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The bahudhatuka-sutta and its parallels on women's inabilities.

Introduction

According to early Buddhist thought, the ability to attain any of the four stages of awakening is independent of gender. An explicit endorsement of women's abilities to reach awakening can be found in a discourse in the Samyutta-nikaya and its counterparts in two Samyukta-agama collections translated into Chinese, which allegorically refer to a set of wholesome qualities as a vehicle for approaching liberation. The three versions agree that by means of this vehicle the goal of liberation can be reached independent of whether the one who mounts the vehicle is a woman or a man. (1)

Such a clear assertion of gender equality in the spiritual realm is remarkable in view of what appears to have been the prevalent attitude towards women and their religious potential in ancient India. (2) In another discourse in the Samyutta-nikaya and its parallels in the two Samyuktaagamas already mentioned, Mara appears as an advocate of ancient Indian machismo in this respect. (3) The three versions describe how Mara accosts a meditating nun and tries to unsettle her by suggesting that a woman's innate lack of wisdom renders her incapable of reaching realization. (4) The nun is quick to give a fitting reply to this insinuation. After clarifying that gender is simply irrelevant, once the mind is concentrated, she tells Mara that with such talk he should better go to those who are still caught up in identifications with being a woman or being a man. (5)

In direct contrast to the prejudice voiced by Mara, according to a range of Vinayas the Buddha clearly affirmed women's ability to reach any of the four stages of awakening. (6) Corroboration for this assertion can be found, for example, in a verse in the Thengatha, which records a group of thirty nuns declaring their successful attainment of final liberation. (7) The Mahavacchagotta-sutta and its parallels give even higher numbers, recording that over five-hundred nun disciples of the Buddha had reached full awakening. (8) In sum, there can be little doubt that early Buddhism did consider women to be fully capable of attaining the highest level of liberation.

When it comes to the issue of being a Buddha, however, tradition takes the position that only a male is capable of fulfilling such a role. In the early discourses, the locus classicus for this position is the Bahudhatuka-sutta of the Majjhima-nikaya, according to which a woman is incapable of occupying various positions, one of them being that of a Buddha. (9) The Bahudhatuka-sutta has several parallels which show some variations in their presentation of these impossibilities. Of particular significance is a Madhyama-agama parallel which does not mention any inability of women at all.

This Madhyama-agama parallel to the Bahudhatuka-sutta was translated into Chinese by Gautama Sarighadeva towards the end of the fourth century, (10) apparently based on a Prakrit original transmitted within the Sarvastivada tradition(s). (11) Besides this Madhyama-agama discourse and the Pali Bahudhatuka-sutta, other parallel versions are a discourse translated individually into Chinese; (12) a discourse preserved in Tibetan translation; (13) a full satra quotation in the Dharmaskandha of the Sarvastivada Abhidharma, preserved in Chinese; (14) and a full satra quotation in Samathadeva's commentary on the Abhidharmakosabhasya, preserved in Tibetan. (15)

In what follows, I will at first provide a full translation of the Madhyama-agama parallel to the Bahudhatuka-sutta, followed by a comparative study of the various versions of this discourse. I deem such a full translation and detailed comparison to be required in order to place the exposition on the various inabilities of a woman within context, enabling an assessment of the main thrust of the discourse as a whole and of tendencies at work in other parts of the discourse. Based on these two aspects, the absence of a treatment of what women are unable to achieve can be properly evaluated. Nevertheless, readers interested exclusively in the topic of women's inabilities may skip this part of the present article and directly turn to the discussion of "Women's Inabilities in the Parallel Versions of the Bahudhatuka-sutta" on page 161.

Translation (16)

The Discourse on Many Elements

1. Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was living in Savatthl, in Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's Park. At that time venerable Ananda, who was seated alone in a tranquil place meditating and reflecting, had this thought in [his] mind: "All fears arise from foolishness, not from wisdom. All misfortunes, disasters, and worries arise from foolishness, not from wisdom."

Then, in the late afternoon, venerable Ananda rose from sitting in meditation, went towards the Buddha, paid respect with [his] head at the Buddha's feet and, standing back to one side, said: "Blessed One, [while] I was alone in a tranquil place meditating and reflecting today, [I] had this thought in [my] mind: "All fears arise from foolishness, not from wisdom. All misfortunes, disasters, and worries arise from foolishness, not from wisdom." (17)

2. The Blessed One said: "So it is, Ananda, so it is, Ananda. All fears arise from foolishness, not from wisdom. All misfortunes, disasters, and worries arise from foolishness, not from wisdom.

Just as from a heap of reeds and grass a fire might start, [which] burns down a house or a roofed hall, in the same way all fears arise from foolishness, not from wisdom. All misfortunes, disasters, and worries arise from foolishness, not from wisdom.

Ananda, if there were fears in past times, they all arose from foolishness, not from wisdom. All misfortunes, disasters, and worries [in past times] arose from foolishness, not from wisdom. Ananda, if there will be fears in future times, they will all arise from foolishness, not from wisdom. All misfortunes, disasters and worries [in future times] will arise from foolishness, not from wisdom. [723b] Ananda, if there are fears in present times, they all arise from foolishness, not from wisdom. All misfortunes, disasters and worries [in present times] arise from foolishness, not from wisdom. (18)

Hence, Ananda, due to foolishness there is fear, [due to] wisdom there is no fear; [due to] foolishness there are misfortunes, disasters, and worries, [due to] wisdom there are no misfortunes, disasters or worries. Ananda, whatever fears, misfortunes, disasters and worries there are, they all start off (19) from foolishness, not from wisdom." (20)

3. Then venerable Ananda, who was [moved] to tears, (21) held his folded hands towards the Buddha [in reverence] and said: "Blessed One, how is a monk foolish and not wise?" (22)

The Blessed One replied: "Ananda, if a monk does not know the elements, does not know the sense-spheres, does not know causes and conditions, and does not know what is possible and what is impossible. Ananda, a monk like this is foolish and not wise." (23)

Venerable Ananda said: "Blessed One, a monk like this is [indeed] foolish and not wise. Blessed One, how is a monk wise and not foolish?"

The Blessed One replied: "Ananda, if a monk knows the elements, knows the sense-spheres, knows causes and conditions, and knows what is possible and what is impossible. Ananda, a monk like this is wise and not foolish."

4. Venerable Ananda said: "Blessed One, a monk like this is [indeed] wise and not foolish. Blessed One, how does a monk know the elements?"

The Blessed One replied: (24) "Ananda, suppose a monk sees eighteen elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the eye element, the form element, and the eye-consciousness element;

* the ear element, the sound element, and the ear-consciousness element;

* the nose element, the smell element, and the nose-consciousness element;

* the tongue element, the taste element, and the tongue-consciousness element;

* the body element, the tactile element, and the body-consciousness element;

* the mind element, the mind-object element, and the mind-consciousness element;

Ananda, [a monk] sees these eighteen elements and knows them according to reality. (25)

5-7. Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees six elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the earth element;

* the water element;

* the fire element;

* the wind element;

* the space element;

* the consciousness element.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these six elements and knows them according to reality.

Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees six elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the element of sensual desire;

* the element of ill will;

* the element of cruelty;

* the element of absence of sensual desire;

* the element of absence of ill will;

* the element of absence of cruelty.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these six elements and knows them according to reality.

Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees six elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the element of pleasure;

* the element of pain;

* the element of [mental] joy;

* the element of [mental] sadness;

* the element of equanimity;

* the element of ignorance.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these six elements and knows them according to reality.

Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees four elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the element of feeling;

* the element of perception;

* the element of formations;

* the element of consciousness. (26)

Ananda, [a monk] sees these four elements and knows them according to reality.

8. Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees three elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the sense-sphere element;

* the [fine-]material element;

* the immaterial element.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these three elements and knows them according to reality. [723c]

Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees three elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the material element;

* the immaterial element;

* the element of cessation.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these three elements and knows them according to reality. (27)

Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees three elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the element of the past;

* the element of the future;

* the element of the present.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these three elements and knows them according to reality.

Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees three elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the superior element;

* the inferior element;

* the middling element.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these three elements and knows them according to reality. (28)

Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees three elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the wholesome element;

* the unwholesome element;

* the undetermined element.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these three elements and knows them according to reality.

Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees three elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the element of the trainee;

* the element of the one beyond training;

* the element of the one who is neither a trainee nor beyond training.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these three elements and knows them according to reality.

9. Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees two elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the element with influxes;

* the element without influxes.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these two elements and knows them according to reality. (29)

Again, Ananda, [a monk] sees two elements and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the conditioned element;

* the unconditioned element.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these two elements and knows them according to reality.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these sixty-two elements and knows them according to reality. Ananda, like this a monk knows the elements. (30)

10. Venerable Ananda said: "Blessed One, like this a monk [indeed] knows the elements. Blessed One, how does a monk know the sense-spheres?"

The Blessed One replied: "Ananda, suppose a monk sees the twelve sense-spheres and knows them according to reality, [namely]:

* the eye sense-sphere, and the form sense-sphere;

* the ear sense-sphere, and the sound sense-sphere;

* the nose sense-sphere, and the smell sense-sphere;

* the tongue sense-sphere, and the taste sense-sphere;

* the body sense-sphere, and the tactile sense-sphere;

* the mind sense-sphere, and the mind-object sense-sphere.

Ananda, [a monk] sees these twelve sense-spheres and knows them according to reality. Ananda, like this a monk knows the sense-spheres."

11. Venerable Ananda said: "Blessed One, like this a monk [indeed] knows the sense-spheres. How does a monk know causes and conditions?"

The Blessed One replied: "Ananda, suppose a monk sees causes and conditions as well as what has arisen through causes and conditions and knows it according to reality, [namely]:

Dependent on this, that exists; [if] this does not exist, that does not exist; [if] this arises, that arises; [if] this ceases, that ceases. That is to say, conditioned by ignorance are formations ... up to ... conditioned by birth are old age and death; if ignorance ceases formation cease ... up to ... [if] birth ceases old age and death cease.

Ananda, like this a monk knows causes and conditions.

12-18. Venerable Ananda said: "Blessed One, like this a monk [indeed] knows causes and conditions. How does a monk know what is possible and what is impossible?"

The Blessed One replied: "Ananda, suppose a monk sees what is possible as possible and knows it according to reality, and sees what is impossible as impossible and knows it according to reality. (31)

Ananda, it is not possible that there could be two wheel-turning kings ruling in the world. [However], it is certainly possible that there could be one wheel-turning king ruling in the world.

Ananda, [724a] it is not possible that there could be two Tathagatas in the world. [However], it is certainly possible that there could be one Tathagata in the world.

Ananda, it is not possible for a person [endowed] with a vision of the truth to intentionally kill his father or mother, kill an arahant, cause a schism in the community or, out of an evil mental disposition towards the Buddha, cause the Tathagata's blood to flow. [However], it is certainly possible for an ordinary worldling to intentionally kill his father or mother, kill an arahant, cause a schism in the community or, out of an evil mental disposition towards the Buddha, cause the Tathagata's blood to flow. (32)

Ananda, it is not possible for a person [endowed] with a vision of the truth to intentionally violate the moral precepts, reject the moral precepts and stop [practicing] the path. [However], it is certainly possible for an ordinary worldling to intentionally violate the moral precepts, reject the moral precepts and stop [practicing] the path. (33)

It is [also] not possible for a person [endowed] with a vision of the truth to reject and abandon his own [dispensation] and search for someone to be honored among outsiders, search for a field of merit [among outsiders]. [However], it is certainly possible for an ordinary worldling to reject and abandon his own [dispensation] and search for someone to be honored among outsiders, search for a field of merit [among outsiders].

Ananda, it is not possible for a person [endowed] with a vision of the truth to follow other recluses and Brahmins and declare: 'Honorable ones, you see what can be seen and know what can be known.' [However], it is certainly possible for an ordinary worldling to follow other recluses and Brahmins and declare: 'Honorable ones, you see what can be seen and know what can be known.'

Ananda, it is not possible for a person [endowed] with a vision of the truth to have faith in divination and inquire about auspicious and inauspicious [omens]. [However], it is certainly possible for an ordinary worldling to have faith in divination and inquire about auspicious and inauspicious [omens].

Ananda, it is not possible for a person [endowed] with a vision of the truth to inquire about what is related to auspicious and inauspicious signs from other recluses or Brahmin diviners in order to see if there is some suffering or trouble [to be expected in the future], seeing it as being the truth. [However], it is certainly possible for an ordinary worldling to inquire about what is related to auspicious and inauspicious signs from other recluses or Brahmin diviners in order to see if there is some suffering or trouble [to be expected in the future], seeing it as being the truth.

Ananda, it is not possible for a person [endowed] with a vision of the truth to reject and abandon his own [dispensation] and, when extreme pains arise, tremendous pains that are not [at all] agreeable, not [at all] pleasurable, not [at all] longed for, not [at all] thought of, that lead up to the ending of life, to follow outsiders and search [for help] from some recluse or Brahmin who bears in mind a spell of one line, [or] a spell of two lines, three lines, four lines, many lines, [even] a spell of a hundred thousand lines, [with the thought]: 'this will cause me to be freed from dukkha,' searching in this way for dukkha, the arising of dukkha, the path [leading to liberation from] dukkha, and the cessation of dukkha. [However], it is certainly possible for an ordinary worldling to reject and abandon his own [dispensation] and to follow outsiders and search [for help] from some recluse or Brahmin who bears in mind a spell of one line, [or] a spell of two lines, three lines, four lines, many lines, [even] a spell of a hundred-thousand lines, [with the thought]: 'this will cause me to be freed from dukkha,' searching in this way for dukkha, the arising of dukkha, the path [leading to liberation from] dukkha, and the cessation of dukkha.

Ananda, it is not possible for a person [endowed] with a vision of the truth to experience an eighth existence. [However], it is certainly possible for an ordinary worldling to experience an eighth existence.

Ananda, it is not possible that, on account of evil conduct by body, speech, and mind [one] should, [724b] when the body breaks up at death, proceed towards a good destination and be born in a heavenly world. [However], it is certainly possible that, on account of evil conduct by body, speech, and mind [one] should, when the body breaks up at death, proceed towards an evil destination and be born in a hellish world.

Ananda, it is not possible that, on account of pure conduct by body, speech, and mind [one] should, when the body breaks up at death, proceed towards an evil destination and be born in a hellish world. [However], it is certainly possible that on account of pure conduct by body, speech, and mind [one] should, when the body breaks up at death, proceed towards a good destination and be born in a heavenly world.

Ananda, it is not possible that evil conduct by body, speech, and mind should have as its result the experience of pleasure. [However], it is certainly possible that evil conduct by body, speech, and mind should have as its result the experience of pain.

Ananda, it is not possible that pure conduct by body, speech, and mind should have as its result the experience of pain. [However], it is certainly possible that pure conduct by body, speech, and mind should have as its result the experience of pleasure.

Ananda, it is not possible to fully settle the mind in the four[-fold] establishing of mindfulness if the five hindrances that defile the mind and weaken wisdom are not overcome. [However], it is certainly possible to fully settle the mind in the four[-fold] establishing of mindfulness if the five hindrances that defile the mind and weaken wisdom are over come. (34)

Ananda, it is not possible to aim at developing the seven factors of awakening if the five hindrances that defile the mind and weaken wisdom are not overcome, and if the mind is not fully settled in the four[-fold] establishing of mindfulness. [However], it is certainly possible to develop the seven factors of awakening if the five hindrances that defile the mind and weaken wisdom are overcome, and if the mind is fully settled in the four[-fold] establishing of mindfulness.

Ananda, it is not possible to aim at attaining unsurpassable and complete awakening if the five hindrances that defile the mind and weaken wisdom are not overcome, if the mind is not fully settled in the four[-fold] establishing of mindfulness, and if the seven factors of awakening are not developed. [However], it is certainly possible to attain unsurpassable and complete awakening if the five hindrances that defile the mind and weaken wisdom are overcome, if the mind is fully settled in the four[-fold] establishing of mindfulness, and if the seven factors of awakening are developed.

Ananda, it is not possible to eradicate and make an end of dukkha if the five hindrances that defile the mind and weaken wisdom are not overcome, if the mind is not fully settled in the four[-fold] establishing of mindfulness, if the seven factors of awakening are not developed, and if unsurpassable and complete awakening is not attained. [However], it is certainly possible to eradicate and make an end of dukkha if the five hindrances that defile the mind and weaken wisdom are overcome, if the mind is fully settled in the four[-fold] establishing of mindfulness, if the seven factors of awakening are developed, and if unsurpassable and complete awakening is attained.

