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Intercourse and it's role for believers is one of the most complicated roads in the intersection between it and Buddhism. A religion that is generally sex positive, it does have a complicated history, as intercourse divides Buddhist men and women, monks and lay people, and, quite simply, the ones who have it and those who don't. Yet how does a religion affected to this extent deal with the question of homosexual relationships among their practicing members? In a controversial topic that religions must deal with it as the LGBT community fights for its rights worldwide, a religion with a slightly grey definition of the permission of sex in general now must deal with a completely different issue. Buddhism approaches the issue in the way most western religions have never thought to; without a definition equated to “right” or “wrong”, the religion holds firmly to its beliefs on conduct while promoting the human rights of all, a seeming contradiction that, in all reality, has worked well in most lay practices.

In it's own right, sex holds a complicated history in the tradition of Buddhism. Gautama Buddha, the Awakened One, was the son of a king before his own spiritual awakening, and in this time he had taken a wife who was described as a “sexual gymnast of the highest order”, and pleasured Gautama in a “chamber of love” the king specifically contructed for Gautama. It wasn't until later that Gautama vowed to gain complete control of his body and cleanse himself of the life he had before, remarking later in his Fire Sermon that, “when the blaze of passion fades, one is liberated.” It was one of the core's of Buddha's message, and would become the third rule in the Theravadian Fire Precepts; “I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct (K?mesumicch?c?ra veramaṇī sikkh?padaṃ sam?diy?mi.)” Sex is also the first among four principal transgression in Theravadian practice; the others being theft, murder, and boasting of god-like or superhuman abilities.Yet, this is the most of the religious writing composed on the subject, of either heterosexual or homosexual activity. Sacred Buddhists writing tend not to journey much into the mundane, and centuries of Buddhists existed with a quienessential requirement to not have sex or pleasure yourself sexually, even though there are stories of the temptations that monks had to go through. It should be noted that the rule of celibacy was only extended to monks. When the religion expanded past the monks and came to the laity in the form of Mahayana Buddhism, the laity were encouraged to have sex and procreate (as not to die out) while still trying to find enlightenment through the Mahayana beliefs.

From here, Buddhism as a whole, across the world, can become a very different practice, very far away from its place of origin. It should be noted that the most extreme factions, for the purpose of researching the core belief of Buddhism, must be limited in discussion. Tantric Buddhism, an extension of the Vajrayana, bases itself off of the purity and celebration of natural conditions, foremost of which is sex. “Ruthless suppression of the natural propensity to seek union a member of the opposite sex sours people...[making the followers] morbid, compulsive, and neurotic.”. On the other hand, Zen or Ch'an Buddhism will say little about sex, though when it does appear, “ it is almost always in the negative context.” These are the extremes; in fact, as Buddhism expanded further out into communities, the majority of people were not completely shunning sex nor were they preoccupied with exploring their bodies in the way that the Tantric practice suggests. They were just living as most modern day human beings do; eat, sleep, work, worship, and have sex. A believer could support the Buddhist sangha's through donations or work, or could even explore the pursuit of nirvana himself, and still have sex under Mahayana and Vajrayana customs. The region in which Buddhism spread was also apart of the equation to its adaptation as well. The Japanese readily accepted virtually all aspects of the religion when it came to the country in the 8th century, though as a society that was said to, at one point, worship the “golden penis” of a man named Dokyo. Modern day Japanese culture still places emphasis on family and ancestry, so procreation is all but essential. In short, cultures and sections of Buddhism dictated a lot about belief, but in general, Buddhist belief holds that celibacy is the highest and most honorable state of being. Since the large majority of the world's population cannot adopt it, sex is viewed as satisfactory in marriage if only for “avoidance of promiscuity”, much in the same way Christians view it

It is also worth noting that, while the Buddhists text contain little on sex, they contain absolutely nothing on homosexuality specifically. Many other popular religions include some reference to the context of morality in relation to a homosexual relationship. Judeo-Christian and Islamic scriptures states firmly that it is immoral practice, and though Hinduism does not speak directly to the cause, its culture has generally opposed these actions and many gay individuals are not free to express themselves. To trace where teachings on homosexuality lie, we must follow the path that establishes the foundations of Buddhist ethic, the “three treasures” or “three refuges”:  The Buddha (the rediscoverer, the embodiment of liberating qualities), the Dhamma(the teachings of the Buddha), and the Sangha(the Community or Culture of Noble Ones). Essentially, belief in its purest form comes from the life of the Buddha, the teachings of the Buddha, and the teachings of the monks and noble teachers (as long as they are in accordance to the first two). While we have discussed Gautama Buddha's sexual past, in no instance of his known past are there any accounts of a homosexual relationship. As for the Dhamma, though devoid of anything specific, does speak to sexual misconduct in the third precept that was stated above. Sexual misconduct covers most every vice in the figurative book, from masturbating to oral and anal sex, as well as polygamy and anything else that is not intercourse that leads to creation. This precept is the core of this issue, as when repeatedly pressured for an answer, the Dalai Lama has referred to this piece of Dhamma

