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homosexuality

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  • Bhante Sujato
    Hi all, One of the side topics that was raised but not answered in the previous thread was on the Buddhist attitude to homosexuality. Since this is an
    Message 1 of 6 , May 1, 2005
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      Hi all,

      One of the side topics that was raised but not answered in the
      previous thread was on the Buddhist attitude to homosexuality. Since
      this is an important ethical question i beg leave to share a few
      thoughts here.

      First to the texts. It is quite remarkable that the early suttas,
      despite listing many forms of moral decay and degeneration, never
      mention homosexuality. This is certainly not because they were
      prudish. It seems as if it was just not an issue. There is a false
      reference sometimes mentioned in the Agganna Sutta (or is it
      Cakkavattisihanada?), but the Pali just says something vague like
      micchaadhammaa, which could mean just about anything.

      This is confirmed in the Vinaya. Since the Vinaya discusses
      misbehaviour of monks and nuns it mentions all kinds of often
      bizarre forms of sexual conduct.

      Homosexual acts are referred to fairly often; while they are
      obviously not acceptable among sexual monastics, there is no
      suggestion that they were considered any worse than 'straight' sex.

      In fact, there are several rules where the offence is heavier with
      women: for example, a monk touching a woman with lustful intent is a
      sanghadisesa, but touching a man is only a dukkata. This should,
      however, not be read as condoning homosexuality. It is purely
      pragmatic, as it would make it impossible to live in a same-sex
      community if one was afraid of committing a serious offence every
      time one touched a fellow monk.

      There is a certain kind of person called a pandaka who is not
      permitted to ordain. They are described in very strange terms, and
      seem to be more like, say, a hermaphrodite or eunech rather than
      simply someone with homosexual tendencies.

      It is also worth noting that the concept of a 'homosexual' is not
      necessarily directly applicable to ancient texts such as the Pali,
      in the sense of a person who's basic sexual orientation is to their
      own sex. There is simply mention of various acts that we would class
      as homosexual.

      This issue needs to be considered within the wider context of
      Buddhist ethics, especially sexual ethics. The intent of the third
      precept is to prevent sexual acts that betray trust. It has nothing
      to do with the kinds of sexual acts that are performed. Buddhism has
      never insisted on a 'missionary position', or condemmed
      masturbation, etc., etc.

      At least part of the reason for this (apart from it being simply a
      rational stance) is that Buddhism has never been a 'fecundist'
      religion; that is, we do not believe that we have a divine duty to
      maximise the population by producing as many children as possible.
      Thus sexual acts not intended for procreation do not infringe the
      third precept.

      This being so, it would seem clear that same sex couples, if in a
      caring, committed relationship, should be treated as no different
      from man-woman relationships. Hopefully this kind of attitude would
      help in extending a spiritual hand of friendship to a group of
      people who have suffered greatly through being marginalized and
      rejected by most religions.


      in Dhamma

      bhante Sujato
    • Yuttadhammo
      Dear Bhante, Thank you for the thorough analysis, I think it is well said. Just some ... I am looking at it a little differently... Buddhism doesn t have much
      Message 2 of 6 , May 1, 2005
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        Dear Bhante,

        Thank you for the thorough analysis, I think it is well said. Just some
        musings if I may:

        > This issue needs to be considered within the wider context of
        > Buddhist ethics, especially sexual ethics. The intent of the
        > third precept is to prevent sexual acts that betray trust. It
        > has nothing to do with the kinds of sexual acts that are
        > performed. Buddhism has never insisted on a 'missionary
        > position', or condemmed masturbation, etc., etc.

        I am looking at it a little differently... Buddhism doesn't have much good
        to say about sexual intercourse itself, let alone what kind of sexual
        intercourse it is. I am thinking now that it might say something that the
        Lord Buddha was clear here about what kinds of "women" a man was not to have
        relations with. One can imagine this was a reasonable thing to say if
        homosexuality was not accepted at that time, but I don't suppose it means
        that the Lord Buddha condemned homosexuality Himself. I think it is
        interesting to talk about the aga~n~na sutta which seems to suggest the
        perverse nature of heterosexuality in the first place. If we are talking
        about two men living together in harmony, this is one thing, but if we are
        talking about some of the more obviously coarse sexual acts (heterosexual or
        homosexual), I think this is another thing.

        > At least part of the reason for this (apart from it being
        > simply a rational stance) is that Buddhism has never been a
        > 'fecundist'
        > religion; that is, we do not believe that we have a divine
        > duty to maximise the population by producing as many children
        > as possible.
        > Thus sexual acts not intended for procreation do not infringe
        > the third precept.

