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Buddhism and Homosexuality

Question:

What is the view on Homosexuality and Buddhism? Is it condemned or accepted or just something they don’t want to talk about? Hope your nor offended by me asking you to answer this topic.

Answer:

Offended? Nope. Actually, I’m surprised no one asked before the election. As you might imagine, opinions are all over the place on this topic.

First of all, the monks:

Monks living within a monastery are expected to be celibate. That means both men and women and partners of any kind. No sex. Period. There is no distinction between regular heterosexual sex and homosexuality. It’s all bad. That being said, over a 2500-year history, there have been plenty of exceptions and behind-the-scenes stories that scholars speculate upon.

Next, for laypeople:

We are supposed to follow the five precepts, which includes the promise not to engage in sexual misconduct. What exactly is sexual misconduct?

(from religionfacts.com see source links below):

Right and wrong behavior in Buddhism is generally determined by considerations such as the following:

* Universalibility principle – “How would I like it if someone did this to me?”
* Consequences – Does the act causes harm and regret (in oneself or others) or benefit and joy?
* Utilitarian principle – Will the act help or harm the attainment of goals (ultimately spiritual liberation)?
* Intention – Is the act motivated by love, generosity and understanding?

“Sexual misconduct” has thus traditionally been interpreted to include actions like coercive sex, sexual harassment, child molestation and adultery. As Homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned in any of the Buddha’s sayings recorded in the Pali Canon (Tripitaka), most interpreters have taken this to mean that homosexuality should be evaluated in the same way as heterosexuality, in accordance with the above principles.

The above seems to point to the acceptability of homosexuality. There are plenty of opposition opinions on this, and there are even some important people who don’t seem fully committed either way. The Dalai Lama, for one, commented, ‚Äúthe purpose of sex in general is for procreation, so homosexual acts do seem a bit unnatural.‚Äù He said, ‚Äúsexual desires in themselves are natural, perhaps including homosexual desires, but that one should not try to increase those desires or indulge them without self-control.‚Äù He added, “From a Buddhist point of view, [gay sex] is generally considered sexual misconduct.” But he did note that this rule is for Buddhists, and from society’s viewpoint, homosexual relationships can be “of mutual benefit, enjoyable, and harmless.” His spokesman has added, “His Holiness opposes violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation. He urges respect, tolerance, compassion, and the full recognition of human rights for all.”

The bottom line is that there really isn’t an answer. Some schools of Buddhism are more or less accepting of it, but there is no single across-the-board answer. Overall, Buddhism is more accepting of gays than most of the other “big” religions. My own point of view is that consensual sexual activity by a committed couple, whether engaged in by a heterosexual or homosexual couple, is not sexual misconduct, and this is a point of view shared by many others. It really all hinges upon whether or not harm is being done and the motivations behind the relationship, and the same goes for heterosexual relationships for that matter!

Here are a few sites that discuss the issue more fully. I have quoted from a few them above.
http://www.religionfacts.com/homosexuality/buddhism.htm
http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_budd.htm
http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/7-18-2004-56791.asp

9 comments to Buddhism and Homosexuality

  • Jazz

    Hey Brian, I’ve re-read this post several times, just thinking about it. I really appreciate the way you cover this topic. As a lesbian I’ve wondered about homosexuality and Buddhism. I grew up in the Christian church and the damage and pain was/is unbelievable. Hearing a good friend of mine, in sunday school class, declare that homosexuals were not even worthy to hear the gospel cut through me like nothing else. I was just coming out and that messed things up for me. Even tho Buddhism doesn’t declare “Welcome Gays” (or whatever), I feel it doesn’t point us out as evil either. And the Dalai Lama, while maybe not fully understand the gay thing, urges to treat us (everyone for that matter) with respect. That means a lot.

    I stopped apologizing a long time ago for being gay, or trying to find reason. But, to say it isn’t in the forefront when I make decision or have to listen to the hate that is thrown around, would be lying. One of the hardest and most devastating prejudices that gays must deal with is internal homophobia. Hopefully, you have helped to plant the seed and cultivate healing. Thank you.

  • Thank you!

    Like everything else, you’ll find differing opinions if you go from one sangha to another. “Sexual Misconduct” is also partially determined by the local culture. There are regions in the USA, for example, where homosexuality is very common and mostly accepted by all, while other places… not so much. The local Buddhists are likely to have similar opinions to their neighbors.

