Why Buddhists Should Support Marriage Equality

Marriage equality is one of the key social and legal issues of our time. I’d like to offer a Buddhist perspective.

As with so many ethical and social questions, especially those that involve sexuality, we find that religion wants to be at the core of things. The conservative Christian churches are leading the opposition to marriage equality. We can’t generalise on the basis of religion, though. Many Christians believe that Christ’s message of compassion and love, and the fact that he never made any statement on homosexuality, provide a basis for support of marriage equality.

In Australia there was an interesting exchange between the highly conservative Catholic leader Cardinal George Pell and the group Australian Marriage Equality. The AME asked to meet Cardinal Pell, and he consented to do so as long as the AME agreed that not all opposition to same-sex marriage was a result of homophobia or discrimination. The AME agreed, and came out with the following statement:

‘Just as we acknowledge that it is possible to oppose marriage equality without hating homosexuals, so we ask those who differ with us on this important issue to acknowledge that it is possible to support marriage equality without seeking to undermine, marriage, family, or religion.’

That’s a great starting point, and an all-too-rare example of dialogue as it should be.

But what of Buddhism? As with any issue, you’ll find a variety of positions; and as with any issue – and I apologise if this sounds cynical – most of those positions have little to do with anything the Buddha himself said or did.

In some cases we find Buddhist leaders who state the ethical case plainly. Ajahn Brahm has been very forward in supporting the gay community for many years, both in Australia and overseas. Master Hsin Yun, the leader of the international Fo Guang Shan order, said:

‘People often ask me what I think about homosexuality. They wonder, is it right, is it wrong? The answer is, it is neither right nor wrong. It is just something that people do. If people are not harming each other, their private lives are their own business; we should be tolerant of them and not reject them.’

On the other hand, the Dalai Lama has repeatedly maintained that homosexual acts are a violation against the precepts. At the same time, he insists on compassion and full human rights for all. His stance is solely concerned with what is appropriate behaviour for a Buddhist practitioner, not what should be made law.

His argument is that the sexual organs are designed for procreation and should be used solely for that purpose. So any form of sex that is not for procreation is out.

This is, to my mind, an extreme and unrealistic position. The Dalai Lama says it is based on certain medieval Indian scholars (Vasubandhu, Asanga – but I have never seen the passages myself). It certainly has no basis in the Suttas. On the contrary, the Suttas freely acknowledge that sex is for pleasure, and they never make a problem out of that. Buddhism is not a fertility religion, so why we should insist that sex be for procreation is beyond me.

The precept as found in the early Buddhist texts mentions nothing about whether sex is for procreation or not. What it talks about, solely, is whether the sexual relation involves the betrayal of a social contract. Here’s the text. It’s a stock passage, found for example in Majjhima Nikaya 41, and Anguttara Nikaya 10.176 and 10.211:

‘One is a person who misconducts himself in sexual pleasures. One has intercourse with a woman who is protected by mother, father, mother and father, brother, sister, family, clan, law (or custom, ‘dhamma’), or one who has a husband, who is punishable, or even with one garlanded for betrothal.’

Kāmesu micchācārī hoti, yā tā māturakkhitā piturakkhitā mātāpiturakkhitā bhāturakkhitā bhaginirakkhitā ñātirakkhitā gottarakkhitā dhammarakkhitā sasāmikā saparidaṇḍā antamaso mālāguḷaparikkhittāpi, tathārūpāsu cārittaṃ āpajjitā hoti.

Most of these are straightforward. They refer to women who are not ‘independent’ women in our modern sense, but who live under the authority of others. Typically, of course, this would have been young girls living at home, then in a family with a husband. There are significant variations, though, so arrangements were flexible.

It’s noteworthy that, while the Hindu texts say that a woman must always be under the authority of a man, here we find that living under the authority of a mother is next to father, and a sister is next to brother, with no implication that one of the other is preferable.

In some cases, it seems, women lived under the protection of the wider family. The one ‘guarded by dhamma’ is probably adopted, orphaned, or in some other way taken care of. The one who is ‘punishable’ is ambiguous: does it mean that the woman is to be punished (as a criminal)? Or does it mean that having intercourse with her is punishable? The text doesn’t make it clear. The woman ‘garlanded for betrothal’ refers to a woman who is, in our modern sense, ‘engaged’ but not yet married.

Obviously, the passage as stated above only refers to the man as agent. That doesn’t mean that women can’t break this precept! Like so many of the Buddhist texts, it is phrased from a male point of view (andocentric), and would apply equally to both genders. The assumption of the passage is that it is women who are under protection. This reflects the social reality of the Buddha’s time; it doesn’t endorse this situation, nor does it say that women can’t or shouldn’t live independently. It just says that if a woman (and presumably a man) is living in a committed relationship then one should not betray that.

This much is clear: the precept against sexual misconduct has nothing to do with homosexuality (or any other form of sexual activity as such.) It is concerned with breaking the bonds of trust with those that we love, and nothing else. While the specifics of the social relations in the Buddha’s time are different than today, it is not problematic to work out how to apply this in our own context, at least in most cases.

So if the precept does not concern homosexuality, what did the Buddha say on the topic? We are very lucky in Buddhism to have thousands of discourses, with the Buddha making observations or criticisms regarding many kinds of ethical issues. Rape, paedophilia, adultery: these and many other problems are clearly mentioned in the early texts, and the Buddha made it clear that he didn’t approve of them.

In the case of homosexuality, however, we have nothing in the Suttas. In all the thousands of discourses, not a single one regarded homosexuality as a significant issue.

There is one passage in the Cakkavattisihanada Sutta, which is sometimes cited by those who are trying to prove that the Buddha was anti-gay. The text discusses various examples of moral decay in society. One of the practices it mentions is, in the Pali, micchā-dhamma. This is about the most generic term for wrong doing that it’s possible to make in Pali. You could translate it as ‘wrong teachings’, ‘bad practices’, ‘misguided actions’, and so on. The commentary, compiled nearly 1000 years later in Sri Lanka, however, says it means, ‘Lustful desire of men for men, and women for women.’ (Micchādhammoti purisānaṃ purisesu itthīnañca itthīsu chandarāgo.) Since this has no basis in the text, it stands as a record of the attitude of a medieval commentator. There’s no evidence, so far as I am aware, that this attitude was representative of ancient Theravadin or Sri Lankan culture in general.

The Suttas essentially ignore any issues around homosexuality. Now, arguments from absence are always difficult. But the presence of thousands of discourses detailing lists of many kinds of ethical violations, strongly suggests that the Buddha tried to be reasonably comprehensive in addressing ethical concerns, and homosexuality was not one of them.

The picture in the Vinaya is a little different. The Vinaya is a legal code for monastics, and since it regulates the conduct of a celibate order, it deals with all kinds of possible sexual behaviours. It does so with a degree of frankness and candour that so shocked the early European translators that they simply omitted large chunks of text, or, with a quaint regard for the delicate sensibilities of young readers, translated them into Latin.

Homosexual acts, like just about any other imaginable sexual act, are depicted many times in the Vinaya, both among monks and nuns. In each case, the Buddha is shown as responding in his usual direct and common sense manner. Obviously, homosexual behaviour, like any sexual behaviour, is inappropriate among the celibate monastic community, so the Buddha prohibits it. However, this is done in a straight, matter-of-fact tone, and there is never a suggestion that there is anything wrong with gay sex per se.

In several cases the penalty is actually less in the case of homosexual behaviour. For example, for a monk to erotically touch another man is a less serious offence than the same act with a woman. Sex between women, likewise, is treated less seriously than between a woman and a man. There is one passage where the Buddha’s chief disciple, Venerable Sariputta, is said to have had two novices as students. But they had sex with each other. The Buddha laid down a rule that one should not take two novices as students at the same time! (This rule, like many others, was later relaxed.)

However, it would be a mistake to read this as implying that the Buddha regarded same-sex sexuality as somehow more permissible in the Sangha. The Vinaya, as a legal code, frequently makes judgements for various technical reasons, and there is no strong correlation between the moral weight of an act and the severity with which it is treated in the Vinaya. For example, building an overly-large hut is a serious offence, while bashing someone within an inch of their life is a minor offence.

So we shouldn’t read too much into the relative leniency of how some homosexual acts are treated in the Vinaya. The main point is simply that homosexuality is treated in pretty much the same way as any other expression of sexuality.

In these accounts there is nothing that really corresponds with our modern notion of sexual orientation. For the most part, same-sex acts are just that, acts. There’s no idea of a person who solely or primarily is attracted to people of the same sex.

