On a commentarial gloss endorsing homophobia

Homophobia is blessedly absent from EBTs, and in fact is rare in all periods and schools of Indian religion. The modern, exceedingly harmful, attacks on people of different sexualities is entirely a product of distorted Western values, ultimately rooted in the Abrahamic traditions. It was for this reason that the Buddhist community in Australia together with the Australian Hindu council, were proud to offer our support for same-sex marriage reform in Australia. The FABC continues to actively support this issue, which our extreme conservative government, supported by the main Christian organizations, has blocked.

Nevertheless, in later Buddhist texts it is possible to find occasional homophobic remarks, although even if these are taken as gospel they do not justify any kind of discrimination.

I have not researched this in any detail, but the only such passage I know of in the Pali commentaries is the gloss on a certain phrase in DN 26 Cakkavatti. I remember in a discussion many years ago on this, I was accused of distorting the Buddha’s words by not accepting this homophobic slur. Good times!

But it turns out that the phrase in question occurs elsewhere, where it has a completely different explanation in the commentary.

The phrase in question is micchādhammā. In both our sources, DN 26 and AN 3.56, it occurs as part of a description of the decline of moral values. And it occurs in conjunction with two other phrases, adhammarāga (illicit lust) and visamalobha (unbalanced greed; but more likely, immoral greed). The fact that all this is shared between the two contexts is more than enough to establish that the meaning should be the same in both places.

Now, obviously micchādhamma is an open term. The first element means “wrong”, and for the second element, take your pick: teachings, principles, practices, laws, thoughts, phenomena …

This is where we turn to the commentary for help. At DN 26 it says:

Micchādhammoti purisānaṃ purisesu itthīnañca itthīsu chandarāgo
“Wrong thoughts” means the desire and lust of men for men and women for women.

However at AN 3.56 we have:

Micchādhammaparetāti avatthupaṭisevanasaṅkhātena micchādhammena samannāgatā
“Overcome with wrong thoughts” means intercourse with those who are considered inappropriate classes of people.

I am not very familiar with commentarial idioms, so am not entirely sure of this, but that’s what I think it means. Avatthu is, I think, the “non-basis”, i.e. the kinds of people mentioned in the precept on sexual misconduct who one should not have intercourse with, such as those who are married, under guardianship, and so on.

Now, in this list of three terms, clearly the meaning is somewhat similar; in fact adhammarāga and visamalobha are just synonyms. So it makes sense if the third term has a similar sense. Given that the term itself does not determine any clear meaning, it is of course better to refer it to related teachings that are clearly found elsewhere in the Suttas, rather than something that is not found elsewhere. Thus we should prefer the AN commentary here. Why the DN commentary came up with that odd gloss remains a mystery.

Not only is homophobia completely absent from all the sayings of the Buddha, it is hardly found in later texts. Even in the rare, possibly unique, instance when it is found in a commentary, it is a disputed and implausible reading, not accepted by another commentary.


Bhante, if you don’t mind, I’ll cite to one of your essays from Sujato’s Blog that explores and resolves this issue rather nicely. I did a quick search of the term Micchādhammoti and found your detailed essay on this issue and the larger issue of the Buddha’s views on sexuality, and your perspectives on the importance of marriage equality. https://sujato.wordpress.com/2012/03/

One of the practices it mentions is, in the Pali, micchā-dhamma. This is about the most generic term for wrong doing that it’s possible to make in Pali. You could translate it as ‘wrong teachings’, ‘bad practices’, ‘misguided actions’, and so on. The commentary, compiled nearly 1000 years later in Sri Lanka, however, says it means, ‘Lustful desire of men for men, and women for women.’ (Micchādhammoti purisānaṃ purisesu itthīnañca itthīsu chandarāgo.) Since this has no basis in the text, it stands as a record of the attitude of a medieval commentator. There’s no evidence, so far as I am aware, that this attitude was representative of ancient Theravadin or Sri Lankan culture in general.