        Agreed, this was not the criteria for kaamesumicchaacaara, but there might
        be another angle, as mentioned above about how crude one's attachment to
        kaama is. If one is engaging in sexual intercourse just for fun, it is
        certainly not to be praised.

        > This being so, it would seem clear that same sex couples, if
        > in a caring, committed relationship, should be treated as no
        > different from man-woman relationships. Hopefully this kind
        > of attitude would help in extending a spiritual hand of
        > friendship to a group of people who have suffered greatly
        > through being marginalized and rejected by most religions.

        I am happy to agree, except there is another reality of the ordination of
        homosexual men that has led to some amount of concern among many people I
        have talked to. Men who like other men (in uniform, to boot) sometimes
        ordain for the wrong reasons, and some caution is in order. This coupled
        with the large number of seven to fourteen year old novices running around
        should raise concern. I'm sorry, I'm trying to say something that is
        probably not proper to raise on a newsgroup. So, rather than skirt around
        the subject, I'll stop :)

        Gracious welcome to all people, homosexual or not, but please may we all
        control ourselves as much as possible, for our own welfare and happiness!

        Suma"ngalaani,

        Yuttadhammo
      • Ong Yong Peng
        Dear Ven. Sugato, Ven. Yuttadhammo and friends, thanks for the interesting discussion. :-) I have raised this topic once [
        Message 3 of 6 , May 1, 2005
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          Dear Ven. Sugato, Ven. Yuttadhammo and friends,

          thanks for the interesting discussion. :-) I have raised this topic
          once [ http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Pali/message/3115 ] and I
          thought it would be the one and only time I would discuss it on the
          list. I assume no one else would want to bring this up for
          discussion, and I would not be doing so again for two reasons.

          1. Members may be despised for taking a pro-gay stance, especially so
          for those living in places where anti-sodomy laws prevail.

          2. Full-buddhists, "half-buddhists", non-buddhists, anyone who has
          access to this public domain group may inappropriately think that
          this group has some hidden agenda.

          But, since it has been brought up, I would like to share some
          thoughts.

          I think for the gay community at large, it does not matter how
          embracing Buddhism is towards people of alternate sexuality as long
          as it does not condemn homosexuality.

          Ven. Yuttadhammo brought up the point of gay people getting ordained
          for wrong reasons. I think it is valid and relevant because I don't
          think monasteries should endorse sexual acts of any kind by monks.

          As for laypeople, I think most of the stuff are still done pretty
          much out of attachment, and may even be considered a waste of time
          and money. In the present context, the difference between acts is
          probably whether an act is considered gross or not. I shall not
          deliberate this further.

          I would not disagree with the possibility that homosexuality was not
          accepted during Buddha's time, although there is also a possibility
          it was tolerated to some degree as in other ancient societies (until,
          maybe, some self-appointed "whistle-blowers" come in). However, we
          are living in a different age and under a very different social
          strata. We will be regressing, rather than progressing, if we were to
          accept or reject homosexuality based entirely on how it was treated
          during Buddha's time.


          With metta,
          Yong Peng.
        • frank
          Greetings and metta to everyone, I d first like to express my appreciation of the very illuminating comments to this interesting but off topic :-) discussion.
          Message 4 of 6 , May 1, 2005
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            Greetings and metta to everyone,
            I'd first like to express my appreciation of the very illuminating
            comments to this interesting but off topic :-) discussion.

            O.Y.P wrote:
            Ven. Yuttadhammo brought up the point of gay people getting ordained
            for wrong reasons. I think it is valid and relevant because I don't
            think monasteries should endorse sexual acts of any kind by monks.


            My comments:
            That's a huge understatement. Sexual acts of any nature for monastics is
            absolutely prohibited. There is no wiggle room. That section of the vinaya
            is a very entertaining read, especially when you consider that every type of
            sexual act they list, there was a sexually frustrated monastic trying to
            find a loophole. It's a BIG DEAL if a monk even confesses to masturbation.
            They have to get something like at least 3 monks of a certain rank to
            convene some sort of council. In areas of the world where there's a shortage
            of monks, they have to fly in ranking monks from far away. Just for
            masturbation. Now, whether all monasteries follow the vinaya, that's a
            different story. In my original posting on his Holiness, the Objective Pope
            Benedict, to answer Ven. Yuttadhammo, I never meant to imply that Buddhism
            has a perfect track record or as an institution is free from sexual
            offenders in the monastic system. In every worldly or religious institution,
            there will be sex offenders, unfortunately. Wherever sex offenders are
            found, in my opinion they should be exposed and prosecuted to the fullest
            extent of both the national law and applicable religious edicts. The
            catholic priest child molesting phenomena in itself is a heinous crime, but
            the far greater crime is the leadership of the church having full knowledge
            of the sexual offenders and transferring them to different districts and
            allowing the priests to prey again, and again(!) relocating more than once,
            each one scarring up to scores of children for life. And when the supreme
            leader of the Catholic organization fails to take responsibility and make an
            honest attempt to fix and acknowledge the problem, it becomes clear that
            their main objective is to protect their good name and reputation through
            any sinful means necessary.

