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23 Aug 2011

Buddhists share their thoughts about homosexuality at forum in Kuala Lumpur

Venerable Miao Jan, the coordinator of Prajna Meditation Association of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor: Gay people should face their own sexual orientation honestly and openly, come out bravely and not live in the closet.

The Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia (YBAM) and Buddhist Research Society of Malaysia (BRSM) held a seminar titled "Homosexuality: The Controversy in the Midst of Morality and Social Value" on Aug 19 in Kuala Lumpur.

Established in 1970, the Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia (YBAM) coordinates 270 member organisations through 13 State Liaison Committees across Malaysia.

The Sin Chew Daily on August 19 reported that about 200 people attended the open forum which had three panelists: Venerable Miao Jan, the coordinator of Prajna Meditation Association of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor; Datuk Ang Choo Hong, the president of the Buddhist Research Society of Malaysia; and Yap Hock Heng, a registered and licensed counsellor. The forum was emceed by YBAM secretary general See Chan Wing.

The following is a translation (by Fridae member Felix Liew) of a report published by Chinese language Sin Chew Daily on August 20:

The news of the traditional Chinese wedding of Malaysia’s first lesbian couple and the upcoming same-sex marriage of Rev. Ouyang Wen Feng to be celebrated in Malaysia has caused a stir in Malaysian society, drawing criticisms particularly from Christian groups. However, the coordinator of Prajna Meditation Association of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, the Venerable Miao Jan, encouraged gay people to face their own sexual orientation honestly and openly, urging them to come out bravely and not live in the closet [literally dark corners]. 

Ven. Miao Jan pointed out that she was not promoting the gay culture. But in her opinion, if gay people did not live honestly with their sexuality, they would fall in love with the wrong person someday, which would lead to pain not only for themselves, but also for their loved one(s). 

“Let gay people talk about their love life. We could only respect them and learn how to get along with them.” “I have a lot of gay friends too. Don’t treat them as though they are horrible people. They are also fun to be with and they are such lovable people. Besides, how does this present a problem to non-gay people?” 

When asked whether gay people adopting children would create social problem, she did not answer the question squarely, but turned the question around and asked: “How much happiness can straight families today guarantee their children? The divorce rate is high these days, and this should give us room for thought."

Datuk Ang Choo Hong said he treats gay people as normal. Gay people have long existed since the time of Buddha. He said if people could not bless Rev. Ouyang’s marriage, then they should keep quiet.

Yap Hock Heng was more concerned with the attitude that people have towards a gay person. Are they friendly? Are they willing to be in a gay person’s company? Are they willing to listen to their story and guide them? 

He said that the fact that the media reported heavily on same-sex marriage would not encourage the gay culture [turn more people gay]. Rather, it would cause people who are already gay to come out of the closet.

The Chinese language Nanyang Daily report published a report on August 20. The following is a translation of the report by Fridae’s Chinese editor:

Ven. Miao Jan blesses Oyoung Wenfeng; we need not fear our homosexual friends

Ven. Miao Jan (Coordinator of Persatuan Meditasi Prajna KL and Selangor) says she has several homosexual friends around her and she does not regard them as fearsome; afterall, what has that got to do with the non-homosexuals?

With regards to Oyoung's marriage, she pointed out that so long as he abides by the law, it is fine. It does not matter whether non-homosexuals with be happy or unhappy about it. She says as long as he will carry the responsibility of a marriage, his marital affairs is his own business; we do not have a say. 

She feels that many people in society create too many assumptions about homosexuals/homosexuality, speculating that if everyone is homosexual, human kind will become extinct. She retorts: Do you think everyone will want to become a monk/nun/ordained (出家)? Once homosexuality becomes recognised/accepted, will everyone become homosexual? 

When asked about whether social problems will arise when homosexuals begin to bear/raise children, she rebuts by asking: How much do heterosexual marriages ensure the happiness and well-being (幸福) of their children? 

She also cited the Lotus Sutra chapter/scripture (《法华经》Sad-dharma Puṇḍárīka Sūtra) where it is taught that monk/nun/ordained persons should avoid contact with five types of people:

1. those born without sexual organs

2. those who lost their sexual organs due to surgery or injury

3. those with a mental state that is neither male nor female (homosexuals)

4. those who dresses like neither male nor female and

5. bisexuals

Datuk Ang Choo Hong (President of Buddhist Research Society of Malaysia): If you can't bless Oyoung, then just keep quiet

He mentioned two tales from early Buddhism: Soreyya, who is sometimes male, sometimes female; and Vakhali who is homosexual. Both did not attain enlightenment through spiritual means eventually. 

