All religions have had to face changing social norms since their early stages, and Buddhism has been no exception to this challenge. Acceptance of homosexuality is just one of the many social issues that has emerged since Buddhism began that has rattled traditional ideas and views amongst its members. Homosexuality itself has been around since the beginning of human existence, but more recent occurrences like the gay rights movement that came about because of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s have brought the issue to the forefront of the current human rights debate. As a result, changing social norms have caused two popular forms of Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism and Engaged Buddhism, to have different views on homosexuality.
Theravada means the “Doctrine of Elders.” This sect of Buddhism follows what scholars believe to be the oldest record of the Buddha’s teachings in the Pali Canon, or Tipitaka (Bullitt). Theravada Buddhism includes two main ways of life: that of the monk and of the layperson. As a result of its traditional background, Theravada Buddhism is considered to be relatively conservative (Homosexuality).
For Theravada Buddhism, there are Five Vows that any Buddhist, lay or monastic, is expected to abide by: absence from (1) directly or indirectly killing any conscious being, (2) directly or indirectly stealing, (3) sexual misconduct, (4) false or hateful speech, and (5) consuming any intoxicants (Jones 372). Questions arise about Buddhist beliefs on homosexuality because sexual misconduct is such a broad term. Right and wrong behavior is generally determined after four considerations: the universality principle, the consequences, the utilitarian principle, and the intention. Many believe homosexuality should be evaluated by these four considerations (Homosexuality).
However, for monks and nuns, all sexual activity is forbidden. In many places in the Vinaya, the clerical code of conduct, male-male sex is mentioned amongst the explicit list of forms of sexual activity which monks are banned from partaking in. As far as clerical celibacy goes, homosexuality and heterosexuality are considered equal violations of their vows to abstain from any form of sexual activity. The Vinaya identifies four gender types: male, female, ubhatobyanjanaka, and pandaka. Ubhatobyanjanaka loosely translates to hermaphrodites (Jackson 142-43). The word pandaka is used to refer to men who lack conventional qualities of masculinity (Numrich 70). A monk participating in sexual activity with any of the four genders results in automatic expulsion from the order (Jackson 143).
The Buddha is described in scripture as being welcoming and accepting toward people who made it known they were homosexual after ordination but stayed true to the cultural notions of masculinity. On the other hand, the Buddha did not allow men who showed homosexual tendencies before their ordination and had non-masculine...