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
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
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
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
> 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?