Is homosexuality forbidden in Buddhism? Is it sexual misconduct? Let’s look at what Gautama Buddha and Tibetan Buddhism say.
Gautama Buddha stated in one of the five precepts that lay-people should refrain from sexual misconduct. He never really elaborated on this point, only to say that a man should not fool around with a woman that is married or betrothed. He did of course say in the Vinaya, which are the rules for monks and nuns, that they have to take a vow of celibacy, but no such rule was made for lay-people.
So he left this precept sweet and simply. In some ways this is a good thing, as I don’t think holy men and religions should concern themselves with the sexual act. However, as it is so vague it does give others the chance to interpret it in a way that suits their world view and allows them to tag all of their prejudices onto it.
I personally believe that Gautama Buddha taught the five precepts to steer us away from cause harm to ourselves and others. It should be noted here that the precepts are not commandments, and are five things we should try to refrain from. If the sexual act is not going to cause harm it should be consensual, affectionate, loving and not breaking any marriage vow or commitment. It should also not be abusive, such as sex with an under-age person or rape, and this includes forcing your partner into having sex. So I believe in this way a consenting, loving homosexual act isn’t in any way against Gautama Buddha’s teachings.
In Tibetan Buddhism it is viewed quite differently. In fact, Dalai Lama has come out (excuse the pun) and said that from a Buddhist point of view lesbian and gay sex is considered sexual misconduct. Now he is not deriving this view from the discourses of Gautama Buddha, but from a 15th century Tibetan scholar called Tsongkhapa. Here is a brief outline of Tsongkhapa’s medieval thinking:
- He prohibits sex between two men, but not between two women.
- He prohibits masturbation, oral and anal sex.
- He does not allow sex for anyone during day light hours, but allows men five orgasms during the night.
- He allows men to pay for sex from prostitutes.
- He gave a full list of what orifices and organs may and may not be used, and even what time and place people can have sex
(Gautama Buddha never made these distinctions).
As you can see Tsongkhapa heavily weighed the odds in men’s favour – not surprising, as he was a man. In fact, it appears his list only seems to be aimed at men, in Tibetan culture women should do what men want them to do. That point comes across loud and clear when married women , who are seen to belong to their husband, have no say in whether they want sex or not.
It would appear Tsongkhapa was trying to force lay-people to adhere to rules that were actually meant for monks and nuns. This way of thinking stems not from Buddhism but is a cultural thing.
It does seem that Tsongkhapa’s view is out of step with today’s society and so we have to go back to what Gautama Buddha meant by sexual misconduct. He wanted us to reflect on our acts and see if they bring harm or are helpful. So in this context, I believe if we want to know if an act constitutes sexual misconduct or not, we should ask ourselves the following questions:
Does the act cause harm or does it bring joy?
Is the act motivated by love and understanding?
Would you like it if someone did it to you?
Is there mutual consent?
If there is mutual consent between two adults, it is not abusive and is an expression of love, respect and loyalty, I believe it cannot be classified as sexual misconduct, irrespective of whether it is between a man and a woman, two men or two women.
As I stated earlier, I do not believe religions should get involved with people’s sexuality. We cannot choose our sexual orientation, as we cannot choose our race or gender, so it is cruel to penalise someone for something out of their control. So in answer to the two questions posed at the beginning of this piece, I believe homosexuality should not be forbidden in Buddhism, and homosexuals should not be made to feel guilty for loving someone of the same sex. I also believe homosexuality should not be regarded as sexual misconduct if it is not causing harm, and is loving and consensual.
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– Desires for all types of sexual relation or pleasure are evil. But most are still not abnormal.
– The desire for homosexuality and lesbianism is evil as well as abnormal.
– Such a kind of sexual relation or desire was described by the Buddha as a wrong practice, which can lead to the destruction of the human world.
– This is because those desires occur due to ‘ultra-passion’.
– However, it (homosexuality) can be cured by practicing meditation on such loathsome and disgusting matter.
[ It is obvious that although the Buddha did not mention this matter directly, he had given sufficient explanation for it in an indirect manner in his discourses. Besides, obviously, these teachings were given not only to monastic people but also to laypeople. ]
Buddha only said monks and nuns should refrain from homosexual acts – in fact, all sexual acts. Meditation can do lots of things, but it certainly cannot cure homosexuality, because it is not a disease. Buddhism is about tolerance and I think your comments lack that.
– My description is based upon the explanation of the Rector Sayadaw of Myanmar, who has a very thorough and wide knowledge of the teachings of the Buddha.
– His explanation is totally based upon the teachings of the Buddha, so it does not matter whether one agrees to it or not; the teachings will always stand true.
