Are the genders male/female a result of Kamma, or is it associated with it in any way?


8 Answers 8


Karma is a very complicated process. We could in fact say that just about everything affects just about everything else - if a butterfly beats its wings in China, it does probably play some infinitesimal role in causing hurricanes in Florida. If, by karma, you mean any old action whatsoever, then indeed, there are probably certain actions (especially mental ones) that lead one to be reborn as one gender or the other.

Specifically, a man's obsession with women would most likely cause him to be reborn as a woman, and vice versa. This is most likely what happened in the stories we have that have been traditionally interpreted as suggesting that adultery leads to being born a woman. It is far more likely, in my mind, that male adultery with women leads to being born a woman, and female adultery with men leads to being born a man. The cause being the insane obsession.

This, of course, is not what is meant by karma and result in a Buddhist sense. Here the fact that one was born a woman or a man was not a "bad" or "good" result, it was just a case of obsession leading to realization of the object of obsession. If one were insanely obsessed with cats, one would likely be born a cat.

If, by karma, you are referring to ethical acts, in the sense that, for example, being born gender A is the good result of certain good deeds and being born gender B is the evil result of certain evil deeds, it seems unlikely that one could infer that from the Buddha's teaching - itthindriya and purisindriya are just two of the many aspects of physical being; there is nothing intrinsically inferior or superior between the two, I don't think.

That being said, genders are hardly ever equal, physically or socially, in any species of being; in India at the time of the Buddha and when the commentaries were written, for example, being born a human female would have been a bad thing given their inferior social status, and thus could be taken indirectly as a sign of bad past karma. Too, the physiology of a human female is arguably (though not conclusively so) a cause of greater potential suffering than of its male counterpart, forcing one to deal with menstrual cycles, pregnancy, etc., as well as generally inferior strength.

Of course, this need not always be true; nor does it imply that the female faculty itself is inferior to the male faculty, or brought about by bad karma in all cases. Several species of mammal exhibit characteristics of female domination; the human species itself seems to be heading closer to a level of equality between the genders. Thus, it seems erroneous to suggest that one gender is an intrinsic result of good karma and another the intrinsic result of bad karma.

To be perfectly clear, in the abhidhamma, karma refers to one's mental volition or motivation, and the result is always expressed in terms of experience - good karma results in good experience, bad karma results in bad experience (viz. of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and thinking). For gender to play any intrinsic role in bringing about the result of good or bad karma, it would have to intrinsically be the cause of specific pleasant or unpleasant experiences. Again, any such relationship seems more related to the evolution of certain species and cultures than the intrinsic nature of the genders.

Finally, the whole concept of karma is suspect; an arahant performs no karma, good or evil, and doesn't see any experience as either pleasant or unpleasant. In ultimate reality, whether certain experiences are "good" or "bad" seems largely subjective, and any volition or motivation that leads one to be reborn as either a male or a female of any species is definitely "bad" or "wrong" in an ultimate sense.

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    Bhante, regarding good Karma resulting in pleasant experiences and bad Karma resulting in unpleasant experiences not being true in the case of Arahants, I've seen a relevant distinction being made as Paramatta Sacca vs Ariya Sacca in the book "Chaturarya Satya" by the late most venerable Rerukane Chandawimala thero. It is presented as an instance when Paramatta Sacca also becomes false in comparison to Ariya Sacca, i.e. even if the experiences are categorised into three(Sukha, Dukkha, Adukkamasuka) in Paramatta Sacca. The first noble truth describes any experience as an instance of Dukkha. Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 3:06

I'd say, your overall energy configuration is a result of karma, which in its turn is a product of your predominant state of mind. Outwardly, energy configuration manifests as circumstances, and inwardly, as character. This character includes traits such as a certain balance of masculinity and femininity, but also a bunch of other, harder-to-pinpoint characteristics. Depending on the exact combination of outer and inner factors, you may be a masculine man, a feminine woman, a masculine woman, a feminine man, or anywhere in between.

Tracing phenotypes back to their karmic roots is like tracing the ocean water back to the rivers it came from, or to use a modern analogy, like decomposing a product of prime numbers back to its factors. While the opposite is pretty much trivial: if you follow the ocean-bound stream down, you are guaranteed to get to the ocean. What's important is to understand that it is your predominant state of mind that shapes your reality. As long as you get a feeling of directionality, even a rough idea of what Buddhism calls "right" (samyak), by cultivating it over a long enough period of time, however imperfectly, you are guaranteed to get to Enlightenment.


