According to the ancient Indian understanding, homosexuals were thought of simply as being 'the third nature' (tritiya prakti), rather than as perverted, deviant or sick. With its emphasis on psychology and cause and effect, Buddhism judges acts, including sexual acts, primarily by the intention (cetana) behind them and the effect they have.
We will now briefly examine the various objections to homosexuality and give Buddhist rebuttals to them. The most common Christian and Muslim objection to homosexuality is that it is unnatural and "goes against the order of nature". There seems to be little evidence for this. Miriam Rothschild, the eminent biologist who played a crucial role in the fight to decriminalize homosexuality in Britain, pointed out at the time that homosexual behaviour has been observed in almost every known species of animal. Secondly, it could be argued that while the biological function of sex is reproduction, most sexual activity today is not for reproduction, but for recreation and emotional fulfillment, and that this too is a legitimate function of sex.
Theravada Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Burma had no legal statutes against homosexuality between consenting adults until the colonial era when they were introduced by the British. Thailand, which had no colonial experience, still has no such laws. This had led some Western homosexuals to believe that homosexuality is quite accepted in Buddhist countries of South and South-east Asia. This is certainly not true. In such countries, when homosexuals are thought of at all, it is more likely to be in a good-humored way or with a degree of pity. Certainly the loathing, fear and hatred that the Western homosexual has so often had to endure is absent and this is due, to a very large degree, Buddhism's humane and tolerant influence. This has not always been the case though as the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism has had a different view on homosexuality.
At a press conference in 1997 the Dalai Lama said; 'From a Buddhist point of view (lesbian and gay sex)...is generally considered sexual misconduct.' As soon as he realized what he had done he immediately back-peddled. He called a meeting with gay and lesbian representatives, during which he expressed the 'willingness to consider the possibility that some of the teachings may be specific to a particular cultural and historic context'.
Exactly how does the law of kamma distinguish one orifice from another? Other problems arise when we realize that many male homosexuals practice intercural sex and mutual masturbation rather than penetrative sex. And exactly which sexual organ do lesbians use to penetrate the vagina of their partner? The Dalai Lama is also reported to have said that he had difficulty imagining the mechanics of homosexual sex, saying that nature had arranged male and female organs 'in such a manner that is very suitable...same-sex organs cannot manage well.'
With all due respect to the Dalai Lama, and I do have the highest respect for him, this statement shows both his ignorance and naivety concerning sex, and I might add, of some aspects of the Dhamma as well. What on earth have Buddhist ethical judgments got to do with two body-parts fitting together 'properly' or not? I often clean my ear with my finger despite it not fitting into my ear canal very well. Does this mean I make negative kamma every time I clean my ear?
James: And we must remember that monks have their own sexual code that has more restrictions than for the laity.