Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Highest Limb

The Penis in Buddhism
The penis (angajata, linga, muttakarana, pullnga, purisa vyanjana or subha lakkhana in Pali) is the long fleshy appendage in males used for urination and reproduction and several other things which need not be mentioned here. According to the Tipitaka, one of the 32 Signs of a Great Man is that “the cloth-hidden is encased in a sheath” (kosohitavatthaguyha, M.II,135). This was interpreted to mean that the Buddha’s penis could be drawn into the body and remain there as with some animals like horses, bulls and elephants. The Gandhavyaha, a Mahayana work, says of the Buddha: “His genitals were ensheathed, well hidden, deep in the body as with a thoroughbred elephant or stallion. Even when naked, any woman, man, youth or girl, old, middle-aged or young person, whether lustful or potentially lustful, on seeing him would not have even the least desire”. Many of the Signs of a Great Man seem strange to the modern mind. Others however, including this one, probably had their origins in the ancient Indian concept of idealized beauty and auspiciousness. So for example, the banyan tree was considered sacred and the Buddha is supposed to have had the proportions of a banyan tree (nigrodhaparimandala), i.e. the length of his outstretched arms equalled his height. He is supposed to have had long curved eye lashes (gopakhuma) and a very long tongue (pahutajivha), both of which are features of the cow, an animal the Indians greatly revered.
Like the Greeks and Romans, the ancient Indians were great admirers of the human form including all aspects of the male physique. According to the Rg Veda, an attractive penis would be big and thick like a club. The Atharva Veda has a prayer to make the penis long and hard like a taut bow and also contains spells to make it as long as that of the wild ass, the elephant or the stallion. The Ramayana by contrast, describes the auspicious man as having a slender, short penis with a smooth glans and drooping testicles. The Kama Sutra classifies the human penis into three types – the hare, the bull and the elephant, without saying which of these types is best. The Buddha seems to have had an aesthetic appreciation for this part of the male at anatomy too. When referring to the penis he usually used the common polite words but sometimes used the more poetic term “the highest limb” (uttamanga, Ja.V,197). It seems probable that like the ancient Greeks, the Buddha’s contemporaries considered having a penis whose foreskin (kosa) remained over the glans (makula) when either flaccid or erect, to be a sign of beauty and nobility and that at a later period this physical characteristic was attributed to the Buddha. The Greeks called this anatomical particularity akroposthion and they considered it to be both attractive and decorous. The Greeks it seems, really did have a word for everything. It is worth noting that even some unenlightened men are mentioned in Buddhist literature as having a penis like this (e.g. Ja.V,197; Mahavamsa VI.11;57; Sn.1022).
According to the Lakkhana Sutta, a late addition to the Tipitaka, all the 32 Signs of a Great Man were physical manifestations of good deeds done in former lives. So for example, as a result of always speaking kindly and gently the Buddha was reborn with a long tongue. Because as a teacher he helped his students quickly understand what was being taught he was reborn with legs like a swift-running deer. And because he united long lost family members and friends “so that they rejoiced greatly” he was reborn with an ensheathed penis (D.III,161).
The ordinary penis, its function, its secretions and its ‘misuses’ often gets a mention in the Vinaya, the Buddhist monastic rules. Some of these references are so explicit that when I. B. Horner translated the texts she left all of these references in the original Pali. The most important references to the penis concerns the four Parajakas. A monk or nun will be expelled from the monastic order if they commit four offences - (1) if they have sexual intercourse, (2) if they steal anything worth more than a few cents, (3) if they murder someone or (4) if they falsely claim to have any spiritual attainment. So that there can be no ambiguity as to exactly what constitutes sexual intercourse (methuna), this behaviour has to be exactly defined - and it is. According to the Vinaya, sexual intercourse is deemed to have occurred if the penis enters either the vagina, anus or mouth of any being, living or dead, even for the length of a sesame seed (tila phala, Vin.III,28), i.e. slightly less than 3 centimetres. Other types of sexual behaviour, while serious offences with specific punishments, do not entail expulsion from the Sangha.
From the Kushan to the Gupta period, Indian sculptors often depicted the Buddha or the Bodhisattva (i.e. Prince Siddhattha before his enlightenment) with his penis covered with but not hidden by his robe or dhoti. They must have done this because they considered this sign of a Great Man to be particularly important.


David said...

The 32 Marks of a Great Man were apparently around before the Buddha's time. The seer, Asita noted this when he visited the Buddha at his birth, which is of course before enlightenment, before the "re-discovery" of Dhamma:

Pali Canon, KN: Sutta Nipata 3.11:

So I ask you, who live on Mount Meru's summit.
Please dispel my doubt quickly, dear sirs."

"The Bodhisatta, the foremost jewel,
has been born for welfare & ease
in the human world,
in a town in the Sakyan countryside,
That's why we're all so wildly elated.
He, the highest of all beings,
the ultimate person,
a bull among men, foremost of all people,
will set turning the Wheel [of Dhamma]
in the grove named after the seers,
like a strong, roaring lion,
the conqueror of beasts."

Hearing these words,
Asita quickly descended [from heaven]
and went to Suddhodana's dwelling.
There, taking a seat, he said to the Sakyans:
"Where is the prince?
I, too, want to see him."
The Sakyans then showed
to the seer named Asita
their son, the prince,
like gold aglow,
burnished by a most skillful smith
in the mouth of the furnace,
blazing with glory, flawless in color.
On seeing the prince blazing like flame,
pure like the bull of the stars
going across the sky
— the burning sun,
released from the clouds of autumn —
he was exultant, filled with abundant rapture.
The devas held in the sky
a many-spoked sunshade
of a thousand circles.
Gold-handled whisks
waved up & down,
but those holding the whisks & the sunshade
couldn't be seen.
The matted-haired seer
named Dark Splendor,
seeing the boy, like an ornament of gold
on the red woolen blanket,
a white sunshade held over his head,
received him, happy & pleased.
And on receiving the bull of the Sakyans,
longingly, the master of mantras & signs
exclaimed with a confident mind:
"This one is unsurpassed,
the highest of the biped race."
Then, foreseeing his own imminent departure,
he, dejected, shed tears.
On seeing him weeping,
the Sakyans asked:
"But surely there will be
no danger for the prince?"
On seeing the Sakyans' concern
he replied, "I foresee for the prince
no harm.
Nor will there be any danger for him.
This one isn't lowly: be assured.
This prince will touch
the ultimate self-awakening.
He, seeing the utmost purity,
will set rolling the Wheel of Dhamma
through sympathy for the welfare of many.
His holy life will spread far & wide.
But as for me,
my life here has no long remainder;
my death will take place before then.
I won't get to hear
the Dhamma of this one with the peerless role.
That's why I'm stricken,
afflicted, & pained."

He, having brought the Sakyans
abundant rapture,
the follower of the holy life
left the inner chamber and,
out of sympathy for his nephew,
urged him on toward the Dhamma
of the one with the peerless role:
"When you hear from another the word,
"Awakened One,"
or "Attaining self-awakening,
he lays open the path of the Dhamma,"
go there & ask him yourself.
Follow the holy life
under that Blessed One."

Instructed by the one
whose mind was set on his benefit,
seeing in the future the utmost purity,
Nalaka, who had laid up a store of merit,
awaited the Victor expectantly,
guarding his senses.
On hearing word of the Victor's
turning of the foremost wheel,
he went, he saw
the bull among seers. Confident,
he asked the foremost sage
about the highest sagacity,
now that Asita's forecast
had come to pass.

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