The texts do speak of a certain kind of person, called a paṇḍaka. These are typically male, but there were females too (itthīpaṇḍikā). A paṇḍaka is forbidden to ordain, and is regularly associated with unbridled sexuality. It is, however, unclear exactly what paṇḍaka means. The descriptions of the paṇḍaka are few, and not always consistent, but there seems to have been some physical attribute involved, as well as a set of cultural behaviours. Perhaps they were some form of eunuchs who performed sexual services. In any case, the paṇḍaka is clearly not a homosexual in the modern sense of the word. They may be connected with the modern classes of Hijras and the like, who are considered a ‘third sex’ in India, including transsexuals, hermaphrodites, and eunuchs.

To sum up, early Buddhism is well aware of homosexual acts, and never treats them as an ethical problem. Homosexuality as a sexual orientation is not found.

This is completely in line with the Buddha’s take on ethics. The Buddha did not ethically judge persons, he judged deeds. People are simply people, who do various kinds of things, some good, some bad. If a person does a deed that causes harm, this is what the Buddha considered ‘unskilful’. If the deed causes no harm, it is not unskilful.

The basic problem in sexual ethics, addressed in the third precept, is betrayal. ‘Sexual misconduct’ is sexual behaviour that causes harm by breaking the trust that a loved one has placed in us. The Buddha was compassionate, and he never laid down ethical rules that caused harm or distress. Making a moral proscription against homosexuality marginalises and harms people who have done no wrong, and it is against the basic principles of Buddhist ethics.

It’s so important to keep this essential ethical question in mind. In discussions on homosexuality, as with just about any other controversial ethical issue, there is a pervasive tendency to confuse the issue. Why do we find it so difficult to look at an ethical question rationally? It is true, there are some issues that are complex and the details can be difficult to work out. But this is not one of them.

Countless times we are told, for example, that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’. Surely a moment’s reflection should show us this is not true, because there’s plenty of homosexuality in the animal world. And anyway, how is gay sex more unnatural than, say, typing on a keyboard, or wrapping food in plastic? But this is all beside the point. Being ‘unnatural’ is not an ethical issue. The issue is whether it causes harm, not whether it is natural or not. That is no more an ethical issue than is the choice, say, to eat organic or non-organic vegetables.

Homosexuality is also regularly linked with sexual ‘decadence’ in general. Homosexuals are said to be paedophiles, or promiscuous, or to cause diseases such as AIDS. Allowing homosexual relations is to licence all manner of debaucheries. This objection, too, is not valid: gays behave in all sorts of ways, just as do straight people.

Blaming gays for AIDS is one of the most cruel arguments possible. We feel compelled to look for examples that show the absurdity of these views. What of babies born with AIDS? What of those who get AIDS via blood transfusion? Incidence of malaria is much greater among poor people – are we to blame them, too? And why is incidence of AIDS among lesbians so very low – is lesbianism kammically preferable?

But we shouldn’t have to look for such examples. Like the arguments mentioned above, the whole thing is missing the point. Take the ‘worst case’ scenario, the cliché of the promiscuous, irresponsible, drug-taking, careless gay man. We might not think his behaviour is praiseworthy or wise, but does it deserve a slow, lingering, and painful death? Are we really comfortable to righteously proclaim the justice of destroying a human life, because we think that the way they have sought pleasure is irresponsible? This whole argument is inhuman and unworthy.

If there are behaviours that gay people do that increase transmission of HIV, for example, then we can try to change those behaviours, just as we would try to help any people who were inadvertently causing harm. What the marriage equality movement wants is to enable people of various sexual orientations to live in an accepted, recognised, and legal framework which supports the development of loving, committed relationships. Banning gay marriage is the very best way to ensure gays remain marginalised.

Another red herring, in my view, is the ‘born this way’ argument, which is often used by those who support marriage equality. Homosexuality, so the argument goes, is not a choice, some people are just like that and can’t change. While this is an important, if contested, fact, it misses the ethical issue. What if some gay people don’t feel like they were ‘born this way’? What if they feel like they have made a conscious choice? Whether this is the case or not, or whether there are in fact hidden biological factors involved, so what? Having sex with someone of the same gender is not a harmful deed, nor is marrying someone of the same gender. Whether it’s by biological determinism or free will, nothing harmful is done, so there’s no ethical problem.

Perhaps the single most fallacious argument against gay marriage is simply that it upsets the customs of society. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman, therefore it will damage society to do it any other way.

This argument, favoured by conservatives, once again completely misses the point. The damage is already here. Violence, trauma, and abuse is a part of the living reality of millions of perfectly good people all over the world, simply because the have, or want to have, sex with persons of their own gender. Part of society is broken, and it needs fixing.

This is the same argument that was used to oppose abolishing slavery, votes for women, property rights for all, and so on. In each case, those in the position of privilege strive to keep others from getting the same rights. And since the cost of inequality is borne by the ‘others’, it does not exist for the privileged.

When we introduce compassion into the equation, however, we recognise that society has always been imperfect. Just because something was done in the past does not make it right. Perhaps it was the case that in certain times and places our marriage customs made more sense than they do now. But that’s not the point. The point is, what is the right thing to do now? To continue to exclude, marginalise, and discriminate? Or to broaden our moral horizons, to fully accept and include all people?

If homosexuality as such is not a problem, what then of same-sex marriages? In this area we find that the Buddha had even less to say. In fact, there is no such thing as a Buddhist marriage. Buddhists have simply adopted the marriage customs of the culture they find themselves in. The most basic model, therefore, was the customs of ancient India. These have been the basis for Buddhist family customs, adapted in each society that Buddhism has gone to.

In ancient India, there were several forms of marriage. As with all things Indian, there is no insistence on one true, correct way of doing things. Some Hindu texts list a whole range of marriage possibilities, which are correlated with the levels of Indian cosmology. The highest form of marriage is the ‘Brahma wedding’, where the bride and groom, each pure in lineage and caste, is united in the most perfect of ceremonies. If the marriage is lacking in some perfections of detail, it is reckoned as pertaining to the lower classes of deities. The lowest of the auspicious weddings is the gandharva wedding, where the bride and groom simply elope. Then there are the various inauspicious unions, those of the yakkhas or rakkhasas, where, for example, the woman is abducted by force.

Along with this diversity in wedding style, there were different marital arrangements. Monogamy seems to have been common, and of course these were often arranged marriages – but ancient Buddhist texts also record a strong struggle by women for autonomy in the marriage choices. Polygamy is also common, and was the norm for kings. Polyandry is less common, but is central to the most famous of all Hindu texts, the Mahabharata. Apparently polyandry is common in Tibet.

I’m not trying to uphold the Indian marriage system as superior to that in the West. It has its own problems with inter-caste marriages, arranged marriages, domestic violence, and so on. I’m merely making the point that there has traditionally been an adaptive diversity of living arrangements that were considered to be valid forms of marriage, and that this can be seen in some ways as a precedent for the modern idea of same-sex marriages.

So there has always been a flexibility and diversity in marriage customs in the Indian sphere that stands in clear contrast with the ‘one and only’ correct form of marriage that is, in the main, endorsed by the contemporary monotheistic religions. Same-sex marriages were not, so far as I’m aware, historically acknowledged within the Indian cultural sphere. Nor am I aware of any laws against them, such as we find in the modern day. Given the wide variations in marriage customs, including many forms of marriage that would not be considered valid in modern times, it would seem that the typical Indian approach was that of tolerance and inclusion. Accordingly, when the British law that made gay sex a crime was repealed in India in 2009, some Hindu authorities applauded the move, saying homosexuality was part of the divine order.

Unfortunately, this tolerant attitude is not always the case today. One sometimes finds Hindutva polemics against homosexuality. Such discourse, sadly enough, often rails against the supposed debauched influence of ‘Western’ morals, oblivious to the fact that anti-gay attitudes were themselves imported into India by the monotheistic religions. This ambiguity has been expressed by the highest authorities in India. Goolam Vahanvati, then solicitor-general and current attorney-general, stated to the UN Human Rights Council:

‘Around the early 19th Century, you probably know that in England they frowned on homosexuality, and therefore there are historical reports that various people came to India to take advantage of its more liberal atmosphere with regard to different kinds of sexual conduct.

‘As a result, in 1860 when we got the Indian Penal Code, which was drafted by Lord Macaulay, they inserted Section 377 which brought in the concept of “sexual offences against the order of nature”.

‘Now in India we didn’t have this concept of something being “against the order of nature”. It was essentially a Western concept, which has remained over the years. Now homosexuality as such is not defined in the IPC, and it will be a matter of great argument whether it is “against the order of nature”.’