Ananda, like this a monk knows what is possible and what is impossible."

Venerable Ananda said: "Blessed One, like this a monk [indeed] knows what is possible and what is impossible." Then venerable Ananda held his folded hands towards the Buddha [in reverence] and said: "Blessed One, what is the name of this discourse, how should we respectfully receive it and bear it in mind?"

The Blessed One said: "Ananda, you should memorize this [discourse] as the Many Elements, [724c] the Dharma Element, the Element of the Deathless, the Many Drums, the Dharma Drum, the Drum of the Deathless, the Mirror of the Dharma, the Four Chapters. For this reason, call this discourse by the name 'Many Elements.'" (35)

The Buddha spoke like this. Venerable Ananda and the monks heard what the Buddha said, were delighted and kept bearing it [in mind].

Comparison of the Parallel Versions of the Bahudhatuka-sutta

In what follows, I survey the more significant variations between the different versions of the present discourse in order to provide a background to my subsequent discussion of the inabilities of women. One such variation occurs in regard to the basic four-fold presentation of what is required in order to be reckoned wise. The sutra quotations in the Dharmaskandha and in Samathadeva's commentary differ from the other versions in as much as they mention the aggregates as a fifth topic (see figure 1). While Samathadeva's commentary has the aggregates as the first item in its listing, followed by the four topics mentioned in all versions, (36) the Dharmaskandha instead lists the aggregates as its respective third (both instances are underlined in figure 1, to facilitate comparison). (37) The sutra quotation in Samathadeva's commentary does not give an exposition to this topic, but only mentions it in its initial listing. The Dharmaskandha, however, does provide such an exposition. (38)
Figure 1: Main Topics of the Exposition

Topics in the discourse versions:
  1) elements
  2) sense-spheres
  3) dependent arising
  4) impossibilities

Topics in Samathadeva's commentary:
  1) [begin strikethrough]aggregates[end strikethrough]
  2) elements
  3) sense-spheres
  4) dependent arising
  5) impossibilities

Topics in the Dharmaskandha:
  1) elements
  2) sense-spheres
  3) [begin strikethrough]aggregates[end strikethrough]
  4) dependent arising
  5) impossibilities


These variations, together with the absence of any reference to the aggregates in the discourse versions, make it quite probable that this topic is a later addition. This impression is further confirmed by the circumstance that all versions speak of "four chapters" or "four turnings" as one of the possible titles of the discourse. (39) Thus it seems safe to conclude that the original exposition involved only four topics--the elements, the sense-spheres, dependent arising, and impossibilities--and did not include a reference to the aggregates or even an exposition of them as a fifth topic.

Substantial variations can also be found in relation to the exposition of the first of these four topics, the elements (see figure 2). The briefest treatment of this topic occurs in the Pali discourse, which lists forty-one elements. These forty-one elements form the common core of the exposition in all versions. The individual translation additionally covers a set of four elements, three sets of three elements and one set of two elements, so that its listing presents fifty-six elements. These fifty-six elements recur in the other Chinese and Tibetan versions, which have another two additional sets of three elements, so that the listing in these total sixty-two elements. (In order to facilitate comparison, in figure 2 only the additional sets are given in full.)
Figure 2: Listing of Elements

Elements in the Pali discourse (MN 115):
  * 18 elements: the senses, their objects and the corresponding
    types of consciousness
  * 6 elements: earth, water, fire, wind, space, consciousness
  * 6 elements: pleasure, pain, joy, sadness, equanimity, ignorance
  * 6 elements: sensual desire, renunciation, ill will, absence
    of ill will, cruelty, absence of cruelty
  * 3 elements: sensual sphere, [fine-]material sphere, immaterial
    sphere
  * 2 elements: conditioned, unconditioned

Elements in the individual translation (T 776):
  * 18 elements
  * 6 elements
  * 6 elements
  * 6 elements
  * 4 elements: feeling, perception, formations, consciousness
  * 3 elements
  * 3 elements: inferior, middle, superior
  * 3 elements: wholesome, unwholesome, undetermined
  * 3 elements: trainee, beyond training, neither
  * 2 elements: with influxes, without influxes
  * 2 elements

Elements in the other versions:
  * 18 elements
  * 6 elements
  * 6 elements
  * 6 elements
  * 4 elements
  * 3 elements
  * 3 elements: material, immaterial, cessation
  * 3 elements: past, future, present
  * 3 elements
  * 3 elements
  * 3 elements
  * 2 elements
  * 2 elements


In principle, such differences could have been caused by a loss of text or by an addition. A loss of text due to intentional omission seems improbable, as the elements not listed in the Pali version are found in other Pali discourses. (40) Hence there would have been no good reason for those who transmitted the Bahudhatuka-sutta to deliberately eliminate these elements from the exposition. The Pali discourse also does not show any sign of accidental loss. In fact, this seems less probable because this would require two cases or stages of accident loss, causing a loss of six elements in the case of the individual translation and a loss of twentyone elements during the transmission of the Pali discourse.

This makes it more probable that the exposition on elements has gone through a gradual expansion instead, with the individual translation testifying to an intermediate stage between the exposition on fortyone elements, found in all versions, and the list of sixty-two elements. Such a gradual expansion would be a fairly natural occurrence during oral transmission, where a listing of elements could easily attract other textual items related to the same topic. The assumption of a textual expansion would also be in line with the above discussed case of five against four chief topics, where the aggregates can safely be considered an instance of later addition and thus testify to a tendency towards expansion.

While the presentation of the next two topics--the sense-spheres and dependent arising--is similar in the parallel versions, with the last topic of impossibilities considerable variations manifest again. The parallel versions concur that the simultaneous manifestation of two wheel-turning kings or two Tathagatas is impossible. (41) They similarly agree that wholesome conduct cannot have bad results or lead to rebirth in hell, just as it is impossible that unwholesome conduct could have pleasant results or lead to rebirth in heaven. The parallel versions also affirm unanimously that a stream-enterer is incapable of committing any of the five heinous crimes, which are to kill one's mother, to kill one's father, to kill an arahant, to create a schism, and to intentionally hurt a Buddha so as to cause his blood to flow. (42) While the Pali version lists these five heinous crimes as five impossibilities, the other versions present them together as a single impossibility (see figure 3).
Figure 3: Main Themes in the Exposition on Impossibilities

Mentioned in all versions:
  * simultaneous arising of two wheel-turning kings or
    Tathagatas
  * evil conduct leads to good results/rebirth; good conduct
    leads to evil results/rebirth
  * a stream-enterer commits five heinous crimes

Mentioned in all versions, but treated differently:
  * further inabilities of a stream-enterer (see figure 4)

Mentioned only in some versions:
  * awakening reached without overcoming the hindrances
    etc. (not in Pali discourse)
  * inabilities of women (not in Madhyama-agama discourse,
    see figure 5)


Another point made in all versions is that stream-enterers will not have faith in outsiders or take an outsider as their teacher. The versions differ, however, as they treat this theme in different ways and also mention various other inabilities of a stream-enterer, which they present alternatively as a single impossibility, as three, as four or as seven impossibilities (see figure 4). These more detailed presentations cover various aspects of a stream-enterer's firm confidence in his or her teacher, indicating that a stream-enterer is unable to give up the precepts or to consider outsiders to be a worthy field of merit or to be awakened. Nor would a stream-enterer believe in auspicious signs. Most versions indicate that a stream-enterer will not be reborn into an eighth existence. Some versions moreover mention a stream-enterer's inability to intentionally kill a living being. The Pali version stands alone in also indicating that a stream-enterer will not consider any formation (sankhara) as permanent, satisfying, or a self.
Figure 4: Further Inabilities of a Stream-enterer

1 impossibility covering 2 aspects (individual translation):
  * after violating monastic precepts slanders own teacher
    and takes outsider as teacher, searches liberation from
    outside teacher

1 impossibility covering 6 aspects (Samathadeva's commentary):
  * intentionally kills living beings, gives up precepts, considers
    outsiders worthy, thinks outsiders are awakened, has
    faith in auspicious signs, experiences eighth existence

1 impossibility covering 7 aspects (Tibetan discourse):
  * intentionally kills living beings, gives up precepts, considers
    outsiders worthy, takes outsiders as teacher, has faith
    in auspicious signs, thinks outsiders know truth, experiences
    eighth existence

3 impossibilities covering 6 aspects (Dharmaskandha):
  * intentionally kills living beings
  * gives up precepts
  * seeks teacher or field of merit among outsiders, considers
    outsiders worthy, practices divination through auspicious
    signs, experiences eighth existence

4 impossibilities covering 4 aspects (Pali discourse):
  * regards formations as permanent
  * regards formations as satisfying
  * regards formations as self
  * follows another teacher43

7 impossibilities covering 7 aspects (Madhyama-agama discourse):
  * gives up precepts
  * considers outsiders as perfected and a field of merit
  * thinks outsiders know truth
  * has faith in auspicious signs
  * inquires about auspicious signs from outsiders
  * searches way out of dukkha from outsiders
  * experiences eighth existence


The variations found between the different versions in regard to types of impossibilities and in regard to the mode of presenting these make it quite probable that a gradual expansion has taken place. Though an accidental loss of text cannot be totally excluded, such an assumption seems highly improbable because a whole series of accidents would be required in order to arrive at the degree of diversity found between the parallel versions. Moreover, none of the items missing in some versions seem to be of such an unusual nature that one would suspect their omission to be intentional.