            I feel a lot of sympathy for the catholic priests because they're asked to
            attain very lofty standards of sexual purity through will power and faith
            alone. That's a mighty tall order, a completely unrealistic goal for the
            vast majority of people in the world.

            The Theravadin Buddhist monk at least, is armed with an awesome arsenal of
            tools to investigate and penetrate the underlying nature of lust, and attain
            a state of purity and renunciation by means of cultivated wisdom. That,
            coupled with the unworldly meditative bliss far superior to coarse sensual
            pleasures is what drives a sustainable celibacy through voluntary choice,
            rather than superhuman will power and/or repression. And even before those
            two items have matured, the restrictive and cloistered nature of the vinaya,
            effective mindfulness techniques such as guarding of the sense doors,
            provides a stop gap measure. And if all else fails, and the worldly desire
            for sensual pleasure still overwhelms, there is always the option to disrobe
            without dishonor. The catholic priest on the other hand, has only one method
            taught to them: avoid sexual impulse through prayer and sheer will power.
            This is a recipe for failure, as a long and sordid history and current
            events show.


            While Theravada Buddhism does not have a perfect track record, one can see
            how the mighty array of techniques and a sensible vinaya that limits
            monastic exposure to tempting wordly desires can lead to a much higher
            success rate in celibacy and observing laws against child molesting. In
            Vajrayana, if you want to consider that under the umbrella of Buddhism, the
            third initiation rites (tantric sex with real or imaginary consort), guru
            disciple relationship giving unquestioned power to the guru, and the
            potential misinterpretation of the concept of upaya/skillful means, can and
            has led to some vile sex crimes.

            As for laeity, I believe the rational and intelligent person can get a
            pretty clear sense of how Theravadin Buddhism views homosexuality when they
            consider these items:
            1) Buddhist monastics do not perform marriage ceremonies, be they homosexual
            or heterosexual.
            2) Buddhism goes into great detail in promoting the understanding of the
            nature of sensual pleasure and pointing out the disadvantages and suffering
            that arise from indulging in them.
            4) Without having to explicitly name every type of sense pleasure, whether
            it be culinary, olfactory, sexual, it's clear that every type of sexual
            activity falls under the 5 cords of sense pleasure.
            5) The Buddha in great detail described a path that encourages the
            abandoning of suffering and the pursuit of unworldly pleasures that far
            surpass the 5 cords of sense pleasure. Objectively speaking, one who has
            inferior roots, lacks humility, has no regard for true men, might mistakenly
            conclude that the Buddhist path is "nihilistic" and "autoerotic" (guess who
            said that).
            6) Erroneous perceptions of reality are criticized. The general class of
            actions that lead to favorable outcomes experienced here and now or in the
            future are described, as well as the class of actions that lead to painful
            and unfavorable results. However, there is a very conspicuous lack of
            scripture describing absolutes, be it morality, reality. Concepts such as
            "intrinsic evil", are seen as conditioned views, and are subject to the
            limitations of all things conditioned.

            -fk
          • Dhammanando Bhikkhu
            Bhante, ... It is the Cakkavattisiihanaada Sutta. Though it s true that the word micchaadhamma, shorn of any context, might mean just about anything,
            Message 5 of 6 , May 2, 2005
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              Bhante,

              Ven. Sujato wrote:

              > First to the texts. It is quite remarkable that the early
              > suttas, despite listing many forms of moral decay and
              > degeneration, never mention homosexuality. This is certainly
              > not because they were prudish. It seems as if it was just
              > not an issue. There is a false reference sometimes mentioned
              > in the Agganna Sutta (or is it Cakkavattisihanada?), but the
              > Pali just says something vague like micchaadhammaa, which
              > could mean just about anything.

              It is the Cakkavattisiihanaada Sutta.

              Though it's true that the word micchaadhamma, shorn of any
              context, might mean just about anything, nevertheless, when
              it is used in combination with adhammaraaga and visamalobha,
              one would reasonably expect that some sort of concupiscence
              is being indicated. And the atthakathaa to this sutta (DA. iii. 853)
              identifies it with homosexuality:

              "micchaadhammo" ti purisaana.m purisesu
              itthiina~nca itthiisu chandaraago

              "Micchaadhamma": the desire and lust of men for
              men and of women for women.

