Singapore DharmaNet Homepage


Subject: Are All Buddhas Male?
Date: 31 July 2002 12:44:20 -0400
From: Kelvin Ng


I read somewhere that Bodhisattvas are always born male in the life that they finally become Buddhas-meaning that all Buddhas are male. Is that correct? Please advise me as my friend asked me this question recently.

Piya's answer

The Buddha was born in India at a time when the social conditions were predominantly patriarchal or male-centred. Interestingly, this has always been the case in all the teachers of the world religions. I suppose this has to do with the highly evolved state of society at their times, which became very specialized.

Men did men's work and women did women's work. However, it was a time when men has more say in society. Understandably, in such a situation, if the Buddha were a women, it would have been very difficult for Buddhism to have grown so fast and so wide, in ancient India at least.

According to an interesting life of the Buddha called Jinakalamali (The Garland of the Age of the Conqueror) written by Ratanapa~n~na of Chiangmai (Siam or ancient Thailand), the Buddha was a woman in the distant past, when as a woman, he first aspired to the spiritual life. (See Lecture 9 of my series on The Buddha and His Disciples, on ).

However, after the Buddha, the imagery of the woman, especially the mother, grew very fast. The best example is that of Avalokitesvara or Guanyin. The Chinese manifestation of Guanyin look distinctly maternal. This is the Buddhist response to counter-balance a heavily patriarchal society of ancient China predominated by Confucianism.

However, despite the feminine appearance of Guanyin you will notice this is only in the face! The rest of her body is masculine. This represents the balance of masculinity and feminity in the spiritual life (balance of fatherly wisdom and motherly compassion, if you like). Furthermore, Guanyin is neither male nor female, but a hypostatis, that is, the essence of Compassion.

Similarly in the case of the Buddha, after he became enlightened, he cease to be male (or female) or even human. When the Brahmin Dona asks the Buddha (A 2:37 f) who he is, the Buddha answers that he is not a deva, not a divine being, not a spirit, not even a human being! Since he is enlightened, he has become a “being” in his own right, that is, Buddha.

In short, the balance of the feminine (compassion) and the masculine (wisdom) constitutes a healthy personality.



Main Page | Biography of Webmaster | Introduction | What is Dharma | Questions and Answers
Links | Schedule of talks | Buddhist Articles | Sutra Study | Virtual Interfaith Dialogue | Sutta Translation

Webmaster Piya Tan
Email :