– If one deeply learns ALL the discourses of the Buddha, he/she will understand every word of explanation made by the Buddha.
– In keeping with the intentions of the Buddha, homosexual practice is not right both for monastic people and laypeople (whether one accepts or denies this). As already mentioned, homosexual desires arise in one’s mind due to ‘excessive and abnormal cravings’, that is, cravings that pass beyond limit.
– Cravings, in any extent, will definitely cause suffering. It is the chief root of suffering or unhappiness in life. I am sure almost every Buddhist who clearly understands the teachings of the Buddha will realize this truth.
– So, one can either practise or refrain from such homosexual/lesbian practices. But unhappiness and suffering will surely welcome the one who is engaged in such practices, because cravings never cause happiness or satisfaction. The one who is free from homosexual (and all other kinds of) desires will understand how it is happy for him/her to be free from such kinds of desires while the one with (homo)sexual desires will only experience the lifelong suffering.
– This is why the Buddha taught both monastic and laypeople to refrain from sexual acts, especially homosexuality and lesbianism, leading to the destruction of the mundane world (no matter what others say).
– Besides, Buddhism is based upon the combination of compassion and wisdom, not tolerance. Of course, the Buddha preached tolerance but he never taught us to be blindly tolerant of things that will cause suffering to us.
– There is no special method for curing homosexuality, except meditation. In addition, meditation is the best solution to both physical and mental problems. (To know how physical problems are overcome, read the true-story of Go-Inka, the Indian religious teacher, whose long years headache was totally cured by Vipassana meditation.)
– One cannot know how meditation is highly effective for homosexuality, etc. unless he/she has not practised meditation to cure for him/herself. And if the (homosexual/lesbian) person is unlikely to cure his/her desires through meditation, then obviously the way he/she meditates lacks properness. Proper meditation can definitely cure all types of mental problems that occur in one’s mind.
( The Buddha’s teachings are totally practical. Your experiences can always be checked against his teachings, until you find how they are true. )
[ PS. I do not mean to start an argument. ]
With kind regards,
Thank you once again for your comments. I agree that there is no need for an argument. You have made your case clearly, and I hope I have done the same. People can now decide which view point the want to follow.
I do want to ask what sutra the Rector from Myanmar is talking about when he says that Buddha said homosexuality is wrong. I have a wide knowledge of Buddha’s teachings and have not come across this teaching. If it is possible, could you kindly send me the explanation the Rector gave, as I am most interested to read it.
One further point, you say, ‘In keeping with the intentions of the Buddha’ – I think it is a little dificult, even if you have studied all of his teachings, to know his intentions 2600 years after his death.
Thank you once again for your comments.
“His explanation is totally based upon the teachings of the Buddha” IS A BIG LIE.
As I said, that comes from the commentary of the Digha Nikaya (Sumangalavilasini), not Digha Nikaya itself.
And the author of Sumangalavilasini is said to be Buddhaghosa. So, that’s Buddhaghosa’s opinion, not Buddha’s.
And you CAN NOT Prove “homosexual desires arise in one’s mind due to ‘excessive and abnormal cravings”.
And what cause the suffering is also one’s lie, ignorance, and discriminatory attitude. So basically , your are just the reason, not the other way around.
Leading to the destruction of the mundane world ? How ridiculous a big lie, too. That sutta mention many many things, and those things is committed by many heterosexual men and women, not just the so call “Miccha-dhamma”.
Your word (no matter what others say) is disgusting and ridiculous.
I do not believe in Buddhism, and it is because there are many bigots like you (In China, Myanmar & Thai).
With kind regards? No, that is bad regards.
[ PS. I would like very much showing my intention to start an argument. ]
No, homosexuality cannot be changed to heterosexuality by meditation.
And I think your homophobic and discriminatory attitude totally needs meditation to “cure” on such loathsome and disgusting matter.
[ It is obvious that although the Buddha did not mention this （homophobic and discriminatory attitude ）matter directly, he had given sufficient explanation for it in an indirect manner in his discourses. Besides, obviously, these teachings were given not only to monastic people but also to laypeople. ]
WITH BEST REGARDS
It had been described in the 25th Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, one of the long discourses of the Buddha, that the sexual desire of men for men (homosexuality) and that of women for women (lesbianism) was a wrong conduct (Miccha-dhamma). In the sutra literature of Sanskrit Buddhism, the Saddharmasmrtyupasthana sutra describes at length the hellish torments waiting for those men who indulge in sexual relations with other men.
Why do we think it is quite difficult to keep with the intentions of the Buddha? All the intentions of the Buddha had been clearly expressed in his teachings and all we have to do is to follow his teachings and practice according to them. Although 2557 years (since his death) have already passed, his intentions can still be obviously understood by learning his teachings.
