Lately I've been teaching some classes on "buddhist ethics", and will be venturing into all these sorts of topics. This morning I was reading Harvey's An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, which has some good material on this (for your reference). Unforuntately, Harvey largely relies on Pali material, and though has a few modern perspectives, Chinese (and Japanese) Buddhism is definitely not his strong point. (Still, it's the best overall book on this topic as a whole.)
This was prompted by a post the other day. I know there's an ongoing thread on gay marriage, but my question is slightly different. I also did not want to post this in the "inappropriate sex" thread, because the thread itself strikes me as inappropriate (as in borderline TOS violation).
enjitsu wrote:Some of the kinds of Inappropriate Sex not supported by Buddhism are
Man + Man - Gayism
Women + Women - Lesbianism
Any confusion regarding sexual orientation. Gay'ism, Lesbian'ism, Bi-sexual'ism, Sexual Mutilation / Transgender'ism/ Transexual'ism should be cleared up beforehand.
Question for anyone who feels informed enough to answer it...
... hmmm, maybe!
How common are attitudes such as those expressed above among Buddhists in traditions originating in East Asia? Would the above represent a mainstream view or no? It's a little hard for a Westerner to gauge.
Depends. "East asia" is a big place - fully a quarter of the human population, and ranging from the very modern and wealthy, to poverty and late 19th cty standards of living.
I can't say much about Japan or Korea, but I can maybe give some pointers on Taiwan and Hong Kong, which would be maybe similar to some of the more affluent parts of the PRoC (mainly the east coast).
Some teachers, such as Ven. Hsing Yun and Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, have spoken out firmly against discrimination based on sexual orientation:
Hsing Yun wrote:People often ask me what I think about homosexuality. They wonder, is it right, is it wrong? The answer is, it is neither right nor wrong. It is just something that people do. If people are not harming each other, their private lives are their own business; we should be tolerant of them and not reject them.
However, it will still take some time for the world to fully accept homosexuality. All of us must learn to tolerate the behavior of others. Just as we hope to expand our minds to include all of the universe, so we should also seek to expand our minds to include all of the many forms of human behavior.
Like anything, ask: What is the audience to whom this was directed?
Probably a very general audience, appearing in a popular book.
Elsewhere, Ven Hsing Yun indicates that traditionally (in Chinese society in general) it was regarded as "not normal" - not necessarily condemning it at all, though, but we need a modern perspective. Then, he points out that the emotions - sexual emotions, mainly, I guess - involved, are problematic - but!, no more so than hetersexuality. (Foguang Text Book, vol. 9)
Others, such as Ven. Sheng Yan, take a more conservative view, while some statements attributed to Ven. Hsuan Hua are...well, perhaps the less said the better.
I don't see Ven Sheng Yen being particularly conservative about it, though. eg. in his large classic Sila and Vinaya Studies, he never says that homosexuality is "sexual misconduct". This book is almost a Taiwan standard for in depth analysis of the precepts. If he wanted to say it, it would definitely say it here. He doesn't.
Is there in fact a mainstream view among, say, Chinese or Japanese Buddhists? Or is it like the situation in Christianity, i.e. a pretty wide spectrum of opinion?
Probably somewhere around that of Ven Hsing Yun and Ven Sheng Yen, as probably the two greatest and most influential Buddhist leaders in Taiwan of the latter half of the 20th cty and start of the 21st. They also have a fair influence in the PRoC, too.
The Chinese wiki on "Homosexuality and Buddhism"
clearly states that there is no explicit Buddhist teaching indicating that homosexuality is sexual misconduct.
There are some other interesting sources, like this: http://big5.jiexieyin.org/show.aspx?cid=11&id=453
Of course, there will be other views, too. More leaning towards considering homosexuality as "unnatural" etc. sort of argument.
A lot of it is due to confusion about what a "pandaka" is. Harvey indicates that it is someone who is almost of "neutral gender", lacking either male or female organs from birth, though often has a kind of passive homosexual role. It is definitely not all homosexuals, at all!
Another source of confusion is using monastic vinaya discipline and reading it into lay precepts as a whole. Of course, monastic vinaya states that any sort of homosexual intercourse is a very serious transgression, not to be tolerated at all. However, it says exactly the same thing about hetero or other forms of sexuality too...
Lastly, many of those who oppose it are very hardcore meditator types. Again, often people take their talks from retreat situations and generalize them. In a retreat, naturally any sort of lust or craving is an obstacle, sexual lust no exception. I've heard and read some real scathing criticisms of hetero sexuality too in such talks. These are not necessarily criteria for daily lay buddhist practice, however.
Disclaimer: this post is not intended to stir up a wasp's nest; I'm just interested in knowing more about the context surrounding this issue. Also, the poster whose comments prompted my question is not necessarily someone born and raised in East Asia, or even someone hailing from an Asian community in the US.
If you can translate the wiki page above, should just about cover it all!
Go and read the sutras, go and study the Dharma.
Then one can work out the answers for oneself.