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Homosexuality from the point of Theravada Buddhism

by Chate Sivasomboon, Chiang Mai, Thailand, The Buddhist Channel, Oct 7, 2005

I would like to share with you about view of homosexuality as defined in Theravada Tripitaka and some of differences with other branches of Buddhism.

First,  I felt that in the letter by Kelvin Wong, the author had used too broad an interpretation of the Pali word "Pandaka." There is some problem in the interpretation of the word "Pandaka", which was translated as hermaphrodite in his article. It is not quite exactly correct, since there is another Pali word (Uppatopayanchanok = two + sex organ ) that is much more accurately translated as "hermaphrodite."

In Vinaya Tripitaka, as was mentioned in the article by Phra Mano, there was a pandaka monk wandering around, having sex with men looking after horses and elephants. It was this act of this character who caused the establishment of the rule which forbids a pandaka from being ordained.  Based on this case, it was generally reagrded that gays cannot be ordained as members of the Sangha. On the contrary, in the commentary text (Atthagatha) of the Vinaya Tripitaka, the term "pandaka" was divided into five catagories. It is specifically stated that of the five categories of pandaka, the first three can be ordained, while the first two of these catagories fit the descriptions of gay men.

Furthermore, in the Abhidharma (higher teachings), while it was maintained that a pandaka would not achieve enlightenment in this life time, it would be possible in future lives. According to a story in the Tripitaka, Ananda the enlightened one - who was Buddha's cousin and close aid, and who recited all the sutra at the first council - was a pandaka in one of his many previous lifes. In a Dharma webboard here in Thailand, some gay man  posted a message lamenting about this point, but most of the reponses concurred with one reponse which cleverly posted a question: "Would you quit going to school merely because you thought that you would not be able to earn a Ph.D.? How many readers here got a Ph.D.?"  One of my teacher's reponse to this question was to extol the questioner to continue onwards with his practice.

In Theravada Buddhism, while the five precepts are meant mainly for lay people, the third precept does not stipulate what are "correct sexual acts". In fact, most reponses on the web board that I mentioned earlier agrees that being faithful, and not harming others by untoward sexual acts were enough reassurance for gay people.  So in many ways, homosexuals can hold to the practice of the 5 precepts. Looking at homosexuality from point of the 8 precepts is a non-entity, as the third precept (of 8) bars any sexual acts by anyone (regardless of sexual preferences).

In the Tripitaka, there are a lot of examples of those who achieved enlightenment without being ordained. These people basically just held on to the  5 precepts. What may be true then still holds true today. I can personally vouch of two monks whom I follow their teachings have achieved enormously since they were laymen. In the third stage of sainthood (the non-returner), the fetter that binds one to sexual inclination is said to have been abandoned, as in that state of enlightenement, one will see clearly that the body as neither "I" or "mine". Is this aspect, sexual attachment is hence dropped and one becomes "sexless." 

And so for those who sincerely practices and ardently cultivates - regardless of their sexual predilections - they too will finally find convergence towards such "sexless" state, within this life time or beyond.

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