A similar situation prevails in other Buddhist countries, too. In Japan, China, and elsewhere, the early generations of Christian missionaries were shocked at the casual acceptance of homosexual behaviour among the Buddhists. They immediately set about trying to persuade the world that their own version of sexual propriety was the right one for everyone.

Sadly enough, modern generations of Buddhists and Hindus are now doing this work for them, oblivious to their own more accepting and compassionate past. When a Thai monk like Thattajiwo, one of the leaders of Dhammakaya, rails against the ‘sexual perverts’, who have called down the kammic justice of AIDS (‘the executioner of the sex-mad’) upon them, oblivious of the pit of sin they have fallen into, and the even greater sufferings that await them in future disease-ridden hells of torment, he is merely parroting the frothing excesses of Christian and Islamic fundamentalists. (Phra Thattajiwo Bhikku. Waksiin Porng-kan Rook Eet (A Vaccine to Protect Against AIDS). Pathumthani: Thammakay Foundation.) Such apocalyptic and condemnatory ‘ethics’ have no basis in the Buddha’s teaching.

So in today’s climate, what are we to do? For the Buddha, homosexuality was clearly not an issue. Nor was making laws proscribing valid forms of marriage. What was an issue, on the other hand, was compassion. The very essence of compassion is to reach out to those who are suffering, those who are marginalised. and persecuted. People whose sexual orientation varies from the majority suffer discrimination, bullying at school, violence, and emotional trauma. As Buddhists we should recognise a clear moral imperative to help wherever we can.

One might object that since the Buddha made no statement on the legalities of gay marriage, we should do the same. But the problem is a little more subtle than that. We are living in a culture where, based on certain religious and cultural ideas, certain ways of living one’s life have been made illegal. This is an artefact of the conditioned and always arbitrary course of history, not a timeless feature of the human landscape. In Australia, for example, there was no clear Federal law that prohibited same-sex marriage until 2004.

Supporting marriage equality is not to introduce something new, but simply to abolish laws that discriminate. The injustice is already in place. The harm is being done. The change is merely to remove the harmful influence of discriminatory laws, which should never have been there in the first place.

People are people, regardless of their gender, colour, nationality, or sexual orientation. The Buddha taught ‘for one who feels’. That’s the only requirement for Buddhist practice: one who feels. In the past our society decreed that marriage should not be between people of a different race, or a different colour, or a different religion, or a different nationality. Over time, we decided that these rules were harmful, and we abolished them.

Catastrophes were predicted: they didn’t come true.

What has happened, rather, is that we have become a little more open minded, and a little more aware of the suffering of others. The test of our generation is whether we can continue this move towards a more accepting and loving way of living, or whether we are to regress to a meaner, hard-hearted place.

My society, my culture, the one that I’m proud of and want to belong to, is this one. The society that is kind, questioning, accepting. Let us take up the best aspects of our own cultures, whether they be Buddhist or modern cultures, and discard all that is unjust, discriminatory, and harmful. Let us give our full support for marriage equality, for if we do not we are betraying the best part of our humanity.


77 thoughts on “Why Buddhists Should Support Marriage Equality

  1. Thank you for the thorough analysis, Bhante. This passage really answers some questions.

    As an Asian who is Buddhist by default, I learned about basic Dhamma — karma, eightfold path, suffering, being good — but could not stop wondering why some practices seemed so unkind and unfair. As a lay disciple, I am confused.

    So thank you for the explanation and for highlighting that it is okay to not accepting views that feel wrong (even when they are spoken by respected religious leaders).

  2. Brilliant! As a practicing Buddhist [incidentally Gay], and a Philosophy student, I appreciate how you examine each of the uncritically conceived arguments made in defiance of marriage equality one by one and show how they are fallacious, undignified, or both. I appreciate how, along the way, you expose the spirit of Buddhist Ethics, which seeks to evaluate conduct on the merits of its’ capacity to inflict suffering and pain or engender compassion and joy. Thank you for this teaching. Sadhu x3

    • Thanks, Tyler. I must admit, when i was writing the post, I was thinking, I wonder what the gay community will think? After all, it’s an issue which I have little familiarity with; and marriage, even when I was a layman, was something I was never interested in. So I can understand why people say, why would gays want to get married anyway? But the point is, of course, that, for whatever reason, some gay couples do want to get married, so how do we respond to that?

      My background in studying ethics at UWA is still helpful for me. I get kinda frustrated when there is such a confusion between what the real ethical issue is, and what are just side issues. The problem with modern ethics, though, is that while it can clarify the analysis of issues, it doesn’t have a very confident ground in what the ‘good’ actually is. Fortunately in Buddhism, we have the fundamental principle of non-harm to guide us through the seas of relativism…

    • Thanks, Ben.

      Generally I have found the Australian Buddhist community to be supportive of marriage equality. There was an incident in Queensland last year, when a Christian rep complained to a reporter who the Christians always get the flack for opposing marriage equality, when all the other religions are also opposed. So the reporter rang the Muslims – “No comment”. The Hindus – “No Comment”. The Jews – “No Comment”. The Buddhists – specifically Kim Hollows, president of the FABC, and he said, “Sure, why not?” The Govt is seeking submissions at the moment, and Ajahn Brahm has submitted a very supportive letter.

  3. Thank you Bhante! You have no idea how much this article means to me.

    As a Buddhist who also happened to be gay, I have to say that I have no problem reconciling my faith with my homosexuality, because Buddhism is simply such a wonderful, practical and beautiful religion. Having said that though, even though I have mostly encountered love and acceptance from my Buddhist teachers and friends, I have also, on rare occasions faced with bigotry and ignorance, from even senior Buddhist monks.

    I know for a fact that homosexuality is not abnormal or sinful. I am in a long term, long distance, monogamous relationship with a wonderful guy, and I recognize that this relationship is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It has kept me grounded, given me security and peace of mind, and made me want to always be a better person. The relationship is everything that is normal, beautiful and right, and I cannot fathom how anyone could possibly call relationships like this wrong.

    I have struggled to explain to many how homosexuality is not in contradiction with Buddhism and one can truly be a good human being, a good Buddhist, and a good gay person at the same time. 🙂 Thanks to your eloquent, emphatic, empathetic, comprehensive and informative article, Bhante. Your article, no doubt, will stand as a testament that Buddhist loving kindness and compassion are still very much unconditional, tangible and true.

    I hope more people, Buddhists or non-Buddhists alike, get to enjoy this wonderful read.

    Thank you once again, from the bottom of my heart.

    • Than you so much, Darrel, i’m glad I could help. Keep up the good practice, and may you and your partner be blessed. If you ever need a monk to bless a wedding, let me know!

    • Darrel, you have exactly described how I felt when I read this article. I am German and my english is far from good. That’s why I a m very grateful to find your answer to Banthe Sujato. I am living for almost twelve years with my asian partner together and although up and downs are not always avoidable I can say that this life, two men together, is the best what could happen to me. Here in Berlin, Germany, same sex marriage isn’t an issue since 2001. That’s why I am happy to live here and feel sorry for all men who can not express their sexuality openly.
      As a Buddhist I am following the five precepts and had have sometimes doubts about the way I have sex. But now I am sure that this way is okay and will be condemned only by persons who have problems with their own or are misinformed or ignorant. Thank you for your statement again which expresses my way of thinking in this matter. Wilfried

  4. Bhante,
    I find this article to be one of the best I’ve ever read here. Thank you, and let compassion becomes our standard of treating other human, instead of rigid social stigma that’s actually “against the or the nature”. Noone is born with discriminating and condemning nature, it’s the society who teach them that way.

  5. Very well analyzed and executed post… thank you for your sanity. 🙂

    I am personally quite biased in favor of the Dalai Lama and have rationalized that his statements in this regard must be with specific regard to the ordained. References to unspecified ‘precepts’ invites inquiry into exactly which precepts (aka ‘vows’). And, as you have pointed out so well, the ordained are vowed to live under a very different set of rules than are laypersons. He has apparently made some statements about ‘sodomy’ which I find troubling…. and so I continue to study his view on the issue.

    Thanks again.

    • Most refrences I can find seem to focus on Vasubandhu’s Abhidharma-kosa… but I don’t have a full translation of it. This is an extremely important text, but it has a strong temporal component, IMVHO.

      Some references in Wikipedia seem to point to chapter 5 of the much later Tibetan Tshonkapa’s “Great Chariot”

      This appears to be a pretty good (if very rough) translation of it


      and in it:

      “Included are intercourse in forbidden parts of the body,
      such as the hands.”

