The Separation of the Sexes

By David Reigle on July 31, 2022 at 10:47 pm

            The separation of the sexes is a distinctive teaching of the Book of Dzyan on anthropogenesis. It is said to have occurred millions of years ago, in the third root-race. Stanza 7, verse 22, as given in The Secret Doctrine, says: “. . . First male-female, then man and woman.” Stanza 8, verse 31: “The animals separated the first. They began to breed. The two-fold man separated also. He said: ‘Let us as they; let us unite and make creatures.’ They did.”

            Such an idea is completely foreign to modern thought, whether scientific, historical, or anthropological. It is also completely foreign to Christian religious thought. However, it is fully orthodox in Buddhist religious thought. Buddhism has not much concerned itself with cosmogony and anthropogony, so there are comparatively few Buddhist texts on these subjects. The ones we have, fortunately, are consistent with each other on these teachings. These teachings were given by the Buddha himself, not by some later Buddhist teacher, so they are authoritative for all schools of Buddhism. The texts quoted below come from several different schools of Buddhism.

            The Buddhist texts say that humanity descended from higher realms, from various “heavens,” rather than evolved from apes as modern anthropology posits. So humans were more ethereal then, and slowly became more dense as they started to eat, and what they ate also became more and more dense. At one stage of this process of densification the separation of the sexes occurred.

            Thus the Pāli Aggañña-sutta from the Theravāda school of Buddhism, called by its first translators the Buddhist book of Genesis, says (translated by Maurice Walshe):

“And these beings set to and fed on this rice, and this lasted for a very long time. And as they did so, their bodies became coarser still, and the difference in their looks became even greater. And the females developed female sex-organs, and the males developed male organs.”1

            The Sanskrit *Loka-prajñapti-sūtra from the Dharmaguptaka school of Buddhism, found in the Dīrghāgama collection as preserved in its Chinese translation, says (translated by Shohei Ichimura):

“So the sentient beings began to harvest the new form of rice and subsist on it. Then their physical forms became coarse and crude, with the advent of male and female sexual organs.”2

            The Mahā-vastu from the Lokottaravādin branch of the Mahāsāṅghika school of Buddhism, found in their Vinaya collection, says (translated by J. J. Jones):

“Then, monks, after the disappearance of the creeping-plant, those beings lived on a very long time feeding on the rice which was without powder or husk, but was just fragrant grain. And from the time that they did so, the distinguishing characteristics of female and male appeared among them.”3

            The three preceding sources are traditionally regarded as giving the words of the Buddha. The following three sources give this teaching as presented by later Buddhist writers.

            The Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya, giving the teachings of the Sarvāstivāda school of Buddhism as summarized by Vasubandhu, says (translated by Louis de La Vallee Poussin and Lodrö Sangpo):4

“These creepers disappeared and then fields of huskless rice [śāli ] grew, uncultivated and unplanted: this rice, a coarse sustenance, produced waste: sentient beings then developed organs of excretion and sexual organs; they then took different forms.”

            The Yogācāra-bhūmi, giving the teachings of the Yogācāra school of Buddhism compiled by Maitreya (so Chinese tradition) or Asaṅga (so Tibetan tradition), says (translated by Yūichi Kajiyama):5

“Then, they gaze at each other eye to eye, and they become enamored. Then, because of their karma conducive to either femaleness or maleness, some of them acquire female organs and others male organs, and they transgress by means of copulation (dvaya-dvaya-samāpatti).”

            The Mahā-saṃvartanī-kathā, giving the teachings of the Sāṃmatīya school of Buddhism as put into verse form by Sarva-rakṣita, says (summarized by its editor, Kiyoshi Okano):6

“3.1.8 As people continuously ate rice, the male organ and female organ appeared in their bodies. The difference between men and women arose for the first time.”

            There are a number of other Buddhist texts that give this teaching, but these should suffice to show that it is a standard and fully orthodox Buddhist teaching found throughout Buddhism.


1. The Long Discourses of the Buddha, p. 411. Boston: Wisdom Publications,1987. Maurice Walshe adds a note after the phrase “the females developed female sex-organs”: “As noted above, these beings were previously sexless. DA says ‘those who were women in a previous life.’” DA stands for the Dīgha Nikāya commentary by Buddhaghosa. The Aggañña-sutta is found in the Dīgha Nikāya, Pali Text Society edition, Vol. III, this passage on p. 88. The first translators of this text were T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids, in Dialogues of the Buddha, Part III, 1921, this passage on p. 85.

2. The Canonical Book of the Buddha’s Lengthy Discourses, Volume III, p. 297. BDK America, 2018.

3. The Mahāvastu, Volume I, p. 288. London: Luzac & Company, 1949.

4. Abhidharmakośa-Bhāṣya of Vasubandhu, Volume II, p. 1106. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2012. The 1988 translation by Poussin and Leo M. Pruden reads (Volume II, p. 488): “This creeper disappeared and then rice grew, unworked and unseeded: this rice, a coarse food, gave forth waste: beings then developed organs of excretion and sexual organs; they then took different forms.”

5. “Buddhist Cosmology as Presented in the Yogācārabhūmi,” in Wisdom, Compassion, and the Search for Understanding, ed. Jonathan A. Silk, p. 196. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2000.

6. “A Summary of the Mahāsaṃvartanīkathā,” in Pāsādikadānaṁ: Festschrift für Bhikkhu Pāsādika, ed. Martin Straube, et al., p. 329. Marburg: Indica et Tibetica Verlag, 2009.

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  • William Bates says:

    Interesting comments, however, perhaps knowledge has vastly expanded over the centuries and there is a new friendly dialog between Christians and science (many journals devoted to this topic) and Buddhists and modern science (eg the vast writings from HH Dalai Lama and all the neurobiologists etc associated with HH. I taught developmental evolutionary biology in HHs ‘Science for Monks’ program and there what was/is revealed is a most wonderful synergy between Christianity, Buddhism and Modern Science – there is ‘no war between’ if correctly viewed between these great faiths and modern science . The ‘ground up’ approach supported by thousands of empirical studies unifies all life as One – a sort of biological Advaita! Yes, i too have for some 5 decades reveled in the rasa of ancient writings and at the same experienced the Bliss of modern biology. There’s a big story here, i think. Thanks Dave, Bill – professor emeritus and ordained Buddhist monk.

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