Buddhism is defined by the ‘Dharma’ – or the teachings of the Buddha – and the ‘Vinaya Discipline’, which is the moral backbone of Buddhism. The Dharma is primary and is contained in the thousands of sutras, whilst the Vinaya Discipline is secondary but central. The Dharma was taught first by the Buddha, with the Vinaya Discipline only developed over-time in response to the needs of the monastic and lay-followers of the Buddha. Much of this involved solving misunderstandings or steering the Buddhist community away from friction with the institutions and conventions of the surrounding non-Buddhist society. Even when he was dying, however, the Buddha suggested to the monastics that the Vinaya Discipline could be abandoned if they thought it had achieved its function of stabilising and directing the Buddhist community. Following his death, the Buddhist monastics voted to retain the Vinaya Discipline for all time.
In many ways, the Vinaya Discipline is an extrapolation of the moral guidance already found within the sutras and tends not to introduce anything foreign or superfluous into Buddhist practice. Whereas the Buddhist monastics are expected to follow ALL the hundreds of rules retained in the Vinaya texts – the laity is only expected to follow five, eight or ten rules depending upon their commitment to the Dharma – although some lay-practitioners voluntarily decide to follow the entire Vinaya Discipline without ordaining as a monk or nun. Although in most schools of Buddhism the monastics are celibate in word, deed and thought, the lay-practitioner may get married and partake in legitimate and lawful sexual activity. Although modern Buddhism (in the West) tends to interpret this along the lines of heterosexual monogamy – this was not always the case within ancient India. Indeed, the two societies were nothing alike.
The Buddha defined human-suffering as emerging from the greed, hatred and delusion that manifests in the mind and solidifies in the environment through corresponding behaviour. This leads to external (social) structures which in-turn ensure that ‘suffering’ in the outside world oppresses the minds and bodies of everyone in existence, and thereby ensures and encourages the continued patterns of greed, hatred and delusion in the mind-body nexus. As a matter of personal responsibility, the Buddha taught that each human-being is responsible for his or her own mind and body – regardless of the injustices that externally exist. Once an individual can achieve a new inner balance – then external injustices can be approached with a certain balanced wisdom and action. Human desire (regardless of the gender of its origination or target of its appeal), in its uncultivated and raw aspect, is said by the Buddha to be the vehicle of human-suffering.
Desire is not a crime or a sin, but merely a habitual expression of primary (creative) energy that requires refining through meditation and bodily discipline. Once refined through appropriate Dharma-training, then its complete presence and manifestation is transformed into an entirely new type of creative energy – free of all its raw and unrefined aspects present at birth. Within a branch of Vajrayana Buddhism – a special yoga exists which is often used by Buddhist monks and nuns who are married and practice the Dharma together – with ‘celibacy’ retained on one-level whilst expressing sexual desire on the other. Lay-people – who can and do – attain full enlightenment often still retain a sexual component to their relationship, even if there have been times of deliberate ‘isolatory’ training designed to ‘cut’ the delusive root of ordinary desire and replace it with a ‘new’ reality of creativity!
The gender or sexual orientation of the body of the human practitioner is not an issue, as a human body is a human body. The requirements of the human mind regardless of any gender or sexual orientation is not a problem as a human mind is a human mind. The issue is one of the frequency through which the desire mechanism within the mind and body operates. Obviously, a LBGTQNB+ practitioner who wants to be a Buddhist monastic must sublimate ALL greed, hatred and delusion so that the mind and body is permanently ‘freed’ from the base-effects of human desire (which is an element of ‘greed’ or unstoppable ‘wanting’) – but not all ‘desire’ is negative according to the Buddha as the ‘desire’ to achieve enlightenment is considered positive and useful. Even within the Vajrayana School branches where monks marry nuns – this is an important first stage. The Theravada and Mahayana Schools tend to aim at traversing human desire and have very little to say about the post-enlightenment experience. However, the stories of the Mahasiddhis (‘Great Spiritually Empowered Beings’) – or enlightened beings (both monastic and lay) of the Vajrayana School (also known as the ‘Tantrayana’ School) – convey many different aspects to the diverse nature of human spirituality and sexuality. There is every reason to read into these stories’ gay, lesbian, transgender and queer narratives of every kind. LGBTQNB+ must claim these stories (and others) as their own and breathe new life into these Buddhist narratives.
As for Buddhist lay-practice, the celibacy of the monastics is replaced with ‘sexual control’ or ‘sexual discipline’. In the Buddha’s day a man could marry any number of sisters (or women) from the same family – and sometimes from other families – as allowed by the Brahmanical ‘Laws of Manu’, perhaps possessing as many as four wives at any one time throughout his life. This implied that he could marry the unwedded sisters – or the ‘widowed’ aunts of any one of his wives, etc. Within the modern (Christianised) West, the rule that the Buddha established for ‘sexual control’ has been deliberately ‘changed’ so as not to offend Western sensibilities, but in so doing the liberality of the original precept has been lost. Originally, for ‘sexual control’ (but not ‘celibacy’) the Buddha advised that a man could have sexual relationships with any one of his wives – and any of her suitable (qualifying) female relatives. This was the India of male-dominated ‘polygamy’ whereas the West is currently represented by the relatively modern concept of ‘monogamy’. The point is that Buddhist teachings have often been distorted in the West to best represent the hypocrisy of the ‘male’ (cis) bourgeois viewpoint. For this fabrication to change the LGBTQNB+ must ‘take back’ the Buddhist teachings and make them relevant to a more progressive and Revolutionary reality!