Thursday, March 29, 2012

Debating a monk is dukkha

Have you ever tried to point out to a monk that he just might be full of shit? It’s not an easy thing to do, because let me tell you, some monks are very adept at turning the tables and making you out to be the problem, that it’s your delusion operating here, not theirs.

I stumbled into such a debate after seeing a post on the Heartland Singapore Facebook page. It was referring to a post at, which appears to be a message board. There are other, blog-like pages on this site, but it doesn’t appear to be very active. Anyway, you can read my heresy by following the link I provided.

The gist of this began with a question emailed to the monk administering the page: “Can a gay person be ordained as a monk/nun?”

Bhante Shi Chuanguan replied with this: “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.”

Me thinks I detect a double standard here.

As an aside, the Venerable Ashin Sopaka had a very pithy comment on the Heartland Facebook page, to which I will return later. But my response on the forum was to say I thought the answer provided, as well as an answer provided by another presumed monastic, was drawing a distinction between straight people seeking ordination and gays seeking ordination, that each was to be treated differently.

The Bhante said that straights had to “transcend their heterosexual desires,” while a gay person had to “transcend this inclination.”

This inclination? So the straight person need only renounce his or her sexual desires, while the gay has to renounce being gay? In other words, renounce his or her sexuality. What’s up with that?

You can read my entire reply on the message board, as I waxed very eloquent and pontificated like a true queen in heat. Perhaps that was a bit rash, because Bhante replied and suggested that, “Your inference that there is such a prejudicial idea is what is prejudicial.”

Moi? OK, OK, you can read my reply to that bit of obfuscation, because clearly this Bhante wanted to paint me the ignorant dualistic thinking bitter fag and a poor victim of all that nasty hate in the world, which, I would point out, often begins with narrow-minded and atavistic interpretations of religious doctrine by Paleolithic thinkers such as him. But I digress.

What I want to do is now return to Ashin Sopaka’s comment on the Heartland Facebook page. Ashin Sopaka succinctly points out that apparently the requirement to enter the monastery and seek ordination is to already be an enlightened being. Doesn’t the requirement that a gay first “transcend this inclination” mean that one must have renounced all notion of self, which can only be achieved upon enlightenment?

Seems to me that all the monastic code requires is that the monk or nun abstains from any form of sexual activity. That living in a monastery is the venue through which a monk or nun practices the doctrine to eventually transcend all fabricated notions of identity, whether they are sexual or otherwise. What “inclinations” remain in the unenlightened mind is irrelevant to anyone else in the monastery, as it is the duty of the monk or nun to peel back the layers of delusion and clinging within his or her own mind to ultimately attain freedom.

I’m sure Bhante Shi Chuanguan is a very wise man and knows his Dhamma pretty well. But his understanding of gay people, in my opinion, is no better than your average homophobe.

Update: I am pleased to say that Shi Chuanguan replied to my comments in a manner suggesting that we are coming together to a closer understanding.


  1. Well said. It definitely was a double-standard. Thanks for posting and for standing up. Understanding the Dhamma does not mean infallibility. Your posts continue to be a great source of strength and inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks. I admit I may have been a bit glib with my post, but this monk is an example of a doctrinal rut that Buddhism needs to shake off. But that's just my opinion.

  2. So sorry this happened. All of my favorite monks are openly gay. Suzuki Roshi says, "Just to be you is enough, you know."

    I also feel your burn. I've had a recent run in with the Theravadan stance on celibacy (in our soto zen tradition we are free to marry who ever we want...) and referring to us as "Quasi-monks."

    That's fine; I like the translation of Unsui (novice monk) which means clouds and water. What a position!

    1. Thanks Pigasus. I don't mind the vow of celibacy for monks and nuns. And I find the Pali canon more instructive and helpful than most Mahayana texts. But the politics of the Theravada Sangha really grind me at times.

  3. I think the problem is trying to apply western social values to a traditional monastic code.

    As a female I don't come out of it that well either!

    1. Hi SeaSpray and thank you for your comment. I don't believe it's a difference between Western and Eastern social values. Because the dismissive attitude that you can find at times in Asia toward gays is an attitude that was imported to Asia by the European missionaries. For the most part, Eastern culture was indifferent to homosexuality until the boats with the Jesus people showed up.

  4. We live in a world of words, and words sometimes "hurt us".....which we then transfer to the person who said such.
    Ahh, but what was his intention?
    I'm not making an easy excuse for the monk,
    but rather writing this to learn it myself.

    1. I guess that would apply if what the monk wrote actually "hurt" me. I was not reacting because I felt hurt, the kind of hurt that I think you are alluding to. I was reacting to ignorance with the intention that maybe I might reveal it. I wasn't entirely successful, but neither was I entirely unsuccessful.

  5. Hi Richard,

    Thank you for this post!

    Two or three years ago, I attended a Buddhist Youth Conference in Sydney where monk explained the 'logic' of karma by suggesting that, when a boy gets run over by a car, that it is because of his previous bad karma. Similarly, in the same conference, a women in the audience asked a question to the panelists which first included an expression of gratitude for being born a White Westerner, because this was a symbol of good karma (by extension, implicitly implying that anyone who was non-White or non-Western have less-than-good karma)... assumptions that went unchallenged by the monastic folks on the panel.

    Anyway, it seems to me that part of the issue here is that the Buddha himself was never particularly intent on being a social reformer. His commitment was to personal transformation; and the Sangha that he built was an exterior apparatus to encourage the core work of interior transformation...

    Thus, part of the problem here, as I see it, is that many folks would not make a distinction between:
    Sexual Identity
    Sexual Desire
    and Sexual Behaviour

    As you have put it, the monastic code itself mostly regulates the Behavioural aspect of our sexual experience, but many people who learn the code will extrapolate from that (without consciously making the distinction in the first place) to also regulate Desire and Identity.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think I agree with what you are saying, and that is most people have a notion about kamma that is too simplistic, plus they tend to view their current condition from a self-centered perspective. "I am white and Western, so I am lucky and must have good karma." Whatever is what I say ;)