Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Doesn’t Buddhism Count Homosexuals As Sexual Deviants? Putting The Fallacy To Bed
Feb 2012 24

Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Doesn’t Buddhism Count Homosexuals As Sexual Deviants? Putting The Fallacy To Bed

Posted In Blog,GLBT,Love,Relationships,Sex,Society

by Brad Warner

A guy called Mister C asked the following question via Twitter: “Doesn’t Buddhism count homosexuals as sexual deviants?” I’ve already addressed this issue at length in my most recent book Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between and even right here on SuicideGirls. But I’ll address it again, because clearly there is a need to since the idea persists that Buddhism believes gays are deviants.

There is no Buddhist Bible somewhere out there in which it is written that a man shall not lie with another man as with a woman or anything like that. That’s the short answer. And now the long one.

The main reason so many people believe that Buddhists consider homosexuality to be deviant is because of statements made by the 14th Dalai Lama. In 1997 in an interview with Dennis Conkin of the Bay Area Reporter, the Dalai Lama is reported to have said, “Buddhist sexual proscriptions ban homosexual activity and heterosexual sex through orifices other than the vagina, including masturbation or other sexual activity with the hand. From a Buddhist point of view, lesbian and gay sex is generally considered sexual misconduct.”

One thing that needs to be clarified right from the outset is that the Dalai Lama is not the Pope of Buddhism whose decries form the official position that Buddhists everywhere must follow. He is, in fact, merely the head of one particular sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the Gelungpa lineage. So he’s not even the Pope of Tibetan Buddhism, let alone all of Buddhism. Other Buddhist lineages like Zen, Theravada, Pure Land, Nichiren and so on don’t recognize him as their spokesman or leader. I, personally, rarely pay him much attention.

I’m guessing that the “Buddhist sexual proscriptions” he refers to are the ancient rules for monks (both male and female). The first Buddhist monastic order was expected to practice celibacy. Apparently some of Buddha’s monks thought this meant only that men were forbidden to have sex with women. They figured it was permissible for men to have sex with each other and that hot girl-on-girl action was also fine and dandy. So Buddha had to educate them by specifying that “no sex” meant no sex at all by clearly stipulating homosexual acts as also being no-no’s for monks.

But that was meant only for monks. As far as laypeople were concerned there were only four types of sexual acts that were specified as wrong. In an ancient sutra about Right Action the Buddha is quoted as saying that a Buddhist, “avoids unlawful sexual intercourse, abstains from it. He has no intercourse with girls who are still under the protection of father or mother, brother, sister, or relative; nor with married women, nor female convicts; nor lastly with betrothed girls.” Although this statement is made from the male perspective, it is understood the same applies to Buddhist laywomen.

As for lesbian and gay sex being “generally considered sexual misconduct” by Buddhists, that really depends on who you ask. For example, the San Francisco Zen Center, one of America’s largest contemporary Buddhist organizations, is extremely gay friendly. They run a lot of workshops and retreats specifically geared toward the LGBT community. Many other Buddhist communities both in the West and in Asia are similarly open-minded.

There are ancient scriptures that do specify certain acts we consider to be homosexual as being misconduct for monks. And I think this is what the Dalai Lama was referring to.

But when looking back at ancient scriptures, one has to be careful not to read contemporary definitions into them. The word “homosexual” is of very recent origin. Its first known appearance in print occurred in 1869. It wasn’t clearly defined until about a decade later. See here for further details. The Indian, Chinese, Japanese and even Tibetan Buddhists of pre-modern times had no concept of homosexuals or homosexuality as we understand those terms today. Neither did Biblical era Jews or Christians for that matter. But we’ll leave that aside.

For Buddhists, sexual behavior was not really an issue in and of itself. It only became an issue when it interfered with Buddhist practice. Thus, monks both male and female were forbidden to have sex not because sex was considered evil or wrong, but because it interfered with the single-minded pursuit of Buddhist meditation to which they had committed their lives. They were also forbidden to eat after noon, to sleep in luxurious beds, to listen to music, to go dancing and so on for the same reason.

These days the rules are usually far less strict. In Japan, monks are even allowed to get married. The more severe rules are observed during training periods and then dropped when monks leave to go to their own temples. When it comes to lay people there really are no rules at all.

However, there is a set of precepts that all Buddhists adhere to across the board. And the third of these is generally given as, “Do not misuse sexuality.” But there are many interpretations as to what constitutes misuse of sexuality. It is generally left up to the individual to determine for himself or herself what is and what is not a misuse of sexuality. Even the Dalai Lama seems to agree with this. In a 1994 interview with OUT magazine he is quoted as saying, “If someone comes to me and asks whether homosexuality is okay or not, I will ask ‘What is your companion’s opinion?’. If you both agree, then I think I would say ‘if two males or two females voluntarily agree to have mutual satisfaction without further implication of harming others, then it is okay.’”

When Buddhists live communally it is sometimes necessary to agree on a specific definition of sexual misconduct. Some Buddhist communities opt for strict celibacy. Others do not. The San Francisco Zen Center, for example, encourages its residents to engage only in committed monogamous sexual relationships. You can get kicked out of their residential communities for violating this rule. But you won’t get kicked out for being gay. That’s for certain. Though you might get the boot for being too slutty in your gay-ness.

So, no, Mister C, Buddhism does not count homosexuals as sexual deviants. Though certain prominent Buddhists, like the 14th Dalai Lama, do.

***

Brad Warner is the author of Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between as well as Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up! and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. He maintains a blog about Buddhist stuff that you can click here to see.

Brad Warner will be speaking in Los Angeles soon.

March 10, 2012
10 AM – 3:30 PM
Hill Street Center
237 Hill St.
Santa Monica, CA 90405

March 15, 2012
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
Against the Stream
4300 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029

You can also buy T-shirts and hoodies based on his books, and the new CD by his band Zero Defex now!

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