The same pattern becomes even more evident with other impossibilities mentioned only in some versions, which cover the requirements for reaching awakening and the inabilities of women (see above figure 3). In the case of the first of these two themes--the requirements for reaching awakening--the Pali discourse is the only version which does not breach this theme. According to the other versions, the hindrances need to be overcome, mindfulness needs to be established and the awakening factors need to be developed. Each of these builds on the preceding and their conjoint undertaking is required for reaching awakening and therewith, as additionally mentioned in some version, making an end of dukkha.

In the case of the second theme--the inabilities of women--the Madhyama-agama discourse is the only version that does not mention these. The other versions present this theme with some variations.

In regard to the differences and variations observed so far in the treatment of impossibilities, it is noteworthy that according to the *Mahaprajnaparamita-(upadesa-)sastra ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) the listing of impossibilities originally delivered by the Buddha in the present discourse was subsequently expanded. (44) As an example for this tendency, the Mahaprajnaparamita-(upadesa-)sastra mentions the impossibility that a noble one--i.e. one who is at least a stream-enterer--could take an outsider as his or her teacher. (45) Given that this impossibility is found in all versions of the Bahudhatuka-sutta, the observation made in the Mahaprajnaparamita-(upadesa-)sastra appears to reflect a tendency at work already during the formation of the different versions of the present discourse. (46)

Keeping in mind this tendency towards expansion, noted in the Mahaprajnaparamita-(upadesa-)sastra and found at work repeatedly throughout the different versions of the Bahudhatuka-sutta studied so far, we are now ready to examine more closely the theme of women's inabilities.

Women's Inabilities in the Parallel Versions of the Bahudhatuka-sutta

While the Madhyama-agama parallel to the Bahudhatuka-sutta of the Majjhima-nikaya does not take up the theme of what is impossible for women at all, the other versions of this discourse present the various inabilities of women as a single impossibility, as two or as five impossibilities (see figure 5). As regards content, a difference is that according to some versions a woman cannot be one of the four heavenly kings, while others instead indicate that she cannot be Mara. Another and rather significant difference is that, except for the Pali version, the other versions also indicate that a woman cannot be a Paccekabuddha.
Figure 5: Impossibilities for Women

1 impossibility covering 6 aspects (individual translation):
  * female wheel-turning king, female heavenly king, female
    Sakka, female Brahma, female Paccekabuddha, female
    Buddha

1 impossibility covering 6 aspects (Tibetan discourse):
  * female wheel-turning king, female Sakka, female Brahma,
    female Mara, female Paccekabuddha, female Buddha

1 impossibility covering 6 aspects (Dharmaskandha):
  * female wheel-turning king, female Sakka, female Mara,
    female Brahma, female Paccekabuddha, female Buddha

2 impossibilities covering 6 aspects (Samathadeva's commentary):
  * female wheel-turning king
  * female heavenly king, female Sakka, female Brahma, female
    Paccekabuddha, female Buddha

5 impossibilities (Pali discourse):
  * female Buddha
  * female wheel-turning king
  * female Sakka
  * female Mara
  * female Brahma


When evaluating the implications of these impossibilities, it needs to be kept in mind that in a patriarchal society like ancient India the idea of a female wheel-turning king would have been unthinkable. Similarly, it would have been out of the question for ancient Indians to conceive that a female Sakka, a female heavenly king, or a female Brahma could be reigning in their respective heavenly worlds. (47) The same reasoning would also apply to Mara, who according to the Pali commentarial tradition occupied a position similar to a king or a prince in the highest heaven of the sense-sphere realm. (48)

The point behind the above mentioned impossibilities is that a woman cannot fulfill these functions in the present. Though she could become any of these in the future, as long as she is a female she cannot perform the function of any of these rulers since to assume these leadership positions would, from the perspective of ancient Indian patriarchal society, require being a male. (49)

This would also explain why Buddhist tradition holds that someone about to become a Buddha will not take birth as a woman. To do so, at least in a patriarchal society like ancient Indian, would make it more difficult to successfully execute the role of being a Buddha, as people would have less respect for a female teacher. A parallel reasoning seems to underlie the circumstance that Buddhas are born in families from the warrior or Brahmin class (varna). (50) This specification appears to be based on the same logic, since for a Buddha to be born in a low class would make it unnecessarily difficult to be sufficiently respected as a teacher. (51) Thus these specifications on the gender or the social class of a Buddha are an adaptation to ancient Indian society. They do not imply that gender or social class have a bearing on spiritual ability. (52)

Here it needs also to be taken into account that the presentation in the Bahudhatuka-sutta and its parallels still stems from a period in the development of Buddhist thought when the idea of aspiring to Buddhahood had not yet become a general option. As pointed out by Kajiyama (64), "the dictum that a woman cannot become a Buddha ... did not have a target to which it could have been directed," since at that time "no one, neither man nor woman, aspired to Buddhahood." (53) In sum, then, the inability of a woman to assume the position of a ruler on earth, a ruler in various heavenly realms, or a ruler in the field of Dharma reflects leadership conceptions in ancient India.

From this perspective, one might wonder whether the inabilities of women stipulated in the Bahudhatuka-sutta would be relevant in a society where female leadership is a common feature. Just as Buddhas would not need to come from the Brahmin or warrior castes in a society whose class hierarchy does not put those castes at its apex, a Buddha's gender might not need to be male in a society where gender equality is a generally accepted fact. (54)

Be that as it may, in contrast to these inabilities related to leadership positions, to speak of the impossibility of a female Paccekabuddha would imply equating womanhood with lesser spiritual abilities. A Paccekabuddha does not act as a teacher, so that there would be no need to take into account the preferences of ancient Indian patriarchal society. The question of becoming a Paccekabuddha is thus solely a question of spiritual ability, as a Paccekabuddha has to accomplish the difficult task of reaching awakening without the guidance of a teacher. Hence to consider it impossible for a female to be a Paccekabuddha amounts to proposing that a woman by dint of her gender is incapable of the degree of spiritual ability required for realizing awakening without the guidance of a teacher. That this is indeed the implication of this particular impossibility becomes evident in the individual translation, which contrasts this inability of a woman to the case of a man, who by dint of merit and wisdom can become a Paccekabuddha. (55) In short, a woman lacks the merit and wisdom required for this feat.

The Mahaprajnaparamita-(upadesa-)sastra goes a step further: in a passage presented as a sutra quotation from the Discourse on Many Elements, this work proclaims that a woman can reach liberation only with the help of a man. (56) That is, from the perspective of this passage even for becoming an arahant a woman will need help by a male. At this point, the degradation of the spiritual abilities of women has become fully manifest.