Personally, I think Sujato’s Blog should be edited and made into a book. That’s my two baht on that. A goldmine of essays, and comments, too.


Thanks, I lose track of things I’ve written over the years!

there was a proposal to do that, but it never went anywhere. It would require a very strong editorial hand!

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I’d sign up to join a team to work on that. It’s fairly polished already, actually. Could be fun to put together a compendium of some of the more powerful/compelling essays, and even include a brief set of edited comments from each essay, too.

A book like that would be wonderful for the general lay public, but I’d imagine it as a point of perspective, as well, for young western monks and nuns in training. It’d be great that they might see their vocational path in color and with some air, light and energy, vs. what they might be getting from traditional routine training in a wat.


Well, if there’s interest I’d be happy to support it. But as you can understand I only have limited time to input.


Bhante @sujato, @AnagarikaMichael,

If I could be of some service, I would be happy to help. :slight_smile:

What Bhante has written can be made into several books on different topics and themes.

I would be interested in helping to compile Bhante’s essays and comments on Bhikkhnuni ordinations into one book, with relevant and beneficial comments from others (not necessarily in agreement with Bhante’s) to enhance the main theme that Bhante wishes to present. Venerable Analayo’s papers and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s essays could be ‘excerpted’ to enhance the Vinaya points. :slight_smile:

If Bhante allows Michael and me to do this, I will ask Ven Munissara Bhikkhuni to do the preliminary editing before submitting the final to you for your review. :slight_smile:



In the OP, I mentioned that the main Christian groups in Oz opposed same-sex marriage. However, i neglected to mention that those groups, the bishops and other patriarchs, do not well represent the Christians of Australia. In fact, a recent poll shows that a majority of Australian Christians support marriage reform. In this, as so many things, the supposed leaders of the religion are not merely out of step with their followers, they are dragging behind where they should be leading forward.

That’s very kind, but to be honest I would be a bit reluctant to do this. Not that i don’t want to forward the issue, but because it raises so much energy that it would take a lot of work to do it well. A whole book on one topic requires a clear structure, not just a random bunch of posts.

I’d be much happier with a selection of essays on topics of contemporary interest, including bhikkhunis. And I think that would attract a wider audience.


Dear Bhante @sujato,

If you will allow us, Michael and I can assemble a team to do it. :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:


Okay, go ahead! :pray:

I will, of course, insist on doing the typesetting!


This is a good idea Bhante. The way I understand same sex marriage is a political matter. In my opinion, monks should keep away from political issues. In Sri Lanka, the respect for monks have alarmingly diminished due to their involvement in politics. Monks have to leave the politics to lay people.
However if you can write a book about to end all discriminations, that will be a Buddhist monks job. The isolated fighting for discriminations can cause a rift in the society.

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[quote=“sujato, post:7, topic:6011”]
In fact, a recent poll shows that a majority of Australian Christians support marriage reform.
[/quote]As do the majority of American Christians also, statistically speaking (62%).

Interesting. It’s amazing how far and fast this has shifted. In the US, also, Muslims are fairly evenly split on the issue, according to this 2016 poll. The same poll shows Buddhist support in the US at 84%! It is evangelical Christians who hold the hard line.

It’s sad that, while sensible Christians and Muslims are moving on, in many Buddhist-influenced countries—excluding Taiwan, yay!—people adopt the worst of Abrahamic homophobia and think it’s Buddhism.

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I wonder how the change comes about- is it from grass-roots awareness raising or some other means?

with metta

Well it’s interesting, especially the incredible speed of change. A lot of it has to do with the decline of religious authority. We’ve seen patriarchs again and again getting involved with pedophilia and covering it up, then turn around and lecturing people about how they should have sex.