      And here, a book (anthology) published in the 1992 called Buddhism, sexuality, and gender” by Jose Ignacio Cabezon has a (guest-written) chapter that takes a shot a this issue:


    • Thanks for those references. We have the English translation of Vasubandhu here, i’ll see if I can find the relevant passage.

      Here are the relevant parts from Tsongkhapa in full. It is in the section dealing with the 10 ways of unwholesome action, a category familiar in the Pali and Chinese texts, too. He briefly analyzes the three kinds of wrong action by way of body, which is the first three of the five precepts. The description of the third precept is as follows:

      Transgressions in sex are with persons committed to others.
      Related are dharmas like improper sexual acts.

      Sexual transgression, refers to another’s spouse, those who are close relatives, or not in their right minds, or deliberately having sex at an improper place or time. Included are intercourse in forbidden parts of the body, such as the hands.

      I suspect that this is only in brief, and that we will find that elsewhere Tsongkhapa has commented on the matter more fully – maybe someone with more knowledge of the Tibetan tradition can help us here.

      In any case, we can see from this that the basis of the precept is, as usual, shared in common with the Pali texts. Like those texts, the primary problem is sexual relations with ‘persons committed to others’. Then Tsongkhapa, tacitly acknowledging that it is an extension of the principles, says that ‘related are dharmas like improper sexual acts’. Here ‘dharmas’ should be translated simply as ‘acts’.

      It is interesting that he includes those not in their right minds – this implies a notion of reasonable consent, so that, for example, one could never have sex with those intoxicated or drugged. The ‘improper place or time’, and ‘forbidden parts of the body, such as the hands’, are an unwarranted addition not found in the early texts. It is here that we see what is from a Western point of view the all-too-familiar sight of celibate monastics invading people’s bedrooms and telling them what kind of sex they should be having. As well as being deeply unrealistic, this betrays a lack of understanding of why the Buddha formulated the precept in that manner in the first place.

      In any case, there’s no mention of homosexuality here. Presumably gay sex would come under sex with ‘forbidden parts’. So the argument against homosexuality, if we are to derive it from this passage, rests on an extension of an extension of what we find in the early texts.

      The article by Zwilling that you refer to is good, but it (or at least the parts available on Google Books) doesn’t directly address the extension of the third precept to include homosexuality. Indeed, he suggests that the texts are vague regarding lay sexuality, which is as it should be.

    • Bhante, there is a passage directly referring to homosexuality in the English translation of Tsongkhapa’s Lam Rim Chen Mo “The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment” translated by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee, Joshua Cutler Editor-in-Chief, Snow Lion Publications 2000. The entire translation is in 3 separate volumes.

      The particular passage is found In Volume 1 Chapter 14 The Varieties of Karma. On page 220 under Sexual Misconduct the first paragraph states:

      “There are four possible bases of sexual misconduct: a person with whom you should not have intercourse, inappropriate body parts, inappropriate places, and inappropriate times. Those with whom one should not have intercourse in the case of men are women with whom you should not copulate, ALL MEN (my emphasis in capitals), and eunuchs.”

      So there we are, men should not have sex with other men and eunuchs. The explanation of Sexual Misconduct takes up two and a half pages from page 220 to 222. All of which is prescriptive and/or proscriptive and unedifying, not based on the suttas but on Indic scholars and monks putting their own slant to the Buddha’s teachings.

    • As a Gelug practitioner who is also gay, I have always considered the standards of sexual misconduct to be based on cultural norms, even in the case of Vasbandhu due to the lack of a scriptural basis. However, while browsing through the Korean translation of the Tripitaka Koreana on the matter of the precepts, I came across a sutra entitled “The Buddha Speaks the Upasaka’s Form of the Five Precepts Sutra”, (volume 24, #1476 in the Taisho). While available in the Chinese Tripitaka, I’m not sure whether a Tibetan equivalent exists. Regardless, it is considered canonical by the East Asian Mahayana schools at least. The sutra elaborates quite extensively on what constitutes a breach of the precepts and further makes a distinction (one that I have not heard of previously) between transgressions that can be repented and those that cannot. In reference to such, certain sexual acts are specified. The sutra states that to have sex involving the three places of a woman, namely the mouth, anus and urethra (literally the place of urinating) is a trangression that cannot be repented. Likewise, for an upasaka to have sex involving the two inappropriate places (I take it that the sutra is referring to the previously mentioned three places, minus the urethra) with men is a transgression that cannot be repented. I was a bit taken back by finding a scriptural source that explicitly outlines such things as sexual misconduct, but as a Mahayana practitioner would have to give some greater thought before dismissing the teachings of the sutra outright. In short, I just wanted to clarify that in the Mahayana, there is a scriptural basis for the interpretations of HH Dalai Lama, Lama Tsong Khapa, Vasubandhu and others.

  6. If marriage is maintained for procreative acts then not only is society protected by having new life moving forward, but the souls longing for life can take root at the same time. Whether you are for or against Homosexual acts shouldn’t cloud judgement as to the intrinsic value of marriage and the family bonds in it- which are specifiaclly NON sexual- apart from the parents.
    To hijack the concept for civil permission/acceptance, beyond the historically held tradition, is just popularist pleading -in my view.
    Harm is done when imbalances occur in the spirit, psyche or society at large.
    A minority view can cause damage when it usurps the majority for erroneous reasons, however well meaning.
    On balance , your review of same sex behaviour historically neglects the issue of marriage and conventional sexuality being mandatory for those societies for them to survive.
    The articles and writers you quote do not seem in any way to support same sex- they just don’t discuss it in a valid sense, much as we would have treated it 50 years ago.

    • Thanks trevG for your comments. If I may respond to them in order.

      If marriage is maintained for procreative acts then not only is society protected by having new life moving forward, but the souls longing for life can take root at the same time. Whether you are for or against Homosexual acts shouldn’t cloud judgement as to the intrinsic value of marriage and the family bonds in it- which are specifiaclly NON sexual- apart from the parents.

      Marriage has nothing to do with procreation. Procreation comes from sex, which was around long before marriage. Marriage is, rather, a cultural institution for maintaining healthy and harmonious relations in society, especially those between sexual partners and their children. One of the benefits of this is that children have a secure family environment. Gay & lesbian couples provide such an environment for increasing numbers of children. In the US about 4% of adopted children are raised by gay parents. By rescinding the discriminatory laws that prevent marriage equality we can support gay & lesbian couples who wish to form a lasting, loving family.

      In his submission for the Marriage Equality Bill, Ajahn Brahm made the interesting point that religions did not invent marriage. Marriage is a social institution that predates any of our existing religions by thousands of years.

      Religions come along and arrogate to themselves the right to force people to live according to their values, demanding that the laws bend to their moral codes. No wonder that so many within Christianity and other religions feel that their leaders are betraying the message of love and acceptance which drew them to religion in the first place.

      To hijack the concept for civil permission/acceptance, beyond the historically held tradition, is just popularist pleading -in my view.

      If I had said, ‘Let’s marry all the gays – it’s the thing to do!’, then this would popularist [sic!] pleading. But that’s not what I did. I discussed several serious ethical arguments both for and against. This is not populist pleading, it’s rational argument.

      A minority view can cause damage when it usurps the majority for erroneous reasons, however well meaning.

      As when, for example, the minority view that marriage can only be between a man and a woman usurps the majority view, that marriage should be between loving couples, whether or not they are the same sex. This is the situation as it stands in Australia, and I agree, it is causing a lot of harm. That’s why it should change.

      On balance , your review of same sex behaviour historically neglects the issue of marriage and conventional sexuality being mandatory for those societies for them to survive.

      It neglects the issue because it’s a non-issue. Some people like having sex with other people of the same gender – so what? Heterosexual people like having all kinds of sex, too, only a minority of which actually results in children – again, so what? None of this has any meaningful effect on the birth-rate or population.

      Indeed, I believe that we are suffering from overpopulation, so anything that can (ethically!) lessen the number of births is probably a good thing.

      But that argument, like many that I pointed out in my essay, is beside the point. Whether you personally believe that humanity needs more children or not, it does not empower you or anyone else to make a law to prevent people from marrying just because they have the same gender.

      The articles and writers you quote do not seem in any way to support same sex- they just don’t discuss it in a valid sense, much as we would have treated it 50 years ago.

      That’s because what I was doing was not populist pleading”, but rational argument. If it was populist pleading, I would say, “Look, all these people support marriage equality – you should too!” I didn’t do that because I wanted to actually discuss the issues. The quotes I have used are there to illustrate and support specific points in the discussion. If you look carefully at how they are used, I think you will find that they are relevant and useful. They are, however, not essential to my argument.