In view of this evident tendency to devalue the abilities of women, it is quite significant that the Madhyama-agama version does not mention any of the inabilities of women. An accidental loss of such a passage seems less probable in view of the recurrent tendency towards gradual expansion that appears to be at work in regard to other topics in all versions. A deliberate deletion of such a treatment is similarly improbable, since the five inabilities of a woman are listed in another Madhyamaagama discourse. (57)

This discourse is one of several canonical records of the Buddha permitting women to go forth as nuns, following a request by Mahapajapatl GotamI and an intervention in her favor by Ananda. The five inabilities of women are also mentioned in a version of the same event in the Mahlsasaka Vinaya, (58) whereas they are absent from accounts of this event in the Vinayas of the Dharmaguptaka, "Haimavata"(?), Mahasamghika, (Mula-)Sarvastivada and Theravada traditions. (59) As the passage on the inabilities of women occurs at different junctions in the Mahlsasaka Vinaya and in the Madhyama-agama discourse, it seems probable that this topic is not an original part of the account of the foundation of the order of nuns; (60) similar to the above discussed case where two out of six versions of the Discourse on Many Elements have a reference to the aggregates that occurs at different junctions in these two versions (see figure 1), where other indications confirm that this reference is a later addition.

Returning to the Bahudhatuka-sutta and its parallels, when considered against the background of the purpose of the whole discourse, the theme of what a woman cannot achieve appears to be quite irrelevant. The different versions agree that the Buddha gave his disciple Ananda an exposition on essential aspects of the Dharma that are required for the development of wisdom. That the development of wisdom requires insight into the elements, the sense-spheres and dependent arising is quite straightforward. The same could also be said for insight into the karmic consequences of wholesome and unwholesome deeds, or for knowledge about certain qualities of a stream-enterer. Such items would still be in line with the general canonical conception of wisdom, which stands for a type of insight and understanding that leads to liberation, (61) not for a mere accumulation of various and perhaps irrelevant facts.

In contrast, to know if a wheel-turning king, a heavenly king, a Sakka, a Mara, a Brahma, a Paccekabuddha or a Buddha can be female would be of little relevance to Ananda, who was living at a time when the ruling positions in the various heavens were held to have been already occupied by males, and when the one male who according to tradition could have become a wheel-turning king had already become a Buddha instead. Given that all of these positions were either already occupied by males or else rendered impossible because of the existence of a Buddha, and given moreover that as a stream-enterer Ananda would not have had any reason to aspire to become any of these, (62) it would be difficult to conceive of any practical relevance that knowledge of gender restrictions for occupying these positions could have had for Ananda. (63)

In sum, since an accidental loss or an intentional omission of an exposition on the inabilities of women in the Madhyama-agama discourse seems improbable, the most straightforward conclusion would be that the theme of women's inability is a later addition to the exposition on impossibilities in the different versions of the Discourse on Many Elements. Thus in this respect the Madhyama-agama version quite probably testifies to an early stage, when the theme of what women cannot achieve had not yet become part of the discourse.

As part of the general tendency to expand on various impossibilities, however, this theme must have soon enough made its way into various versions of the discourse. (64) Whereas the inability of a woman to be a Buddha can still be seen as an expression of leadership conceptions held in ancient Indian patriarchal society, once her ability to be a Pacceka-buddha becomes part of the listing of impossibilities, the implications are clearly a diminishing of the spiritual abilities of women. This tendency can safely be assumed to stand in contrast to the original teachings of early Buddhism, where--as far as the texts allow us to judge--gender was not considered to have an impact on spiritual abilities.

Abbreviations

AN Anguttara-nikaya

Be Burmese edition

Ce Ceylonese edition

D Derge edition

DA Dirgha-agama (T1)

DN Digha-nikaya

EA Ekottarika-agama (T 125)

Ee PTS edition

MA Madhyama-agama (T 26)

MN Majjhima-nikaya

Ps PapancasudanT

Q Peking edition

SA Samyukta-agama (T 99)

[SA.sup.2] 'other' Samyukta-agama (T 100)

Se Siamese edition

SN Samyutta-nikaya

T Taisho (CBETA)

Thi TherTgatha

Vin Vinaya

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Notes

* I am indebted to BhikkhunI Tathaloka, Rod Bucknell, Giuliana Martini and Ken Su for commenting on an earlier draft of this article.

(1) SN 1.46 at SN I 33,11: "woman or man, by means of this vehicle draw close to Nibbana," itthiya purisassa va, sa ve etena yanena, nibbanasseva santike (Ce reads nibbanasseva); SA 587 at T II 156a22: "a sublime vehicle like this, mounted by a man or a woman, will emerge out of the thicket of birth and death, leading to the attainment of the peaceful state," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; SA [171.SUP.2] at T II 437a24: "men as well as women, are able to mount this vehicle, will certainly discard name-and-form, become dispassionate and eradicate birth and death," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

(2) Jaini (Gender 1) notes that the Digambara Jains "vehemently have insisted that one cannot attain moksa, emancipation of a soul from the cycles of birth and death (samsara), as a female." Though the formation of the Digambara sect postdates the period of early Buddhism, this position is nevertheless noteworthy in the light of the indication given in the Jinacaritra that nuns consistently outnumbered monks throughout Jain history (Jinacaritra 134f, 161f, 176f and 214f counts 14.000 monks against 36.000 nuns under MahavIra; 16.000 monks against 38.000 nuns under Parsva; 18.000 monks against 40.000 nuns under Aristanemi; and 84.000 monks against 300.000 nuns under Rsabha; cf. Jacobi (66,5, 69,18, 71,22 and 75,18). Independent of the historical value of such figures, they do point to the eminent position nuns were believed to have held in the Jain monastic order since the most ancient times. That a whole section of the Jain tradition should eventually come to affirm that women are incapable of reaching liberation shows, as pointed out by Jaini (Gender 23), that "the prejudice against the female sex must have been deep-rooted in the popular mind." For a study of Digambara nuns cf. Shanta (630-683).

(3) Rajapakse (13 note 14) comments that "it is interesting to note that the doubts in question are raised by Mara, the mythic-symbolic focus of evil in Buddhism, who thus assumes the role of a 'male chauvinist' in this setting. Mara generally functions ... as an opponent of goodness and spirituality."

(4) SN 5.2 at SN I 129,14: "what is to be attained by seers ... that a woman with her two finger wisdom cannot attain," yan tam isThi pattabbam ... na tam dvangulapannaya, sakka pappotum itthiya (following the new Ee edition 1998: 283,11). SA 1199 at T II 326b1: "the state wherein seers dwell, this state is very difficult to attain, one with a two finger's wisdom is unable to attain that state," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. [SA.sup.2] 215 at T II 454a5: "what is attained by seers, that state is difficult to reach, with your despicable and defiled wisdom you will not attain a state like that," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The reference to a woman's "two finger wisdom" in SN 5.2 and SA 1199 may have been a popular saying, as it recurs in a different context in the Mahavastu in Senart (3: 391,19 and 392,13); cf. also Kloppenborg (154) for an examination of the Pali commentarial gloss on this imagery, which explains that the reference is to women's practice of checking if rice has been sufficiently cooked by taking a grain of rice and pressing it between two fingers. Abeynayake (3) comments that "what is reiterated is nothing but the condemnation that the society had towards women during this period." Harvey (359) notes that "this passage in some way parallels that of Mara's tempting of Gotama just prior to his enlightenment. In Soma's case, specious doubts arise concerning a woman's ability to attain spiritual states, but she conquers them by seeing the irrelevance of gender."

(5) SN 5.2 at SN I 129,23: "what does womanhood matter, [once] the mind is well concentrated? ... one to whom it would occur that 'I am a woman' or 'I am a man' ... [only] to such a one it is fit for Mara to speak [like this]"; itthibhavo kim kayira, cittamhi susamahite ... yassa nuna siya evam, itthaham puriso 'ti va... tam Maro vattum arahati (Se reads itthTbhavo and itthTham). SA 1199 at T II 326b6: "[once] the mind has entered a [concentrative] attainment, what has a female [bodily] appearance to do with that? If knowledge has already arisen, the unsurpassable Dharma will be reached. [But] if the mind has not reached complete separation from the perception of 'man' or 'woman', then such a one will speak like you, Mara. You should go and speak to such a one"; [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. [SA.sup.2] 215 at T II 454a9: "the characteristics of a woman have nothing to do with it, only the mind develops concentrative absorption and contemplates with vision the supreme Dharma. One who has the perception of a 'man' or a 'woman', may say to a woman that she can achieve nothing in the Dharma. [But] if one has no perception of a 'man' or a 'woman', how could such distinctions arise?"; [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (where my rendering assumes the last two instances of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to be an error for [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a frequent error in the Agamas, cf. Analayo "Comparative" 48-49). The protagonist of the present verses appears to have been a remarkable nun with outstanding abilities, as according to the Avadanasataka, Speyer 22,4 (cf. also the Karmasataka in Skilling "Esa" 146), she had committed the entire code of rules to memory after a single hearing. Horner (165) comments "that a woman could be represented as making such an utterance is a proof that the old life of Hinduism in which women were regarded merely as child-bearers and as commodities was, if not suffering a decline, at least not passing entirely unquestioned."