Yes it's a result of kamma. Being born as a male is considered a result of a higher kamma. In Paramatthajotika by Buddhaghosha thera(can't find the english translation) it is mentioned that being born as a female is due to the violation of the third precept in a previous life.

In Therigatha 400-470 mentions the story of a Bhikkuni named Isidasi who lived during Buddha's time who violated this precept eight lifetimes ago being born as a man. The rest of her lives are as follows:

Therefrom deceasing, long I ripened in Avici hell And then found rebirth in the body of an ape. Scarce seven days I lived before the great Dog-ape, the monkey’s chief, castrated me. Such was the fruit of my lasciviousness.

Therefrom deceasing in the woods of Sindh, Born the offspring of a one-eyed goat And lame, twelve years a gelding, gnawn by worms. Unfit, I carried children on my back. Such was the fruit of my lasciviousness.

The next time she was born a calf and was again castrated, and as a bullock pulled a plough and a cart. Then, as the worst of that evil kamma’s results had already ripened, Isidasi returned to the human realm. But it was still an uncertain kind of birth as she was the hermaphroditic child of a slave. That life too did not last long. Next, she was the daughter of a man oppressed by debts.

In Abhidhamma the definition of the two sexes (Bhava rupa) is given like this,

The sex of a living thing, purisa bhava (male) or itthi bhava (female) is determined at the very beginning of pregnancy. The determining factor is of course, one's past kamma. The female chromosome is called itthi bhava rupa; the male chromosome purisa bhava rupa. These bhava rupas, chromosomes, dispersed all over the body, determine the physique, organs, behaviour and characteristics in the male and female respectively.

  • Interesting, wouldn't that imply an unbalance between male and female which would contradict Fisher's principle? Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 17:47
  • No it won't be an issue. There are innumerable amount of sentient beings that live if we consider all the humans,animals,insects, microscopic creatures, hell creatures, devas, brahmas etc. Imagine how many beings would dwell inside a single human being. Not all of them are born like that because of the bad karma from violation of the third precept. When the conditions are right anyone of them can be born either as a male or female keeping the above said ratio.
    – dmsp
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 19:22

According to the Fifth Method of Dependent Origination, there are five causes and five results. The five results are the five khandas. The five causes are ignorance, craving, clinging, formations, kamma force. This is listed in the Vissudhimagga. Path Of Purification (2011 PDF, p601)

These are broken up into two consciousness wholesome and unwholesome for humans who are lucky to have a wholesome factor in their near death moment of the immediate past life. Humans always have wholesome kamma force and sankhara (formations)

The unwholesome is the craving consciousness. It includes the ignorance mental factor which is part of craving. Clinging is repeated craving. So all three are nearly the same type of unwholesome mind. Got that?

Wholesome with unwholesome do not mix together, but the unwholesome mind can "surround" the wholesome mind.

So when you did something good in a past life, like something of generosity, you wished to do something (that requires a body) or you wished to become someone (ignorantly). So someone who is male previously wished for becoming male. Someone who is female previously wished to be female. Whether or not one has enough kamma to get that wish is another story.

It is like a raffle ticket. Buy more raffle tickets and you have better odds. Do something once that is really big and many raffle tickets get put into the pot. Habitual kamma is a good way to get that wish. Heavy kamma like what Bill Gates did, will also help. (His is both because of his continued involvement, but he may wish other things). Bill Gates probably did something similar in a past life and kept wishing to help other people (to do that with a male body). Then the opportunities (supporting kamma) from other kammas helped support that wish. Read "Outliers" and you will see it was not chance for him to become so rich.

Often people switch sexes and species, but I imagine that most people wish with the same sex perception because they do not imagine otherwise. I suspect most sex changes happen via the animal realm. For instance, a dog may want the conditions to have food and whoever feeds him may be the gender resultant next life gender. There are of course humans who wish for sex changes and even do so even in their current life too! So it does happen as humans for future births as well.

There is a wheel publication by Venerable Nyantiloka called "Fundamental Themes". It is not easy to read, but it is correct.
"The Workings of Kamma" by Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw explains this too. There is a chapter on kamma in Ven. Narada's book.. "The Buddha and His Teachings". I think a pamphlet was made from that chapter too. This is a great book for newbies. You might be able to find a meditation manual on dependent origination by Ven. Pa-Auk Sayadaw. It is called "The Fifth Method". It is not readable for the average person. However the first section might be interesting. It is posted it to my website..unlisted. The rest should be easy to find for free.