              > This is confirmed in the Vinaya. Since the Vinaya discusses
              > misbehaviour of monks and nuns it mentions all kinds of
              > often bizarre forms of sexual conduct.
              >
              > Homosexual acts are referred to fairly often; while they are
              > obviously not acceptable among sexual monastics, there is no
              > suggestion that they were considered any worse than
              > 'straight' sex.

              Yes, but I don't think this will confirm your claim that
              homosexuality was "not an issue". For nor is there any
              suggestion in the Vinaya that raping a woman or copulating
              with a female monkey are any worse than straight sex, or
              that killing somebody very painfully is any worse than
              killing him quickly, or that swindling an old widow is any
              worse than stealing a bundle of timber from the King's
              forest.

              The Vinaya is not concerned with making evaluations of this
              sort. The viniitavatthu and anaapatti sections of each rule
              do no more than delineate the range of actions that fall
              into each class of offence. As far as Vinaya is concerned,
              all actions that fall within a given class are equal
              inasmuch as they all entail the same penalty. A more refined
              analysis of their blameworthiness, kammic weight etc. belongs
              in the domain of Sutta and Abhidhamma.

              Therefore, the fact that the Vinaya groups nearly every kind
              of penetrative sex in the same category should not be taken
              as implying that they are all morally on a par when
              considered from other points of view.

              > This issue needs to be considered within the wider context
              > of Buddhist ethics, especially sexual ethics. The intent of
              > the third precept is to prevent sexual acts that betray
              > trust.

              It seems to me that there are a number of intents underlying
              the third precept. The one that you give would appear to be
              relevant only in the case of two of the types of women with
              whom a male householder ought not to have sexual
              intercourse, namely, the sassaamikaa (woman with a husband)
              and the maalaagu.laparikkhittaa (woman garlanded for
              betrothal).

              But for the remaining classes (i.e. maaturakkhitaa
              piturakkhitaa ... &c.) it seems that the chief intent has
              more to do with the maintenance of public order. In a
              society where most women are "protected" (i.e. under guard),
              having intercourse with a protected woman brings dishonour
              and humiliation upon those whose duty it is to protect her.
              This will not infrequently give rise to a vendetta cycle
              between rival families and clans, as the humiliated
              protectors seek vengeance on the man whom they believe
              has dishonoured them.

              What I find interesting about the third precept is that we
              see the Buddha doing no more than reasserting brahminical
              norms in spite of the fact that he has rejected the
              ideological underpinnings of these norms (i.e. the need to
              guard women in order to prevent inter-caste miscegenation,
              so as to maintain the efficacy of the sacrifice, which only
              works when carried out by purebred brahmins). Perhaps there
              is an important lesson here, namely, that when trying to
              determine how the third precept is to be applied in nations
              where very different conditions prevail (e.g. no tradition
              of keeping women under guard), there ought be a presumption
              in favour of whatever happen to be the longstanding norms
              and usages of that society, except where these have clearly
              proven to be dysfunctional.

              As a matter of history, this seems to have been exactly what
              has happened. Unlike with the other four precepts, there
              seem to be no two Buddhist countries where the third precept
              is interpreted in precisely the same way (at least not as
              far as popular understanding and popular preaching goes).

              > It has nothing to do with the kinds of sexual acts
              > that are performed. Buddhism has never insisted on a
              > 'missionary position', or condemmed masturbation, etc., etc.
              >
              > At least part of the reason for this (apart from it being
              > simply a rational stance) is that Buddhism has never been a
              > 'fecundist' religion; that is, we do not believe that we
              > have a divine duty to maximise the population by producing
              > as many children as possible. Thus sexual acts not intended
              > for procreation do not infringe the third precept.

              Oh? Surely a man who wears a condom when having sex with his
              neighbour's wife has broken the third precept, even though
              he didn't intend to procreate.

              Perhaps you meant to say that the presence or absence of an
              intention to procreate is not a material factor in defining
              transgression of the third precept. If so, then I agree with
              your premise, but I'm baffled as to how you get from there to
              the conclusion:

              > This being so, it would seem clear that same sex couples, if
              > in a caring, committed relationship, should be treated as no
              > different from man-woman relationships.

              Would you care to elaborate?

