Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

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Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 04, 2013 9:50 am

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/2 ... _hp_ref=tw

    By Vishal Arora
    Religion News Service

    NEW DELHI (RNS) Health officials in the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan are making condoms available at all monastic schools in a bid to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV among young monks who are supposed to be celibate.

    "We are making condoms freely available everywhere, even in monastic schools and colleges," Bhutan's minister of health, Zangley Drukpa, said in a phone interview. The ministry, he added, has formed a special action group to deal with STDs in monasteries.

    Warning signs of risky behavior among monks first appeared in 2009, when a report on risks and vulnerabilities of adolescents revealed that monks were engaging in "thigh sex" (in which a man uses another man's clenched thighs for intercourse), according to the state-owned Kuensel daily.

    The health ministry got concerned when a dozen monks -- including a 12-year-old -- were diagnosed with sexual transmitted diseases a year later, Kuensel reports. At least five monks are known to be HIV-positive, the youngest being 19.

    The 2012 report of the U.N. agency focused on AIDS response and progress also noted cases of HIV among Bhutan's monks.

    Bhutan's Commission for the Monastic Affairs says stricter discipline is a solution. While corporal punishment is banned, monks told Kuensel it is still practiced.

    "It is believed the cane, the whip and the rosary represent the Bodhisattvas who personify wisdom, compassion and power, which are needed to discipline," the commission's health and religion coordinator, Tashi Galey, told the newspaper.

    Psychiatrists suggest the spread of disease could be a result of mental stress. It is not uncommon for monks and nuns, mostly between the ages of 15 and 25, to visit psychiatrists. Even senior monks show symptoms of severe stress, especially when they are undergoing long periods of meditation, Dr. Damber Kumar Nirola told Kuensel.

    "About 70 to 80 percent of (senior) monks are obese, hypertensive and also suffer from back ache because of their sitting posture and sedentary lifestyle," urologist Lotay Tshering told the paper.

    Geography also plays a role. Most hilltop monastic schools lack recreational facilities. "Getting space for playgrounds is difficult, but we provide volley balls and badminton rackets," the commission's secretary, Karma Penjor, told Kuensel.

    Bhutan, a landlocked nation of about 700,000 people sandwiched between India and China, is the world's only officially Buddhist country, and has about 388 monastic schools with 7,240 monks and 5,149 nuns.




Well, at least they're being honest about the situation rather than concealing it.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Jun 04, 2013 9:57 am

Good move, I reckon! :twothumbsup:
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 04, 2013 10:12 am

I've heard horror stories about monasteries.

Fortunately the Bhutanese government is actually addressing this problem rather than pretending it doesn't exist. They're actually quite progressive. Earlier they also introduced mechanisms through which child abuse in monasteries can be reported and dealt with.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Dronma » Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:11 pm

Many years ago, I had heard the same story about "thigh sex" from a monk who was living in a Buddhist monastery in India.
So, I am not surprised at all....
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:36 pm

I really don't know how I feel about this. It is a bit of a sad moment in my opinion, as if aknowledging it is unrealistic to expect monks to keep even the basic 4 root vows.

How will laypeople want to support monasteries filled with monks who need condoms because they are wilfully deciding to break their root vows, all the while still expecting to be fed, clothed and housed?
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:44 pm

It is an age old problem. In past times as well having people keep basic precepts has been a struggle.

I read one paper where it was explained that in old Tibet homosexual coupling was not considered a pārājika offence. It was only heterosexual interactions that would be classified as a pārājika offence.

Likewise, in ancient China the state at times had to purge the clergy of individuals who had produced children.

Monasticism easily becomes a welfare system and thus such problems arise.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:45 pm

I think most monks are well aware that intentional ejaculation (including masturbation and thigh humping) is a saṃghāvaśeṣa offence, though unlike a pārājika you have only to confess it for it to be considered repented (you also don't lose your status as a monk).

However, as per Vinaya regulations, a saṃghāvaśeṣa is supposed to be confessed in the presence of ten pure bhikṣus. The offender is also supposed to be temporarily banished from the sangha for the amount of days that they concealed the transgression. Nevertheless, I've never heard of any sangha actually following these procedures anymore.

Moreover, the matter of ten "pure" bhikṣus assumes they themselves have repented all past transgressions. Just as well, how many people want to confess that they masturbated in front of ten of their peers?

This is actually why some secondary literature states that a saṃghāvaśeṣa may be confessed to oneself just by virtue of being so ashamed that one would rather disrobe than confess it to one's peers (also if you are well-read in some part of the canon, you are free to just confess it to yourself and that's it).

I actually don't think a lot of monks know about all this. The Vinaya historically didn't seem to work as it was supposed to. Even if you try to force people to abide by it, you'll just end up with frustrated individuals who walk away or fundamentalists who aggressively persecute anyone they perceive as breaking rules. Such extremism will not produce accommodating circumstances, though of course laxity is also undesirable. I believe in a middle way in this respect.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:51 pm

So what would the middle way be in this circumstance?

read one paper where it was explained that in old Tibet homosexual coupling was not considered a pārājika offence.


