.

In the past, Buddhism was represented by monks who were on a mission to spread Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings. But in due course of time, its lineage was corrupted and the essence got diverted from the original intent of Shakyamuni.

The monastic discipline is not the only representation of Buddhism in the modern world. There are millions all over the world who do not follow this discipline but still practise Buddhism the right way. So please do not proclaim that it is the only way through which the lineage got corrupted. The religion or philosophy in its own self is always right. It’s the people who defame it. And that’s what happened with the priests and monks all over the world, who have misinterpreted teachings according to their convenience.

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.”

Why can’t you see this sentence as one which glorifies the strength of a woman, rather than considering it as misogynistic?

It is important to understand that Buddha was a normal human being. He was exploring how human beings can get rid of suffering. His initial teachings were always based on parables, which tried to showcase the right way by depicting the good and the bad.

In his initial propagation after his enlightenment, he shared what people wanted to know. But in his last years, he shared exactly what he wanted the world to understand. He prepared people so that they could understand his heart. So in one way, we can say that Buddha contradicted his early teachings, because he knew that as time changes, the reasons for suffering also change.

It is Shakyamuni who first talked about women’s enlightenment. All the references you shared may be true, but they have no relevance today as no one follows them and they do not methodically define Buddhism.

Buddhism is not defined by the behaviour of monks but is manifested in the daily life of ordinary beings and towards the betterment of society. Disrespecting the dignity of a woman or rather a life is no Buddhism at all.

If you are so well read, why don’t you depict the stories and parables and references which show how Buddha had praised women?

You may be intellectually well read, but I am sorry to say that real Buddhism cannot be understood by acquiring degrees; it can only be understood by the heart. Only a person with half-baked knowledge can make such statements which are not true in its totality and essence.

The topic has no relevance in the realism of today’s time and will only create an erratic discussion. The biggest reason this topic is completely irrational is because of the comparison between Ram, whom you consider a god, and the Buddha, who is just an ordinary human being.

If you really want to understand Buddhsim, then research the way Buddha wanted his pupils to study – through the essence of lotus sutra, which has equality as its primitive function and remains relevant today. Pranit Gedham


Having come forth from a patriarchal background, Buddhism is bound to have some shades of misogyny in it. However, your article is partly a straw man.

When commenting on religions like Jainism and Buddhism, one must remember that rules for monks or nuns differ from the rules for the layperson. While a monk is barred from indulgence in sex, the layman is not. In most of the examples quoted by you, the extreme metaphors used by the Buddha (more accurately, it is the authors of the Vinaya Pitaka as no one accurately knows what the Buddha said) were demonising sexual desire rather than women. They were demonising the sexual act rather than the person with whom you were having sex (unless of course you were coerced by that person who knows that you are a monk and thus sworn to celibacy).

You must understand that in Buddhism (and Jainism), you don’t simply become a monk. You become a monk only when you reach that stage in life where you are ready for it, knowing fully well what you are giving up including women.

Criticising Buddhism for frowning upon sexual acts by monks is akin to frowning upon people for advising a married man against an extramarital affair. While signing up for marriage, you know that other women are off limits. Similarly, while signing up for monkhood, you know that all women are off limits. If the conditions were not to your liking, you shouldn’t have decided to become a husband or a monk.

Every organisation or institution has a code of conduct. If you dislike it, you shouldn’t join it, especially since you aren’t being forced to participate.

On the other hand, Ram was a misogynist for condoning Lakshmana’s actions against Surpanakha. She made advances. All they should have done was to reject her. Disfiguring her was too extreme.

Similarly, he shouldn’t have banished Sita, even if she had been violated by Ravana. She wasn’t a willing party to the whole incident. What was the point of going through all that trouble to retrieve her from Ravana only to throw her out because of gossip in the kingdom? Harshit Bavishi

Devdutt Pattanaik responds:

1. The article is not on Buddhism, but on Buddha and his views.

2. The article neither defends Ram, nor Manu-Smriti. It merely points to Buddhist roots – one of many tributaries – of Indian misogyny and patriarchy that scholars tend to ignore, deny or apologise for.

3. The article challenges the lazy “good” Buddhism and “bad” Hinduism construct of many Indologists, which is ideological and not academic. Many responses to the article prove this point.

4. That pandaka is not queer/homosexual is a stance taken by many apologists. Everybody seems to know who they are not, but not who they are. Like Supreme Court judges of India, we don’t want to acknowledge the Indian homosexual.

5. Not a single story that I came across speaks of how women should be protected from lustful men, as compared to the many stories of how men should be protected from lustful women. This has nothing to do with anti-Eros. This is anti-women.