(6) This is reported in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, T 1428 at T XXII 923a24; in what according to Lamotte (Histoire 212) could be the Haimavata Vinaya, T 1463 at T XXIV 803b10; in the Mahasamghika Vinaya, Roth 13,5; in the Mahlsasaka Vinaya, T 1421 at T XXII 185c17; and in the Theravada Vinaya, Vin II 254,33 (cf. also AN 8.51 at AN IV 276,10). According to a parallel to this account in the (Mula-)sarvastivada Vinaya, T 1451 at T XXIV 350b15, it was the Buddha's fostermother who made this point, where the circumstance that the Buddha did not reject her assertion of women's abilities gives the impression that here, too, such abilities are at least implicitly affirmed. The same holds true for a Sarvastivada parallel, MA 116 at T I 605a13.

(7) ThI 120: "in the last watch of the night they destroyed the mass of ignorance," rattiya pacchime yame tamokkhandham padalayum (Be: tamokhandham), followed by indicating at ThI 121 that this was accomplished by a group of thirty elder nuns.

(8) MN 73 at MN I 490,24: "Vaccha, not merely one hundred, not two hundred, not three hundred, not four hundred, not five hundred, but far more nuns who are my disciples dwell by having realized here and now through their own direct knowledge the influx-free deliverance of the mind and deliverance by wisdom, being established in it through the destruction of the influxes," na kho, Vaccha, ekam yeva satam na dve satani na tini satani na cattari satani na panca satani, atha kho bhiyyo va ya bhikkhuniyo mama savika asavanam khaya aniasavam cetovimuttim pannavimuttim dittheva dhamme sayam abhinna sacchikatva upasampajja viharanti. SA 964 at T II 246c14: "not only one, two, three nuns, (up to) five hundred, there are many [more] nuns in this Dharma and discipline who have destroyed all influxes (up to) and will not experience further existences"; [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; and [SA.sup.2] 198 at T II 446b13: "in the Dharma I teach, there are not [only] one, two, three, (up to) five hundred, but many [more] nuns than that who have attained this state," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], where "this state" refers to the earlier mentioned "attaining deliverance of the mind and deliverance by wisdom," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; cf. also T 1482 at T XXIV 963b17.

(9) MN 115 at MN III 65,24: "it is impossible, it cannot come to be that a woman should be an arahant who is a Sammasambuddha," atthanam etam anavakaso yam itthi araham assa sammasambuddho (Be, Ce and Se: itthi). The same position is also taken in AN 1.15 at AN I 28,9, a discourse of which no parallel appears to be known. Such absence of a parallel does not necessarily imply lateness, as lack of a counterpart could also be due to the dynamics of transmission, cf. Analayo "Chinese" 7-9.

(10) MA 181 at T I 723a10-724c3.

(11) On the language of the Indic original used for translating the Madhyama-agama cf. Bapat (5), Enomoto ("Agamas" 20), and von Hinuber (250); on the school affiliation cf. Enomoto ("Sarvastivada"), Lu (242), Mayeda (98), Minh Chau (27), and Waldschmidt (136).

(12) T 776 at T XVII 712b14-714a1, entitled "Discourse Spoken by the Buddha on the Fourfold Dharma Instruction," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a title reconstructed by Nanjio (219) as Buddhabhasita-caturvarga-dharmaparyayasutra, which according to the information given in the Taisho edition would have been translated by Faxian, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(13) D (297) mdo sde sha 297a2-301b2 or Q (963) mdo lu 325b3-330b1, entitled khams mang po pa'i mdo, which thus similar to MN 115 and MA 181 takes the "many elements" as its title, though in its reference to the Indic original it has these two words in the reverse sequence, D mdo sde sha 297a2 or Q lu 325b3: rgya gar skad du dha tu ba hu ta ka su tra. Skilling (Kanjur 772) notes several editions whose title corresponds to the sequence of the Pali title and suggests that "dhatubahutaka must be a reconstruction." For my work on this discourse I am greatly indebted to Peter Skilling, who kindly allowed me to consult his unpublished translation and edition of the Tibetan discourse. It is a rare gift to be associating with an eminent scholar of such broadminded generosity, especially when it comes to sharing his own unpublished work.

(14) This sutra quotation comes at the outset of chapter 20 on "many elements" in T 1537 at T XXVI 501b25-502c18.

(15) D (4094) mngon pa ju 28b2-33b4 or Q (5595) tu 31b1-36b6, which gives the title as khams mang po pa'i mdo, "the Discourse on Many Elements."

(16) In order to facilitate comparing my translation with the English translation of the Bahudhatuka-sutta in Nanamoli (925-30), I adopt the same paragraph numbering as used by Nanamoli. For the same reason, I also use Pali terminology (except for such anglicized terms as Dharma and Nirvana), without thereby intending to take a position on the original language of the Madhyama-agama.

(17) MN 115 at MN III 61,9 begins directly with the Buddha broaching this subject, without reporting that a corresponding thought had occurred to Ananda. The other versions agree with MA 181.

(18) MN 115 does not take up the fears of the past and the future. The other versions agree with MA 181.

(19) MA 181 at T I 723b6: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], for which Hirakawa (235) gives as possible equivalents pra-vrabh and sam-a-vrabh.

(20) At this point in MN 115 at MN III 61,25, the Buddha encourages his disciples to train themselves with the thought "we shall become wise ones and inquirers," pandita bhavissama vimamsaka (Se only reads pandita bhavissama, without vimamsaka), an injunction that underlines the practical import of the subsequent exposition.

(21) Such a reaction by Ananda is not mentioned in the other versions.

(22) In MN 115 at MN III 62,2 Ananda asks directly about how a monk can be reckoned a wise one, without broaching the complementary topic of being reckoned a foolish one. The other versions agree with MA 181.

(23) The sutra quotation in Samathadeva's commentary and the Dharmaskandha add to this fourfold listing the aggregates as a fifth item, which D mngon pa ju 29b1 or Q tu 32b1 lists as its first, whereas in T 1537 at T XXVI 501c11 they occur in the third place, see figure 1. The Dharmaskandha also gives an exposition of this topic by listing the five aggregates, T 1537 at T XXVI 502a13, an exposition without counterpart in the sutra quotation in Samathadeva's commentary.

(24) Several of the elements listed here are not found in MN 115, see figure 2.

(25) At this point in MN 115, and after each of the sets of elements listed subsequently, Ananda asks the Buddha if there could be another way how a monk can be reckoned as skilled in the elements, e.g., MN III 62,19: siya pana, bhante, anno pi pariyayo yatha dhatukusalo bhikkhu'ti alam vacanaya. Thus in MN 115 the different sets of elements are alternative options, whereas MA 181 gives the impression as if all sets of elements need to be known.

(26) This set of four elements is not found in MN 115, though it occurs in the other versions.

(27) The present triad of elements (material/immaterial/cessation) and the next triad (past/future/present) are absent from MN 115 and T 776.

(28) The present triad of elements (superior/inferior/middle) and the next two triads (wholesome/unwholesome/undetermined and trainee/beyond training/neither) are absent from MN 115, but occur in the other versions.

(29) The present pair of elements (with influxes/without influxes) is absent from MN 115, but occurs in the other versions.

(30) A final count of all elements is not found in any of the parallels, so that MA 181 is the only version that specifies the overall number of elements. A count of sixty-two elements is associated with the present discourse in other sources, however, e.g., in the Mahavibhasa, T 1545 at T XXVII 367c4: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (cf. also Buddhavarman's Vibhasa translation, T 1546 at T XXVIII 279b24); or in the Abhidharmakosabhasya, Abh-k 1:28 in Pradhan 18,7: Bahudhatuke'pi dvasastirdhatavo desitah (with its Chinese counterparts in T 1558 at T XXIX 6c2 and in T 1559 at T XXIX 166c24); cf. also T 1552 at T XXVIII 874a6 and T 1828 at T XLII 657b17.

(31) The listings of impossibilities show considerable variations in the different versions, see figure 3.

