Join Date: Mar 2010
Buddhism and Homosexuality
There has been much misconception on Buddhism's view on homosexuality, especially propagated by the Dalai Lama, but if we go back to the Buddha himself, we will discover that he never prohibited homosexuality in any way, nor did he ever discuss it in extent, because he never felt that it contributed to the lessening of human suffering, nor increasing it in any way. Most alleged 'Buddhist' passages which appear to condemn homosexuality came from the times after the Buddha's passing, which may or may not have been affected by cultural biases and social prejudice. These are written by various practitioners of Buddhism, NOT the Buddha himself, which certainly brings their authenticity into question.
Buddhism and Homosexuality
by Kerry Trembath
In browsing through the Net, I have come across a number of articles relating to religion and homosexuality. Almost all of these assume a Judaeo-Christian viewpoint, perhaps with passing references to Islam and an occasional glance over the shoulder at the ancient Greeks and Romans. As I am a practicing Buddhist, I would like to share with you my perspective on how homosexuality is treated in Buddhism. We should start with a very brief outline of Buddhism, particularly in relation to how the Buddha advised us to regulate our behaviour.
WHAT IS BUDDHISM?
This is not an easy question to answer, because Buddhism is comprised of many systems of belief and practice, or what we call traditions. These traditions have developed in different times and different countries, and in some degree of isolation from each other. Each has developed distinctive features which to a casual observer might appear to be major differences. However, these differences are frequently merely cultural overlays, and in other cases they are only differences in emphasis or approach. All traditions in fact are underpinned by a central core of common belief and practice1.
THE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA
One of the fundamental insights achieved by the Buddha through his experience of enlightenment was his analysis of suffering or unhappiness. This has been passed down to us in the form of a teaching which is traditionally described as the Four Noble Truths:
The first of these truths is that life is characterised by suffering. Most human endeavour is concerned with trying to avoid suffering and achieve happiness.
The second identifies the causes of suffering. Directly or indirectly, all the suffering we experience is caused by craving and ignorance. We crave so many things, and our ignorance leads us to believe that these things will make us happy.
The third states that it is possible to transcend suffering and attain the freedom and contentment of Nirvana. This is the state attained by the Buddha, where all the characteristics we associate with this existence (birth, death, movement in time and space, and the feeling of being a separate self) do not apply.
The fourth states that the way leading to the end of suffering is eightfold, and involves the cultivation of our speech, action, livelihood, thought, understanding, mindfulness, effort and concentration. These are sometimes summarised in three groups - morality, concentration/meditation and wisdom.
Let us look more closely at morality, which provides the essential behavioural foundation on which further mental cultivation and spiritual development can take place. Ordinary Buddhists (ie those who are not monks or nuns) try to live in accordance with five precepts, which are in effect promises or undertakings which we make to ourselves. Ordained Buddhists take vows to observe additional precepts, including celibacy. The usual English translation of the five precepts is:
I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from
- destroying or harming living beings
- taking things not given
- sexual misconduct
- false speech
- taking anything that causes intoxication or heedlessness.
Observation of these precepts helps in cultivating the positive virtues of
- generosity and non-attachment
- mental clarity and mindfulness.
These are not commandments, but training rules which Buddhists undertake voluntarily. They are undertaken not because we fear punishment by a deity but for our own benefit and the welfare of all other living beings. Buddhists believe that everything is subject to cause and effect, and all volitional actions have karmic consequences. If we do not behave in accordance with the precepts, we will cause suffering to others and ultimately make ourselves unhappy too.
HOMOSEXUALITY AND SEXUAL MISCONDUCT
The third of the five precepts refers to sexual behaviour. In the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, with which I am most familiar, the third precept is perhaps more precisely rendered as "I undertake the rule of training not to go the wrong way for sexual pleasure". What then would constitute "going the wrong way" and would this include homosexual acts? To determine this, we need to consider the criteria which Buddhists are advised to use in making ethical judgements. From the Buddha's discourses, there can be discerned three bases on which we can make judgements about our behaviour:-
we should consider the consequences of our actions, their effects on ourselves and others
we should consider how we would feel if others did the same thing to us
we should consider whether the behaviour is instrumental to our goal of Nirvana.
