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Saturday, December 05, 2015

Homosexuality in Hinduism and Buddhism

"The issue of homosexuality within Hinduism is controversial and views of homosexuality are varying and diverse, in part because the accepted Hindu religious texts do not explicitly mention homosexuality... Modern Hindus regard all beings as manifestations of one universal Atman [Spirit]. Homosexuality has an extensive history in India. Ancient texts like Rig Veda, which dates back to around 1500 BCE, sculptures, and vestiges depict sexual acts between women as revelations of a feminine world where sexuality was based on pleasure and fertility...

Homosexuality is also a complex matter in Hinduism because of the many types of religious life. In general, “twice-born” Hindus (men who are of a higher caste] are prohibited from homosexual acts (maithunam pumsi). On the other hand, the Kama Sutra states that homosexual sex "is to be engaged in and enjoyed for its own sake as one of the arts. In general, then, the Hindu evaluation of homosexuality depends heavily on the context. The Laws of Manu is one of the standard books in the Hindu canon and is a basic text on which all gurus base their teachings. This scripture comprises 2684 verses, divided into twelve chapters presenting the norms of domestic, social, and religious life in India [circa 500 BCE] under the Brahmin influence. One verse in the text says that a young woman who ”poIlutes” another young woman must be fined two hundred panas, pay the double of her nuptial fee, and receive ten lashes with a rod.“ Another verse says that an adult woman who ”pollutes” a young woman shall instantly have her head shaved or two fingers cut off, and be made to ride through the town on a donkey. But if a man of a high caste commits an “unnatural offence” with a male, or has intercourse with a female in a cart drawn by oxen, in water, or in the daytime, shall bathe, dressed in his clothes, as his punishment. Many people have criticized the Laws of Manu for heavily favoring members of the higher castes while discriminating against members of the lower castes.

There are great differences amongst Hindus regarding whether homosexuality is acceptable behavior. In Hinduism, love is regarded as an eternal force. It is seen as devotion between two people, whether romantic or platonic. Hindus believe love and devotion are important in attaining Moksha—liberation from the cycle of rebirths.‘° Erotic desire or Kama in Hinduism was deemed as one of the most legitimate pleasures on earth (thus accounting for the vast numbers of erotic treatises, poetry, and sensuous sculptures of ancient India). But this did not mean that lascivious behavior was promoted. Premarital sex in Hinduism is frowned upon and extramarital sex is prohibited. Sex was promoted within the context of a loving couple—usually heterosexual. But extremely ascetic schools of thought would have viewed sex as a distraction from the pursuit of Moksha.

Marriage in Hinduism is said to fulfill three functions: Prajaa, Dharma, and Rati. In marriage, Prajaa is progeny for perpetuation of one’s family, Dharma is fulfillment of responsibilities, and Rati is companionship as friends and mutual pleasure as lovers. These three functions are given in the Dharma Shastras, books that are not considered to be religiously binding within Hinduism. In Hinduism, many of the divinities are androgynous and some change gender to participate in homoerotic behavior. In modern India, transgendered men known as Hijras have sex with men. They religiously identify as a separate third sex, with many undergoing ritual castration. In Hindu thought, a man who penetrates a Hijra is not defined as gay. Kama Sutra sex acts involving homosexuality are regarded in some castes as permissible while not in other castes.

Even though Hinduism does not obviously condemn homosexuality, Hindus are often intolerant of gays and lesbians. Many Hindus denounce homosexuality due to Hinduism’s emphasis on the sanctity of marriage and its disapproval of premarital sex. Homosexuality remains taboo in India and is legally banned in Section 377 of India's penal code. The 1996 film “Fire” which depicts a romantic relationship between two Hindu women was banned for “religious insensitivity” after a group of Hindu fundamentalists attacked cinemas where it was being screened.“ The human rights organization People’s Union for Civil Liberties has reported that sexual minorities in India face severe discrimination and violence, especially those from rural and lower caste backgrounds.

Buddhism’s views on homosexuality are similarly vague to those in Hinduism. Buddhism has three main branches: Theravada, the oldest form of Buddhism that emphasizes the monastic life; Mahayana Buddhism, a later form that includes Zen, Nichiren, and other sects, and Vajrayana, a unique form that arose in India and Tibet and is led by the Dalai Lama. Theravada Buddhism is most commonly found in Southeast Asia and focuses on the original teachings of the Buddha. In Theravada Buddhism there are two main ways of life: the life of the monk and the life of the lay person. Buddhist monks are expected to live lives of celibacy and there is no explicit rule prohibiting gays from monastic life. Lay Buddhists, those who live outside the monastery, are expected to adhere to Five Precepts that outline ethical behavior, the third of which is a vague proscription “not to engage in sexual misconduct.”

