Buddhism’s View on Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage



The views regarding the connection between Buddhism tradition and sexual orientations varies slightly depending on the tradition itself and the various divisions of Buddhism. According to Bong (2011), original Buddhism seems to have positioned no particular stigma on homosexuality, and the subject was not addressed at all. However, some late traditions feature some restrictions on the act of homosexuality. From a viewpoint of one division of Buddhist, Theravada, all relationships such as lesbian, straight and gay are normally termed as personal matters of shared consent. If any relationship endorses the well-being and happiness of parties involved, then it is accepted positively. Several Buddhists believe that, just like human sexuality scholars, therapists, and religious liberals, sexual orientations are outside the control of a person, as are gender and race. It is revealed, and not by choice. Various scriptures by Buddhists feel that lesbians and gays get the same equal benefits and rights like other people.

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Introduction: Buddhism and Sex

We are living in an era where sexuality is openly discussed in schools, homes, political gatherings, and places of worship. Every streamline religion has moral principles that cover issues on morality and sexuality. These principles guide the followers of that particular religion on how to behave on matters to do with sexuality. One peculiar religion that people wrongly assume on their take about sexuality is Buddhism. Buddhism is more of a tradition taking roots from ancient India centuries ago and has now gone across Indian boundaries to become a great religion (Langenberg, 2015).  Now that Buddhist monks and nuns remain celibate all their lives by definition, a majority of people presuppose a uniform sex-negative attitude in this religion. Nonetheless, Langenberg (2015) states that Buddhists of different calibers have at one time thought of, discussed, and practiced sex in many forms that are beyond negative. This paper transcends to argue that despite the existence of teachings of Buddha on greed, anger, delusion, and sexual morality, homosexuals and same-sex relations remain largely tolerated by Buddhists principally because of lack of a clear Buddha scriptures to outlaw the same.

Buddhism Views on Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage

Buddhism is composed of three key divisions; Theravada, which is the ancient division that deals with monastic life; Mahayana Buddhism, another division that comprises of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren, together with other subdivisions. The last division is Vajrayana, which is an exceptional type that was first seen in India and Tibet. Theravada Buddhism is in most cases prevalent in southeastern parts of Asia and mainly deals with on the traditional culture of the Buddha. With Theravada Buddhism, we have two key forms of life: the monk life and the lay or ordinary person life (Boyce, 2015).

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According to Langenberg (2015), Buddhist monks are associated with the life of celibacy that meant that they abstained from any form of sex. There is no clear law barring anyone gay from leading a life in the Monastery.  Altogether, Buddha is seen to be contrasting with the consecration of anyone who openly displayed their cross-gender characteristics or robust homosexual cravings and deeds in the Vinaya. The Buddhist sacred artwork contains a lot of cases of romantic relationships amongst unmarried men that people believe to have homoerotic implications. No sexual relationship is associated in this case. Homosexuality was there in the old India culture; it is openly revealed in the Vinaya (monastic discipline) and also forbidden. Nonetheless, the ancient Indian Buddhist scriptures concentrate much less on ethics about sex for laymen while focusing more on the monks and nuns. This failure to focus on lay people leaves a gap that allows for same-sex relationships among the lay people. This form of sexuality is not selected for singular condemnation, but instead merely associated with an extensive range of different other sexual actions as breaching the laws that necessitate monks and nuns to be regarded celibate. Sexual deeds, either with an individual who is from the same or opposite sex is considered wrong for Buddhist practitioners in the monastery (Boyce, 2015). This is cases where a sexual organ penetrates orifices of another body such as the vagina, mouth or anus. The act is punishable through eviction from the monastic life. Sexual activities which include mutual masturbation or intermural sex, though classified as a serious crime, may not attract an expulsion but one need to confess while in front of the monastic community (Franks, 2016).

For individuals living outside the monastery or Lay, Buddhists must obey the Five Principles, where the third is to make sure they don’t engage in any sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct is defined as the act of enduring in actions such as forced sex, pestering sexually, molestation of kids and marriage infidelity (Franks, 2016). Since homosexuals have not been openly talked about in any sayings of Buddha and as per the Pali Canon, a majority of exponents have assumed the fact that as an indication that homosexuality people should perceive it similar to how they see acts of heterosexuality (Franks, 2016). For the case of a lay individuals where there have mutually agreed, infidelity is not the case and sex is just a love indication, admiration, devotion and joy and no third Principle is violated. Similarly, disrespect for other people feelings and promiscuity eventually turn a sexual act immoral regardless of the name given to it. All the precepts that will be used to assess a heterosexual relation will also be used to judge a cse of homosexuality also. From a Buddhist perspective, one can conclude that it is not the objective of a person’s sexual craving that determines if a sexual act is immoral or not, it is just the feelings and convoluted intents (Numrich, 2009).

