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Sexual Conduct

One of the 5 basic vows (or, aspirations) is not to behave sexually in an inappropriate manner.  For monastics and others keeping stricter forms of these vows, this means to remain celibate.

There are two types of prohibitions concerning activity of body, speech & mind:  The first is against actions that prevent us from practicing dharma without distraction and hence prolong our suffering by delaying attainment of full realization. The second type consists of prohibitions against actions which threaten the propagation of dharma, or the reputation of the sangha.  Some address both.  For example, Thai monks, who observe Vinaya [Buddha's rules for monastic conduct] very strictly, will not touch women at all.  Many will not shake hands, sit beside a woman or even sit on a cloth that could be a woman's garment.

However, in some traditions, such rules are not strictly observed except during retreat.

There is no essential difference between one part of the body and another.  We are all composed of a temporary mass of flesh that is quick to rot.  And we know that disease can readily be transferred from one body to another and that we can even cause death to someone via any opening in the body, even a tiny one.

One who has taken the vow of celibacy should realize (unlike a former married US president, who once claimed that he had "not had sex with that woman") that sex is not only confined to mutual genital stimulation.  In other words, just because we are not using the reproductive organs does not mean that the vow is not being broken. 

So whether the activity is being performed by "one monk, or two monks, or one monk and one nun, or two nuns, or one monk and two nuns, or one monk and three or four or five nuns, or one nun and three monks, or any combination of monks, nuns and non-ordained practitioners or yaks, even involved in passionate kissing, would essentially constitute breaking a monk or nun's vows because the whole point is that you are not supposed to be getting it on at all, as this results in further craving and attachment."

~ From a Nov. 09/05 comment to the Yahoo! Kagyu list by "tungsten_gumdrop"

Sexual Orientation

As we know, there has generally been a great deal of hypocrisy regarding attitudes to same-sex relations.  Thousands have suffered from the ignorance and hostility of others, and many have died as a consequence of their own self-loathing.

Start Where You Are --  Just Practice !

A large factor in determining whether one will be hetero-  or homo-sexual has to do with genetics.  The proportion of homosexuals in any society is about the same as that of lefthanders.  A few studies indicate that, in about 15% of cases, birth order plays a role in determining sexual orientation.  A common factor seems having a dominant older brother or brothers. 

Researchers agree that it is likely homosexuality has always been a usual variation of human behaviour:

Many more relevant links at the foot of this page.

A Lama Speaks

It is liberating and refreshing to come across the attitude expressed in:

"I am a Drikung Kagyu and a lesbian "out" in my sangha.  I have this story to share:

Several summers ago, at a retreat given by H. E. Garchen Rinpoche (my most kind and generous teacher!), we were given Chakrasamvara empowerment. The visualization involves sexual imagery. Rinpoche was going into very minute detail on the visualization and explaining how one might do the practice with a real live partner.

A woman in the sangha, known forever after as "N. the Brave" raised her hand to ask a question. I knew what she was going to ask, and so did my partner. We knew she was going to ask the un-askable: what to do if one's partner were the same sex? In the seconds between her question and the translation, I looked around for my things.  For surely Rinpoche would rebuke her and we would have to leave the retreat, leave the Dharma.  My heart was a stone in my chest. 

The translator translated to Rinpoche. There was no hesitation.  Rinpoche spoke. The translator translated, "No problem.  Just practice." 

N. was sure her question had been misunderstood. She repeated it.  The translator translated. Again the firm reply, "Just practice."

In that moment my heart melted and I embraced the Dharma completely.  I took refuge fully. Just practice. It is so simple. My sexuality, my gender, my race, my class, nothing really mattered except my willingness to practice, to end the suffering of all beings.

This is only my experience.  But in my experience, the Dharma doesn't care if you are queer.  Only that you practice.

May all beings benefit!"  ~ J. at the Kagyu list

Another anecdote concerning the guru's response:

" . . .  .  I came out as a freak gay activist at a radical campus (U. W. Madison) in 1970, amidst post-Stonewall determination and euphoria [the uprising at a gay bath-house in New York  City]. But I was simultaneously doing the Baba Rama Das, "Be Here Now" transition and was soon looking for a guru more than for a humpy life-mate.  The Guru I found taught celibacy aside for procreation, and I was celibate for twelve years. This probably saved my life, but precluded any relationships. 

When I finally went to one of my Guru's successors and shared my loneliness and pain, and sought permission to take a companion,  I was told that gay sex was "throwing your seed into a fire", and that I should marry a women.  I actually proposed to an old friend, a "bi" (now lesbian) woman, (we even had a former lover in common).  She found the suggestion quite hysterically funny. When I went back to the "guru" to report my lack of success and continuing pain I was told to devote myself to my practice, amidst laughter, because it would only be when I perfected my meditation that " the Negative Power " would have something to seek to spoil by providing a partner. 

This struck me as uncompassionate, misogynistic generic village punditry. What compassion was there in it for any woman who might marry me ?  What compassion for women when seen as "The Yogi's Downfall"?  I knew in an instant that I was SO out of there !  

.   .    .   [3x mantra for overcoming 'poisons'] .   .    .

In the next two years (I first took refuge from Thrangu Rinpoche,) received Manjushri [empowerment] from Jetsun Kusho, Chenrezik from Jamgon Kongtrul . . . but it was another ten years before I had a chance to ask Thrangu Rinpoche the essential questions.  At the small group interview at the Mahamudra teachings at Loon Lake, I asked two questions. 

First: "Would Rinpoche be willing to give his blessings to a commitment ceremony between two of his student's of the same sex?" 

After a brief pause he replied that he would.  At that point a little knot of residual fear and apprehension regarding trust and samaya dissolved but I still had Question Two for the public record.  I'm still all [6] Yogas of Naropa short of ever being ready for highest yoga tantra, but still I asked. 

Second: "Would it be possible for two qualified practitioners of the same sex to practice the Tantra of the Lower Gate ?"

Rinpoche paused for a longer time.  When he resumed he apologized, saying that no one had asked him these things before and it had required some thought.  He replied that he thought that it would be possible, on the provision that the practitioners first mastered the Tantra of the Upper Gate, the only sort that we monks practice, he explained, smiling.

Karma Lodro, Splendor of the Teachings, may you remain steadfastly present!  [Karma Lodro is Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche's name.]

             ~ LK from the Kagyu Mailing List

What factors contribute to this "liberal" attitude?

At least five factors enable the understanding attitude of the Kagyu lamas: 

1.  They are compassionate beings motivated by a wish to end suffering.

2.  They come from a cultural context in which plural marriage (polygyny and polyandry) is not unknown, in which sexuality is not a taboo topic and in which many forms of sexual relationships besides marriage are not only tolerated but honoured.  Sex may be humorous sometimes, but it is rarely considered disgusting.

3.  They are tantric teachers who, though many are celibate monks, have been educated in a system in which sexual energy has been intelligently and skilfully utilized for hundreds of years both as a technique but also a powerful medium for the transformation of the self. 

4.  Since progress and transformation are the objectives, any hard line or puritanical attitude is not seen as productive.

5.  They are products of mythological and religious traditions that are neither dualistic nor fatalistic.  That is, the world and its inhabitants are not generally perceived as inherently either Good or Evil.  Rather life is considered an opportunity for improvement and our behaviour is due to the conditioning and consequences of present and past existences.

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