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Monks touching women

edited May 2010 in Modern Buddhism
Hello all

I'm a brand new member and not sure just where to place this thread, so it may be in the wrong sub-forum.

The question was asked on a Thai forum about what should a Thai monk do if a woman was in danger of drowning and he was in a position to save her. However, the Thai Vinaya forbids a monk to touch a woman.

I found an answer to the question in this forum from the Mahayana perspective to the effect that the Bodhisattva Vow always takes precedence over pratimoksha vows; hence a Mahayana monk would jump in and save the woman.

However, I don't know what would be the expected thing according to the Theravada monastic vows. I also don't know if all Mahayana monks take the Bodhisattva Vow. Can anyone enlighten me?

Incidentally, I'm based in Bangkok and have been in Thailand and Laos a total of about 15 years (but not continuously). My wife was brought up in the Theravada tradition, but she is a great admirer of Thich Nhat Hanh and we have both stayed at Plum Village in France. I respect the Theravada adherence to the Pali Canon, but I prefer the Mahayana sangha as I've experienced it.

There doesn't seem to be a thread for new members to introduce themselves, so I've done that as well as ask my question. Sorry about the length of the post.

Comments

  • TreeLuvr87TreeLuvr87 Veteran
    edited May 2010
    Hi, welcome to the site! This is an interesting situation to think about. I can't help you with the specifics of your question, but I did want to let you know that there actually is a new member thread right here:

    http://newbuddhist.com/forum/showthread.php?t=486

    Again, welcome!
  • edited May 2010
    krungthep49;109691 said:
    The question was asked on a Thai forum about what should a Thai monk do if a woman was in danger of drowning and he was in a position to save her. However, the Thai Vinaya forbids a monk to touch a woman.
    he'd save her.

    on top of being plain common sense, Ajahn Brahm discussed a similar situation where he personally carried a woman who got injured in a car accident.

    I don't remember which talk it was but you will it in one of his Dhamma talks on youtube.
  • edited May 2010
    patbb;109696 said:
    he'd save her.

    on top of being plain common sense, Ajahn Brahm discussed a similar situation where he personally carried a woman who got injured in a car accident.

    I don't remember which talk it was but you will it in one of his Dhamma talks on youtube.
    Thanks patbb. I'm not sure if "plain common sense" always prevails here. I think it would, but there is a famous case of a princess who drowned 100+ years ago because commoners were not allowed to touch royalty. I'm almost sure times have changed, but not 100% sure.:skeptical

    Ajahn Brahm has been ostracized by the Wat Pa Pong community (Ajahn Chah lineage) for allowing the ordination of bhikkhunis at Bodhinyana Monastery, so his views towards women may be rather more flexible and sympathetic than other Thai bhikkhus. I'll wait and see what the responses are on the Thai forum to the original scenario and get back to our forum here. (The Thai forum is very small and moves very slowly, so it might be a while.)
  • DhammaDhatuDhammaDhatu Veteran
    edited May 2010
    Sawadhi krup Krungthep49

    The Vinaya follows intention.

    image

    2. Should any bhikkhu, overcome by lust, with altered mind, engage in bodily contact with a woman, or in holding her hand, holding a lock of her hair, or caressing any of her limbs, it entails initial and subsequent meetings of the Community.

    This rule has sometimes been viewed as a sign of prejudice against women. But, as the origin story makes clear, the Buddha formulated the rule not because women are bad, but because bhikkhus sometimes can be.

    "Now at that time, Ven. Udāyin was living in the wilderness. His dwelling was beautiful, attractive and appealing. The inner chamber was in the middle, entirely surrounded by the outer chamber. The bed and bench, the mattress and pillow were well arranged, the water for washing and drinking well placed, the surrounding area well swept. Many people came to look at it. Even a certain brahman together with his wife went to Ven. Udāyin and on arrival said, 'We would like to look at your dwelling.'

    "'Very well then, brahman, have a look.' Taking the key, unfastening the lock, and opening the door, he entered the dwelling. The brahman entered after Ven. Udāyin; the brahman lady after the brahman. Then Ven. Udāyin, opening some of the windows and closing others, walking around the inner room and coming up from behind, rubbed up against the brahman lady limb by limb.

    "Then, after exchanging pleasantries with Ven. Udāyin, the brahman left. Delighted, he burst out with words of delight: 'How grand are these Sakyan contemplatives who live in the wilderness like this! And how grand is Ven. Udāyin who lives in the wilderness like this!'
    "When this was said, his wife said to him, 'From where does he get his grandeur? He rubbed up against me limb by limb just the way you do!'

    "So the brahman criticized and complained and spread it about: 'They're shameless, these bhikkhus — immoral, liars!... How can this contemplative Udāyin rub up against my wife limb by limb? It isn't possible to go with your family wives, daughters, girls, daughters-in-law, and female slaves to a monastery or dwelling. If family wives, daughters, girls, daughters-in-law, and female slaves go to a monastery or dwelling, the Sakyan-son monks will molest them!'"


    There are two ways in which a bhikkhu can come into contact with a woman: either actively (the bhikkhu makes the contact) or passively (the woman does). Because the Vibhaṅga uses different terms to analyze these two possibilities, we will discuss them separately.