Using these criteria, Buddhist commentators have usually construed sexual misconduct to include rape, sexual harassment, molestation of children, and unfaithfulness to one's spouse. Clearly, these manifestations of sexual misconduct can apply equally to homosexual and heterosexual behaviour. The third precept is not a blanket prohibition, nor a simplistic depiction of some behaviours as wrong and other behaviours as right.
In fact, Buddhist ethics have been described as utilitarian, in that they are concerned less with "good" and "evil" and more with whether an action is "skilful", ie conducive to a good end in relation to the criteria mentioned above and whether it is motivated by good intentions (based upon generosity, love and understanding) 2.
The sayings of the Buddha, as recorded in the Pali Canon, do not I believe include any explicit reference to homosexuality or to homosexual acts. This has been taken to mean that the Buddha did not consider that one's sexual orientation was relevant to his message, which was how to escape from suffering and achieve enlightenment. If it was not important enough to mention, homosexuality could not have been considered a barrier to one's moral and spiritual development.
On the other hand, the Buddha's teachings in no way exhort us to a life of hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, sexual or otherwise. While the Buddha did not deny the existence of enjoyment in this world, he pointed out that all worldly pleasure is bound up with suffering, and enslavement to our cravings will keep us spinning in a vortex of disappointment and satiation. The Buddhist's objective is not to eliminate sensual pleasures but to see them as they are through the systematic practice of mindfulness.
One feature of Buddhism which may interest gays and lesbians is that the teachings place no particular value on procreation. Marriage and the raising of children are seen as positive but are by no means compulsory. On the contrary, celibacy is in most traditions considered to be a requirement for those seeking higher levels of development as Buddhists. Monks and nuns take vows of strict celibacy, and even pious lay people undertake to be celibate at certain times in order to pursue their mental and spiritual development. This means that from the religious perspective there is no stigma which is necessarily attached to being unmarried and childless, although there may of course be social and cultural pressures which override this.
BUDDHIST DEPICTIONS OF SAME SEX RELATIONSHIPS
Buddhist texts contain many examples of deeply affectionate relationships between members of the same sex. One of the most popular of all Buddhist texts, the Jatakas, comprises a large collection of stories of the lives of the Buddha before his final life on this earth. The Jatakas repeatedly extol love and devotion between men, although this is never of an overtly sexual nature. In these stories the bodhisattva, or Buddha-to-be, is often shown as having a close male companion or attendant. Other texts describing the life of the historical Buddha relate the lifetime friendship of the Buddha and Ananda, who was his constant companion and personal attendant. Some writers have seen homoerotic elements in these texts 3. It is sufficient to say that loving relationships between unmarried men are treated very positively in Buddhist scriptures.
Unfortunately, it cannot be said that homosexuals in countries where Buddhists are in the majority are any more free from prejudice and discrimination than they are in other countries. Everywhere it has taken root, Buddhism has absorbed aspects of the dominant culture, and this has sometimes been to its detriment. Neither is it true to say that people who espouse Buddhism are themselves any more free from prejudiced views than those of other persuasions. However it is clear that there is nothing in the Buddha's teachings to justify condemnation of homosexuality or homosexual acts. It seems to me that many gays and lesbians, particularly in Western countries, are drawn to Buddhism because of its tolerance and its reluctance to draw rigid moral lines, although of course I have no hard evidence for this.
From my readings of the Buddhist texts, and from the answers of the Buddhist monks I have questioned on this issue, I have concluded that, for lay Buddhists, any sexual act would not be breaking the third precept
where there is mutual consent,
where there is no harm done to anyone,
where the breaking of a commitment to another person is not involved,
and where our intention is to express affection with respect, and give pleasure to each other.
This would apply irrespective of the gender or sexual orientation of the parties involved. The same principles would be used to evaluate all relationships and sexual behaviour, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
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POSTSCRIPT: BUDDHISM AND GOD
I feel I must take issue with the assertion that belief in and reverence for deities is necessarily a defining characteristic of religions. Buddhism clearly meets most definitions of a religion, yet it is possible to practice as a Buddhist with no belief in a God or superhuman being(s)4. Buddhism does not deny the existence of gods or of other worlds, and indeed the devotional practices of many Buddhist traditions involve the veneration and invocation of special beings such as Avalokitesvara (known as Kwan Yin to many Chinese, or Kannon to the Japanese). However, at its core Buddhism is a non-theistic religion and, unlike other world religions, Buddhism is not a doctrine of revelation. The Buddha did not claim to be the bearer of a message from on high. He made it clear that what he taught he had discovered for himself through his own efforts.
