Misquotations from the Pali Canon

A person called Avigdor Miller has been posting quotations on this forum from the Pali Canon trying to portray the Buddha in an unfavourable light. A typical example of his technique is seen in the post given below. He gives an excerpt the Bahudhâtukasutta of the Majjhima Nikâya under the subject line "the recluse Gotama says women cannot attain enlightenment". This is wrong because the Buddha has explicitly stated that women as well as men can become enlightened. There are many examples of women who have become enlightened such as the Bhikkhuni Dhammadinnâ.

What could be inferred from the passage in question is that a woman cannot become a fully enlightened Buddha (sammâsambuddha). Even though this is generally considered to be the Theravada position (certainly that of the Boduhelas) this cannot be inferred from the passage in question (or other passages). The translation used by Miller is that of the Sri Lankan nun Sister Uppalavanna. But when I checked this translation with the Pali original I found that the translation is questionable (as indeed is the translation of the corresponding passage by Horner for the Pali Text Society). To understand this passage one has to look at the structure of the sutta as a whole.

The whole sutta is a response to a question posed by Ananda: "kitâtvatâ nu kho, bhante, pa.n.dito bhikkhu 'vîma.msako'ti ala.m vacanâyâ'ti?". Uppalavanna translates this question as: "Saying it rightly how does the wise bhikkhu become an inquirer?" and Horner as "What is the stage at which it suffices to say 'Investigating, the monk is wise'?". Horner's translation is more accurate as it stresses the importance of logical investigation (vîma.mssâ) to become wise (pa.n.dito).

In his reply to this question the Buddha identifies four requirements for a bhikkhu to become 'wise': "Yato kho, ânanda, bhikkhu dhâtukusalo ca hoti, âyatanakusalo ca hoti, pa.t.ticcasamuppâdakusalo ca hoti, .thânânakusalo ca hoti" . There is no problem with the meaning of the first three requirements which are (1) the elements, (2) the sense-organs and (3) dependent origination. It is in the fourth requirement in the consideration of which the passage quoted by Miller occurs that there is a problem with the received translations.

The term .thânâna is translated as "possible or not possible". However this terms has several meanings (cf. the PTS dictionary) and in this context it means 'can it be logically established or not'. Consider now whether a monk can determine whether a woman can be a supremely enlightened sammâsambuddha using logical methods. Unless the monk uses methods which are rejected in the Kâlâma sutta as being unsatisfactory the only logical evidence that would exist to resolve this question is the evidence of a female who had become a sammâsambuddha . Obviously there is no such evidence as the only Buddha in the present eon is a male, viz. Gotama himself. That is why the Buddha said that it is not logically possible for a monk to determine that a woman can be a sammâsambuddha.

The Buddha does not categorically say that a woman cannot be a sammâsambuddha as Miller's quotation seems to imply. The Buddha did not make a pronouncement of this as this was not the question that was asked of him. He was discoursing on how a monk can become "wise" and one of the requirements is that he should be capable of thinking logically. There are some questions that mere logic will not allow a person to resolve and the question whether a woman could be a sammâsambuddha is one of these. It is this that the Buddha was saying.

Miller has also drawn attention to other passages in the Pali Canon which seem to imply that he was a misogynist. He has also drawn attention to passages referring to gods, heavens and hells which seem to be similar to concepts which are usually associated with Abrahamic religion. A careful analysis of these sources will show that in the original Pali text these do not have the simple meaning that is ascribed to them by ordinary ignorant Buddhists (typically the Boduhelas). But this is not the place to go into this.

Miller's posts have been used by Islamic critics of Buddhism in several forums in the Internet.  Some Boduhelas like Pali and Pathirana have attempted to contest these claims based on Miller's subtle distortions but they are fundamentally ignorant of both Buddhism or Islam to give the correct response.


From: Buddhist-News@yahoogroups.com On Behalf Of Avigdor Miller
Sent: Sunday, June 24, 2007 12:13 AM
Subject: [BNC] Fw: Recluse Gotama says women cannot attain enlightenment

MAJJHIMA NIKÂYA
III 2.5Bahudhûtukasutta
(115) The Discourse on Many Elements

It is impossible that a woman should be the perfect rightfully Enlightened One. It is possible that a man should be the perfect rightfully Enlightened One. It is impossible that a woman should be the Universal Monarch It is possible that a man should be the Universal Monarch. It is impossible that a woman should be the King of Gods. It is possible that a man should be the King of Gods. It is impossible that a woman should be the King of Death. It is possible that a man should be the King of Death. It is impossible that a woman should be Brahmâ. It is possible that a man should be Brahmâ.