    Active contact. The full offense for active contact here is composed of four factors.
    • 1) Object: a living woman — "even one born on that very day, all the more an older one." Whether she is awake enough to realize what is going on is irrelevant to the offense.
    • 2) Perception: The bhikkhu correctly perceives her to be a woman.
    • 3) Intention: He is impelled by lust.
    • 4) Effort: He comes into physical contact with her.
    Of these four factors, only two — intention and effort — require detailed explanation.

    Intention. The Vibhaṅga explains the term overcome with lust as meaning "impassioned, desiring, a mind bound by attraction." Altered, it says, can refer in general to one of three states of mind — passion, aversion, or delusion — but here it refers specifically to passion.

    The Commentary adds a piece of Abhidhamma analysis at this point, saying that altered refers to the moment when the mind leaves its state of pure neutrality in the bhavaṅga under the influence of desire. Thus the factor of intention here can be fulfilled not only by a prolonged or intense feeling of desire, but also by a momentary attraction.

    The Commentary also tries to limit the range of passion to which this rule applies, saying that it covers only desire for the enjoyment of contact. As we noted under Pr 1, the ancient commentators formulated a list of eleven types of lust, each mutually exclusive, and the question of which rule applies to a particular case depends on which type of lust provokes the bhikkhu's actions. Thus if a bhikkhu lusting for intercourse touches a woman, it says, he incurs only a dukkaṭa as a preliminary to sexual intercourse under Pr 1. If he touches her through his lust for an ejaculation, he incurs a thullaccaya as a preliminary to causing an emission under Sg 1. Only if he touches her with the simple desire to enjoy the sensation of contact does he incur a saṅghādisesa under this rule.

    This system, though very neat and orderly, flies in the face of common sense and, as we noted under Pr 1, contradicts the Vibhaṅga as well, so there is no need to adopt it. We can stick with the Vibhaṅga to this rule and say that any state of passion fulfills the factor of intention here. The Commentary's discussion, though, is useful in showing that the passion needn't be full-scale sexual lust. Even a momentary desire to enjoy the sensation of physical contact — overwhelming enough that one acts on it — is enough to fulfill this factor.

    Effort. The Vibhaṅga illustrates the effort of making physical contact with a list of activities: rubbing, rubbing up against, rubbing downwards, rubbing upwards, bending down, pulling up, drawing to, pushing away, seizing hold (restraining or pinning down — abhiniggaṇhanā), squeezing, grasping, or touching. The Vinita-vatthu includes a case of a bhikkhu giving a woman a blow with his shoulder: He too incurs a saṅghādisesa, which shows that the Vibhaṅga's list is meant to cover all similar actions as well. If a bhikkhu with lustful mind does anything of this sort to a living woman's body, perceiving her to be a woman, he incurs the full penalty under this rule. As noted under Pr 1, mouth-to-mouth penetration with any human being or common animal would incur a thullaccaya. If this act is accompanied by other lustful bodily contact, the thullaccaya would be incurred in addition to any other penalty imposed here.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/bmc1/bmc1.ch05.html
  • edited May 2010
    Interesting question.

    If the monk has any sense at all, he would of course save the drowning woman. The resulting possible vinaya offence seems relatively minor compared to the cruelty of letting her drown. Furthermore, if I understand the pattimokkha correctly, the offence is only committed if the touching is lustful, that is if the touching happens because of craving for the sensation of touch, or worse as a sexual advance.

    However, having lived in Thailand for 17 years, I also know that the Thai sangha is extremely conservative when it comes to touching women and that any touching at all tends to be regarded as an offence. Thus a monk who has not developed sufficient wisdom and experience might want to prevent contact with women at all costs, even in the face of danger or personal loss, out of fear of committing a vinaya offence.

    A few years ago, I've seen an example which was not quite as dramatic, but kept me thinking nevertheless. A man who had temporarily ordained for two weeks was visited by his family. His 5-year old daughter who did of course love her daddy, attempted to give him a hug or hold his hand. But daddy was a monk now and therefore he was not allowed to touch his daughter. He evaded her. It ended with his daughter drenched in tears, because she assumed that her daddy left her and did not love her any more. I could not help thinking that this particular application of the rule was a little uncompassionate.

    It goes to show that an ultra-orthodox and conservative interpretation is probably just as problematic as a lax interpretation.

    Cheers, Thomas
  • edited May 2010
    But daddy was a monk now and therefore he was not allowed to touch his daughter. He evaded her. It ended with his daughter drenched in tears, because she assumed that her daddy left her and did not love her any more. I could not help thinking that this particular application of the rule was a little uncompassionate.
    :sadc:
  • edited May 2010
    Thank you, Dhamma Dhatu and Truthseeker (Thomas). The extract from Thanissaro Bhikkhu is very helpful.

    I can understand the newly (and temporarily) ordained monk's unwillingness to breach the vinaya discipline, though you'd think he and/or his wife could explain it to his daughter without too much difficulty. Even so, it seems to lack compassion and wisdom in this case (his daughter was only five!).

    A renunciate who had no wife and children and who intended to remain in the monastic state for life or a long time is a different kind of renunciate from a husband/father who takes on the monastic life for two weeks or one rainy season, as they do in Thailand.
  • edited May 2010
    Saving woman is the nature path of the four noble truth.
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