I will be hopefully writing a readable version of the fifth method in my Abhidhamma Lessons located at http://Subhuti.net.tf . It is planned for Lesson #9 and cumulative knowledge is assumed from lesson #1 onward. I am currently writing lesson #8 on mental factors. My guess is that it will be released sometime in November. I announce new lessons via gplus or Facebook. I will try to remember to update this entry when/if it gets finished.


In the Pali suttas attributed to the Buddha, the results of kamma are two-fold, namely, "heaven" ("happiness") and "hell" ("pain & torment"). For example:

When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the passing away & reappearance of beings. I saw — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — beings passing away & re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: 'These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech & mind, who reviled noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, & mind, who did not revile noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.' Thus — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — I saw beings passing away & re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma.

Bhaya-bherava Sutta

The five-fold results of kamma, namely, human (virtuous), godly (powerful), ghost (addicted), animal (without conscience) & hell (pain & torment) are more diverse descriptions of the two-fold kamma. For example:

Bhikkhus, a god, a human or any other good state would not be evident from actions born of greed, hate and delusion. Yet, bhikkhus, from actions born of greed, hate and delusion a hellish being, an animal birth a ghostly birth or some other bad state would be evident.


The Buddha applied the above results of kamma equally to both men & women. The Buddha did not teach sex is determined by kamma. For example:

Student, beings are owners of kamma, heir to kamma, born of kamma, related through kamma, and have kamma as their arbitrator. Kamma is what creates distinctions among beings in terms of coarseness & refinement... There is the case, student, where a woman or man is a killer of living beings, brutal, bloody-handed, given to killing & slaying, showing no mercy to living beings. Through having adopted & carried out such actions, on the break-up of the body, after death, he/she reappears in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, hell.

Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta

  • I don't know how one could prove that he didn't ever teach that -- only that he taught other things besides (e.g. that both genders experience result of kamma, as you quote in this answer). And if he doesn't teach much about gender then it's difficult to say, "teaching that about gender would contradict other things he said about gender".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 18:37
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    The Buddha said he only teachings about suffering & the cessation of suffering. The teachings of kamma, while mundane, are the same. They teach about happiness (heaven) and suffering (hell). They don't teach about the origins of gender. Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 20:20
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    @Dhammadhatu Hi! I recently found this explanation from Bhikkhu Bodhi about the mistranslation of the phrase commonly quoted as "[...] only suffering...". Here it is if you're interested in it: tricycle.org/magazine/i-teach-only-suffering-and-end-suffering Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 13:08
  • Thanks. Bhikkhu Bodhi is a valuable translator but doesn't really understand Dhamma. For example, in the article, BB refers to naga, a garuda, or a gan-dhabba—that is, as a celestial dragon, a celestial eagle, or a fragrance deity— yet in his SN he regards these teachings as mythology. BB doesn't have much credibility apart from as a translator. He is often agenda driven and appears to have never transcended his socio-cultural-ethnic roots. Regards. The explained what he teaches in many suttas, such as Simsapa Sutta, AN 3.61, etc. Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 0:12

Here is an honest answer to this question based on facts or observations or both. In all religions (the original versions not the altered ones) and in spiritual views vibrations of beings indicate how "divine" or "heavenly" or "more gifted by the creator" they are. Vibration of non-human animals and very very young children is the highest, making them more "clean/innocent/angelic/pure/close to the source energy" or whatever you want to call it. That's why we humans even being blind to such holy facts, still feel their energy and if we're healthy in the head, have some fondness of them and feel good when these beings are around us. After them the vibration of more innocent people is the highest and generally speaking women tend to have much higher vibrations overall than males.

Anything that's regarded as vice and wickedness and bad brings the overall vibration of people lower, anything such as cruelty, violence, hatred, being sex-crazed, taking lives, torturing others, bad intentions,etc. Anything that's regarded as angelic like kindness, good intentions, compassion,etc. raises the vibration. Statistics are facts. As a result this could be proven factually as well. Men are proved to suffer from far more vices (along with mental illnesses that could lead to evil deeds) than women overall, making the staggering wide gap in committing felonies. Testostrone itself makes one more prone to not use their brains if they're wicked inside. Men have more of that, women have only small amounts of it in their blood.

