Dharmaguptaka Vinaya and ordination of gay people

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The difficulty is not with celibacy, but with the practice of giving up the defilements through restraint. I am reminded of how in the canon it is a proverbial act of sensual indulgence to spend the whole rainy season in a stilt longhouse with musicians, “none of whom were men.”

I can’t possibly agree that this is an environment conducive to mindfulness for straight men. Why should the counterpart be conducive to mindfulness for gay men?


People have different sex drives. Some people are not as often sexually aroused as other people.

The vinaya already allows for ordination of those who become sexually aroused after ingesting another man’s semen (āsaktikapaṇḍakāḥ, āsittakapaṇḍakā), so evidently some persons in the past came to some kind of consensus, if not the Buddha, that attraction to the same sex could be overcome. What has changed between then and now?


I would not suggest that anything has changed between then and now. What I am suggesting is that the appropriate rules for a gay renunciate might be patterned on the appropriate rules for a straight renunciate. Straight renunciates never live among those who might produce this type of temptation, not even as a thought. They rightly value this type of restraint, which is not easy to obtain if you’re gay. Unless, that is, you live alone.

But I’ve got no terribly firm beliefs here. These are only the considerations that seem like they might be correct to one very inexperienced student, namely me.


And maybe that’s true for YOU…that you, if you renounced, would prefer to live alone to avoid the temptation of other monks. But I don’t know why you should assume all gays will fine that solitude beneficial.

Likewise, there may be heterosexual monastics that would find going on alms rounds distracting because they could encounter layppl of the opposite sex. That doesn’t mean all feel this way.


I am not basing the suggestion on any personal quality of mine.

I am basing it on how heterosexual monastics have behaved for hundreds of years, plus the abundant praise for solitude found in the suttas. I don’t ask you to adopt my suggestion. I’m not even sure that I agree with it myself. But I would prefer if it were not dismissed as merely due to some inferred personal failing of my own.


Having now read DA16 I have to say that I don’t see where BDK is coming from here:

Can anyone else see what they might be talking about? I can’t.

It’s parallel is DN31.


Do you think considering numbers of renounced gay men might be low enough to live apart (but close) to heterosexual monks?


Yes, solitude is encouraged and consistent with the ideal monastic setting: monks only gather when needed for things like collecting and sharing alms, keeping communal space clean, following protocols in regards to Sangha affairs (reciting patimokkha, etc) and making joint decisions that affect the community.

The struggle related to sexual impulses is there for both hetero and homossexual individuals to the extent they haven’t yet attained to inner pleasure associated with immersion of samādhi. And for many individuals that only comes after many years of detox from the insanity of lay life setting.

Up until that point, the suttas should help resetting one’s mindset to the livelihood being embraced in regard to the five strings of sensual pleasures. There are dozens of discourses about how to appropriately think of or approach the requisites and others once wearing the robes.

On the topic of members of the opposite or same sex to whom one may develop attraction , there’s a special sutta that teaches us to rewire our perception to see those as brothers and sisters, or mother and father. That of course requires one to not have incestuous inclinations!

“Great king, this has been stated by the Blessed One, who knows and sees, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha:
‘Please, monks, think of women your mother’s age as your mother.
Think of women your sister’s age as your sister.
And think of women your daughter’s age as your daughter.’
This is a cause, great king, this is a reason why these young monks practice the full and pure spiritual life as long as they live, maintaining it for a long time.”



Thanks for your perspective Gus :slight_smile:
I feel that you’ve highlighted an important issue, and that is of individuals striving to make wise choices. I’ve always held the Buddhas advice, regarding discerning whether certain choices/actions lead to wholesome and beneficial outcomes with regard to progress along the Noble 8 fold Path, or to un-wholesome and un-beneficial outcomes, regarding personal practice, to be of vital importance.

However, while that is good on an individual level, to decide Vinaya issues on ‘perceived/assumed’ benefit to others isn’t such a good thing in my opinion. Unless one is without defilement, one cannot really trust mind made conclusions in these matters, or to think that one has a better grasp on the matter than the Buddha. Though I do acknowledge, that not all parts of the Vinaya may be reliably be traced to the Buddhas own words ie. later additions.

Just my view :smile:



Thank you everyone for this discussion. I am only a beginner, and I am likely to make many mistakes in my judgments.