The Buddha himself is revered not as a deity or supernatural being but as a very special kind of human being. He was a human who achieved the ultimate in development of his human potential. The Buddha taught that this achievement is within the reach of every human being, and he spent his life teaching a practical methodology which, if followed with purity of mind and great diligence, would enable others to reach the same objective. In other words, he taught a method rather than a doctrine. When questioned about the validity of his teachings, the Buddha did not refer to the higher authority of a deity. He explained that his teachings were based on his own direct personal experience, and he invited all who were interested to test for themselves whether the method he taught was effective.
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1 There are many excellent introductions to Buddhism on the Web. Two good sources which emanate from my own country, Australia, are: The Buddhist Council of New South Wales, an Introduction to Buddhism by Graeme Lyall at http://www.zip.com.au/~lyallg/buddh.html and BuddhaNet, operated by the Venerable Pannavaro at http://www2.hawkesbury.uws.edu.au/BuddhaNet/
2 A L De Silva, Homosexuality and Theravada Buddhism, not currently in print, but can be found at http://www2.hawkesbury.uws.edu.au/BuddhaNet/
3 Leonard Zwilling, Homosexuality As Seen in Indian Buddhist Texts, in Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender, edited by Jose Ignacio Cabezon, State University of New York Press, New York, 1992.
4 William Herbrechtsmeier, Buddhism and the Definition of Religion: One More Time, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1993, 32 (1), 1-18.
Taken from: http://www.enabling.org/ia/vipassana...yTrembath.html
A very insightful article on coming out and Buddhism, taken from http://mybuddhaispink.blogspot.com/2...-buddhism.html
We gays are a perfect match with Buddhism at the time we come out: however, many of us do not follow through on what drove us to come out to find spiritual bliss in something like Buddhism, and instead, we end up becoming again part of something we were desperate to leave behind.
Maitreyabandhu will help me explain this with words from an article of his printed in the book "Queer Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists," published by the Gay Sunshine Press of San Francisco.
In his article, "Coming out into Dharma bliss," Maitreyabandhu explains that we as gays feel confined and locked by the various groups around us: family, church, school, friends, work. We feel trapped because of the closet as we are constantly aware that "I don't fit in, there doesn't seem to be a place for me." In reaction, we become very introspective (sometimes also very depressed!), but through this introspection, we begin to define who we are: we must do this because we recognize that society at large will not define us as it will with its hetero children. Consider this passage from Maitreyabandhu's article:
"A true individual is committed to developing self-awareness. Usually we are not very self-aware. We may think that we are individuals, that we think and feel for ourselves, but in fact we are very much determined by the expectations and assumptions of those around us."
Many of us "knew" at some level that we were gay when we were very small children. In vague ways, we reached out to those in our families for recognition, but our families didn't recognize our out-stretched hands and as a result, we got ignored. From the beginning, we felt out of place. And as we grew older, sex became extremely important to replace the affection we missed out on as children. We did not learn about love because there was no one to model love for us, so it was all about sex. But we felt restrained by being in the closet, being hidden from the world; we were hiding from ourselves. Maitreyabandhu continues:
"We can see this very clearly in our experience of coming out. When we come out we realize that we do not fit in the expectations of the group, whether it be the group of our immediate family, the church, our peers or our work colleagues ... In coming out we have to define ourselves as distinct from the group. For me this was a very frightening and isolating experience. I so wanted to fit in. I so wanted to conform to the group. But I couldn't. I was gay. Coming out is a special feat of self-awareness and as such can be the beginning of a truly spiritual life, a life devoted to developing our individual self-awareness."
Those of us who are out can remember the feelings of freedom and bliss we experienced through the simple act of telling people "I am gay." Even when their response was not supportive, knowing that we had separated ourselves from these groups that had been confining us was an epiphany that changed our lives significantly. As closeted gays, we eventually came to realize through our own experience that these groups were empty. There was nothing internal with these groups to give them identity and cohesion: it all came from the outside. We, as gays, saw something else driving our being and that came from within. So we liberated ourselves by coming out and separating ourselves from the emptiness of the groups around us.