              Best wishes,

              Dhammanando
            • Bhante Sujato
              Hello Ven, ... One might; but then again, one might not. And if some kind of sexual transgression is intended, this says nothing about whether this is
              Message 6 of 6 , May 3, 2005
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                Hello Ven,


                > Though it's true that the word micchaadhamma, shorn of any
                > context, might mean just about anything, nevertheless, when
                > it is used in combination with adhammaraaga and visamalobha,
                > one would reasonably expect that some sort of concupiscence
                > is being indicated.

                One might; but then again, one might not. And if some kind of sexual
                transgression is intended, this says nothing about whether this is
                homosexuality.

                And the atthakathaa to this sutta (DA. iii. 853)
                > identifies it with homosexuality:

                As is well known. The question is whether the sutta intends this.
                Since there is precisely no evidence that homosexuality was
                considered a moral vice in sutta, vinaya, or abhidhamma; and since
                we know that in at least some later Buddhist cultures homosexuality
                did come to be seen as a vice; then it is reasonable to assume that
                the commentary is reflecting such cultural values.

                >
                > The Vinaya is not concerned with making evaluations of this
                > sort. The viniitavatthu and anaapatti sections of each rule
                > do no more than delineate the range of actions that fall
                > into each class of offence. As far as Vinaya is concerned,
                > all actions that fall within a given class are equal
                > inasmuch as they all entail the same penalty. A more refined
                > analysis of their blameworthiness, kammic weight etc. belongs
                > in the domain of Sutta and Abhidhamma.

                That's true, generally speaking, which is why i started my comments
                by clarifying the evidence of the Suttas. I was merely establishing
                that the Vinaya did not contradict the evidence of the Suttas, which
                i agree is primary, and which nowhere suggest that homosexuality is
                an issue. The most important thing about the Vinaya is that it shows
                that homosexual acts were well known, so it rules out the
                possibility that the omission in the suttas is because of
                prudishness, or because there was no homosexuality.

                >
                > But for the remaining classes (i.e. maaturakkhitaa
                > piturakkhitaa ... &c.) it seems that the chief intent has
                > more to do with the maintenance of public order. In a
                > society where most women are "protected" (i.e. under guard),
                > having intercourse with a protected woman brings dishonour
                > and humiliation upon those whose duty it is to protect her.
                > This will not infrequently give rise to a vendetta cycle
                > between rival families and clans, as the humiliated
                > protectors seek vengeance on the man whom they believe
                > has dishonoured them.

                I still see such things as in the realm of trust: there is an
                implicit (or explicit) social contract which has been broken.

                there ought be a presumption
                > in favour of whatever happen to be the longstanding norms
                > and usages of that society, except where these have clearly
                > proven to be dysfunctional.
                >

                Certainly the exact interpretation of the third precept must be to
                some degree modified according to prevailing social norms.

                > As a matter of history, this seems to have been exactly what
                > has happened. Unlike with the other four precepts, there
                > seem to be no two Buddhist countries where the third precept
                > is interpreted in precisely the same way (at least not as
                > far as popular understanding and popular preaching goes).

                I'm not really sure about this, but it seems likely enough. In
                Thailand, homosexuality is seen as an eccentricity rather than a
                perversion. I have never heard of any Buddhist countries where gays
                are treated as cruelly as in monotheistic cultures, although there
                are certainly anti-gay statements to be found in various Buddhist
                cultural contexts.

                >
                > Perhaps you meant to say that the presence or absence of an
                > intention to procreate is not a material factor in defining
                > transgression of the third precept.

                Yes.

                If so, then I agree with
                > your premise, but I'm baffled as to how you get from there to
                > the conclusion:
                >
                > > This being so, it would seem clear that same sex couples, if
                > > in a caring, committed relationship, should be treated as no
                > > different from man-woman relationships.
                >
                > Would you care to elaborate?
                >
                I'm not sure what you're baffled about. Since there is no
                prohibition against same-sex couples in either Sutta or Vinaya (or
                even Abhidhamma), and the rationale justifying such prohibition
                (that is, a pro-fecundist ideology) is completely alien to Buddhism,
                why should same-sex couples be treated any different to man-woman
                couples?

                I repeat my motivation for speaking out on this issue, which i have
                done often before, and will continue to do. I have many Dhamma-
                friends, both monastic and lay, who are gay or lesbian. They have
                been excluded and ostracized from monotheistic religions due to
                their sexual orientation, regardless of how sincere and committed
                they are to a spiritual path. They find in Buddhism a refreshing
                lack of prejudice and a compassion for their circumstances, which
                almost always is a source of great suffering for them. Buddhism has
                no 'Sodom & Gomorrah', and no justification for treating such people
                with anything less than full dignity and respect, including
                respecting their right to embark on sexual relationships in a
                trusting and caring manner.

                in Dhamma


                Bhante Sujato
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