    • The figures I have seen for the UK so far indicate a 2:1 take against marriage being multi-sexualised. Other higher ‘pro’ figures seem to be from selective groups who are likely to be for a change.
      Maybe if the all the Govt’s involved in all this would take a referendum they would get a truer picture?
      There was nothing in any party manifesto about this here, either.
      My objection isn’t about being anti Gay -but asking what benefit to society the change would make.
      No doubt children can be raised well in same sex households, but one struggles to think that gender confusion could be avoided in many cases.
      Because some families break up that doesn’t make marriage a failed ideal- so does some success in same sex parenting make that ‘normal’ or of equal value?.
      What is the effect of this on married status of existing unions and will the net benefit be for the good of society?
      I think not- and it will take time to show the negative effects, unfortunately.
      [Yes, I suggest a devaluation effect.will soon lead to more demands if not stopped]
      In the case of children involved in this new experiment the effects will be hard to gauge or deal with as this issue has never before crept into social policy. [both surreptitiously and craftily.]
      Blatant social engineering -without any thought as to real outcomes or with supporting data of any kind to justify it.

  7. trevG, your fears are normal and probably echo those who wonder what this new attitude towards marriage equality will mean to life as we know it. However where does it come from? These phobias are what can lead to discrimination and persecution of groups; early christians by the jews and other minority groups by the ‘majority groups’. We have to realise that any new movement, religious or secular, starts out to be the minority. When the buddha started teaching his path to peace he was but one man. So was jesus. History has shown that movements that engender peace and equality prevail over oppression and subjugation. Sometimes we may think about what is right for society but may only be considering our own dictations of our own fears. Fear of uncertainty is real yet we cannot live meaningfully to have it thwart us from facing new challenges in life. Our future, that of over 7 billion of our species and countless other species of both plant and animal life is one of intricate connections. The great risk to our collective future is to continue to live as if we already have the answers to all the questions. To live in the past, or rather relish the innocence of our ignorant past will only keep us at the mercy of our uncertainty. We need to share the responsibility of finding solutions to our problems and work together for the benefit of ourselves and future generations.

    I do however think that politicians and political parties are a poor choice of examples to look to in terms of great social change as they generally are motivated to be popularist.

    • Fair comment, you accept my reservations – and Yes, many would see this push for ‘equality’, where fundamental ‘difference’ [gender] is the established norm, as an unholy alliance between a pressure group and populist politicians with selfish agendas.
      It has the feeling of a social experiment to me.

  8. Thank you Bahnte for articulating your views on Marriage Equality.
    It is clear from fellow bloggers responses, you have dispelled many of the “myths” surrounding this important social issue.
    I look forward to catching up with you again in the not-to-distant future.
    With Metta…

  9. Respected Sir,
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece on same sex marriages. Since you mentioned Attorney general Ghoolam Vahanvati’s arguments before the supreme court in a landmark case which is sub judice. I would like to add that this whole debate about homosexuality also intensified in India after a decision of the Delhi High Court in 2009. The appeal before the supreme court is now going on wherein all religions and social saviours are coming up to contend that this is a thing arcane to a civilized society. However the High court in its wonderful judgment decriminalizes consensual sex between 2 individuals of the same sex which is a punishable offence under the penal statutes in india.

    i would like to share with you the decision of the high court in case you have not gone through it before.


    Thanking you


    • Thanks so much, Aakarsh. That’s an inspiring finding – anyone interested should read the last few paragraphs of the case.

  10. Dear Sujato, you said: “Rape, paedophilia, adultery: these and many other problems are clearly mentioned in the early texts, and the Buddha made it clear that he didn’t approve of them.”

    Please give concrete reference for “paedophilia” in the texts.
    I am pretty stunned that you line a “philia” (meaning “love”) next with rape, like some feminists do – after you have just stated that the Buddha would recommend empathy with minorities. I think you are wrong here, especially because there were child marriages at Shakyamuni’s time, and you project from a modern and rather opportunistic view on the topic.

    • Well, off the top of my head there’s this:

      “Atītayobbano poso,
      Āneti timbarutthaniṃ;
      Tassā issā na supati,
      Taṃ parābhavato mukhaṃ”

      A man whose youth is past,
      marries a young girl with breasts like little fruit,
      and he can’t sleep for jealousy of her –
      this is a cause of downfall

      I am pretty stunned that you line a “philia” (meaning “love”) next with rape

      I have no idea what you’re talking about. Pedophilia is the normal English word for sex with children. It is indeed a form of rape, since children are not capable of giving consent to sex in any meaningful sense.

      there were child marriages at Shakyamuni’s time

      The normal age for marriage was 16. I am not aware of any references in any ancient Indian texts to marriage taking place earlier than this.

    • The marriage age in medieval England was 13 but that didn’t make it right.
      Times change -there was a lot of death around that time needing procreation!
      On the current discussion- change is Buddhist and often good – but not at any cost.

  11. The Buddisht texts and all other ancient and medieval (and all contemporary non-western societies today) never talk about ‘homosexuality’ — there was no such concept as it being a separate class of desires or people. What they talk about it is a special gender category of people, known variously as ‘third genders’ or ‘two-spirits,’ or ‘lady-boys,’ etc. The basis for their distinction was their different gender (inner-sex identity). Their artificial gender role was fixed as ‘receptive sex with men.’ But, that was not what naturally distinguished a man from a third gender. What differentiated was the inner sex of the men and third genders — viz, masculine or feminine.

    Since, the third genders had become extremely stigmatized, and have been long used as a punishment zone for males who lost the manhood test, (apart from being the appropriate gender identity for what today are variously known as transgenders, effeminate males, etc.), whatever came to be associated with third genders, became taboo/ stigmatized for men, as it became the ground for disqualification of men from manhood (what qualifies a male to be a man … manhood is the most important need of masculine gendered males — more than sexuality). Thus, receptive anal sex became extremely stigmatized for men, and they disowned it publicly, throughout the world (that was the conspiracy against men), even if many continued to indulge in it secretively. Only the third genders (effeminate males) openly acknowledged desiring receptive sex openly.

    However, this stigma did not attach to the men’s desire for men per se, nor to men’s sex with men, per se. Only the act of receptive sex was stigmatized. Sexual arousal upon seeing a male body, e.g. did not render a male to be castigated as ‘third gender.’ Conducting oneself as a woman, on the other hand would.

    Inspite of this freedom men in ancient/ non-western world have had to be sexual with men without having to be ‘gay’ (third gender), they all had to prove their manhood by penetrating women and reproducing (the root of all the conspiracies against men/ all anti-manhood politics).

    The western religion Christianity destroyed the concept of ‘third gender’ for feminine gendered males. Now, as much important manhood is for masculine gendered males, a separate gender category is for the feminine gendered male. But, after several centuries of persecution, the western world forgot the concept of third gender. However, third genders continued to exist underground and practise receptive sex with men (which was their most important social way to assert their inner femaleness, just as penetrating women was the most important social way to assert their inner maleness for men).

    Another thing that Christianity did was to make all kinds of sex between two males a common sin — sodomy, without making the distinction between their genders — as ‘men’ or ‘third genders’ (with the act of penetrating, and being penetrated as their respective sexual roles). This made for a formal social perspective that viewed all kinds of sex between men under a common category, without making the distinction of gender — which got further complicated by the fact that Christianity talked about sex with men only in the context of third genders. The informal society, however, continued to subconsciously distinguish between the ‘intermediate sexes’ and the men who committed ‘masculine vices.’

    Upon the arrival of the modern era, these western third genders started to come out of the underground existence, and openly started to seek sex with men, even as men were forced to be silent about it for various reasons. The more third genders openly sought sex with men, making it seem a ‘third gender’ character in the society, the more men started to disown their sexuality for men, and became heterosexual enmasse.

    Soon, things came to such a pass that a western third gender, by the name of Karl Ulrichts, gave a new name to these third genders — a separate category that they had always longed for. Only, he called it in terms of ‘sexuality’ because, the western society would never allow a gender classification, but would welcome a method through which sexuality between men could be tagged and isolated for persecution. So, Karl called his category of third genders as ‘men who like men.’ Even though, these males were not men, and they openly described themselves side by side as ‘third sex,’ intermediate sex’ and ‘females inside male bodies’ for decades after that.

    Karl also imposed the ‘heterosexual’ definition on males with manhood, who were enmasse forced to fake a desire to penetrate women, it being the crux of their qualification for manhood. This compulsion soon became their identity, thanks to the ‘homosexuals,’ (third genders who like men).

