Semen, Viagra and Pandaka: Ancient Endocrinology and Modern Day Discrimination*

Paisarn Likhitpreechakul


In a Vinaya passage, the Buddha laid down a rule to bar pandakas from ordination. Although there have been several attempts to shed light on whom the word pandaka referred to, all of these were based on the circumstantial evidence in the Vinaya. This article argues that this approach is a red herring and conclusions drawn from it are at odds with other parts of the Canon.

Based on an overlooked Abhidhamma passage which characterises pandakas as those unable to emit semen, the author reconstructs an Indian proto-endocrinology – with support from ancient medical treatises – to identify pandakas as impotent men, and to reveal the connection between different pandaka types and related terms. He then examines various considerations which the Buddha may have had in banning them from the Order.

The article finally discusses the implications of all this for modern Buddhist societies where gay men and transgenders are often confusedly categorised as pandakas and discriminated against for that reason.

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