FROM THE POINT
OF THERAVADA BUDDHISM
Chate Sivasomboon, Chiang Mai, Thailand,
Buddhist Channel, Oct 7, 2005
like to share with you about view of homosexuality as defined in Theravada
Tripitaka and some of differences with other branches of Buddhism.
First, I felt that in the letter by Kelvin Wong, the author had used too broad
an interpretation of the Pali word “Pandaka.” There is some problem in
the interpretation of the word “Pandaka”, which was translated as hermaphrodite
in his article. It is not quite exactly correct, since there is another
Pali word (Uppatopayanchanok = two + sex organ ) that is much more accurately
translated as “hermaphrodite.”
Vinaya Tripitaka, as was mentioned in the article by Phra Mano, there was
a pandaka monk wandering around, having sex with men looking after horses
and elephants. It was this act of this character who caused the establishment
of the rule which forbids a pandaka from being ordained. Based on
this case, it was generally reagrded that gays cannot be ordained as members
of the Sangha. On the contrary, in the commentary text (Atthagatha) of
the Vinaya Tripitaka, the term “pandaka” was divided into five catagories.
It is specifically stated that of the five categories of pandaka, the first
three can be ordained, while the first two of these catagories fit the
descriptions of gay men.
in the Abhidharma (higher teachings), while it was maintained that a pandaka
would not achieve enlightenment in this life time, it would be possible
in future lives. According to a story in the Tripitaka, Ananda the enlightened
one – who was Buddha’s cousin and close aid, and who recited all the sutra
at the first council – was a pandaka in one of his many previous lifes.
In a Dharma webboard here in Thailand, some gay man posted a message
lamenting about this point, but most of the reponses concurred with one
reponse which cleverly posted a question: “Would you quit going to school
merely because you thought that you would not be able to earn a Ph.D.?
How many readers here got a Ph.D.?” One of my teacher’s reponse to
this question was to extol the questioner to continue onwards with his
Theravada Buddhism, while the five precepts are meant mainly for lay people,
the third precept does not stipulate what are “correct sexual acts”. In
fact, most reponses on the web board that I mentioned earlier agrees that
being faithful, and not harming others by untoward sexual acts were enough
reassurance for gay people. So in many ways, homosexuals can hold
to the practice of the 5 precepts. Looking at homosexuality from point
of the 8 precepts is a non-entity, as the third precept (of 8) bars any
sexual acts by anyone (regardless of sexual preferences).
the Tripitaka, there are a lot of examples of those who achieved enlightenment
without being ordained. These people basically just held on to the 5 precepts. What may be true then still holds true today. I can personally
vouch of two monks whom I follow their teachings have achieved enormously
since they were laymen. In the third stage of sainthood (the non-returner),
the fetter that binds one to sexual inclination is said to have been abandoned,
as in that state of enlightenement, one will see clearly that the body
as neither “I” or “mine”. Is this aspect, sexual attachment is hence dropped
and one becomes “sexless.”
so for those who sincerely practices and ardently cultivates – regardless
of their sexual predilections – they too will finally find convergence
towards such “sexless” state, within this life time or beyond.
short essay by a Theravada monk
question of same-sex marriage rights is currently getting a lot of attention
in this country, especially with legislation pending. As this is an issue
that has a religious aspect, I have been asked several times what the Buddhist
position is. This is a little tricky to answer, because there really isn’t
one. Buddhist monks do not perform marriages of any kind, we are in fact
forbidden by our rule to do so. So the question of whether or not to perform
same-sex marriages doesn’t arise.
for the more general issue involved, Buddhist ethics (at least in the Theravada
or southern school in which I am ordained) does not really address the
question of homosexuality. For monks, the ethical position is clear. Any
kind of sexual activity, with any sort of partner, is explicitly forbidden.
For the lay Buddhist, sexual ethics is laid out in the Third Precept which
calls for “abstaining from sexual misconduct.”
Buddhist suttas (scriptures) are records of actual discourses, and always
have a context. In the only place where the Buddha defines sexual misconduct
he is speaking to a (presumably heterosexual) man, so the definition is
couched in terms appropriate to that perspective. The lay man is told to
abstain from sex with “unsuitable partners” defined as girls under age,
women betrothed or married and women who have taken vows of religious celibacy.
is clear, sound advice and seems to suggest that sexual misconduct is that
which would disrupt existing family or love relationships. This is consonant
with the general Buddhist principle that that which causes suffering for
oneself or others is unethical behaviour. (“Unskillful behaviour” would
be closer to the original.) There is no good reason to assume that homosexual
relations which do not violate this principle should be treated differently.
consideration is that the Buddha often spoke about the spiritual dangers
of unrestrained sensuality. This would mean, for instance, that promiscuity
of any type is spiritually harmful. This is not strictly speaking an ethical
issue, but one of good spiritual and emotional health. The implication
in sexual matters would be that celibacy is the highest state, with monogamy
a good situation for most people. Since gay people wanting to marry would
presumably be monogamous and not promiscuous, this should be seen as a
express a personal opinion, I have a hard time seeing what all the fuss
is about. Opponents of allowing same-sex marriage claim to be preserving
traditional marriage. However, I’ve never seen the argument developed to
explain how allowing a minority to have a different form of marriage is
any threat to the existing or potential future marriages of the majority.
I respect that some religions have strong prohibitions against certain
practices but I can’t see the sense or justice in making such prohibitions
general law. It’s as if the Orthodox Jews were lobbying parliament to ban
the eating of bacon.
genuine area of concern is that of religious freedom. I would oppose strongly
any attempt to force churches to do anything that runs against their own
beliefs. As a Buddhist clergy person myself, I would find this precedent
extremely troubling, even though in this particular case it wouldn’t effect
the Buddhists. The government of the day is to be commended for being careful
to ensure that religious freedom is preserved; the proposed law would allow,
but not require, churched to perform same-sex marriage. A grey area remains,
however, in the case of civil marriages where the justice of the peace
has a personal religious objection. It’s not clear to me how this situation
should be resolved.