Irrespective of the above, practically, Theravada Buddhist nations are not awfully open to practices of homosexuality. It has a lot to do with cultural rules, together with the idea of karma that is mostly considered strongly in nations like Thailand. From this perspective, one’s personality and circumstances are the outcomes of earlier good or evil deeds. Homosexuality and other forms of sexual behavior are mostly seen as punishments of karma for misconduct of heterosexual in an earlier life. Up until now, the movements on gay rights has not received a favorable reception in Theravada Buddhist nations (Franks, 2016).

Conversely, it is not true that homosexuals in those countries with pure Buddhists are free from discrimination and prejudice compared to other countries. Buddhism is adopting the features of dominant values, and this has led to its detriment. However, Buddhism has nothing in its teachings to give justification to the disapproval of homosexual acts or homosexuality. Franks (2016) notes that many lesbians and gays, are particularly attracted to Buddhism due to its reluctance and tolerance to keep the unchanged moral lines even though no evidence can be produced. Franks (2016) goes on to assert that even though Buddhist texts strongly condemn “immoral” sexual acts, the realities in social Buddhist settings in the contemporary world do not reflect the teachings of these texts on homosexuality.

In Tibet for instance, leaders of Buddhism consider homosexuality and same sex a sexual misconduct. In this same region of Tibet, there is higher tolerance of homosexuality practice in the society and even within Buddhist leadership (Franks, 2016). Over 95 percent of people in Thailand are strong believers of the Theravada Buddhist, however, apparently there is an attitude of apathetic lenience towards homosexuality. According to Franks (2016), Western visitors to Thailand see the country as a “gay paradise” with the culture generally accepting homosexuals and lesbians. Thai citizens do not view homosexuality as a breach of Buddhist teachings. In fact, the lower cadre in Thais generally do not see acts of homosexuality and same sex as immoral as per the teachings of Buddha. Majority of Thailand population take the third precept to mean violence to another person’s spouse. This precept is one of the five fundamental morals pledge of all Buddhists. The precept states that, “I take upon myself the precept of abstention from sexual misconduct” (Numrich, 2009). Buddhist ancient texts do not have words equivalent to the modern-day homosexuality, this could be a reason why there is no proper interpretation of the acts. Explanations of homosexuality and same-sex acts show that Buddhism views these activities as a karmic result of transgressions in earlier lives (Numrich, 2009).

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According to Bong (2011) the much-respected spiritual leader of Buddhism, Dalai Lama, is not very clear on homosexuality. Dalai Lama does not condone same sex relationships and thinks that it does not matter. Lama believes that what matters is our mind. Lama is only opposed to violence and discrimination on grounds of sexuality. Buddhists believe that one should stay away from three defilements, which are, greed, delusion, and anger). The religion is shallow on matters of sexual sins and silent on homosexuality and same-sex marriages. The person you chose to sleep with regardless of gender is fine as long as no one gets hurt by the actions.  The leader is not able to tell what exactly is expected of a Buddhists concerning homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The reason Lama is unable to tell is because no written Buddha laws talk about this issue. However, Lama says that every monk is required by Buddhism law to completely abstain from any sexual behavior. For the laypeople, Lama emphasis that sex is created for procreation purposes, hence the act homosexuality does not serve the intended purpose. He also asserts that sexual cravings are obviously natural, perhaps homosexual desires included, but the idea should not encourage anyone to increase indulgence in such desires minus self-control.

