Correspondance with Venerable Dr K. Sri Dhammananda on Homosexuality
What is the Buddhist attitude towards homosexuality?
Wednesday 15 October 2008
All the versions of this article: [English] [中文]
Dear Venerable Sir,
Before I seek your guidance on certain issues, may I first express my congratulatory note to Ven. Sir for your 50 years of services for Buddhism and most importantly for the good of mankind.
For the past few years, I have been posed by questions from my fellow gay friends who are interested to know what Buddhism views of homosexuals. In today’s society, sad to say that homosexuals seem to be considered as "a thrash" of society who has nothing better to do than having sexual lusts. This stereotype image has prompted to the discrimination of homosexuals at the work place and even more so in the Asian countries.
From my understanding, religions like Islam and Christianity condemn homosexuality but I often ask myself the Buddhist viewpoint. Being a homosexual who also practices Buddhism, I do not have a clear view about this issue.
I have read many of your great publications and also heard of your dhamma talks. I even read some websites about this but there is no answer to this.
Here are some of my questions:
1) Does Buddhism condemn homosexuals?
2) If a true Buddhist who practices Buddhism but also on the same time is a homosexual, is he by any means considered breaking the precepts especially pertaining to the precept of "avoiding sexual misconduct"?
3) If two men fall in love with each other, are they wrong by any means?
There are many more questions I would like to ask pertaining homosexuals. Venerable Sir have written many publications that explain the rationale and wisdom of Buddhism. May I suggest Venerable Sir to even write a book on "Buddhism and Homosexuality" as I personally feel there are many more people out there who have mixed feelings on this issue. This is to correct the perspective of society on homosexuals.
I end here with my wishes of good health, and good wishes to Venerable Sir and may Venerable Sir continue to guide us and show us the way to the Dhamma.
Answer of Venerable Dr K．Sri Dhammananda,
Thank you for your e-mail. I am happy that you have brought up this matter as I realize how important it is in the context of what is happening in the world around us today.
We can no longer pretend that this aspect of human behavior is something shameful and if we ignore it long enough it will simply go away. I agree that it should be discussed at greater length in a book, but that will take time. In the meantime I hope that this brief reply will help you become acquainted with the Buddhist attitude to homosexuality.
To begin with, present day attitudes are largely influenced by the Tudor - Christian approach in the Bible which was blown out of proportion by the narrow mindedness of the Victorian era in 19th Century England.
In Asia, especially India and China, sex was never seen as something dirty only to be indulged in surreptitiously and only for the purposes of breeding. Stone sculptures on the Hindu temples of India amply testify to the fact that all kinds of sexual behavior (including masturbation) was an expression of KAMA, of sensual pleasure which could be indulged in within the limits of Dharma, which in this case meant virtue.
As human beings, we are equipped with bodies which crave for the pleasures of all kinds (not only sex) - for food, pleasant smells, sounds etc. If we deny these for being sinful, then we repress natural desires which are harmful. The being which is the victim of MAYA (ignorance) sees the body as real and craves to satisfy its longing for KAMA.
But as the being matures spiritually MAYA is replaced with VIDYA (knowledge) and PANNA (wisdom) . Therefore when the body is seen as an illusion, than the being naturally GROWS OUT of craving. Here, we see the superior being renounces sex through maturity just as a child stops playing with toys as he or she grows up.
THERE IS NOTHING INTRINISICALLY WRONG WITH SEX. What is wrong is attachment and slavery to it, on believing that indulgence in sex can bring ultimate happiness. This is the problem with the exploitation of sex by the mass entertainment industry today - extending the myth that sex can bring lasting happiness.
The third of the Five Precepts we recite in daily Buddhist practice is: undertake the training rule to refrain from sexual misconduct. First we note that there is no compulsion, no fear of punishment for infringement of any divine law, but when we recognize the danger of attachment to sex, we freely take the steps (training rule) to grow out of it, i.e. "I undertake".
Next we look at "sexual misconduct" - here we refer specifically to sexual misconduct, not all sexual behaviour. Sex is not prohibited to those who do not choose to be celibate. Undoubtedly, this rule only applies to those who are not monks or nuns. These latter have voluntarily taken it upon themselves to abstain from sex to better concentrate on their spiritual progress. By misconduct is meant behavior which harms the person who does the act or the other party. This in a way means that if both parties are consenting adults, not under-aged, not “attached”- legally or otherwise to someone else, there is no harm done.
In Buddhism we do not consider any action "sinful" in the sense that we transgress a divine commandment. We act wrongly because of Ignorance and therefore we commit an Akusala Kamma (unskilful action) which delays or interferes with our spiritual progress. Because of our Ignorance about the real nature of things (in this case our body) we act in ways which are detrimental to us from a spiritual point of view.
Wisdom and Understanding will help us refrain from harmful actions, both mental and physical.
In this connection, Buddhism does not recognize that marriage is a divinely ordained institution which suddenly makes sex OK. Sex is a human activity which has nothing to do with heaven and hell. You will notice that sexual restraint is only ONE of the Five Precepts. Killing is far more serious because you can hurt another being more viciously. Sex is caused by a craving just like craving for food, liquor, drugs, wealth, power, etc. Attachment to any of these constitutes Akusala Kamma. Buddhism discourages any of these forms of carving because it will tie us down more firmly to Samsara. Also indulgence in sex can lead to other evils.
You may see from this that Buddhism does not see Homosexuality as WRONG and HETROSEXUALITY as RIGHT. Both are sexual activity using the body, both are strong expressions of lust which increase desire for life and therefore trap us longer in Samsara. Whether two men or a couple fall in love, it arises out of the same human limitation that is, of not seeing the body as empty of any ultimate reality.
Buddhism does not condemn homosexuals in the same way as it does not condemn any wrong doing. We act through ignorance of the true nature of things, therefore we are only guilty of AKUSALA Kamma (unskilful action) . We have no right to condemn others. Our duty is to help others see that they are acting out of ignorance, to show how real happiness can be gained. We have no right to condemn those who think or act differently from us especially when we ourselves are slaves of sensual pleasure in other forms. We know that when we point one finger at others, three fingers are pointing at us.
In summary, homosexuality like heterosexuality arises from Ignorance, and is certainly not "sinful" in a Christian sense. All forms of sex increase lust, craving, attachment to the body. With wisdom we learn to grow out of these attachments. We do not condemn homosexuality as wrong and sinful, but we do not condone it either, simply because it, like other forms of sex, delays our deliverance from Samsara.
Wishing you progress in your Dhamma practice.
Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda
Source: Queerbuddha in Taiwan