The Sangha becomes a bit more complicated. The community of believers was originally a Theravadian tradition that was intended by the Buddha to be place for uninterrupted meditation and living for monks. The Sangha was by no means an open community community, and it was “explicitly excluding those who are considered to reflect badly on the monkhood in terms of prevailing social norms and attitudes.” Anyone who was homosexual, of the “third sex” (transgender, etc.), anyone who was disabled, anyone who was a criminal, any woman, and anyone who would in any way distract from the time spent seeking enlightment was not allowed in the Sangha. For a monk to engage in any penetrating activity was ground for expulsion, and even spending time alone with a woman could lead to severe consequences. Ergo, the Sangha was reserved for the heterosexual monk who promised to not engage in any activity that limited his path towards and enlightenment. Monks were also discouraged against spending time with pandakas, men who displayed a certain level of femininity but were not exactly homosexual (though the closest thing at the time, since they did have a tendency of adopting a female role during sex) . These relationships for men isolated were a constant temptation, and can deductively be induced that it was a common problem if addressed so harshly in the traditions of the sangha.Regardless of this, later writings would affirm the difference between the ones who could be enlightened and the third sex (the pandakas and another group, the ubhatovyanjañaka's, who were the modern day equivalent of transgendered individuals). The Abidharma (3rd century B.C.E.) states that the pandakas andubhatovyanjañakas cannot achieve enlightenment until they are reincarnated as a normal man or woman, and their fate was a poor result of karma. Unlike most other sections of Buddhism, Terravada has been fairly unwavering in calling for a complete absence in sex of its monks, especially of the third sex. In 1989, the Thai sangha affirmed that gay monks are prohibited from being ordained. Certain sangha's of the Theravadian section have also called for better screening processes to weed out gay monks in the future.

In the spread of Buddhism to Chinese and Japanese schools, this belief towards the third sex, even in the sangha communities, became less consistent. Monks of the Japanese monasteries stayed unmarried, though few were celibate. Japanese monks, much like the samurai of their time, preferred the companionship of young boys The poet and monk Ikkyu actually took a wife after time in the monastery, too exhausted from “homosexual passion.” Chinese monks, while not as radically deviating, simply didn't care to discern the difference between hetero and homosexuality and generally left both groups alone to worship. However, this is not accepted universally across China. Hsuan Hsu, a monk who served as an important leader for Chinese and American Buddhists, stated rather cryptically that homosexuality would lead a “lower realm of existence” for those who invested in it. For a religion that began to grow so quickly, it also took a different shape at the same pace. While the Theravadian and Zen sections held tightly onto its beliefs, the Mahayana and Vajrayana groups, as well as many of their offshoots, slowly began to lose that belief over time.

While the sacred texts are being discussed, it is important to make a note for the rest of this discussion. Though the Theravadian branch treated members of the “third sex” harshly, there is nothing in the texts, nor are there any explicit beliefs, that equates heterosexuals and homosexuals to respective “good” and “evils”, as virtually every other religion has tended to. This will be elaborated on further in, but because of such lack of definition (which many consider a blessing), there has been very little conflict and radical punishment concerning members who happen to be homosexual in the Buddhist congregation. 

The last stronghold of Buddhism in the world would not come about until many years later. The United States, a stronghold of believers due to the countries foundation of religious freedom, became home to many Buddhists after the Vietnam War, and even is home to one of the Buddhist villages of Thich Nhat Hanh. Because most traces of American Buddhism come by way of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, they tend to be of the group that is more excepting, and since the 1990's have been especially open to the LGBT community. They view sexual misconduct as an individual decision and not subject to judgement by any central authority; in short, its more about the personal decisions a person makes in sex then it is about something being right or wrong.