    This is the root of the invalid homo-hetero divide. In effect, its actually the man-third gender divide wrongly defnied in terms of sexuality. Because, Gender is important. Sexuality is not that important.

    And the reason why ‘straight’ men hate ‘homosexuals’ and ‘homosexuality’ today is not because they’re all naturally exclusively heterosexual. Nor always because of religion. The main reason for this hatred is the association of the man-man desire with the third genders or ‘homosexuals.’ That in the west, to desire men makes you ‘gay,’ makes men hate gays.

    It’s the stigma of femininity that makes men hate their own sexuality for men and those in others.

    The day western males could be free to desire men without having to be ‘gay’ they’d be truly liberated.

  12. * On the Master Hsing Yun quote *

    Master Hsing Yun says that “we should be tolerant of them and not reject them”. While Master Hsing Yun tolerates and not rejects gay people, Master Hsing Yun considers the gay sex as “not normal”.
    You can refer to this URL http://www.zhfgwh.co…ew/23214_9.html. In Chinese, it says:


    “不正常” mean “not normal”. It is most likely that the words “tolerate” and “not reject” refers to the person and not the gay sex act. In fact, the word “tolerate” carries a negative connotation. If something is good, one would not have to tolerate it. If one has to tolerate something, it means that the something is “not so good” or “not normal”.

  13. * On Dalai Lama’s position on sex and procreation *

    Let me extraction a section from a forum posting:


    The PURPOSE of sex as spoken by the Dalai Lama is for procreation and the organ is to perform this FUNCTION. To support this reasoning, consider the following:

    – when a gay couple mate, the male top will eject sperm. Is there a way to stop this from happening? Is the male top able to prevent this? We all know the answer is “No”. The male top has totally no control over his ejaculation. Why do gay have sperm in the first place and why does he HAVE TO ejaculate it during gay sex? It’s such a trouble to have to be cleaned up and it does not seem to serve any useful purpose in gay sex. “Mother nature” has it that this ACT of sex and the spontaneous ejaculation of sperm, is to fertilise the egg of his female partner. This is a strong signal from “mother nature” that the ACT of sex is for procreation

    – when the woman is sexually aroused, without conscious deliberation, the woman virginal self-lubricate. The anus of the gay bottom does not. Again, “mother nature” is telling us that one of the function of the woman virginal is to receive the penis. The anus does not share this ability

    Obviously, nobody can tell for sure why “mother nature” chooses to make both straight and gay man this way. We do not understand and we probably will never know the reason. But, not knowing the reason does not equate to there are no reasons – just that we do not know.

    Anybody can suggest that the sex ACT can be anything other than procreation and firmly believes in it. However, from the above, it does seem like the penis is designed to enter the virginal and not the anus.

    The signs from dear “mother nature” are pointing in the Dalai Lama’s favour.


    The point here is that we really do not need anyone to tell us what sex is for. Nature has spoken. We just need to listen.

    • This confuses/conflates many ideas… I mean, drawing conclusions here does… in this sort of discussion, and by the nature of the inference itself, one has to make a very careful survey of arguments to draw any valid conclusions… to do otherwise is to ignore all that is not said *here*…. and there is a lot to say that is not here. Another way to put that is, that this (above) is an inconclusive study. And I am sure, when pressed, HHDL would agree. We are an evolutionary beings, and there is little credible doubt that our make up has changed over time. It is therefore conceivable that all of this “mother nature’s’evidence” will not always be just as it is now. Imagine a human society that *generally* procreates while everyone works together to remain happy and healthy.

      What *matters most* has less to do with fluids and shapes and the like than it does with the mind and how we ‘are’ with one-another

  14. Dear Bhante,

    May you be well and happy. As a practicing asian gay buddhist, I am very thankful for your insight. I hope others could open their minds and heart to accept this, and this will make all beings well and happy! Saddhu!


    • I’m not gay and can manage without consensual sexual activity quite well.
      Gays are not being doubted becuase the are gay [as such] but because there’s a hidden historical fear [mentioned earlier] that they will not act as real men in a crisis,
      This indeed may be wrong -but the conflation of male energy with societal survival makes mistakes very serious [ie: line extinction].
      The quest for ‘marriage’ status for Gays recently is just an upping of the anti- due to there being less existential angst about our species survival and overpopulation worries giving space for changes- which previously would have been ‘too risky’.
      Buddhism is about compassion, yes- but also logic and I agree that the Dalai Lama has maintained a good stance for Buddhism in his assessment.
      To sum up:- Being for traditional marriage is NOT anti gay- and Buddhism, whilst flexible and progressive in outlook will get nowhere good pushing on this [not specifically ‘Christian’ owned ] issue. Other faiths have marriage the same way.
      The arguments are separate [Homo v. Hetero being ‘normal’ PLUS – In or Out of marriage]- and rolling the two facets together won’t help in this human problem.
      The love of a man for a woman [esp. when children are produced] has to be respected and protected -for the good of society.

  15. A crucial aspect in the context of this initial argument is the Quote:
    To support marriage equality without seeking to undermine, marriage, family, or religion.’ [Sujato]
    It is possible to wholeheartedly pursue a ‘wrong course’ and to find this out later, to much detriment.
    Any religious or spiritual argument for law change must strike a balance not only for the majority view [democracy] but also for the ‘right view’ so I’m glad you are getting a good cross section of theological opinion, too!
    PS: Apologies for the burst of activity today- but i didn’t receive updates for a while -and am catching up!

  16. Is there not an argument that gay marriage violates the customs, or Dhamma, of society at the moment? And also that the level of distress caused to those people who oppose gay marriage overwhelms the potential distress caused by not offering it?

    • Hi Nic,

      Is there not an argument that gay marriage violates the customs, or Dhamma, of society at the moment?

      Yes, that is an argument, and one which potentially has merit. Change is inherently disturbing, and so any positive good that we do has to be weighed against the disruptive effects of the change.

      However, in this case, most societies that I have seen data on actually favor same sex marriage. that is true in Australia, and is equally true in Scotland, which is introducing legislation that is expected to legalize same sex marriage next year. It is not society as a whole that opposes same sex marriage, but the religious.

      Moreover, the principle that one should not go against the conventions of society is purely relevant in value neutral cases. For example, in Asian society they often require that you take off your shoes before entering a house. Fine, no problems. But most societies also, until recently, had legalized slavery. Should we condone this, or put it to a vote to see if it is acceptable? (That was a rhetorical question!)

      In the case of same sex marriage, people who oppose it do not have to do it. I oppose fishing, but I accept that fact that society allows it. Some people will do something that you don’t like – so what? They’re already having gay sex, so the religious hierarchies have lost on that one. They’ll lose on same sex marriage, too. The only question is, will they lose gracefully?

    • Just because something ‘potentially’ has merit only gives it second rate status against what you consider to be greater merit, Sujato.
      By similarly selecting areas where pressure groups are simply not resisted -like say, Scotland, you are affording a piecemeal takeover of the argument until nobody dare object [as being reactionary to change].
      Because this ‘can be done’ [see modern politics everywhere] still doesn’t add one whit to the moral argument about who ‘owns’ the concept of traditional marriage versus the search for new acceptability for same sex unions.
      Once downgraded to a rubber stamp of ‘neo liberal Ok-dom’ it will no more work as of old -and will not long mollify the easily dissatisfied.
      Just an opinion, of course- but having higher merit of established habit and custom. [see Nic]

    • Hi TrevG,

      Please allow me to respond to your comments.

      By similarly selecting areas where pressure groups are simply not resisted -like say, Scotland, you are affording a piecemeal takeover of the argument

      I’m not sure where you get this idea. But the article to which i linked says that “Scottish ministers resisted intense pressure from the Catholic church to drop the proposals.”

    • Please contact me venerable bhikkhu Sujato, i have lost your email-adres and would like to ask you some questions about ordination. I am done with zen, alcohol etc. i want to ordain.

  17. yes, right! The important thing is how the thoughts, words, and deeds. As long as no harm to themselves or others then the thoughts, words, and deeds is said to be TRUE!

  18. Thankyou for your expansion, Sujato.
    I understand the popular will in Scotland , as in England is around 60% against same sex weddings under the Church banner.
    The Scottish political adventurists are pushing through against this opposition- so they are the resisters of societal balance here, as I stated, not the pro ‘Gay’ lobby- as you illustrated.
    Cameron is promising the same for all soon.
    Sheer opportunism at work, to me- [Cameron] to gain kudos from being a ‘true Conservative’- What?
    Cheap votes.
    Not worth it to Buddhism, either.