I have been thinking often these days about MN 17, “Jungle Thickets,” which seems like a very apposite sutta in discussing these questions. Its basic lesson is to find where mindfulness is established, go there, and remain there. But the place where mindfulness is established may vary from one person to the next.


Just want to say I find Gus’ provocation really interesting and relevant. This is a fascinating subject to interrogate in a genuine, curious way – aside from the political question of excluding non-straight people (which I’m firmly against!)

There’s a whole other set of questions that come up if you genuinely accept queer people as they are and consider how to build a renunciant life for them that has similar utility to the one offered to straight and binary-gendered renunciants.

It’s not to say that a homosexual person couldn’t find peace in a traditional monastic life, but that for them the value of gender segregation plummets, and in fact gender segregation could have an inverse effect to the intended one since:

  • there’s even more temptation than if there were people of other genders present, since everyone is “attractive”
  • there’s and a higher likelihood of other homosexual people being obviously present and tempting
  • the general sense that “there is no temptation within this group” is misleading and delusional for the queer renunciant

To me, the important question isn’t whether non-straight people should be able to ordain (again, we must find ways to include them or Buddhism will never be the spirituality of the future), but whether accepting their presence brings the other structures of monasticism into question.

The more I’ve read about the “pandaka” framework, the more obvious it is that it’s authors really didn’t understand queer people and their types/motivations. It’s like two blindfolded people describing an elephant, not only are the descriptions ridiculous and wrong, they only describe a couple pieces and miss the rest.

If you really understand queerness in it’s rainbow of configurations, you’d realize that probably what such people need most is a different social organization of monastics. One that doesn’t take for granted a “safe space” in terms of attraction and accepts that there will be attractive people around and there’s no way to avoid it.

IMHO: The prescription is for a community of mixed monastics who accept that there will be dukkha based on attraction, and their fellow monastics may be arousing.

Of course they would all agree to stand up to these impulses and hold each other accountable. They would all understand that the “see everyone as family” trick will need to be implemented constantly, and that for each of them someone in the sangha will potentially present frustration.

This conversation we’ve been having, of course, is extremely binary in terms of describing sexuality, imagining there to be 2 or 4 types of renunciant: Gay/Straight and Male/Female. Reality, of course, is not so binary, and there are plenty of bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and transgender people that foil the simplicity of trying to control any of this.

As soon as you have a bisexual person (a huge chunk of the population! Especially when you put people into “same sex” situations!) the idea of having a space which is safe from arousal really becomes hard to believe in.

Anyway, I have said a lot already. My point in the last few paragraphs is that a mixed group that takes for granted the presence of temptation would be more wholesome not just for “gay” men and 100%-lesbians, but also makes sense for bisexual/pansexual people.

Of course for non-binary people (neither men nor women), a mixed community is the only possible option that doesn’t reject their gender identity and force them into an offensive box that erases their sense of self. As a non-binary person I’m thus totally biased in favor of mixed communities.


Hey Gus,

One thing that is interesting about the Vinaya rules—and by that I mean the original Vinaya, not the later texts under discussion here—is that they rather frequently impose weaker proscriptions on same-sex activity than on hetero sexuality.

The following examples are off the top of my head, so I may get some details wrong! May @brahmali correct me!)

For example, if a monk were to engage in sexually suggestive and lewd conversation with a woman, it is a serious offence of sanghadisesa, which imposes a suspension of privileges and a period of public penance. If he does so with a man, whether lay or another monk, it is only a minor offence of wrong-doing (dukkata), which is cleared with a simple confession.

Similarly, if a monk touches a woman with sexual intent—groping, kissing, etc.—then it is a sanghadisesa, but if it is another man, it is a dukkata.

When it comes to penetrative sexual intercourse, this is an even more serious offence—a parajika, entailing immediate and permanent expulsion from the Sangha. However, sexual penetration is defined in such a way that it must involve a penis, so same-sex activity among nuns can never incur such a penalty.

There are a number of similar examples, but none of the opposite sort. That is to say, there are no cases where same-sex activity is penalized to a greater degree than hetero activity.

So, this is the legal situation in Vinaya.

