From The New Buddhism:
It is never possible to be sure if the statements attributed to the Buddha in the Pali Canon and other early scriptures are really his, since they were not set down in writing until centuries after his death. On the matter of sex, however, there is little doubt about his attitude.
…In one of his most famous statements on the subject, the Buddha is said to have told a monk who was seduced by the wife he had left behind when he joined the sangha: “Oh, misguided man, it is better for you to put your penis in the mouth of a hideous poisonous snake than into the body of a woman.”
…The Buddha warned his monks: “The one thing that enslaves a man above all else is a woman. Her form, her voice, her scent, her attractiveness, and her touch all beguile a man’s heart. Stay away from them at all costs.” When a monk asked the Buddha how members of the order should act toward women, he replied, “Do not look at them.” “But what if we must look at them?” the monk asked. The Buddha replied, “Don’t speak to them.” “But what if we must speak to them?” he persisted. “Keep wide awake,” was the Buddha’s final response.
I’m sure that, just as with Christian apologists, there are people who will stubbornly insist that notable quotables like this are either the result of mistranslations, or inaccurate transcriptions of stories that had been passed around orally for hundreds of years, or whatever it takes to preserve the image they need their idol to have. Personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that even a wise man living more than two millennia ago harbored some attitudes that we today would find repugnant. But it really doesn’t matter to me one way or the other.
The book is fascinating for the way it sheds light on the way Western concepts of Buddhism are, in many ways, Western concepts of Buddhism. I’ve been aware myself that the sort of writers whose explanations of Buddhist thought have influenced me the most, like Alan Watts, Steve Hagen, Stephen Batchelor, and Sam Hamill are filtering their understanding and valuing of certain aspects of Buddhism through a Western consciousness that values things like individualism, rational scientific thought and political liberty. The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with that. The most valuable thing about Buddhism as a tradition is that it’s an ever-evolving work in progress. It adapts to change, as it should. Take what’s useful to you and leave the rest. The Buddha doesn’t need to be the most perfect human who ever existed for many of his ideas to still have value.