    • mt- I will check links later. I was going to do a a long think about your questions and then did a retake- and thought, for expediency, I would go off the top of my head.
      I think marriage between a man and woman is special because of the new life potentially being made by DNA mixing.
      This creates a special mutual bond which society has ordained as sacred. This is not just owned by God beleivers [ ie:non Buddhists] but by all the generations now & before who subscribed to the belief in good faith though thick and thin. It is a different level to pure sexual expression.
      It’s because of this special relationship value to society that same sex unions [already now legal in many countries] want the ‘extra special’ blessing of a life affirming , ‘God’ sanctioned [by custom and belief also] title of wife or husband.
      It doesn’t scan for me and [I feel] many others objecting to change.
      Accept that acceptance can mean accepting limits on ones own views against the majority, which there is against same sex marriage [whatever the obvious media spin].
      Morals? – tricky to chose in human relationships, but the effect on family life and children plus increased ownership of developing sexuality by interested parties [!!] has the potential to cause much damage in my view.
      There are good reasons why society has broad standards that serve well over time, without being perfect for all, at every time & condition. Yes, outsiders to this can feel excluded.
      Not worth it for Buddhism to take up a false cause, then?

    • “It is a different level to pure sexual expression.” I agree there is a difference to a higher level of bonding and devotion than what comes from sexual attraction.

      But the long term benefits of a mutually committed and devoted relationship has to overcome the purely sensual attraction that is also common in the beginnings of most heterosexual relationships. The closeness I have felt for persons of the same gender who are not family are a few friends I have made during the high school, polytechnic, national service years. I have always believed that the common trait of happy and stable marriages are also found in the endearing friendships we share with our friends and families. The kind of deep and meaningful friendships of course does not require an act like marriage or any special recognition by anyone to give it value. Of course allowing same gender marriages does not automatically mean there would be a wider prevalence of deeper more caring relationships.

      Whatever the motivations of those who wish to get married, be they same the gender or of mixed gender, i do not think they are more or less qualified in the sense to do so. Not focusing on how they start off, but because of the potential for reaching a stage of relationship that is ideally deep, kind and nourishing for the spirit.

  19. Hi Bhante Sujato
    I have a question regarding homosexuals and the monastic order. If pandaka means this third gender with insatiable lust and is never explicitly said to be the same as homosexual (in the vinaya). Then if a man has a male gender and a restrained libido, could he then ordain?

    • Hi Micaha,

      Thanks for the question – but I admit I don’t understand it:

      if a man has a male gender and a restrained libido, could he then ordain?

      Umm, yes! Do you mean, if he is a restrained homosexual, then the answer is also yes. Of course, anyone who ordaind must be restrained in there sexuality; and being gay in a male order raises issues of its own. But the principle is really no different. I’ve never heard of a Buddhist order that explicitly bans gay men from ordaining, although in many cases it is probably not spoken about. “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, was the joke going round at one Western monastic meeting.

    • Thank you for your response Bhante. I do mean restrained homosexual. What worries me is whether or not the ordination is still considered valid if someone found out. Being thrown out of a temple is one thing but being thrown out of the order is another. Sexuality is not something I would like to talk about at a monastery but I would not want to lie either. I find it hard to believe that people would never ask about such things.

      I have also read articles about how this is dealt with at a group of temples in Thailand. It is a very confusing picture. On one hand they don’t want homosexuals in the order but they don’t seem to be throwing anyone out even though some monks could not deny it if they wanted to.

      I am sorry for taking up such a sensitive subject but you are the first person to give me a clear answer. I hope you can understand why I ask. I worry myself silly sometimes but I need to atleast have an idea of what I am getting myself into.

    • Hi Micah,

      No need to apologize, I appreciate the questions.

      As far as I know, no-one would be thrown out of the Sangha if they were found to be a homosexual.

      Regarding the situation in Thailand, perhaps you are thinking of the somewhat amusing plan to teach the gay and trans monks how to behave? In that case, there was no suggestion of expulsion, merely that carrying pink handbags, wearing makeup, and tight, revealing robes was perhaps not the best idea for monks…

  20. Thank you again Bhante for answering my questions. It is my intention to ordain at Wat pah Nanachat. I have considered this for a couple years now. I have stayed at both Amaravati in England and at Wat pah Nanachat for a total of a month. I would have stayed in Thailand but I was not physically strong enough. In short I was too fat so now I am working out and eating healthier. I am also reading and meditating more regularly to firmly establish those habits. It will take at least a year (probably two) until I am ready to go. This will give me the opportunity to prove to myself just how serious I am about ordaining. Thank you for listening. I really appreciate it.

    • …too fat – you are kidding

      Just what does one have to be to ordain apart from a good person

      – Not female
      – Not over 15 years of age apparently (never have I come across even in lay life age discrimination or the purposefully targetting of age…ususally this is a fairly natural and unmanipulated occurance whereby the very young and the very old take a big of a back seat and the middle ages are the ones that do what has to be done…not like in buddhism whereby the middle generations are mere servants to the over 65’s and the under 25’s
      – Not fat
      – Not ?

    • I wish I was kidding. Seriously there is such a thing as too fat. At the temple people do a lot of sitting for long periods at the time. Once a week in Thailand we would sit for three hours straight on the marble floor. I could barely handle two hours but not three. Also when you weigh twice as much as you should (to be normal weight) all the bowing really strains your knees. Maybe I was just not pushing myself hard enough but when you can’t get yourself to sleep any longer than 2 hours per night. Lets just say I was extremely exhausted.

      The expectation for me to adapt fast was clear. They litterally said so. The life at the temple is very demanding and I simply could not keep up. That is why I left. Part of me wish that I had pushed through the problems but another part of me knew I would have a breakdown if something didn’t change. Also Ajahn Sumedho was coming two weeks later.

      I can’t change the past. I can only work with what I got here and now.

    • I didn’t think Buddhist life was suppose to be so rigourous – when Ajhan Brahm talks about Buddhism it is as if it is the opposite of that type of discipline and aesthetic practise, so I don’t really understand the use of Buddhism if it is like you say. Being cruel to yourself or other people is suppose to be the opposite of Buddhism

      With some women as long as they were skinny the men treat them well in Buddhism, one particularly Buddhist women I met was the cruelist b***** I have ever met and the Buddhist Centre gave her scholorships and kept her, she had it off with committee members – didn’t matter what she did they supported her – I think it was basically because she look good in tight jeans – but I don’t get the use of Buddhism if cruelty to oneself and others is actually rewarded – because isn’t this the world that we are trying to overcome.

      Anyway if that particular centre can’t get Buddhism right maybe they can change from a Buddhist Centre to a Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig diet centre.

      Most of the buddhist of other traditions are very over weight but maybe theravarden Buddhist isn’t like that. Certainly I don’t like the half starved type of Buddhist – although some people have fast metabolisims and it is not just that they starve themselves.

      From my experience people get skinny to get sex – isn’t it why people do yoga and look after they bodies – to be attractive to the opposite sex to get sex – and if overcoming desire is what Buddhism is about I can’t see how purposefully making yourself attractive sexually anyway to the opposite sex helps? I was actually told by a nun not to get thin because it is too easy then to ….well you know?

      skinny people often seem really nasty and mean – like if you can starve yourself then what can you do to other people, but some people are just naturally skinny and can’t help it I suppose.

      Do you listen to Ajahn Brahms talks.

  21. Hey marj

    I do watch Ajahn Brahms talks. I’m not trying to get skinny for the sake of apperances or getting laid. I’m only doing it so my body is strong enoug to do what is required. Anything beyond that would be vanity. But I would still do my best to maintain it for the sake of health. Also what I am doing is neither cruelty nor any kind of self torture. I am doing it out of compassion for myself since there is nothing I would rather do right now than ordain. I am doing it as way of forgiving myself for all the years I punished myself with selfdestructive eating. But most importantly I am doing it out of hope because I can’t see any other positive future for me right now.

    I am sorry you don’t know a lot of nice people who are skinny aswell. Trust me they are out there. As for the mean skinny women who get everything. Remember what Ajahn Brahm said “Karma will get the bastards anyway”

  22. _/\_

    Basic Buddhist references for self-practise and realisation;


    SN 56.11 PTS: S v 420 CDB ii 1843
    Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion
    translated from the Pali by
    Thanissaro Bhikkhu
    © 1993–2012
    Alternate translations: Ñanamoli | Harvey | Piyadassi

    “There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

    “And what is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding? Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

    one who has gone forth could also mean, one who seeks the path of peace…
    Tathagata could also refers to Enlightened Ones

    Basic info on the the four paths of yoga;


    The four paths of Yoga: There are four traditional schools of Yoga, and these are: Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga. While a Yogi or Yogini may focus exclusively on one of these approaches to Yoga, that is quite uncommon. For the vast majority of practitioners of Yoga, a blending of the four traditional types of Yoga is most appropriate. One follows his or her own predisposition in balancing these different forms of Yoga.

