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Homosexuality and the original meaning of Pandaka

by Kelvin Wong, Singapore, August 3, 2005

I am writing in reply to the article "Religion and same-sex marriage" by Mettanando Bhikkhu, Bangkok Post, July 13, 2005. The article rightly points out that the Buddha or Buddhism as a religion sees marriage as a social event and not a religious obligation. It is not seen as sacred nor a necessity. As such there are no grounds for buddhists to approve or disapprove gay marriage or any form of consenting marriage or arrangements.

However, the author seemed to have conflicted himself in the article when he said: "Also, from the Tipitaka, it is clear that the Buddha acknowledged the difference between hermaphrodites and homosexual practitioners. Hermaphrodites and eunuchs are not allowed to be ordained, but there is no sanction against homosexuality"

Then he goes on to say "...the Buddha was alerted to the problem and he issued a rule for the community not to give any ordination to a homosexual, and those ordained gays are to be expelled. (Vin.I, 86)."

Firstly he said that only hermaphrodites and eunuchs are not allowed to be ordained, but no sanctions against homosexuals, then he goes on to cite on of the rules and stated that there is sanctions against homosexuals.

In the case of the so-call "gay" monk who was overcome by sexual desire and could no longer restrain himself, the original word used is "pandaka".

Hence the story goes of a pandaka who was ordained and went around trying to seduce other monks and lay persons to "enter" him. After some lays persons did so, they chided the Sangha for allowing such a person to be part of the community. This reach Buddha's ears and he forbide pandakas from being ordained and order for the pandaka to be defrocked.

The origins of the term pandaka is still debated by Buddhist academics and yet unknown and what and who it meant during Buddha's time is also up for debate. Some commented that it meant a enunch and yet another list 5 types of pandaka of which eunuch is one of them and only the last 3 was deemed to be prevented from being ordinated.

(1) asittakapandaka: A man who gains satisfaction from performing oral sex on another man and from ingesting his semen, or who only becomes sexually aroused after ingesting another man's semen.

(2) ussuyapandaka: A voyeur, a man who gains sexual satisfaction from watching a man and a woman having sex.

(3) opakkamikapandaka: Eunuchs, that is, castrated men lacking complete sexual organs. Unlike the other four types of pandaka Bunmi describes, these men attain their condition after birth and are not born as pandaka. Leonard Zwilling (1992:204) does not call this type of pandaka a eunuch but rather says the term describes a man who "attains ejaculation through some special effort or artifice".
Bunmi's description of opakkamika as eunuchs appears to follow a sixth type of pandaka that Zwilling says is identified by Yas'omitra, the lunapandaka, which denotes a man who has been intentionally castrated.

(4) pakkhapandaka: People who become sexually aroused in parallel with the phases of the moon, either becoming aroused during the fortnight of the waning moon (Pali: kalapakkha) and ceasing to be aroused during the fortnight of the waxing moon (Pali: junhapakkha) or, conversely, becoming sexually aroused during the period of the waxing moon and ceasing to be aroused during the period of the waning moon. Zwilling cites the early commentator, Buddhaghosa, as saying that a pakkhapandaka "becomes t emporarily impotent for fourteen 'black days' of the month but regains his potency during the fourteen 'white days', that is, from the new to the full moon".

(5) napumsakapandaka (also sometimes called simply napumsaka): A person with no clearly defined genitals, whether male or female, having only a urinary tract. Another definition of a napumsaka given by Bunmi (1986:239) is 'a [>male] person who i s not able to engage in activities like a man'. Elsewhere, Bunmi adds that napumsakapandaka are born without any genital organs as punishment for having


Unless we have done a thorough study of India sexual behaviours and attitudes during Buddha's time, it will be quite difficult to ascertain what the term pandaka really meant.

Unfortunately, in the Thai language, the author used to word "kathoey", in which they lump cross-dressers, gay people and transvestite and almost everyone else whom they view in the same light together. And the term "kathoey" is then associated with "gay" as a contemporary term.

This as we can see is a total inadequate and unfair translation. Its like calling all animals in the sea "fishes", without any distinction for whales, dolphins, sharks, shirmps, etc. When the original term could mean a shark and a specific species of shark for that matter.

On the issue of bad karma/sexual misconduct and being gay, the explanation provided by the author is too simplistic an answer about karma or causal effect.

While it could be possible for some gay people, for example, did commit sexual misconduct like adultury in their previous life, but this does not make it necessary true that all who have committed sexual misconduct will become gay or transvestite. This simplistic view accords a linear view of karma, that is, if you do this, you will get that and its always its like that. However, karmic effects should be seen more as a web of causes which works as a whole to determine various outcomes a person receives.

The rise of such a view is mainly due to wrongly assuming that all homosexuals everywhere are treated badly. However, any keen observer could tell you that not all homosexuals have a bad or difficult life, especially in countries where they are not discriminated against.  This is as good as saying that poor and disabled people are this way because of their bad karma in their previous life and hence must except society's treatment of them. 

Can we also say that in societies where women are discriminated and treated badly  are because of their bad karma or misdeeds in their previous life and that they should accept their treatment in silence?

We know very well that the bad treatment of homosexuals and disabled or poor people in the society is due to ignorance, fear, aversion and lack of social gracious and equality in the society.

Also Buddhism does not teach us to accept our conditions and treatment just like that. The Buddhist is encouraged to constantly improve his/her condition and develop virtue from their difficult lives. They should accept the idea that things are fated and hence cannot be changed.

It will be sad if the Sangha would continue to encourage a view that is discriminating, based on   ignorance and fear to its lay fellowers instead of helping them remove those dusts from their eyes.



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