(32) The contrast here is between the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], counterparts to the ditthisampanna puggala and the puthujjana mentioned in the corresponding section in MN 115 at MN III 64,29. The former of these two is at least a stream-enterer, so that the impossibilities listed here contrast a member of the community of noble ones to a worldling.

(33) The present and the subsequent impossibilities, up to the impossibility that a person endowed with view could be reborn into an eighth existence, have as their counterpart in MN 115 at MN III 65,11 a single impossibility, according to which a person endowed with view will not designate another teacher [as his teacher], annam sattaram uddiseyya, see figure 4.

(34) The present and the following impossibilities are without a counterpart in MN 115, though they have counterparts in the other versions.

(35) Four of these titles, the "Many Elements," the "Drum of the Deathless," the "Mirror of the Dharma," and the "Four Chapters" occur also in nearly all of the other versions, cf. MN 115 at MN III 67,29: bahudhatuko ... catuparivatto ... dhammadaso ... amatadundubhi; T 776 at T XVII 713c27: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; D mdo sde sha 301a7 or Q lu 330a8: le'u bzhi pa... chos kyi me long ... bdud rtsi'i rnga bo che (thereby qualifying the drum of the deathless as "great") ... khams mang po; T 1537 at T XXVI 502c17: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (qualifying the mirror of the Dharma as "great") [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: D mngon pa ju 33b3 or Q tu 36b5: le'u bzhi pa ... chos kyi me long ... bdud rtsi lnga (speaking of a "five[-fold] deathless" instead of the "drum of the deathless") ... khams mang po. MN 115 at MN III 67,30 also mentions the "Unsurpassable Victory in Battle," anuttaro sangamavijayo, a title not found in the other versions. The same title recurs in a listing of five alternative titles for the Brahmajala-sutta, DN 1 at DN I 46,25, where it is also absent from the Chinese and Tibetan counterparts, cf. DA 21 at T I 94a12, T 21 at T I 270c20, and Weller (64,33).

(36) D mngon paju 29b1 or Q tu 32b1: phung po.

(37) T 1537 at T XXVI 501c11: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(38) T 1537 at T XXVI 502a13: "A wise one who knows and sees the five aggregates as they really are is skilled in the aggregates. That is to say, he knows and sees the aggregate of form, the aggregate of feeling, the aggregate of perception, the aggregate of formations, and the aggregate of consciousness as they really are. This is reckoned a wise one who is skilled in the aggregates," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(39) MN 115 at MN III 67,29: catuparivatta; T 776 at T XVII 713c27: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; D mdo sde sha 301a7 or Q lu 330a8: le'u bzhi pa; T 1537 at T XXVI 502c17: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; D mngon pa ju 33b3 or Q tu 36b5: le'u bzhi pa.

(40) The four elements occur in an analysis of deeper levels of concentration into its constituent elements under the heading of the four mental aggregates given in MN 64 at MN I 436,21+29. The additional element triplets recur in DN 33 at DN III 215,20+22, DN III 216,16, DN III 217,24, and DN III 218,1, which has the triplet material, immaterial, and cessation as its entry 3:14; what is inferior, middle, and superior as its entry 3:15; past, future, and present as its entry 3:24; wholesome, unwholesome, and indeterminate formations as its entry 3:35; and the trainee, the one beyond training, and the one who is neither as its entry 3:36. The distinction between what is with influxes and what is without the influxes is applied in DN 28 at DN III 112,7 to supernormal powers; in MN 117 at MN III 72,6 to the factors of the noble eightfold path; in AN 2.7 at AN I 81,1 to happiness; and in AN 10.133 at AN V 275,20 to the ten courses of action.

(41) The sutra quotations in the Dharmaskandha and in Samathadeva's commentary agree with MA 181 in mentioning the two wheel-turning kings first, T 1537 at T XXVI 502b12 and D mngon pa ju 32a1 or Q tu 35a2. The other versions mention them in second place, MN 115 at MN III 65,20, T 776 at T XVII 713b18, and D mdo sde sha 300a7 or Q lu 329a5.

(42) While in the listing in MN 115 at MN III 65,3, shedding the blood of a Tathagata precedes schism; T 776 at T XVII 713b27, D mdo sde sha 300b3 or Q lu 329a8, T 1537 at T XXVI 502b21, and D mngon pa ju 32a6 or Q tu 35a8 agree with MA 181 at T I 724a3 in adopting the opposite sequence. On this type of variation cf. also Silk (254-55).

(43) The first three constitute the first to third impossibilities in MN 115 at MN III 64,16, while the impossibility of following another teacher comes as the ninth impossibility at MN III 65,10.

(44) T 1509 at T XXV 237a28 explains that the "possibilities and impossibilities like these [mentioned before] were declared by the Buddha himself in the Discourse on Many Elements. Based on what the Buddha had said, the treatise masters further expanded by declaring [more] possibilities and impossibilities," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], cf. Lamotte (Le Traite 1525): "toutes ces possibilites et impossibility, le Buddha les a exposees de sa bouche dans le To-sing king (Bahudhatukasutra), mais les docteurs (upadesacarya), s'appuyant sur la parole du Buddha, ont encore developpe au long ces possibilites et impossibilites."

(45) T 1509 at T XXV 237b1: refers to the impossibility "that noble ones seek out a heterodox teacher," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; cf. Lamotte (Le Traite 1525): "que les saints (arya) recherchent des maitres heretiques."

(46) Lamotte (Le Traite 1525 note 1) suggests that this would be intending the authors of the Abhidharma in particular, "le Traite a sans doute en vue les auteurs d'Abhidharma qui on considerablement augmente la liste des possibilites et impossibilites dressee par le Buddha." This is certainly the case, but the same tendency towards expanding the theme of impossibilities seems to make itself felt already in the Bahudhatuka-sutta and its discourse parallels.

(47) Ps IV 123,11 explains that in the present context the reference is to Mahabrahma, i.e. a Brahma who reigns in the Brahma world; in fact the individual translation, T 776 at T XVII 713b22, speaks explicitly of the Heavenly King Mahabrahma in this context, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; and the Dharmaskandha, T 1537 at T XXVI 502b17, speaks of King Brahma, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The Pali commentary explains that the suggestion in MN 115 at MN III 66,8 that a man can become a Brahma should not be taken literally, as Brahmas are genderless, but should be understood only in the sense that the outer appearance of a Brahma resembles a man more than a woman.

(48) According to Ps I 34,2, Mara lives in the Paranimmittavasavattidevaloka governing his own following like a rebel prince in the border region of a kingdom, attano parisaya issariyam pavattento rajjapaccante damarikarajaputto viya vasati.

(49) Barnes (114) comments on the impossibilities for women that "this theory excluded women from leadership." As Sharma (74) points out, at least in the case of Mara this would not have been an issue, as given the negative role Mara plays in Buddhist texts, "the denial of Marahood can hardly be an embarrassment."

(50) This can be seen in the listing of former Buddhas given in DN 14 at DN II 2,28; DA 1 at T I 2a16; T 2 at T I 150b1; T 4 at T I 159b21; EA 48.4 at T II 790b14 and their Sanskrit fragment counterparts frag. S 360 folio 115 verso in Fukita (4). The Mahavastu, Senart (2: 1,3) points out that "bodhisattvas are born in two types of families, warrior families or Brahmin families," dvThi kulehi bodhisatva jayanti, ksatriyakule va brahmanakule va. Rahula (186) sums up: "if the Buddha is to hail from a backward family, nobody would care for what he preaches and hence an Enlightened One is always to be born in the highest caste of the day." Wawrytko (286) explains that "prevailing social conditions prompted the Buddha to choose a high caste for his incarnation ... presumably the same practical considerations would have militated against an incarnation in the female gender within ancient Indian society."

(51) According to the Sanghabhedavastu, Gnoli (36,13), the future Buddha chose to be reborn in a warrior family since the warriors were more respected than Brahmins, and his decision on where to be born was taken in order to avoid an objectionable type of birth, ma me syur atonidanam pare vakktarah 'bodhisattvena garhanTyayam jatau pratisandhir grhTta' iti. A related position can be found in the Jain tradition, as according to the Jinacaritra (17) in Jacobi (38,9) future arahants or wheel-turning kings will avoid taking birth in a low womb or even in a Brahmin womb.