But what did most of us do (including myself!) after coming out, after experiencing this epiphany, this spiritual peace? We joined another group! We joined the group called the "gay culture," and some of us, after separating ourselves from the confines of the identity labels the straight world imposed on us, willingly placed new labels on ourselves to fit whatever empty personality we decided to adopt: some of us became drag queens, others became leather men, others became the "cute boys next door," others became butch (the moniker ?butch? in some variation was the first name I used on the gay chat sites) or fem or flamboyant or reserved -- we all had to have our own bars, we had to dress a certain way to identify with our group, we had our signs and labels. After freeing ourselves, we willingly trapped ourselves once again. Maitreyabandhu continues.
"The gay scene seemed to me increasingly characterized by sexual competitiveness, vapid small talk and endless wanting. Its obsession with the body beautiful, with the pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself, with youth and style seemed to trap gay men like myself in either painful superficiality or isolation. The alternative, however, seemed to be an increasingly domesticated 'straight-acting' conventionality."
The very thing, Maitreyabandhu suggests, that freed us, our self-identification as being not with the group and our identification with others like us to find succor and support, can become a trap to ensnare us in the very confinement that we so desperately sought to escape. Identifying with others as gay can be a tremendous positive influence for us, but as Maitreyabandhu goes on to say ...
"We must also be aware of its limitations. In other words, we need to be aware that it is a group, that the gay scene is a collection of groups, all with their accepted ways of behaving, of talking and of acting. If we are not careful, we will move from one set of constricting assumptions to another, our gay liberation will become a gay limitation."
The Dhamma is a natural next step for those of us after coming out, if we stick with that striving to self-identify as being separate from the emptiness of groups. Unfortunately, most young gays are swept away by the sensual pleasures of the gay scene. I think it comes back to love. We, in general, as gays do not understand love. We missed as children the physical affection and affirmation we desired and as a result we missed out on the lesson of love that straight children acquire as they grow older. We tell ourselves, "I want to find a man to love and be with for the rest of my life," but we struggle with this because no one truly taught us about love. We have to find out on our own, and many of us fall into the pits of despair created by the traps of sensuality: alcoholism, drug addiction, and for many of us disease. We become faced with the question "How can I love someone else when I don't even know how to love myself?"
Gays are coming out much younger these days. And what is there to welcome them? Circuit parties, mass consumerism, Ecstacy and sex without commitment. The situation has improved over the recent years, with schools becoming more receptive to gay-straight alliance groups. But more always is needed to be done. Perhaps we gays who are Buddhist need to reach out and attempt to redirect that wonderful experience we had at the time we come out and take advantage of that desire to be free of group identification. The Dhamma provides this, and the Dhamma can teach us about love when no one else did. It is a path of peace that we older gays can document because we have travelled it ourselves.
Remember how many of us willingly had sex while we were teens with men twice our age? We did it for two reasons: one we just wanted to have sex with someone and it was too difficult to risk finding someone our own age, but the second reason was we were seeking the affection and direction of a male father figure, we were seeking the father we didn't have. An entire cultural response to this developed with older gay men becoming the ?mothers? to younger gay men; the mother?s role being the introduction of the acolyte to the world of the gay subculture. Once that introduction was complete, the acolyte was set free; the mother no longer held any authority over the younger man. Because of this, the issue of intergenerational sex will continue to be with us despite the discomfort it creates with many of us.
But as gay Buddhists, we can fill that need provided we can show the restraint to resist any sensual temptation; we can show how younger gays can not only love themselves, but others in healthy ways AND open to them a spiritual path that is simple to follow and easily self-verified.
Remember the bliss of coming out? Remember the bliss of finding the Dhamma? Is there any need for these two blissful experiences to be separated by years of more suffering?
Final note: Dharmachari Maitreyabandhu was born in 1961 in Warwickshire, England. He was ordained in the Western Buddhist Order in 1990. I believe he is still affiliated with the London Buddhist Centre in the East End, one of the many worldwide centers of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. If this has changed, please let me know and I will correct this post.
"But what do you say to taking chances,
What do you say to jumping off the edge?
Never knowing if there's solid ground below
Or hand to hold, or hell to pay,
What do you say,
What do you say?"
And thus laments the hopeless romantic that is yours truly.
Last edited by Dominic; 28-08-2011 at 03:33 PM.
Reason: Automerged Doublepost