31 October 2009

Sexuality and Buddhism

Many variations of Buddhism do not go much into details of right and wrong regarding sexuality and other activities of life. The historical Buddha advised his students to avoid sexual misconduct, but at the same time largely avoided to define how to have sex. The interpretation of sexual misconduct will thus vary between the different schools and traditions, the cultures and even between individual teachers within the respective traditions.

Another variation in the view of sexuality is dependent if the Buddhist practitioner is an ordained monk or nun, since monastic Buddhism has very strict regulation regarding celibacy. Lay Buddhists do not have these regulations, since sex is a very natural part of having a life in society with family and children. In Vajrayana, sexual intercourse can even be a part of the way to enlightenment, the goal of Buddhism.

Celibacy and monasticism

Those who choose to practice Buddhism as ordained monks and nuns, also chose to live in celibacy. Sex is the downfall that could end a monk or nun’s career, and seen as the most serious monastic transgression. There are four principal transgressions: sex, theft, murder, and boasting of superhuman perfections, where sex is listed first. Sexual misconduct for monks and nuns even include masturbation. In the case of monasticm, chastity is seen as a necessity in order to reach the goal.

Lay Buddhism

The most common formulation of Buddhist ethics are the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path, which say that one should neither be attached to nor crave sensual pleasure. These precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings, not divine mandate or instruction. The third of the Five Precepts is "To refrain from committing sexual misconduct. However, the "sexual misconduct" is such a broad term, and is subjected to interpretation relative to the social norms of the followers. In fact, Buddhism in its fundamental form, does not define what is right and what is wrong in absolute terms for lay followers. Therefore the interpretation of what kinds of sexual activity is acceptable for a layperson, is not a religious matter as far as Buddhism is concerned.

Attachment

The second of the Four Noble Truths states that the ultimate cause of all suffering is attachment and unquenchable desire (tanha), and the third states that the way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate attachment and desire. Sexual practices (heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or others) are characterised as both attachment (kama-upadana) and desire (kama-tanha). Sensual desire (kama-cchanda) is also the first of the Five Hindrances, which must be eradicated if one is to progress spiritually. Of the three kinds of cchanda, kama-cchanda is the one that is ethically immoral.

Homosexuality

Asian societies shaped by Buddhist traditions take a strong ethical stand in human affairs and sexual behavior in particular. However, unlike most other world religions, most variations of Buddhism do not go into details about what is right and what is wrong in what it considers mundane activities of life. Details of accepted or unaccepted human sexual conduct are not specifically mentioned in any of the religious scriptures in the Pali language. The most common formulations of Buddhist ethics are found the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path, which state that one should neither be attached to nor crave sensual pleasure. These precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings, not divine mandate or instruction. The third of the Five Precepts is "To refrain from committing sexual misconduct. However, "sexual misconduct" is a broad term, and is subject to interpretation relative to the social norms of the followers. In fact, Buddhism in its fundamental form does not define what is right and what is wrong in absolute terms for lay followers. Therefore the determination of whether or not homosexuality is acceptable for a layperson is not a religious matter as far as fundamental Buddhism is concerned.

Among Buddhists there is a wide diversity of opinion about homosexuality. Buddhism teaches that sensual enjoyment and desire in general, and sexual pleasure in particular, are hindrances to enlightenment. Buddhist monks and nuns of most traditions are expected to refrain from all sexual activity and take vows of celibacy. Some Buddhist orders may specifically prohibit transgender, homosexually active, or homosexually oriented people from ordination.

Thailand

In Thailand, traditional accounts propose that "homosexuality arises as a karmic consequence of violating Buddhist proscriptions against heterosexual misconduct. These karmic accounts describe homosexuality as a congenital condition which cannot be altered, at least in a homosexual person's current lifetime, and have been linked with calls for compassion and understanding from the non-homosexual populace." Since 1989 gays are prohibited from being ordained.

Dalai Lama

The current Dalai Lama of Tibet interprets sexual misconduct to include lesbian and gay sex, and indeed any sex other than penis-vagina intercourse, including oral sex, anal sex, and masturbation. He also says "tantric sex" is only to be imagined in the mind.

Chinese Buddhism

In Chinese Buddhism, homosexuality is a third level sin punishable in one of the nine hells. Marie-Eve Blanc writes that "Mahayana Buddhism (as in China and Vietnam) is less tolerant than Theravada Buddhism (Thailand)."

Buddhism in the West

In contrast to Buddhism in Asia, modern Buddhism in the Western world is typically associated with liberal politics and a concern for social equality—partly as a result of its largely middle-class intellectual membership base, and its philosophical roots in freethought and secular humanism.
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