Where does that leave homosexuality in Buddhism in the present day? Buddhism in the United States, along with Buddhism in Japan and China (as a whole, at least) and the Dalai Lama's representation of Tibetan Buddhism, seems to stand on one side of the line, saying that the focus isn't about homosexuality but about personal decisions and personal motivation. On the other side stands Theravadian and Zen Buddhism, who believe that it's a choice that prohibits further growth into the religion. Conflicted, to say the least. The Dalai Lama, in his recent talks, has stated that while homosexuality is sexual misconduct (as still is masturbating and oral sex, he points out to not single out the homosexual population), it is by no means that Buddhism is attempting to segregate the groups and deny any human rights to any citizens. It has been an active effort of the Buddhist culture, especially in the west, to be inclusive, and even recently the Dalai Lama addressed a group of openly gay monks and lesbian nuns. The point is not to make these people feel like victims or out of place, but to simply go back to the main beliefs of the religion: A body should be used sexually for the process of reproductive intercourse, otherwise it becomes distraction and temptation. Homosexual monks or nuns see this verse differently (as sexual misconduct, without context, is a rather flexible term), as well as some of the now important Buddhist leaders. During author and Buddhist convert Brad Warner's journey to figure out Buddhism and sexuality, he questioned a friend of his, a homosexual monk, didn't see his lifestyle as wrong as much as it was a result of his boredom and loneliness, much like any sort of sexual drive. Ergo, homosexual intercourse is a deviation from a good Buddhist lifestyle, but only because of its motivation, not because of the heart of its practice. It's much like the message of the Dalai Lama, not that the practice is wrong but that is comes from a lack of the purpose, which is to seek enlightenment. But what about committed homosexual relationships? Most of what has been discussed is just casual homosexual relations that lead to a lack of focus (ergo, they cannot cause reproduction so they are pursued from a bad spiritual place), but there is absolutely nothing textually or in practice that tells member of the Buddhist community that can marry whether or not a union of homosexual partner is alright. The closest authority on the subject might come from the modern day sangha, such as Buddhist scholr Thich Nhat Hanh. Though he doesn't talk much on the subject, he does promote that if homosexual relations is a path to be sought, it should be sought through a committed relationship. Past these accounts, most Buddhist schools, either on the west or otherwise, don't try to impose any set of sexual standards on anyone.

It leaves anyone researching the topic in a complicated place. The homosexual lifestyle is accepted and encouraged, in the form of rights, of union, and of freedom. The act of homosexual intercourse, however, is seen by most in the community as sexual misconduct. This is the quinessential conflict that scholars have faced. It leaves many Buddhists stuck in between what seems to be two places; to accept followers the way they are and let them pursue their own enlightenment, or to encourage followers to avoid such relationships filled with sexual misconduct and instead focus reaching their own enlightenment. The Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha don't really have the answers to these acceptances, at least in the broad scope. So where does the answer lie?

The answer of homosexuality and Buddhism lies in the individual. Theravada and Zen Buddhism don't oppose the lifestyle, as noted, because it's “wrong”, they oppose it by and large because its sexual. Theravada Buddhism is made up of monks and monks alone; to this day it still holds traces of gender based discrimination, and more then anyone else, it's aware of the biggest challenges that men prohibited from having sex with women face when left with each other for hours at a time. Theravada Buddhism has even held a more progressive view that many Western religions, simply suggesting that gay men spending all of their time around other individuals, devoid from the sexual contact of women, might cause a man to stray from his path to enlightenment. Zen works in basically the same way; homosexuality is a struggle for the believer just like heterosexuality is a struggle for the believer, because they both cause temptation. Neither are fashioned to be accepting groups. They are open but only to the people who genuinely want to learn and commit their lives wholly and truly to the pursuit of enlightenment. By and large, the rest of the Buddhist factions stress the importance of the personal relationship. The act of homosexual intercourse might come from a place that is not the reproductive methods that the religion prefers, but if the believer is still maintaining his faith and pushing onwards to the path, the tone is of general acceptance. In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, there are cases of openly gay and lesbian members of the clergy, as mentioned earlier. The message to them, as it is to all groups, is not to avoid the acts, but to not abuse them and promote this behavior as completely accepted. In laymens terms, sex is not a toy, and should not be treated with casual promiscuity and the open temptations of lust.

Buddhism can be said to be the most open of the major religions. It does not hold a strict book of rules that must be followed, promises that must be kept, or tasks to be done. It is a religion that, in all forms, stresses the passion and commitment of the believer, and if pursued correctly can lead to a life of realization that has yet to be experienced. A group that spends so much time worrying about issues this petty, and whose obeying them and whose not, ultimately misses its own message. A good Buddhist, in any section, will look inward before they will ever judge another, as everyone struggles and everyone is made differently. To speak to equality and morality appears unnecessary, because its about a deeper relationship, even one deeper than between a man and a woman or a man and another man. It's about one person and the road they take, regardless of where they lie on the intersection.