Can A Gay Person Be Ordained As A Monk/Nun?

Someone emailed me a question:

Hi shifu, can a gay person be ordained as a monk/nun?

I replied:

Thank you for writing.

Heterosexual men and women have to transcend their heterosexual desires if they are going to be ordained. Similarly, gay person can be ordained as a monk/nun, as long as this person can transcend this inclination.

Hope this clarifies.

With metta, ^_^

 

In which case, can such a person still be considered gay or heterosexual?  Asexual perhaps?

Suki hontu! ^_^

  • Suling

    Some one asked this question before and a monk from the Theravada tradition mentioned that in the vinaya rules, there is a question asked if the candidate to be ordained is a man. Is this true? If this question exist in the Vinaya rule, then Sounds like only man with straight orientation can be ordained.

    The Bhante further reiterated that it will spell trouble if a gay ( who likes man) is admitted into the same sleeping quarters with other monks.

    What is your take on this, Shifu?

    • wakeupnow

      Suling, thank you for commenting. I’m glad you wrote to clarify.

      I completely agree with the venerable. For obvious practical reasons, it would be indeed unwise to admit a gay person into a same sex dormitory. Hence my point in that a gay person has to transcend his homosexual inclination before being admitted into the order.

      A (ex?) gay person should be given a chance to ordain if he can renounce homosexuality. Renouncing homosexuality should not be a problem for monastic candidates, since sexual inclinations is going to be off their to-do list.

      I have personally interviewed monastic candidates who divulged their homosexuality to me as they are concerned if that is a strike-out for them. My point to them, as mentioned above, is that they would have to transcend their homosexuality in order to be admitted into the order of monks, the Sangha.

      The decision to go forth is a very precious and noble one. The last thing we want to do is to simply drive people away with a blanket ‘no’ to gays without preparing them for the whole process of going forth. I strongly encourage anyone who has the intention to go forth to consult a venerable for advice on all preparations needed. That venerable is usually your preceptor or acariya (teacher) who will be able to guide and help you focus on how you can overcome difficulties on your way to going forth and not be bogged down with obstacles.

      We ordain not because we are perfect, but because we are imperfect and want to try to become perfect.

      Suki hontu!

  • Richard Harrold

    I find the notion that it would be “unwise” to accept a homosexual into a same-sex environment reprehensible and not based in anything other than animus. It is based upon a presumption that the homosexual would somehow be compromised in such an environment, which is based on the prejudicial idea that a homosexual is incapable of renouncing his sexual desire. Further, the answer above that the individual must “transcend this inclination” seems to imply the heterosexual novice retains his sexual identity but merely renounces his desires. Again, this betrays a rather ignorant perspective that homosexuals are not only different in terms of their sexual activity from heterosexuals, but there is some other fundamental difference that is much more onerous to a homosexual than a heterosexual. To state it simply, it seems that the Sangha is not immune from responding with the “ick” factor when dealing with homosexuals, which betrays a less then enlightened attitude regarding human suffering.

    • http://www.buddhavacana.net/ Shi ChuanGuan

      Thank you for sharing what is in your mind and your presumptions and inferences.  Fortunately, they are not true.

      Your inference that there is such a prejudicial idea is what is prejudicial.  You may wish to note that monks and nuns do not stay in the same quarters, and in most cases in separate monasteries altogether.  If there is a “prejudice”, it is that until we attain Nirvana, we are subject to mental defilements.Again, I do not share your interpretation or inference that transcending one’s sexual inclination or desire should apply differently seem to heterosexuals and homosexuals.  As monastics, sexuality is ultimately to be transcended.  For that matter, all craving and attachment is to be transcended, and not merely a particular sexual orientation or desire.

      In a way, I can understand why you seem to read everything in a way that portrays the reply as a biased stand against homosexuals.  From what I see from the mass media, there is an unfortunate share of hate-crimes and discrimination against gays, lesbians, blacks, Jews, Atheists.  But this does not imply that the whole world is spending its time on either side of the fence, hating or loving this or that.

      To polarise the world as either with me or against me would be the true prejudice and discrimination.

      • Richard Harrold

        You seem to point at me and say I am the moon, asserting whatever light I shine is not my own, merely a reflection of the sun and, therefore, irrelevant because I am, after all, the moon.

        I don’t believe I am polarizing the world as either against me or with me. What I was attempting to point out was the different way you expressed your reply, saying that heterosexuals “have to transcend their heterosexual desires,” but homosexuals must “transcend this inclination.” I interpret “transcend this inclination” to mean the inclination to be homosexual. However, your words do not reveal a parallel sentiment with heterosexuals. For the heterosexual, it’s not an inclination that must be transcended, but sexual desire. Why can’t the homosexual transcend sexual desire, why must he or she transcend “this inclination”?

        I agree wholeheartedly with you when you say “until we attain Nirvana, we are subject to mental defilements.” I’m not requesting a direct response, but rather asking you to examine your own motivations and determine whether you are subject to mental defilements when it comes to the perceived duality of heterosexual and homosexual.

        As the Buddha exclaimed in the Majjhima Nikaya, while words are not the object, we nonetheless live in a world in which words are used to describe fabrications around which the world operates in a very real way. It is OK for us to use these words to express ourselves – the term “self” being the quintessential example – provided we recognize that these terms are empty of any real or fixed meaning. Using such terms in our daily discourse is necessary to reach an understanding in our mundane reality.

        I was merely responding to the fact that I detected a distinction drawn between expectations on how a gay versus a straight monastic applicant should be treated.

        • http://www.buddhavacana.net/ Shi ChuanGuan

          In retrospect, you are right that there is a distinction between the two words, inclinations and desires.  I would rescind the use of two different words and instead say that both heterosexuals and homosexuals have to ultimately transcend both their inclinations and desires.

          While writing it, I wasn’t delineating so strongly between the two, but I see clearer from your comments that there is such a distinction that can be misread.

          As far as I recall, I think I was being sensitive to the person who wrote it and did not want to demonise “homosexual desires” and so chose the word “inclination” instead.  That as it goes, appear to you as though I am discriminating against homosexuals.  There’s no pleasing everyone is there?

          It is funny that you should ask if I am still subject to mental defilements, for I am not the one setting the rule here.  The pre-requisites for qualification was set by the Buddha himself and not by me or this or that monk.  

          In any case, I keep telling my students that it is precisely because I see that I have mental defilements that I leave the home life, to strive and try to put an end to them.  So yes, I still am still subject to such mental defilements.  And by this admission, if you wish to conclude that my reply was discriminating against the gay, I wish you good day.  :)

          Perhaps you are right that the Sangha does make a distinction between different monastic applicants.  Should all distinctions be removed?  Should all be treated equally regardless of their qualities etc?  Should we extend that to kids and request them to be given the same rights as well.  An applicant below the age of 20 is given only the novice ordination.  An applicant above 20 may request for higher ordination but is subject to approval by the Maha Sangha.  Should that be considered discrimination?  Should everyone be simply given higher ordination?
          A transvestite and non-transvestites will both have to dress in the monastic robes and not be able to dress according to their wish or desire.  Should this be considered discrimination against normal dressing?If a heterosexual applicant still wishes to engage in sexual activities, he would be denied the novice or higher ordination.  The same goes for a homosexual applicant.If a heterosexual or homosexual applicant wishes to continue engage in sexual activites after ordination and argues that denial of ordination is discrimination, then perhaps such an applicant should look for a ‘monastic’ order that allows them to continue their sexual inclination or desires.

          For the rest of us who have come to understand and accept that desires (sexual or otherwise), cravings and attachments should be given up and would like a path to practise within a monastic community, the door of the Maha Sangha is always open. :)

          Sabbe satta sukita hontu!