Accordingly, in all original version of holy texts also it's emphasized how women and girls are the "cores" of life, who make the world go around, who are guaranteed to go to heaven as long as they don't do wrong deeds, who must be treated like the sun, bringing life and warmth and safety to the universe. As a result, a being who's deserving to be punished simply CANNOT be reborn as a female AS part of their punishment. Aside from that, being a woman by itself seems to, in many ways, prevail over being a man. Any misery women had to suffer throughout the history of mankind was forced on them by men, remember that. Otherwise, should we consider a being independently, a woman by herself would make a scene similar to the happy-go-lucky scenes from Disney cartoons with her enjoying herself with the non-human animals around her, the nature and the warmth that generates from within her. A woman's mind is also proven to be more "free", enabling her to enjoy her thoughts, dreams, wishes, etc. more than men generally speaking. Women live longer too on average, giving them more time to complete their missions here on earth. With XX being more strong since neither Xs have been mutated, babies with XX are also stronger in physical strength and combating illnesses and maturing.

Not to mention that a woman has the chance to give life and her baby's entire world WILL revolve around her for some time, enabling her to influence other people more than men generally speaking. Hence, being a woman on its own is even more likely to be part of good karma. As someone else said, system of karma is complex. It could possibly be said that, considering the surroundings, that view might differ to a small extent meaning if someone's to be punished, they'd be born at a time at a place with certain gender that's suffering some obvious disadvantages, e.g. a woman is Saudi Arabia now, a man in the Amazon tribes who enslaved men and buried male babies alive. OR it might be due to them being connected to a loved-one who was "spawned" in that situation OR they could be put there to make a far better life in the next life (basically paying it forward).

So by no means and in no way one could claim what you claimed, that "if one's a woman, they're being punished". In fact the other way around seems to be more accurate IF we're talking differences between karmic effect of genders since should men not be around or in a woman's life, the said woman would most likely have a much easier and happier life than if she was a man and she, just by being born a girl has the ability to impact her surroundings and people way more than a male.

As technology is progressing, as you see, it's possible for women alone to give life while such a thing is purely impossible for only men since men have XY and the offsprings would most likely never live enough to even develop internal organs (even if some functioning uterus magically fell off the sky) and with how things are as you see, an objective mind observing could conclude that it's men who need women not the other way around.

Last but not least, let's not forget that we're talking karma here, the tit for tat, eye for an eye, you reap what you sow, divine justice, etc. system. I'm sure all sane people really would want to go back and prevent how men for many years did women wrong and committed the most vile unspeakable things to women but facts are facts. History is a collection of facts from the past. Facts never get erased or change. Having "divine justice" or even the logical order of nature in mind, men are guilty horribly and hence will have to pay for their horrible misconduct of the past. No pain and aching soul goes unanswered and as a result, especially with the times about to come, it'd be way more likely for someone who's to be punished to be born a boy for karma to take its course and "serve" them what's rightfully deserving. As you see, I only mentioned a very few notions but even with these it's proven how your response has nothing to do with facts or even the knowledge the Source provided for us to make better decisions and be better beings. I strongly advise you to refrain from doing what you're doing as people are awakening more and more and are seeing how some (the some with major karmas to pay) have been using religion or beliefs to oppress others, steal rights, take personal benefits, commit sins, justify sick behaviors, etc.


As I know, In Buddha time no one asked that question. Personally I don't think gender is based on kamma but Sankara.


There are numerous places in Buddhist literature where it is stated that women cannot achieve enlightenment. I won't catalog these, or evaluate them either. They are mostly based on social norm, conjecture, and opinion, no matter how they are worded.

From Wikipedia: "Karma (/ˈkɑːrmə/; Sanskrit: कर्म, translit. karma, IPA: [ˈkɐɽmɐ]; Pali: kamma) means action, work or deed; it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). Good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and happier rebirths, while bad intent and bad deeds contribute to bad karma and bad rebirths."

In the first definition of the word karma (simply action), yes, gender is determined by some kind of action in the field of manifestation. But in the second definition, that individual action in the past determines gender in the past I have never seen this convincingly argued. And in the final sense, that good or bad past karma determines a good outcome (male) or a bad outcome (female) there is no support for this in Buddha teaching. Everything is a result of some kind of karma, somewhere. Even being on the Path, this is karma from skillfulness in your past and the generosity of teachers and sangha past. Everything, including gender, is a result of action, but only in the broadest possible sense. Karma is basically unfathomable to the human mind. We (meaning you and I) do not possess omniscience.

If your question had been "do females have Buddha Nature?" I would answer yes, they do. As do males, and as do all sentient beings. And I support the women who journey forth and seek Enlightenment.

  • In Theravada literature, or later? I thought the Therigata would contradict "women cannot achieve enlightenment". But see also Can the Buddha ever be a woman?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 16:25

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