    I was actually a little surprised to hear the Dalai Lama’s opinion on the subject. I guess if you take into consideration his age, background and political situation, I guess it makes sense, but the majority of Buddhist leaders seem to be more willing to say that it’s acceptable.

  • Christopher Wick

    I feel this instruction to be very rewarding in regard to sexual behavior. I would take it that if you are attracted to someone of the same sex, feel love and joy for their presence and your own in union with one another, that your intent is to seek enlightenment in this joy, and agreement with the other, it would follow that to be sexual with someone of the opposite sex who do not feel these things for would be sexual misconduct. Thank you, I am humbled and grounded in light of reason and compassion.

  • Sonia

    Good post! I believe that whatever way you swing control over sexual desire is what matters.

  • Katherine Grady

    I have read the Dalai Lamas words and really he leaves it open recently that we need to reexamine the texts as a whole. There is also the interpretation of Pandaka as a sexual non-conformist and their being banned from monastic life. In light of the Catholic priest scandals with predatory priests, it seems to me it’s not about homosexuality at all. It seems to me to be about sexual predators trying to hide themselves within monastic robes. These can be straight, gay or child predators because it specifically says they are ruled by their lusts. The rest of Buddhism seems to confirm this in that the precepts talk of being consensual and non-harming guidelines for love and relationships.

  • Jeffery

    -Desires for all types of sexual relation or pleasure are evil. But they are still not abnormal.
    -The desire for homosexuality and lesbianism is evil as well as abnormal.
    -Such a kind of sexual relation or desire was described by the Buddha as a wrong practice, which can lead to the destruction of the human world.
    -This is because these desires occur due to ultra-passion.
    -But this can be cured by practicing meditation on such loathsome and disgusting matter.
    ( It is obvious that although the Buddha did not mention directly this matter, he had definitely described it in an indirect manner in his teachings. )

  • Jeffery

    Well, ( almost forgot to mention this ) obviously the above teachings were given not only to monastic people but also to laypeople.

  • Tim

    It is poppy cock and an entirely samsaric view to describe homosexuality as ‘ultra-passion’ and as ‘abnormal’. I would even go as far as to say harmful- one only has to look on this very page to see how a similar view point taken by the Church caused harm to an individual. To inflict harm on another is entirely contrary to Buddhist teachings. The reason that it hasn’t been raised in Buddhist scriptures, unlike the Abrahamic traditions, I would suggest, is because it isn’t relevant. Sexuality isn’t relevant but conduct is.

  • Angel

    I like this article. You point out the reality of the sides or opinions on homosexuality. I consider myself to be a lesbian and normally I do not announce myself to be one. I normally talk with friends and overall talking about homosexuality has been a good experience. I have not been faced with many hateful experiences. I do not feel that the love I have held for a woman to be wrong. Love is not “evil”. If it does not harm the couple or their love does not cause suffering then I do not think it is misconduct. In some societies it may cause pain only because of the fear, misunderstanding, or hate that people have towards homosexuals. And in those situations it is the homosexuals that suffer the most. But to not fall in love (mutual love between adults) because of society may cause more pain and suffering for those individuals. Self hate or internal homophobia can cause much pain for homosexuals or anybody else. We are all trying to find ourselves and we all change over time.

    My path I chose is different than most and I am not alway accepted. But I am learning to love myself and to quit being so hard on myself. My family is overall accepting of me being a lesbian. When I told my mom that I was possibly gay and that I was agnostic she was more upset with the agnostic part. For about a year I have been following Buddhism and that is something she does not agree with. Buddhism is not fully accepted or understood by society in America but the same can be said for other things.

    I live in Texas and so it can be a bit difficult to deal with these internal problems associated with not following the main ideals of local society. But I am lucky in that I have a local Buddhist meditation group that I can go to and there are GLBTQ groups that I can participate in. But some people do not have a local support system and there are some web based support out there.

    Overall I think this boils down to love, tolerance/acceptance, and understanding. Homosexual couples do not want to suffer just like everyone else in the world and in some cases it seems like groups of people are dehumantised to justify causing harm. In these situations I think it would be best to try seeing a situation from different points of view to understand how the feel. To empathizes and to grow to love them for who they are. I struggle with this as much as any other person. I have my own lenses to clean and internal strif to calm.

    Thank you for the podcasts and I have found the comments to be interesting.

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