A few years ago I spoke with a young woman in Sydney about this. She went to a catholic school. (I might add, I also went to a Catholic school and while, yes, one of the brothers did diddle with the boys, on the whole it was pretty progressive, or at least not particularly regressive.) Anyway, she was walking across the playground at recess one day, holding hands with her friend. The horror! Someone saw and was outraged. They were summoned to the principal and lectured about the evils of the gayness.

She was so shocked and puzzled that she started looking into it, something she’d never even thought about before. Eventually she became a strong advocate for equality, though she herself is not gay.

Another thing she said was important for her was media: apparently her favorite TV show featured gay people, and she thought that was very influential. Other studies have shown that the single most important influence is knowing gay people.


It’s cultural as well. In Sri Lanka, sitting at the cross-roads of the marine trade, they have been invaded different religious and cultural beliefs grafted on to the local culture, it has become impossible to know what the ‘original’ culture was, or even whether there was an original culture. It seemd like Indian invasions also fashioned (including Buddhism) the culture of Sri Lanka. Polygamy was described in Sri Lanka for example, by the British but is not in existence now. ‘Westernisation’ inclusive of western media is the main influence now.

Quite common in Asian countries too. Its funny how people’s minds think of sex all the time! Dancing with people of the same sex is another thing that seems to be misunderstood!

I think so. This is probably true also for racism. Seeing the other person is very similar to oneself helps dispel misconceptions and prejudices. I have worked with, and lived with gay and trans individuals. In UK I see people migrate from African countries running from persecution and torture in those countries because of their sexual orientation and it is quite sad.

with metta


[quote=“sujato, post:7, topic:6011, full:true”]
In the OP, I mentioned that the main Christian groups in Oz opposed same-sex marriage. However, i neglected to mention that those groups, the bishops and other patriarchs, do not well represent the Christians of Australia. In fact, a recent poll shows that a majority of Australian Christians support marriage reform. In this, as so many things, the supposed leaders of the religion are not merely out of step with their followers, they are dragging behind where they should be leading forward…[/quote]

(So, “Oz”, I gather, refers to Australia? And a feature of Australian English is a tendency to use slang?)

As apparent in an earlier thread (defense of Elaine Pagels against criticism from Fr. Paul Mankowski) The case of Elaine Pagels – academic fraud or just a (perceived) heretic?
“Conservatives” are often compelled to be so assertive (and intolerant) exactly because they sense they are losing ground? The general sociopolitical (or socio-religious) tenor is leaving them in the dust. Same could be said for the American “Tea-party” hard-line evangelical right, aka Donald Trump’s “base”. (Unfortunately, in this case, they appear to be gaining a lot lately.)

But, of course, the counter-argument would be that they are guardians of the “Truth”, lighting the way to enlighten all the lemmings marching off the cliff of faddish pop-culture delusion.

Across cultural history one finds a strange variety of perhaps surprising sexual norms – surprising because our (Western) education doesn’t particularly offer exposure to these aspects.

For instance, in ancient (Hellenic as well as Hellenistic) cultures, the philosophical notions of “beauty” and “Eros” were closely intertwined, in both theory and practice. A young boy was often considered a paragon of beauty, and relationships between older men and boys formed a common thread, even forming significant and lasting relationship, at least as preserved in literature (i.e. poetry). Also “Sappho” and Lesbian (from the island Lesbos) and most probably similar relationships on the feminine side.