I hope this helps. Thanks,
In the 26th Sutta (not 25th, you are wrong ) of the Digha Nikaya, the Buddha does not mention anything with homosexuality.
What you said come from the commentary of the Digha Nikaya (Sumangalavilasini), not Digha Nikaya itself.
And the author of Sumangalavilasini is said to be Buddhaghosa. So, that’s Buddhaghosa’s opinion, not Buddha’s. (This Sutta is quite a mythology, talking about human’s age is ever 84,000 years old. And I do not think Buddhaghosa’s opinion is correct, because Miccha-dhamma just means wrong Dharma, not a particular conduct. )
As for Saddharmasmrtyupasthana, it’s complied after 2-3 century CE, many years after āgama sutras. It did said a man sex with a man, and the active man (本男子) is into the hell.
I think the sex is assumed as an involuntary action (because of at that time, there is no conception of sexual orientation, so the author of the sutra assuming men sex with men is always involuntary ), and the active man is assumed as heterosexuality (This is depend on the following sentence. The sentence said “when the active man reborn as a man after suffering in the hell, he would loss many wives, and have difficulty to married with a woman. It seems to me, that this active man is heterosexual or assumed as heterosexual, and use other involuntary men to sex. That’s why he is into the Hell, and losing many wives. So it’s totally irrelevant to modern gay men ).
It’s absurd to think that all the intentions of the Buddha had been clearly expressed in his teachings. If it is, the Buddhism would not split into many schools and argue with each other.
If you know of the history od Buddhism well, you’ll find many Buddhism monks from different schools and traditions disagree each others’ interpretations about Buddha’s teaching.
I would like to mention the involuntary action.
In the Saddharmasmrtyupasthana & Nagarjuna’s work “Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom” （大智度論）， non-vaginal sex with women is also assumed as an involuntary action.
the text & translation：
「非道之處，則非女根，女心不樂，強以非理，故名邪婬。」《大智度論》卷13〈1 序品〉 (CBETA, T25, no. 1509, p. 156, c17-18)
“The wrong orifice is not through the female organ, the lady does not like this, and so forcing it [upon her] is inappropriate, therefore it is said to be “sexual misconduct”.
「何者邪行。謂於婦女。非道行婬。彼不隨順。自力強逼。」《正法念處經》卷6〈3 地獄品〉 (CBETA, T17, no. 721, p. 33, c13-15)
What is “sexual misconduct”.? You are making non-vaginal sex with women. She does not cooperate, and you force upon her.
Both of which describe it as men forcing the women to make non-vaginal sex.
So I think maybe its “forcing assumption” is applied to the “men sex with men” situation in the Saddharmasmrtyupasthana, too.
It’s not voluntary, but forced to have sex.
Sorry, English is not my native language.
I think “Involuntary action” is not a proper word to express the meaning. Maybe “coerced action” or “unwilling action” is more suitable.
And one spelling error: “it’s compiled after 2-3 century CE”, not “it’s complied after 2-3 century CE”.
A few years ago, I investigated this topic and wrote about it…here is the link to my blog…
Thank you so much for your link. I found it very interesting and I am sure others will too.
What our actions are will be based on our cetana (mind) whether it is good or evil. Every action is based on the mind which will then make the thing happen. If your mind is free from lust and greed, there will be no evil actions at all. Similarly if the mind is free from sexual desire, there will be no sexual misconduct and nobody is hurt or harm. Every action is based on four factors; namely mental plan, a victim, action taken and satisfaction of the action.
A full fledged action breed either good or bad karma accordingly.
This post is beautiful and explains a great deal about things about Lord Buddha. I was searching for answers and truth about homosexuality ; i wanted to know why people hate it so much. As a Buddhist i came looking for what Lord Buddha taught about this. And i realised the answer is just loving kindess.. As Lord Buddha never specifically said anything about homosexuals and i think that says a lot. Because Lord Buddha only said to ‘refrain from sexual misconduct’ unless if its with love and understanding and cause nobody harm (as said on this article) from both parties.. so it kinda cover it all.. 🙂 THankyou for this wonderful post. Really made me open my eyes for the truth..
As a recent student of Buddhism, and a somewhat late reply; I was also interested in what the Buddha said about homosexuality, since I have friends in that category, and I tend to agree with Anu Somarathne that the over riding principle of his teachings was that of “loving kindness”and if you have to explain that to someone, then you really are up against a brick wall.
Maybe the people who have to dig through the Sutras to find proof that Buddha disapproved of homosexuality are justifying their own prejudice and showing ignorance, which the Buddha specifically teaches against.