With all the issues with equal rights in the United States right now, I thought I would take some time to see what Theravada Buddhism believes about homosexuality. I have heard it said that Buddhist do not judge people since the goal of Buddhism is obtained from ones own doing and not from a higher being. Love, compassion, and respect rule their actions and thoughts. I wondered what other views there were on this subject and what my readers thought as well.
Below is part of an article about homosexuality and Theravada Buddhism that I was reading. It views homosexuality from two different views; the view of the Five Precepts and from the view of karma and social traditions. Read it and draw your own conclusion…
Homosexuality in Buddhist Scriptures and Theravada Buddhism
Theravada Buddhism is most commonly found in Southeast Asia, and focuses on the original teachings of the Buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, there are two main ways of life: the life of the monk and the life of the lay person (i.e. ordinary person with a job, a family, a home, etc.)
Buddhist monks are expected to live lives of celibacy, meaning abstinence from any type of sex. There is no explicit rule prohibiting those with a homosexual orientation from monastic life. However, in the Vinaya, the Buddha is recorded as opposing the ordination of those who openly expressed cross-gender features or strong homosexual desires and actions. The Buddhist sacred texts do contain a great deal of instances of loving relationships between unmarried men, which some believe to have homoerotic overtones. No sexual contact is mentioned in these instances, however.
Lay Buddhists (those who live outside the monastery) are expected to adhere to Five Precepts, the third of which is a vow “not to engage in sexual misconduct.” But what is sexual misconduct? Right and wrong behavior in Buddhism is generally determined by considerations such as the following:
- Universalibility principle – “How would I like it if someone did this to me?”
- Consequences – Does the act causes harm and regret (in oneself or others) or benefit and joy?
- Utilitarian principle – Will the act help or harm the attainment of goals (ultimately spiritual liberation)?
- Intention – Is the act motivated by love, generosity and understanding?
“Sexual misconduct” has thus traditionally been interpreted to include actions like coercive sex, sexual harassment, child molestation and adultery. As Homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned in any of the Buddha’s sayings recorded in the Pali Canon (Tripitaka), most interpreters have taken this to mean that homosexuality should be evaluated in the same way as heterosexuality, in accordance with the above principles.
A Buddhist author of an article on homosexuality concludes:
In the case of the lay man and woman where there is mutual consent, where adultery is not involved and where the sexual act is an expression of love, respect, loyalty and warmth, it would not be breaking the third Precept. And it is the same when the two people are of the same gender. Likewise promiscuity, license and the disregard for the feelings of others would make a sexual act unskillful whether it be heterosexual or homosexual. All the principles we would use to evaluate a heterosexual relationship we would also use to evaluate a homosexual one. In Buddhism we could say that it is not the object of one’s sexual desire that determines whether a sexual act is unskillful or not, but rather the quality of the emotions and intentions involved.
It is also worth noting that Buddhism does not traditionally place great value on procreation like many western religions. From the Buddhist viewpoint, being married with children is regarded as generally positive, but not compulsory (although social norms in various Buddhist countries often have different views).
Despite all this, in practice, Theravada Buddhist countries are not terribly open to homosexual practice. This has much to do with cultural norms, as well as the notion of karma, which remains strong in countries such as Thailand. From this viewpoint, a person’s characteristics and situations are a result of past sins or good deeds. Homosexuality and other alternative forms of sexuality are often seen as karmic punishments for heterosexual misconduct in a past life. Thus far, the gay rights movement has not had great success in Theravada Buddhist countries.