Sexuality and the Buddha

by Gary Daubney, Salisbury, UK, The Buddhist Channel, Oct 3, 2005

I refer to the letter written by Justin Whitaker on "The Buddhist Orientation of Homosexuality". In his letter, Justin Whitaker backs up widely known views of the Dalai Lama that discourage homosexual behaviour amongst Tibetan Buddhists, and while not wishing to offend followers of His Holiness, there are points made by Mr Whitaker that require addressing.

Mr Whitaker writes that at the time of the Buddha, because the ideal sexual behaviour was conducted within heterosexual marriage (the alternative being celibacy), rules were set out within the Buddhist community to curtail homosexual activity. Whilst true for monastics, where the Buddha did set out rules of conduct that discouraged all homosexual and heterosexual acts, no such rules were issued for the laity. In the earliest known Buddhist scriptures, The Tipitaka (or Pali Canon), lay Buddhists are discouraged from 'sexual misconduct', which includes sexual activity involving adultery, sex with those 'under protection of their parents' and prisoners.

The distinguished Theravadan scholar A.L. De Silva has written, "As homosexuality is not explicity mentioned in any of the Buddha's discourses (more than 20 volumes in the Pali Text Society's English translation), we can only assume that it is meant to be evaluted in the same way that heterosexuality is." (

Another important point within Buddhism is that it has no sacraments as such, and marriage is not a sacred bond, as in many theistic religions such as Christianity, but is a social contract. Buddhists do not marry 'before the Buddha', unlike Christians who marry before God. As personally experienced, in Thailand to this day there are two important elements to a traditional marriage, the first involving bhikkhus who bless the forth-coming marriage ceremony, and then the ceremony itself. It is the latter that constitutes the actual marriage, and is conducted after the monks have already left the premises.

A.L.De Silva, quoted above, has also written that homosexuality was only made illegal in predominately Theravadan Burma and Sri Lanka when under British (Christian!) rule, and that Thailand, which was never colonized by a Western power, has never banned homosexual activity. The modern thriving gay scene including the colourful 'lady-boy' subculture are reflections of this traditionally tolerant attitude in the Land of (Buddhist) Smiles.

The karmic effects of being 'married', along with all other acts in our lives, are conditioned by our intent, not by a formal ritual such as the marriage ceremony. This emphasis on intent, or volition, is reflected in the words of the Buddha: "Volition I call karma."(Anguttara-nikaya 6:63). Straights and gays that are in stable, committed relationships that have included marriage ceremonies or not are in 'Buddhist-friendly' relationships, subject to the same issues involving desire and attachment that concern all sentient beings.

Heterosexuals can attach to their sexual identities and associated activies just as much as homosexuals (along with bisexuals and transexuals), and it is in the progression of walking the Noble Path established by the Lord Buddha that we may all let go of our attachments and realize Nibbana.

May all beings be happy!
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