Now, when it comes to Vinaya, there is very loose relation between the legal penalty of something and its moral gravity. That is to say, we can’t argue that because something has a lesser Vinaya penalty that it is therefore less morally serious. Still, there is something noteworthy about this pattern of events which calls for an explanation. None is given in the texts themselves, so we are left to our own hypotheses.

It seems to me that there are two possible reasons for this situation.

One possibility is that these cases are basically meaningless, and they arose purely for formalistic and historical reasons. The rules are originally laid down in a case where hetero sexual activity is the issue. Later, additional cases were added, and the additional cases tend to be derived applications of the rule that incur a lesser penalty. Such situations, where the nature of the rules is determined by formalistic evolution, are extremely common in the Vinaya.

The second explanation assumes that the differences are intentional: the Vinaya deliberately reduces the penalty for same-sex activity in the Sangha. Why might it do that? I think is it is because it is so much harder to keep such rules strictly if they apply to your comrades and brothers, who you live with all the time. A carelessly crude joke here, or a stray touch there, and a monk could easily fall into doubt as to whether they are guilty of a serious offence.

I don’t think either of these are necessarily complete explanations. Still, taken together I think they may help understand why the situation is the way it is.

While the reasons for the situation are debatable, what is not up for debate is the rules themselves. And it seems that, so far as the Vinaya is concerned, not only is there no question that gay people can and should lead the holy life, there is no question as to their capacity to do so in a monastic community of their own gender.

Not only that, but the Vinaya actually relaxes several important rules, the effect of which is to let gay people get by in situations where they might otherwise struggle. Whether it was the original intent or not, the Vinaya assumes that a lighter set of rules is enough, and gay people can manage their sexuality responsibly.


It also occurs to me that sexual attraction can be situational and that under certain circumstances individuals can be conditioned to not only suppressing sexual desire but also not experiencing it in the first place.

To give an example, I have been a university/college educator for nearly 30 years. Rarely if ever do I experience sexual attraction to my students. I realize that historically it has not been uncommon for teachers to use their positions to engage in sexual/romantic relations with their students. Heck, some of the great romantic relationships in history took place between teachers and students (I know of two cases among acquaintances of mine where a teacher and former student eventually got married).

However, increasingly such relationships have become taboo to the point where, today, it is openly discouraged in many societies for teachers to pursue sexual or romantic relationships with students. This taboo has become part of the way in which educators are socialized into their profession, so much so that an educator who does pursue a sexual or romantic relationship with a student may be openly ostracized. Such socialization contributes to an internalization of socially-accepted behavior to the extent that it doesn’t even enter an educator’s mind that a student could be the object of their sexual or emotional desire.

My point is that sexual attraction can be conditioned, and I do not mean that in the way it has been interpreted in some circles to claim that a person can be converted to becoming gay, straight, or anything else. What I am saying is that just because a person is a human being doesn’t mean that they view this or that person as sexually attractive. You can put together a bunch of people of all sexual orientations and everyone is not necessarily sexually attractive to everyone else. In a monastic community, as in higher education, sexual relationships can be made taboo, and that taboo becomes a guiding principle of behavior.


The only combination of orifices that avoids a pārājika is mouth to mouth. Oral sex of any kind may result in a pārājika, if the necessary conditions are fulfilled. The other examples you give, however, are correct, as far as I am concerned.

Since I am already here, I might add that I know of a significant number of gay people who live the monastic life with great benefit. Some of them are gifted meditators, which suggests they are able to negotiate any defilements that might arise from time to time. I would feel terrible about barring such wholesome people from monasticism.

Just to reply briefly to @Gus, I do get your point that seclusion may be useful for gays living in a same sex community. In fact, I believe an ideal monastery does not require a large amount of communal activity. The best kind of place is where meditation practice happens in seclusion and your contact with others is quite minimal, or at least you have the ability to adjust how much contact you would like. And yes, such monasteries do exist.


Avoidance is very much a preliminary way of guarding the sense doors. For those further along in the practice of mental cultivation through meditation this becomes either irrelevant or even a useful practice. So, yes, as you suggest further along ‘horses for courses’.


An essay or study that I would love to read is one that applies queer theory to early Buddhism.