          • Richard Harrold

            I am glad to see we are meeting together on closer ground. I do believe your raising these other questions obfuscates the original issue. Whether layperson or monastic, we seek refuge knowing that our minds are deluded. We are given precepts to follow to begin to control and observe our actions. But it is only through individual effort and deepening insight that we break free an achieve the ultimate. I would only suggest that your comments that someone must transcend their desires or inclinations as a prerequisite to being ordained appears to suggest that to be ordained one must first be enlightened. I would hazard a guess that not all those ordained are enlightened beings, but are sincerely on the path to enlightenment. When their behavior violates the code, then they are dealt with. But only the individual can be responsible for what goes on in their mind. A well-behaved monk may still die unenlightened. A well-behaved monk has not necessarily renounced all desire. A well-behaved monk may not have renounced all of his inclinations. But a well-behaved monk can be a sincere and beneficial member of the Sangha, even while dealing with his own personal defilements.

            Sabbe satta avera hontu :)

          • http://www.buddhavacana.net/ Shi ChuanGuan

            Most agreed, though I wonder how you read those ideas from my note and comments.  Try re-reading them again.  :) 

          • Richard Harrold

            In the world of communication, we are responsible for how others hear and interpret our words. It is inappropriate and even arrogant of us to blame the listener for not listening properly when the blame lies with us for not speaking in a manner that the listener will hear. The Buddha was a master of this, as revealed in the Sutta Pitika. While his overall message was the same and consistent throughout, you will see he altered how he delivered that message based on his audience, whether it be other monks, run-of-the-mill laypersons, royalty, Brahmans, children or even devas.

          • http://www.buddhavacana.net/ Shi ChuanGuan

            Thank you for sharing what is in you, in your mind, that you see arrogance when someone suggested for you to re-read the note and comments.I’m sorry if you feel hurt thinking that I was blaming you.  I wasn’t.  I was merely hoping to promote understanding.Please read on when you are no longer hurt or upset.  It is difficult to see clearly or discuss meaningfully when we become agitated and start calling names.  Many times, we end up missing the point of the discussion.————————————————————————–Recap:You mentioned how my statements suggest that “to be ordained one must first be enlightened”.  I find it hard to link this conclusion with what I have written so far.Here’s why I had to suggest that you re-read my note and comments.
            1. If that was my stand, why would I have pointed out that “In any case, I keep telling my students that it is precisely because I see that I have mental defilements that I leave the home life, to strive and try to put an end to them.  So yes, I still am still subject to such mental defilements.” ?

            Isn’t that what you suggested?

            2. If you read my earlier comments from even one year back, I even highlight that “The last thing we want to do is to simply drive people away with a blanket ‘no’ to gays without preparing them for the whole process of going forth.” and that one’s preceptor etc “will be able to guide and help you focus on how you can overcome difficulties on your way to going forth and not be bogged down with obstacles.”

            Why would I suggest all these if my stand is that one should be enlightened before ordination, ?

            3. “If a heterosexual applicant still wishes to engage in sexual activities, he would be denied the novice or higher ordination.  The same goes for a homosexual applicant.

            If a heterosexual or homosexual applicant wishes to continue engage in sexual activites after ordination and argues that denial of ordination is discrimination, then perhaps such an applicant should look for a ‘monastic’ order that allows them to continue their sexual inclination or desires.”

            Whether one is enlightened or not, one has to abstain from them.  Is that not transcending one’s inclinations and desires?  Only when one is an Anagami or Arahant would one have completely eradicated one’s sexual desires.

            Granted, you can still choose to read “transcending one’s inclination and desires” as eradicating them, and conclude that it means being enlightened, but would that not be ignoring all the other comments I’ve made?

            I suggested for you to re-read my posts and comments only because your assertions seem to be rather one-sided reading, seemingly ignoring the various comments made and the general direction of my attitude towards the matter at hand.

