Does Buddhism support sexual and gender minorities?

a burmese buddhist nun in pink robes

A Buddhist nun in Bagan, Myanmar (Burma) | Karin De Winter / Alamy Stock Photo

The Buddha’s essential teachings—the four noble truths and the eightfold path—apply to everyone, regardless of orientation or way of life: we are all subject to suffering, to illness, aging, and death, and both the path of practice and the potential for enlightenment are available to each one of us.

Buddhism does have an issue with ethical misconduct, sexual or otherwise, but anybody—straight, gay, queer, trans—has the capacity to live according to the five precepts or guidelines for ethical behavior. The Pali records of the Buddha’s discourses do not include any regulations concerning the sexual activity of lay followers. But the vinaya, the monastic code of discipline, forbids monks and nuns from having sexual relationships with men, women, and pandanka (a Pali word for people with indeterminate sexual characteristics or who do not conform to sexual norms—including prostitutes). In other words, there are no loopholes that monks and nuns can use to get around the vow of celibacy.

Still, like all communities, Buddhist communities are made up of human beings, some with cultural prejudices or personal preconceptions that color their attitudes toward and treatment of LGBTQ people. In the 1990s, the Dalai Lama once said that “according to Buddhist tradition” homosexual sex would be considered sexual misconduct. He ultimately back-peddled on the statement, though, and more and more Buddhist teachers in the United States are out as members of the LGBTQ community, as are their students.

Temple

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