    Jnana Yoga: Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.y

    Bhakti Yoga: Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God and others. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine.

    Karma Yoga: Karma Yoga is the path of action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world.

    Raja Yoga: Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, while encompassing the whole of Yoga. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind.

    A question for the seeker ; What is one’s own objective?

    If not mistaken, i think both paths’ final objective is for peace, happiness and good health for oneself and others.

    with metta


    • Very true- Yoga means Yoke and attaching to an ideal is far from un-Buddhist.
      Bring Yoked to another is called marriage- so why this is of interest to Buddhists [as traditionally not into it] is strange to my mind.
      Having children could at least be seen as a good aim in bringing up the next generation in good mental and sexual health by having extra strong bonds of traditional non sexual love for the family and creative love for a spouse.
      Unless one meets a soul mate surviving the trials of life to provide for a family is super stressful.and mitigates against a spiritual path as an ideal.
      This is why abstention from any sexual or emotional tie is considered good for the soul, should that concept even exist in any concrete form [for Buddhists].

    • Greetings TrevG

      Buddhist are sometimes referred as yogi or yogini.

      Yoga originates from the sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means to yoke and could be applied as appropriately in a sentence by any individual. However, for the path of spirituality, it be more appropriate to refer to the Yoga Sutras;
      “Yoga is the mastery and integration of the activities of mind
      Then the seer, the Self rests in its true nature”

      As a buddhist yogini, i prefer to look at similarities and how a guideline could support my ‘lifestyle’. i sometimes refer to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali of Eight limbs of Yoga; Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.

      Buddhist who marry and have children refers to the;
      Sigalovada Sutta;


      Maha Mangala Sutta;
      Maataapitu (mother and father) upa.t.thaana.m (to support) putta-daarassa (children and wife) sa”ngaho (to cherish) anaakulaa ca (and unconflicting) kammantaa (types of work) etam ma”ngalam-uttama.m (this, the Highest Blessing).

      Other spiritual blisses;

      The bliss of jhana, the bliss of karma yoga(mental and physical) after a period of teaching when a child finally grasps the method of simple proper breathing technique.

      And the practise of non-attachment is ?

      with metta


  23. Thank you AN, I will pursue your links.
    As to your recent questions:
    Quote: A question for the seeker ; What is one’s own objective?
    Then we know, the answer is the end of suffering, as Buddha intended.
    How? – in your last question on the matter of non attachment,which he followed for many years, reducing the imposition of all distractions on his awareness- until realisation was attained.
    I know you know this- but I didn’t like to leave these questions hanging in mid air 🙂
    Fortunately- many more people are seeing the advantage of leaving the material rat race concept
    [at least to an aside], to give thought to the more rewarding [but often difficult ] search for inner peace and shared outer happiness with others in our somewhat troubled world.
    The beauty of Buddhism as a creed is that, unlike established religions, it has minimal baggage [simple methods, free spirit approach etc.], structures and heirarchies -which would mitigate against detachment and thus tend to self defeat in the primary search for release.

  24. Hello!
    Can I get the reference to the source, where HH Dalai Lama speaks himself about this matter mentioned above? Where he says exactly “that the sexual organs are designed for procreation and should be used solely for that purpose. So any form of sex that is not for procreation is out.”?
    Any bibliography? Lecture? Book?
    I’d be very grateful!

    Warm greetings.

    • Hi Betina,

      Yes, I’m not sure of the exact source, I think he has said it several times. Can anyone help?

      He did clarify that he was speaking solely for active practitioners of Dhamma, not necessarily for everyone.

  25. I am amazed about this collection of polarization, small format politic image of this blog. Never thought that such could exist… simply “outstanding!” in the whole meaning of this word. Sad that such talents are not able to receive the money they could get from such a boulevard format.

    Not sure what a blog should be used for, let’s ask the Dalai Lama… just for rebirth or to even have joy in suffering.

  26. Dear Bhante.

    This was a wonderfully insightful blog. After having “come out” six years ago, and having left my then Christian Fellowship due to being “excluded” I spent years trying to figure out the basis for homophobia in different religious beliefs. I also spent years trying to determine my place as a gay man within the scheme of spirituality and religion.

    Buddhism then, by treating all manner of sexual actions as “skilful” and “unskilful” without highlighting one set orientation over another, appealed to my sense of morality and experience. After all sexuality in and of itself is not “good” or “evil”… the intention by which it is embraced is the defining factor.

    The precept against sexual misconduct is, to me, fairly straight forwards and applies to all expressions of sexuality equally. To abuse sexuality regardless of your orientation creates suffering for another person. We wouldn’t want it to happen to us, so why should we do it to others. In the end common sense prevails.

    I always find the debate on “procreation” as a basis for denying marriage equality to be rather ludicrous. Mainly because we, as a species, have over-populated the planet. We find it difficult enough dealing with the tens of thousands of starving children in third world countries, let alone adding to the population.

    As for the topic of Homosexuality being against the “Bible” and other such texts… I mean fair enough. But aren’t the churches and the state always complaining about remaining separate and autonomous from each other. I find it laughable that churches then try to impose their traditions into secular law.

    Of course there is a flip-side to this as well, as demonstrated in the state of Indiana in America. Priests can be imprisoned, by law, for conducting unions for Same-Sex couples. The Government, certainly in America (where separation of church and state are major points in the constitution), should not have the power to decide which religious observations are carried out.

    In Australia, where I live, Kevin Rudd said it right when he posted in his statement:

    “I have come to the conclusion that church and state can have different positions and practices on the question of same sex marriage. I believe the secular Australian state should be able to recognise same sex marriage. I also believe that this change should legally exempt religious institutions from any requirement to change their historic position and practice that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman.”

    For the sake of secular law, marriage should be a right of couples of any orientation. In the case of religious traditions, let the religious bodies decide whether they will conduct ceremonies or not. I very much doubt that the churches will get an overload of Same-Sex Marriages as they tend to imagine. After all, who would wish to get married in a place that has discriminated them?

    I also feel that those who oppose Marriage Equality are focused too much on the “sex act” itself. They can’t seem to look beyond the bedroom. Same-Sex couples are not all about the sex, we have the same issues (money, family, housing, education, health and employment) as every other relationship on the planet. What we do, or don’t do in the bedroom, should really be very little concern of anyone else.

    Anyway, that is enough rambling from me. Again, thank you for this most informal and well researched blog. It fills me with much happiness and hope for the future and I thank you for taking the time to write this out in such a practical manner.


    • Fits good to the common sense does it. I would even go so far, that humans should be respected and praised if they have sex with animals if the animals agree. What do you think? I mean sexual desire is sexual desire and when both agree with it, why should there be a problem… Or does such cause disgust for you? And if why? We are all equal and form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

      What if you spouse become a dog in the afterlives and you accidentally became a human. Should it stop the satisfaction of desire? That is gruel, isn’t it.

      We should make all free, free drugs and but everything under common domain. I am sure, if all is available for free, the world would be more peaceful. LOVE & peace! 🙂

    • My question to you… and I am genuinely curious as to how you’d respond… is how is an animal meant to communicate “constent”? How are the animals meant to communicate that they “agree”?

      In a language that we can understand. Not a form of communication we have conveniently taught them? Like mimicry

    • Good question 🙂 How not? Never seen human and animals interact without a violent force?
      So what makes you feel disgusted and why do you think it would be not good to make such free? Would it have impact on the general agreement to simply satisfy desire?
      If somebody tells you “I love you!” do you always understand it right? Maybe they just say “I desire you!” and you think you may have also some benefit and pleasant feelings out of it.

      If you have some free time, just spend some times where are many dogs and watch them and their behavior. They really have even no problems with incest and same sex at all. Let’s keep it natural 😉 But never throw a piece of meat into the crowd of natural flow.

      Did you know that Dhamma-teachning existence is very linked with general conducts of society? Ensnared in sensuality…

      Watch the dogs! They are good teacher, but not so much as to follow them.

  27. Dear Sujato,
    How is it possible that I cannot find a place for sensuality (what is not a misconduct – collecting goods,moral sexual activity etc) within the four types of kamma ?
    How is your understanding in regard to these matters?

    Thank you in advance.I hope I will get a reply from you.
    Best wishes,

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