            Unless perhaps, you are suggesting that you are perfect in understanding or enlightened, and free from misreading altogether?

  • Ashin Sopaka

    “…for I am not the one setting the rule here.  The pre-requisites for qualification was set by the Buddha himself and not by me or this or that monk.”

    The Buddha did not set a rule regarding sexual orientation either. The question at the time of ordination is regarding one’s gender (“purisosi?” or, “are you a man (or male gender)?”, not of the objects of one’s sexual desire. To assume sexual orientation is implied or automatically linked is a rather arbitrary bias. While the majority of men are indeed heterosexual, at the time of the Buddha, the majority of men were also Indian, so should that question also imply ethnicity? If so, you and I would both be out of luck :-)As for the specifics of sexual behaviours and their prohibitions in the Vinaya, ALL sexual behaviour is prohibited for bhikkhus. As we know, the rules were promulgated as offences occurred, not in anticipation of them happening. Therefore, it is probably safe to assume that one’s sexual orientation was not a barrier to ordination, as the rules regarding homosexual acts were only issued after the bhikkhu was ordained and he engaged in such activity, much like the heterosexual rules. Further, the language used for the various acts is identical, suggesting that no matter what was done with whom or with what (monkeys and corpses – yeah, yuck!), it was unwholesome; there was no sliding scale of ickyness, as it were.

    There was also one more comment that I found rather disconcerting: “The Bhante further reiterated that it will spell trouble if a gay ( who likes man) is admitted into the same sleeping quarters with other monks.”. Trouble for whom? Is he suggesting that the gay monk is like an animal in heat and unable to control his actions? Or for the fellow monks who are so full of themselves that they have an abnormal fear that said gay monk will molest him? He’s not being very understanding and compassionate towards his fellow human beings.

    One final thought Bhante: I recognise that you and I are following different traditions, and while our respective Canons are virtually identical, there may be some additions in yours* that address this issue (homosexuality in general). If you would please be so kind as to point out those passages, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Although this is a rather old topic, I hope that Suling will still receive notifications on this continuing thread. It was important enough for him to ask, perhaps he might find some more food for thought.

    *canonical, commentarial, etc.

    • http://www.buddhavacana.net/ Shi ChuanGuan

      In the Chinese Mahayana tradition, we refer to the Vinaya text from various traditions, including the ones from the present Theravadin tradition.  Here is the source I am referencing in this particular instance, from the Thai Forest tradition.
      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/bmc2/bmc2.ch14.html
      Take a look under “Disqualifications”.

      I am not sure what the Bhante that Suling quoted was suggesting, you may wish to ask Suling about that.

      • Ashin Sopaka

        “Disqualifications” is a rather long section, so I only scanned it, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention of sexual orientation, other than pandaka, which is variously translated as eunuch and hermaphrodite. Recent scholarship suggests that it refers to hijras, or transsexuals, but again, all of these are related to gender, not sexual orientation.

        • http://www.buddhavacana.net/ Shi ChuanGuan

          Can I presume that you are ordained under the Theravadin tradition?

          • Ashin Sopaka

            Yes Bhante, in the more conservative of the two major nikaya of Myanmar (Shwe Jin).

  • Aphro77

    Guy & trangent can not do higher ordaination as monk.

    • Ashin Sopaka

      ONLY guys/men can take higher ordination as a monk (bhikkhu). Women ordain as bhikkhunis.

      No idea what a “trangent” is.

      • http://www.buddhavacana.net/ Shi ChuanGuan

        Does the Sangha you are in allow homosexuals to be ordained as bhikkhu? 

        • Ashin Sopaka

          Yes, and in the greater Myanmar sangha as well. There is no prohibition in the Vinaya against it. Of course, once in the robes, all monastics are subject to the same rules regarding sexual activities regardless of one’s preferences.

          • http://www.buddhavacana.net/ Shi ChuanGuan

            I see.  That is most helpful to know.  Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!