Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Gays can be Thai Buddhist monks? (video)

Ashley Wells, Dhr. Seven, CC Liu (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; LGBTweekly.com

THAILAND - A Thai Buddhist monk who is gay and a former cross-dresser [a third gender kathoey] has gone on public television to say there is nothing wrong with gay people becoming Buddhist monks, causing much controversy in Thailand where [Theravada] Buddhism is the primary religion and has special status, reports GayAsiaNews.com.

I am who I am, and I’m not going to pretend just to fit in,”  Ven. Tanaisawan George Chandhadhammo, 28, told Woody Talk, a popular MCOT talk show. “Gay people can make good monks too,” he said.
"I am who I am" [deal with it, fellow monastics]
His interview had led Thai censors to stop the segment of the popular Thai television talk show from being aired. The interview was not broadcast last month. However, it was finally allowed to air on TV recently, announced bangkok.coconuts.co.

The popular MCOT talk show host, Woody Milintachinda (shown above being splashed with pink liquid), revealed on Facebook that they had to postpone its “Gay Monk” interview segment because censors had objected:
“Apologies to our audience. Woody Talk has to postpone the broadcast of the ‘Gay Monk’ interview because the Censorship Committee is evaluating its appropriateness. The tape contains some hot issues!” the post says.
With 44,000 views, the episode’s teaser provided a few quotes from the young monk [likely NOT a "monk" but only a "novice," who would be restricted by far fewer rules than a fully-ordained Buddhist bhikkhu, as Monastic Disciplinary Code rules do not allow kathoeys or "pandakas" to be fully ordained], who discusses trying to be a gay monastic.
The crux of the interview was whether it is appropriate for a man who is openly gay and has strong faith in Buddhism can choose to become a monk.
Ven. Chandhadhammo or George used to be a medical student and dressed like a woman publicly. [Kathoeys or "Lady-Boys" are a common feature of Thai society, who are often flamboyant sex workers/prostitutes or authentic "beauty queens" with entire pageants dedicated to them with parental participation and pride as well as mainstream media coverage.]
Now he practices Buddhism at Vivegvanaram Monastery in Hat Yai, Songkhla province, southern Thailand.
  • Hat Yai Nai Temple (Wat) is home to the third largest reclining Buddha statue on the planet, an impressive sight that leaves one in awe. People travel from all over Thailand to pay respect to this statue. After the three-month monastic Rains Retreat ends, a big Buddhist festival specific to Southern Thailand called Chak Phra takes place with large floats or "Buddha boat" processions, sports events like a run up Khao Tang Kuan hill, and more extreme events. One of the most extreme festivals in the world is also in the south celebrated among Thai Chinese called the Vegetarian Festival or Nine Emperor [Space] Gods Festival where young pen pierce themselves with bloody swords and hooks in a great S&M-like display magically with no pain. During the Chinese Lunar Festival (as the south has a large Chinese population as well as a significant Muslim population influenced by neighboring Islamic Malaysia), the Thai and Chinese present their offerings to the Moon (Luna, Chandra) or Queen of the Heavens in gratitude for past and future fortunes.
Known for his sharp religious homilies Ven. George is loved and revered by locals in the area. Religion is a very sensitive issue that the Thai media rarely touches and the public outing of Ven. George’s sexual orientation is probably a first for public television.
  • [The issue is so controversial and potentially damaging to Thai monasticism that it could lead others to drop out or prevent some from joining as it would tarnish the venerable reputation of the institution -- in spite of the fact that insiders may have been aware of such monks in the past within the Sangha in the past. Thailand, like Rome and other Catholic countries, considers this its religion, so young men are expected to ordain to benefit their families. With such external motivations, it is no surprise to anyone that monastics fail to let go of sensuality, money, power, fame, and political influence; instead, they become powerful and often corrupt figures. But because there are some sincere practitioners, saints and ascetics, Thais give reverence and generous support to everyone in Buddhist robes. Kathoey members, far from being "liberal progress" in our Western eyes likely tarnishes the reputation of the institution doing more harm than good. There are many things that prevent one from full admission into the monastic Sangha, sexual orientation being only one. Someone with a skin condition or debt could not get in, in accordance with guidelines laid down by the Buddha.]
Mongkut was the King of Siam in Rogers and Hammerstein's "The King and I"
More than 95 percent of Thailand’s 67 million people are Theravada Buddhists. And although Thailand is a constitutional monarchy [with a beloved monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), 86, who is the longest reigning monarch in the world, an institution which gave rise to the American musical "The King and I" about a royal (Mongkut not Yul Brynner) who was himself a Buddhist monk or novice prior to ascending to the throne], it has a strong Southeast Asian tradition of Buddhist kingship that ties the legitimacy of the state to its protection and support for Buddhism.
Buddhist institutions and clergy are guaranteed special benefits by the government.

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