That's the first time I have heard such a thing. In Kunkyen Tsonawa's commentary, which is used by most of the monasteries of the various lineages, it is clear that any penetration is a parajika/disrobing offence, likewise in the Root Vinaya itself. I have never heard a lama distinguish hetero versus homosexual penetration, as the gender is not the basis of the vow breakage, but the orifice.
Last edited by JKhedrup on Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby T. Chokyi » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:00 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I really don't know how I feel about this. It is a bit of a sad moment in my opinion, as if aknowledging it is unrealistic to expect monks to keep even the basic 4 root vows.

How will laypeople want to support monasteries filled with monks who need condoms because they are wilfully deciding to break their root vows, all the while still expecting to be fed, clothed and housed?


Hi JKhedrup-la

Not to worry, I think the more one looks at a situation like this, one understands that there is no Utopia anyplace, including in the monastery. I can't find the video right now, but there is one where a tulku shares about his own teacher trying to take his life in the monastery, and also how he was sexually assaulted there. If a tulku of that stature had probs, one can only imagine what happens if there is an attractive rather feminine young monk in a big monastery with someone setting their sites on him.

These things happen, even to high reincarnates, but it is rather common that people have a fantasy about life in the monastery. There is also disease, hepatitis etc... this can be among Tulkus as well, so its not some perfect place. Monasteries can be given to some kind of politics as well, but despite negative realities, there are also genuine monastics who place themselves in positions to genuinely make an effort to benefit this kind of community, because the beings there have that karma to be there, whether they are monks at heart, or just ended up there (some were orphans placed in the monastery for example).
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:07 pm

I agree I am not saying that we should idealize the life in the monasteries, I know they are not perfect, I have spent a fair amount of time in them.

But to issue condoms officially is almost like saying such conduct is permitted, or that we have basically given up on thinking that monks can restrain themselves from sex. Of course there will always be some who flaunt the rules, but they should be encouraged to return to lay life rather than staying in the Sangha. Not engaging in copulation is the first rule the Buddha laid out for monks so if there is an exception to this there is an exception to everything.

In terms of the hepatitis, it is endemic, but in many of the large monasteries monks come from parts of Tibet where it is so widespread that it is very possible many contracted it from their mothers while in the womb- it is not necessarily a sign of sexual contact, it can also be contracted from toothbrushes, razors etc.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:09 pm

JKhedrup wrote:So what would the middle way be in this circumstance?


Ideally screen applicants to the monastery and ask if they really want to be in there or if it is just their family pushing them in that direction.

Also, children don't need to be in a monastery. I think 16 in maybe a suitable age, especially in the third world which is the age a lot of young people start their adulthood (getting a permanent job or even getting married in some places). They're also at an age where they can speak and defend themselves. Taiwanese monasteries to my knowledge don't have these problems because applicants are all adults and want to be there (they of course have other issues, but STDs spreading amongst monks is not one of them).

Nevertheless, you can't tell the Bhutanese that they need to drop child monastic intake. It is as much a part of their culture as state welfare is to western countries.

So, I also think teaching boys how to deal with their desires is important, especially as teenagers. Don't just tell them it is against the rules. Explain how to deal with strong desire. It might also have to be recognized that juveniles may attempt to explore their sexuality (with each other), and threatening to banish them is not going to help them very much (the Vinaya regulations stipulate this is supposed to happen, but hopefully we can think for ourselves). If they never really wanted to be there in the first place, it might even just encourage passive-aggressive behaviour done in the hopes of being sent home.

Unfortunately, saying more Vinaya education is needed is like suggesting you need to educate people more on laws so as to prevent crime. Perpetrators are normally fully aware what they're doing is illegal and wrong. Every monk knows that "thigh humping" another monk is against the rules and inappropriate as monks.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:13 pm

JKhedrup wrote:That's the first time I have heard such a thing. In Kunkyen Tsonawa's commentary, which is used by most of the monasteries of the various lineages, it is clear that any penetration is a parajika/disrobing offence, likewise in the Root Vinaya itself. I have never heard a lama distinguish hetero versus homosexual penetration, as the gender is not the basis of the vow breakage, but the orifice.


See this paper:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/38744999/Tibe ... onasticism

See footnote, page 5:
    Actually, homosexual relations between the older monks and their young wards was not unknown in the
    great monastic seats and there were also some long-term “sexual” relationships among older monks living
    in households, but that issue goes beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice to say here that Tibetan monks
    considered homosexual sexual relations a breach of the vow of celibacy only if it involved penetration of an
    orifice such as the anus. Homosexual intercourse, therefore, was normally done between the thighs, and
    while not completely acceptable, was widely tolerated in the large monastic seats.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:16 pm

Yes that makes sense as such a practice would avoid the orifice, though it would still be a heavy offence it would be a sanghadisesa rather than parajika, one could theoretically repair it and stay in the sangha. I have heard of such offences taking place in Taiwanese monasteries, though not to the same extent.
I have heard that at Sera Mey they are trying to introduce a cutoff at 16 years of age, it will be interesting to see if this goes through, I will try to check.

Sorry I was confused when you stated this

I read one paper where it was explained that in old Tibet homosexual coupling was not considered a pārājika offence. It was only heterosexual interactions that would be classified as a pārājika offence.


I thought you were saying orifice penetration was not considered a Parajika disrobing offence if it involved two males, which is very clearly incorrect from the scriptures, that is why I was surprised any lama might hold that view.
Last edited by JKhedrup on Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:19 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Yes that makes sense as such a practice would avoid the orifice, though it would still be a heavy offence it would be a sanghadisesa rather than parajika, one could theoretically repair it and stay in the sangha. I have heard of such offences taking place in Taiwanese monasteries, though not to the same extent.
I have heard that at Sera Mey they are trying to introduce a cutoff at 16 years of age, it will be interesting to see if this goes through, I will try to check.


What are they cutting off, exactly? :jedi:
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Clarence » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:20 pm

I know there are some Tibetan monasteries in India where the abbots give the 5 lay vows and allow the children to dress like monks but they are not real monks. Not even Getsuls.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Dronma » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:22 pm

The fact that monks have been diagnosed with STDs and HIV leads to the conclusion that sexual contact is taking place also in between monks and lay people.
It is very sad and perplexed situation!


T. Chokyi wrote:Not to worry, I think the more one looks at a situation like this, one understands that there is no Utopia anyplace, including in the monastery. I can't find the video right now, but there is one where a tulku shares about his own teacher trying to take his life in the monastery, and also how he was sexually assaulted there. If a tulku of that stature had probs, one can only imagine what happens if there is an attractive rather feminine young monk in a big monastery with someone setting their sites on him.


Tulku Kalu Rinpoche. Here it is the video of his public confession:

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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:22 pm

Clarence wrote:I know there are some Tibetan monasteries in India where the abbots give the 5 lay vows and allow the children to dress like monks but they are not real monks. Not even Getsuls.


Precepts don't make monks anymore than the robes do.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:23 pm

What are they cutting off, exactly?

Sorry, it is an age cutoff- no one before the age of 16. I realize the expression is not so elegant.

There is a pre-novice/samanera ordination called Rabjung which is given not only in Tibetan but also Chinese monasteries. Basically, the person promises to abandon the home life and the signs of a layperson, but does not take the full getsul/samanera vows.

The Kalu situation is very sad-the video has been widely circulated and I hope this makes people think more about child protection in monastic institutions. This is why it might be wise to raise the age limit to enter the monasteries, at least it could prevent those types of things from happening.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Nilasarasvati » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:30 pm

Jkhedrup wrote:

But to issue condoms officially is almost like saying such conduct is permitted, or that we have basically given up on thinking that monks can restrain themselves from sex. Of course there will always be some who flaunt the rules, but they should be encouraged to return to lay life rather than staying in the Sangha. Not engaging in copulation is the first rule the Buddha laid out for monks so if there is an exception to this there is an exception to everything.


"Thigh sex" or inter-crural sex (the Greeks and Romans loved it) has been around in every homosocial environment in human history. The Vinaya's exhaustive rules and strictures around every single sex act are so precise because the Buddha himself had to confront and proscribe all of these situations that arose--Bhikkshus masturbating to everything else--the subtle encouragement that might be inferred from (a governmental source--not a religious one) making condoms available doesn't negate the huge social, religious, and moral pressure every monk is under to maintain pure vows...I just don't buy your reasoning.

Others on this thread and many western Buddhists, in general, I think, agree it is unreasonable to expect the burgeoning numbers living in monasteries to all have pure vows because many monks aren't there on purpose. They didn't make a sober choice to renounce worldly life--they are there because they or their family had no other options. To expect them to just "return to lay life" when generally they have no preparation, education, trade, or skills with which to do that, and a strong social stigma against doing that, is unrealistic. I wish it were realistic, and I bet you agree.

While children in the monasteries may not be considered real monks--at some point the overwhelming majority decide to follow suit and become one. What else is there for them to do? Go to college? Herd yaks?

Indrajala, I've heard that there is scriptural precedent in the Vinaya that The Buddha prohibited/discouraged people from becoming sramanera before a certain age or without the consent of their family, is that true? Or perhaps that it was expected that you had "left your home" in order to take refuge in the monastic sangha, which meant you had either run away or been allowed to go forth into adult life and make your own choices. Not dropped off with the Buddha because your parents couldn't afford to feed you when you were 4.
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Re: Condoms Available to Monks in Bhutan

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:31 pm

JKhedrup wrote:There is a pre-novice/samanera ordination called Rabjung which is given not only in Tibetan but also Chinese monasteries. Basically, the person promises to abandon the home life and the signs of a layperson, but does not take the full getsul/samanera vows.


Is this the genyen vows?
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