Right and wrong behavior in Buddhism is generally determined by considerations such as how it would affect others and the motivations behind the behavior. As homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned in any of the Buddha’s sayings recorded in the Pali Canon [Tripitaka], many interpreters have taken this to mean that homosexuality should be evaluated in the same way as heterosexuality. Buddhism does not traditionally place great value on procreation like many other religions. From the Buddhist viewpoint, being married with children is regarded as generally positive, but not compulsory (although social norms in various Buddhist countries often have different views). Despite this, in practice, Theravada Buddhist countries are not very open to homosexuality. This has much to do with cultural norms, as well as the concept of karma, which remains strong in countries such as Thailand. Prom this viewpoint, a person’s characteristics and situations are a result of past behavior, good or bad. Homosexuality and other alternative forms of sexuality are seen by some as karmic punishments for heterosexual misconduct in a past life.

In a 1997 interview, the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, was asked about homosexuality. He did not offer a strong answer either way, but noted that all monks are expected to refrain from sex. For laypeople, he commented that the purpose of sex in general is for procreation, so homosexual acts do seem unnatural. He said that sexual desires are natural, perhaps including homosexual desires, but that one should not try to increase those desires or indulge them without self-control. The Dalai Lama was more specific in a meeting with Buddhist leaders and human rights activists in San Francisco in 1997, where he commented that all forms of sex other than penile-vaginal sex are prohibited for Buddhists, whether between heterosexuals or homosexuals. At a press conference the day before the meeting, he said, “From a Buddhist point of view, [gay sex] is generally considered sexual misconduct.” But he did note that this rule is for Buddhists, and from societv’s viewpoint, homosexual relationships can be “of mutual benefit, enjoyable, and harmless."

--- Gay and Lesbian Communities the World Over / Rita James Simon, Alison Brooks

"In the Jataka tales of the previous life of the Buddha, there are often strong homoerotic overtones, as, for example, in the story of the handsome Cobra King who falls in love with Ananda or in the tale of the Buddha and Ananda who in a previous life are sons of Brahman parents and refuse to marry so that they may remain together). These Jataka tales provide an implicit affirmation of homoerotic attractions.

SCHALOW writes about Kukai and the tradition of male love in japanese Buddhism. Japanese culture has historically had positive attitudes toward same-sex love. According to legend, monastic homoeroticism was introduced by the monk Kukai, known popularly as Kobo Daishi, upon his return from studies in China. The Kobo Daishi ikkan no sho, a text revealed by Kukai to another monk, describes techniques for seducing a temple acolyte and a variety of positions for anal intercourse. There is a wide variety of additional japanese literature highlighting the theme of male love between an older monk and a young acolyte, and perhaps the most famous work to extol same-sex love is The Great Mirror of MaIe Love, written by Ihara Saikaku in the 17th century. Japanese Buddhist priestly tradition stressed the power of love between priests and their acolytes in the quest to attain enlightenment.

LEUPP has produced an excellent analytical description of male-male sex in Tokugawa japan (1603-1868} and, in particular, of japanese Buddhist monastic homoeroticism. Leupp finds that the homosocial world of monasteries, which excluded women, helps explain the prevalence of same-sex relations within the monasteries. Many Buddhist monks felt justified indulging in same-sex relations because the Buddha preached against male-female sex. The effort to justify male-male sexuality in Buddhist terms reached its height during the Tokugawa period.

GOLDSTEIN, an anthropologist, gives a brief discus- sion of the dab-dob (ldab-ldob), translated as “swish- swish” or working monks, who were attracted to other males and noted for how they wore their monastic garments as well as their athletic prowess. Because the monastic discipline prohibited oral and anal sex, the dab-dob engaged in a form of intercrura] intercourse, the insertion of the penis between the thighs of the partnet from behind. Goldstein also writes about the other homosexual practices of the dab-dob, which included the sexual seduction and even the abduction of young boys. He maintains that their homosexual behaviors were considered sinful, although the dab-dob lived up to the letter of the monastic law."

--- Buddhism / Robert E. Goss in Reader's Guide to Lesbian and Gay Studies / ed. Timothy Murphy
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