(52) Here it needs to be pointed out that this inability does not imply, as assumed by An (11), that women are not capable of reaching liberation and be arahants, it only concerns the question of being a Buddha.

(53) Romberg (164) notes that once "the aim was no longer to become an Arhat, but to become Buddha ... this shift made, in fact, the situation for women worse, because a doctrinal foundation was laid for the necessity of changing the sex before being able to become enlightened." In fact the Bodhisattvabhumi explains that a woman will not realize the awakening of a Buddha because already an advanced bodhisattva has left behind womanhood for good and will not be reborn again as a female, Wogihara (94,3): na ca strT anuttaram samyaksambodhim abhisambudhyate. tat kasya hetoh? tatha hi bodhisattvah prathamasyaiva kalpasamkhyeyasyatyayat strTbhavam vijahati bodhimandanisadanam upadaya na punar jatu strT bhavati; cf. also Paul (212 note 7). Harrison (78) concludes that "women ... are generally represented in such an unfavourable light as to vitiate any notion of the Mahayana as a movement for sexual equality. Compared with the situation in the Pali Canon, in which women are at least as capable as men of attaining the highest goal, arhatship, the position of women in Mahayana has hardly changed for the better."

(54) A problem with this suggestion would be one of the thirty-two marks with which according to tradition the Buddha was endowed, namely the concealed nature of his genitals, cf. e.g., MN 91 at MN II 136,17: kosohitavatthaguyho, referred to in its parallels MA 161 at T I 686b16 and T 76 at T I 883c26 as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Hae-ju (131) comments that the idea of women's inability to become a Buddha "may have stemmed from the idea of the Buddha's unique sexual mark. Even though his sexual organ is concealed, the mark is characterized as male", cf. also Kajiyama (65). The standard description of the significance of these thirty-two marks, cf. e.g., MN 91 at MN II 134,16 and its parallels MA 161 at T I 685a23, and T 76 at T I 883c2, states that one who has these will definitely become either a wheelturning king or a Buddha. In several discourses, Brahmins investigate the Buddha's possession of the thirty-two marks and, once they find out that he possesses all of them and have been told by him that he claims to be a Buddha, they come to the conclusion that his claim must be true. Thus possession of the thirty-two marks serves to certify a claim to Buddhahood in the eyes of contemporary Brahmins. However, the standard descriptions of the significance of these marks neither explicitly state nor necessarily imply that to become a wheel-turning king or a Buddha one must invariably be endowed with these marks (though this may well be the way later tradition interprets these passages). It only states the future prospect of one who has them. Thus what this dictum implies for one who does not have all thirty-two marks would be that such a person's claim to be a Buddha would fail to arouse confidence in Brahmins who believe in the significance of these marks. In the discourses, the situation of someone claiming to be a Buddha without possessing all thirty-two marks does not arise, as whenever the possession of these marks is under scrutiny, the object of such investigations is invariably Gotama Buddha. Nevertheless, a significant indication can be found in the Mahapadana-sutta, which makes a point of not including the possession of the thirty-two marks among what is the rule, dhammata, for all Buddhas. Whereas the Mahapadana-sutta consistently introduces various qualities of the infant bodhisattva VipassI as dhammata esa, and thus specifies their possession as something that is invariably the case for any Buddha-to-be, when the discourse turns to his thirty-two marks, DN 14 at DN II 16,1, the phrase dhammata esa is no longer used. The same is the case for its DTrgha-agama parallel, where the recurrent reference to an "unchanging principle for all Buddhas," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], is no longer used when the description turns to the thirty-two marks, DA 1 at T I 4c20. Not all parallel versions agree in this respect, as judging from fragment 143.2 in Fukita (71) the Sanskrit parallel did use the expression dharmata at the outset of its description of bodhisattva Vipasyfs possession of the thirtytwo marks; while another parallel, T 2 at T I 152b13, does not use such a specification even in its description of his other qualities. In sum, at least from the perspective of the Mahapadana-sutta and its DTrgha-agama parallel, the possibility that someone could be a Buddha without being in the possession of all of the thirty-two marks does not seem to be categorically ruled out.

(55) T 776 at T XVII 713b23 indicates that what is impossible for women is instead possible in the case of "a son of a good family who is endowed with the marks of a great man and adorned with merit and wisdom," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(56) T 1509 at T XXV 237a19: "if a woman attains the liberation of Nirvana, it is in dependence on a male that she attains it; it does not happen that she attains the path on her own," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], cf. also Lamotte (Le Traite 1524): "si une femme obtient la delivrance (vimukti), le Nirvana, c'est grace a un male qu'elle l'obtient. Il est impossible qu'elle obtienne la Bodhi par elle-meme (svatah)."

(57) MA 116 at T I 607b10: "a woman cannot attain five objectives. That a woman should become a Tathagata, free from attachment, rightly awakened; a wheel-turning king; Sakka, ruler of gods; King Mara; or Great Brahma, that is impossible," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. A statement of the same type can also be found in the in many respects closely parallel account in T 61 at T I 858a1: "it is impossible and cannot come to be, a woman cannot at all attain five objectives: she cannot become a Tathagata, free from attachment, rightly awakened; or a wheel-turning king; she cannot become Sakka; she cannot become Mara; and she cannot become Brahma, [all] that is impossible," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(58) T 1421 at T XXII 186a12: "a woman has five obstructions, she cannot become Sakka, the ruler of gods, or the Heavenly King Mara, or the Heavenly King Brahma, or a noble wheel-turning king or a king of the Dharma in the three realms," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The five impossibilities are also mentioned in EA 43.2 at T II 757c24, where they serve to explain why a woman cannot be given a prediction of future Buddha-hood. This passage thus shows a stage of development comparable to the extract from the Bodhisattvabhumi quote above in note 53. A counterpart to the tale in EA 43.2 can be found in an apocryphal Pali jataka ed. in Jaini ("Padlpadanajataka"), cf. also Gombrich (70) on a version of this tale in a Sinhala prose work composed in the 15th century. The occurrence of this tale in the Ekottarikaagama is one of several passages indicating the integration of comparatively late elements into this discourse collection, cf. in more detail Analayo ("Zeng").

(59) Dharmaguptaka Vinaya T 1428 at T XXII 922c-923c, the "Haimavata"(?) Vinaya, T 1463 at T XXIV 803a-c, the Mahasamghika Vinaya, Roth (4-21), the (Mula-)Sarvastivada Vinaya, T 1451 at T XXIV 350b-351c, and the Theravada Vinaya, Vin II 253-256 (= AN 8.51 at AN IV 274-279); cf. also the survey in Heirman (282).

(60) In the Mahlsasaka Vinaya, T 1421 at T XXII 186a12, the inabilities of women stand at the beginning of several passages that describe the negative repercussions of allowing women to go forth. In MA 116 at T I 607b10 (and in its close parallel T 61 at T I 858a1), women's inabilities come at the end of a comparable series of passages on the detrimental consequences of permitting women to ordain.

(61) MN 43 at MN I 293,36 indicates that the purpose of wisdom is to develop "direct knowledge," "penetrative knowledge," and "abandoning," panna ... abhinnattha parinnattha pahanattha; its parallel MA 211 at T I 790c22 similarly explains that wisdom has the purpose of leading to "disenchantment," to "dispassion," and to a "vision in accordance with reality," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(62) SN 22.83 at SN III 106,3 and its parallel SA 261 at T II 66b3 record how Ananda became a stream-enterer, which Vin II 183,21 indicates to have happened soon after his ordination.

(63) Perez-remon (357) note 48 comments regarding the impossibilities of two Buddhas or two wheel-turning kings arising simultaneously and the impossibilities of women: "these impossibilities and their corresponding possibilities are introduced in between the other impossibilities and possibilities regarding moral matters, interrupting the enumeration of things morally possible or impossible, a fact that might indicate their later interpolation."

(64) Kajiyama (58) concludes that, regarding the listing of inabilities of women, "it is most likely that the dictum did not exist when the Buddhist Order maintained one and the same tradition, but that it was created after the Order was divided into many schools and was inserted into sutras of various schools." However, the suggestion by Kajiyama (70) that "the dictum that a woman is incapable of becoming a Buddha arose probably in the first century B.C." may be putting things at too late a time.
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Author:Analayo
Publication:Journal of Buddhist Ethics
Article Type:Essay
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Date:Jan 1, 2009
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