On the other edge of the history of civilizations, the role of eunuchs was a major factor in Chinese history. Imperial body-guards and even high-ranking ministerial positions were often given to eunuchs – they could be more trustworthy? One noteworthy example: according to the book “1421 – the Year the Chinese Discovered America” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gavin_Menzies one of those historical-fiction semi-fantasies), the admiral who led a huge fleet that circumnavigated the globe, gathered stuff from everywhere, and left traces, even colonies everywhere, figured-out southern-hemisphere astrological navigation, etc., etc. – that admiral was a eunuch. He was also a Buddhist. When the remnants of that great fleet (a tiny percentage of the 2000 or so ships that initially left) finally returned to China after several years, the political climate had up-ended; the emperor who launched the fleet, in an era of great largess and tolerance, and international trade dominated by Chinese, had fallen into disgrace (a freak accident of nature had burned-down the capitol and hence his “mandate from heaven” revoked), and xenophobic, neo-Confucian Mandarins had taken over (again, as they’d done in the Song dynasty when they attempt to obliterate the strong Buddhist influence of the Tang era), and China withdrew back into its ethnic shell. Anyway, that (eunuch) admiral was nonetheless highly honored – given a lavish retirement on some island where he could spend the rest of his days (practicing samadhi and vipassana, having a pretty good head-start against kayaraga).

(Given that nature of that book, this all may be fiction, but what a great story! The author was supposedly a retired British submarine commander who was used to seeing the world through a periscope – he claimed to thus be able to reconcile the odd earliest maps (from the Chinese) of Western-hemisphere islands that fell into the hands of Christopher Columbus and others; those maps didn’t reflect the view from, say an airplane or satellite, but rather from the low perspective of an approaching ship, across the curvature of the ocean – e.g. the perspective of a periscope. Btw: Those maps came to European navigators via the Italians, who’d also brought back from China things like spaghetti (mien) and ravioli (guotie, jiaozi, wonton, etc.). What on earth did the Italians eat before that? For that matter, what did the Germans or Irish eat before potatoes were brought back from the “New World”?)

I suspect we (with Western education) don’t get exposed much to that side (other sexual norms) of history because of the Sodom & Gomorrah slant in our own tradition.

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I understand that Jesus also made no mention of sexual preference, his principle concern being divorce; at least that’s what I’m told by Christians with some knowledge of the Gospels. This does seem to suggest that deeply conservative Christian groups have interpreted the early Jesus movement according to their own social values. No surprises there! It seems likely that conservative Buddhist groups would likely have done the same over time.

The homosexual position was stated clearly in Judaic law therefore there was probably no explicit need for Jesus to mention it in his preaching in Judah. However, Paul, who Jesus alleged appointed as his representative, which is confirmed by his relations with the other apostles, denounced homosexuality probably because homosexuality was a normal practise in Roman and particularly Greek society where Paul was evangelising. How can a religion be established in the world among non-families? This thread seems to be an example of identitarian thought rather than examining causes & conditions.

The video below is celebrating the ancient Greek cultural practise of sex with boys. It is this kind of culture that probably resulted in those Abrahamic religious views. Personally & frankly, since I have never been gay, I cannot empathize with the video if imagining myself being a boy in such a culture. While I am not particularly fond of marriage, I would personally chose an arranged marriage as a boy in ancient Buddhist culture than being a boy in ancient Greek culture.

Judaism and Homosexuality: A Brief History

The Jewish people have had a far more complicated relationship with homosexuality than the outright ban in Leviticus implies.

Let us begin at the very beginning of the Kingdom of Judah, with King David, who many suspect was gay. Or at least bisexual…

The ban only appears in two verses, both in the same section of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13). Most scholars believe these verses were written either during the Babylonian Exile or during the early Second Temple period, so sometime during the 6th to the 4th century BCE (2600 to 2400 years ago), but when exactly in this period, we do not know…

The all-important book of Jewish Law, the Talmud, contains statements to the effect that anal sex among men causes solar eclipses (Sukkah 29a) and earthquakes (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 13:3), but also distinguishes between two forms of pederasty — anal sex that warrants a penalty of death by stoning, and homosexual sex that doesn’t involve penetration, about which the rabbis were more lenient (Niddah 13b). Oddly, to say the least, Jewish Law does not explicitly ban sex with boys under the age of nine (Talmud,Yevamot 51b, and Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Biah 1:14, where he adds that in his opinion, the men should be flogged)…

read more: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/features/.premium-1.722822