Without wanting to get into the use of the tremendously loaded word “queer,” I think probably everyone can recognize that some very, very interesting things were taking place with regard to gender and sexuality in the early Buddhist community. Renunciates renounce almost every socially recognized gender marker there is, apart from the grammatical. No makeup, perfume, hairdos, gender-segregated clothes. No sexual activity. And I understand the reasons for all of this… they don’t intersect precisely with the modern-day idea of gender fluidity, but in a way there’s a relationship. (Is it too much to suggest that the classical attributes of the Buddha indicate him to have been gendered male, but anatomically intersex?)


A lot of people have made that connection, and if the 32 marks have any seed of truth from which they grew, then maybe something was irregular about his genitalia.

But at the same time it doesn’t make sense for an infertile intersex man to have set up the prerequisites for ordination the way it appears now. So I don’t think it’s likely that the mark to-do with downstairs was historically interpreted as having to do with gender ambiguity.


I’m so glad to see so much discussion on this topic. I had originally wished to gain a solid argument and then have that presented to the monasteries which were imposing homophobic rules for ordination. But the monk with whom I was communicating told me he would be totally unwilling to challenge his monastery in any way. That was a shock to me - I had assumed that anyone with a good conscience who witnessed injustice based on wrongly understanding the Buddha’s teachings, would be eager to help to address that injustice. Alas, I was wrong, so I saw no avenue (with the time available to me) to go further with this. However I hope that something of this conversation here will ripple out into the wider community and somehow add to the momentum of overturning this stupidity.

I wonder if this might be because with no penis involved, there is no danger of pregrancy. Pregnancy would be particularly dangerous for the Sangha, giving the potential for the Sangha’s reputation to be ruined far more than stories of lesbian sex - there’s a child to prove it, and altered lives that last for decades. And this also could lead to diminished lay support of the Sanha, which is the Sangha’s worst enemy as an institution.

This may seem not to explain why gay kissing is permitted more than men on women kissing. However, men on women kissing is far more likely to end up in pregnancy than men on men kissing or women on women kissing, so once again it could be pragnancy which drives this bias.

From this perspective, the Sangha could actually be more in danger by having heterosexuals (and bisexuals) ordain, since nuns can get pregnant, and monks can impregnate nuns or lay women. So the most logical paranoid solution might be to have an all homosexual Sangha!

I think your reasoning is also interesting to ponder.

Anyway, does anybody here know : do we actually have evidence of there being gay lesbain or bi monastics in the Buddha’s time? Sorry if the answer is already well known. We see that the vinaya has lax rules for gay acts, but as we can see from prison, not all gay acts are done by gay people. Gay sex is far more accessible, so monastics are may even have more gay sex than their members would have had had they not ordained, because they are trapped only with other men. But does the vinaya or suttapitaka give us any sense of any monastics actually being gay or lesbian?

I expect this is also why it is that people are often not attracted to family members, due to the internalisation of the taboo of incest. And also, the Buddha seemed to be asking his disciples to create a new internal repression by artificially connecting their internal incest taboo with their view of their fellow monastics, by training to see them as family members.

Is Buddhism the earliest source we have for those 32 marks? I had always assumed that they had come to Buddhism from Brahmanism - if so, it might all the marks might have nothing to do with the Buddha. Does anyone know the origin?


The suttas do represent the marks as belonging to Brahminical lore, but they haven’t been traced in any extant pre-Buddhist text. They are to be found in a much later text, the quite fascinating Bṛhat Saṃhita of Varāhamihira (fl. 6th century CE), but not as a list of thirty-two.


This made me laugh! :rofl:
But the point is also to eradicate defilements, in this case the defilement of lust! That you have as much between homosexuals as between heterosexuals. But personally I feel that strict segregation only represses such things and does not work through them.

Sadhu! We see the same arguments coming up that were used against Bhikkhuni ordination.
But when it doesn’t work, maybe just go to a monastery that is more progressive.

It will … in time. We see the same changes happening in the wider society and that took time too. It is now 18 years ago that the Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay marriage. That’s not really that long ago … Australia only followed last year!

Tilorien has just issued it’s mission statement:

Tilorien Monastery is a monastic community based on Early Buddhist teachings. Our values are inspired by kindness, equality, inclusivity and environmental sustainability. We provide a place of practice that preferences Bhikkhunis and other female monastics, whilst also supporting LGBTIQ+ people and other underrepresented groups to develop in the Dhamma. Tilorien welcomes everyone seeking to end suffering and cultivate happiness. We offer teachings and retreats based on the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion.