Thursday, March 19, 2009

Buddhism and Homosexuality

Wikipedia (WQ edit)

Asian societies shaped by Buddhist traditions take a strong ethical stand in human affairs, particularly sexual behavior. However, unlike many world religions, most Buddhist traditions 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 unacceptable human sexual conduct are not specifically mentioned in any of the religious scriptures in the Pali language. However, there is an exception regarding the ten types of people who are "off limits" in the exacting definition of "sexual misconduct." Sexual misconduct means engaging in sex with a non-consenting adult or, even if the person is an adult, anyone:
  1. under the protection (support) of mother
  2. under the protection of father
  3. under protection of relatives or guardians
  4. under protection of a religious community
  5. under a mandate (as by royal decree or court edict)
  6. under duress
  7. promised to someone else
  8. betrothed to someone else
  9. formally engaged to someone else
  10. married to someone else

It is critical to bear in mind that the Buddha did not make up these restrictions out of his own sense of propriety. He was also not merely repeating tradition. He directly saw and understood how unethical conduct (i.e., behavior in relation to others) results in dukkha (suffering, distress, unsatisfactoriness, woe).

Gautama Buddha's interest, and the interest of enlightened individuals (stream-enterers, non-returners, arhats, and buddhas) is the welfare of others.
The goal of Buddhism is, after all, the end of suffering. If sex led to that end, it would be promoted. Since it is of a deceptive nature pulling beings away from calm and clarity, it is curbed.

Lay Buddhists may freely enjoy sex. And limiting oneself to those not listed is a way of enjoying sexual conduct without harming others. The harm done to the sexual partner and others related to and/or responsible for that individual is what is described as "misconduct."

The most common formulations of Buddhist ethics are found within the Five Precepts, in the context of the Noble Eightfold Path, the more detailed Ten Courses of Unwholesome Conduct, and conveniently summarized in a lengthy sutra known as the "Advice to Householders" discourse (Sigalovada Sutra, DN 31) -- which all suggest that one should neither crave nor be attached to sensual pleasure.

The Five Precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings, not divine mandates or commands. The third precept is "To refrain from engaging in sexual misconduct" [1]. But "sexual misconduct" is a broad term, subject to interpretation relative to the ever changing social norms of followers. It was defined (as above) in an Indian context that some think is universal.

However Buddhism, in its fundamental form, does not define right and wrong in absolute terms for lay followers. Therefore, the determination of whether or not homosexuality is acceptable for a layperson is not generally thought 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 desire -- desire in general and sexual conduct in particular -- are hindrances to enlightenment [2]. Buddhist monks and nuns in most traditions are expected to refrain from all sexual activity including masturbation through vows of celibacy.

Some Buddhist orders may specifically prohibit transgender, homosexually-active, or homosexually-oriented people from ordination but accept homosexuality among laypersons. More>>

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