Lama also says that the manner in which the female and male organs are arranged is suitable enough for normal marriages.  Therefore, people of the same sex cannot manage. Lama does not condemn homosexual relationships directly at any one time. However, most Buddhist leaders have argued that it is difficult to refute a relationship where both parties are not sexually abused. They have a common opinion that asserts that nearly all forms of sex except the natural penile-vaginal one is all not allowed in Buddhism, whether it is homosexuals or heterosexuals. Lama once mentioned that gay marriages, from Buddhism viewpoint, is a sexual misconduct. Langenberg, (2015) asserts that discounting or questioning heteronormativity is not exclusively a characteristic of Buddhism.  In fact, Buddhists leaders do not have a specific rule concerning the same, and they believe that homosexuality is enjoyable and mutual relationship which is harmless from the society’s viewpoint. Priests in Buddhist Churches of America have on countless occasions ordained same sex marriages openly and nearly with no disapproval from the members of these churches from as early as 1970s (Langenberg, 2015). One such priest from Salt Lake Buddhist Temple, Jerry Hirano, one said that he can only be mindful of his actions and tries at all costs to act without hurting himself and others. He further notes that he has no time for judging others. Jerry Hirano’s statement can be interpreted to mean Buddhism is neither queer nor heteronormative, neither sex positive nor sex negative since its more persuasive ethical concern is in a different direction (Langenberg, 2015).

Buddhist leaders such as Dalai Lama, are in the first line as human rights activists including rights for gays.  The Buddhism tradition is a holy religion that discourages discrimination and violence grounded on sexual alignment. They ask for compassion, tolerance and respect, and full support of every human right (Loy, 2014). In my view, customs are subject to change. Marriage is described as an institution which portrays the values of that particular society. If a person from that society resolves that marriage is no longer the best option, then they can go ahead and change the customary marriage laws. From this point of view, the decisive truth comes in based on the fact that personalities should and can choose what is right in their own eyes. So long as the practices do not trigger violence against other people, or breach the societal laws in place, people have the right to practice what they think is right for their life (Loy, 2014). Buddhism gives people the freedom to make choices at their free will without interference. The same point of view applies to the aspect of homosexuality. People always ask questions regarding homosexuality. They don’t know if it is wrong or right.  According to Buddhism teachings, this best answer to such questions is, it is not right and it is not wrong. It is only a practice among people. If there is no harm caused by homosexuals, they have a right to privacy and live their lives alone, therefore, the society should be friendly and embrace them.  Buddhists are people who value tolerance and generosity, they consider it as wisdom. There is no scripture in the Buddhism religion that encourages people to be tolerant of each other.  Their goal as a tradition (Buddhists) is to adopt a culture that accepts the type of people and enables them to acquire and understand the Shakyamuni Buddha teachings regardless of the sexual orientations (Numrich, 2009).

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In conclusion, there are no specific scriptures that comment on homosexuality in the Buddha’s discourses. It can only be assumed that homosexuality is evaluated in a similar manner as heterosexuality. This is possibly the same reason why it is not condemned. Where a man and a woman are involved in a healthy relationship, which is mutual and not adulterous in the expression of loyalty, love and respect, it doesn’t violate the third Buddhism percept. The same case applies to homosexuality in gay marriages.  Buddhism’s principles used to assess the heterosexual relationship are used to assess the homosexual relationship as well. As far as Buddhism is concerned, it is clear that the aspect of sexual orientation does not define whether a sexual behavior is accepted or not, but is determined by the emotional qualities and the intents involved. Whether homosexuality is accepted by Buddhist religion or any other religion, the world, in general, will take quite some time to accept the aspect of homosexuality. From the Buddhism religion, it is acceptable to expand the mind to appreciate the universe at large, and purpose to appreciate various types of human behavior.

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  1. Bong, S. A. (2011). Beyond queer: An epistemology of bi choice. Journal of Bisexuality, 11(1), 39-62. doi:10.1080/15299716.2011.545304
  2. Boyce, B. (2015). Sexuality and gender identity under the constitution of India. The Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice, 18(1), 1-64. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1679907432?accountid=28518
  3. Franks, K. (2016). The Buddhist approach to homosexuality. Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa, 40(2), 40-53.
  4. Langenberg, A. P. (2015). Sex and Sexuality in Buddhism: A tetralemma. Religion Compass, 9(9), 277-286. doi:10.1111/rec3.12162
  5. Loy, D. R. (2014). Why buddhism and the modern world need each other: A buddhist perspective. Buddhist-Christian Studies, 34(1), 39-50. doi:10.1353/bcs.2014.0027
  6. Numrich, P. D. (2009). The problem with sex according to Buddhism. Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 48(1), 62-73. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6385.2009. 00431.x
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