The commandments/doctrine of Buddhism are applicable for ordained persons (monks/nuns), specifying that the third gender cannot be ordained. For Buddhists who are not ordained, they are not allowed to have sexual contact with 20 categories of people, including parents, siblings, married persons and prisoners.

Brahmajala Suttam scriptures (梵网经 / Brahmajala Suttam) of the later period also states that same-sex intercourse, anal sex and oral sex are not allowed. The earlier scriptures however have no mention. What shall we do?

Mr Yap Hock Heng (Registered & Licensed Counsellor): Homosexuality cannot be suppressed

Homosexuals refer to people who are unable to suppress a sustained fantasy of intimacy with someone of the same sex, and who are repulsed by the opposite sex. 

We should extend our kindness to them, rather than over-reacting to them.

He also points out that some teenagers and young people may have special feelings towards a specific friend, but that cannot be categorised as homosexuality. It is common for those aged four to six, and those in their adolescence to experience confusion about gender and sexuality.

There are many factors leading to homosexuality. For those who wish to change through therapy, it is possible to succeed.

If you were present at the forum, please share your observations and/or below.


Reader's Comments

Comment #1 was deleted by its author on 2011-08-23 22:49
2. 2011-08-23 22:48  
Well done. More Malaysian buddhist gays and lesbians will get married. Thanks to this talk.
3. 2011-08-24 00:16  
On Ven Miao Jan's response:
I must congratulate the Venerable on taking a bold and forward step in debunking many common cultural myths and fallacies where some of your fellow Monastics elsewhere would have just skirted it or at worst give a vague and non-committal answer.

On the Lotus Sutra quote, how is a 'pandaka' defined?
I understand there are scholastic difficulties on translating this term in various scripture texts, the Lotus included, as one needs to look at the proper contexts of the Indian mind of those days and see what is available today to match that. It does raise 2 questions though?

First, is the scripture asking one to merely refrain from the company of people based solely on their sexuality? or
Secondly, is the scripture referring to unwholesome company of people (which transcends race, gender and sexuality) which even those categories are included?
There is a similar one on refraining from the company of 'Hinayanists'. Is this referring to those on the Sravaka Path like the Theravadins of today or is it in the proper context of being prudent and wise about the company of those who practice the Path in a harmful, narrow and self cherishing way? Personally, I would agree with the latter assertion rather the former assertion as the same scripture issues a strong reminder about disparaging the Sravakas.
Perhaps the text must be read as a whole and not as a selected section?

On Dato Ang's response:
"Both did not attain enlightenment"?
In the first case of the young Soreyya, he committed the fault of having a harmful mind towards a saint, the Arhat Maha Kaccayana when in his youthful folly, he wished the saint to be his spouse and experienced the retribution of everyone seeing him and having a woman's body. Later after repentance, the same saint gave him Ordination of which Sorreya himself practiced until he achieved the same Arhatship.

In the second case of the Elder Venerable Vakkali, despite his obsession with the physique of the Buddha to the point of neglecting his practice as a monk, the Buddha gave him teachings and even intervened when he was sick and attempted to end his life, this famed quote to break his attachment:
"Enough, Vakkali! What is there to see in this vile body?
He who sees Dhamma, Vakkali, sees Me; he who sees Me sees Dhamma. Truly seeing Dhamma, one sees Me; seeing Me one sees Dhamma." Later, he himself attained Arhatship.

What is the 'third gender'? The term used in the Vinaya Pitaka or the 'Basket of Discipline' (where the rules for monastics are contained) specifies four conditions of inadmissibility, the first being 'abnormal gender' which covers paṇḍakas and hermaphrodites.
And 'pandaka' here have 5 categories (2 allowable and 3 non-allowable):
The 2 are: voyeurs and those whose sexual fever is allayed by performing fellatio. The 3 are: castrated men (eunuchs), those born neuter, and half-time paṇḍakas (those with the sexual desires of a paṇḍaka during the dark fortnight, and none during the bright fortnight.) The history of the pandaka issue came about because of one amorous pandaka who instead of practicing as a celibate renunciate, caused a stir in the Community by propositioning himself to the monks and novice and failed and went on to do the same amongst the lay horse/elephant trainers and complaints arose causing the Buddha to implement a ruling on Ordination involving pandakas as per above.
Yes, the Third Precept undertaking the training to refrain from sexual misconduct talks of the various categories to abstain from but none of it includes the GLBTIs. In fact in the original wordings, 'adultery' was the intended offense but have been extended to the general term of 'sexual misconduct' to cover more ground for our time.
Is the context referring to the Mahayana Brahma Net Sutra? Being a text on one source for the practice of the Bodhisattva Vows/Precepts, I have not seen any reference to such as mentioned. Yes the Pali Canon's Brahmajala Sutta is silent on it.
Is this something similar to the assertion of the Tibetan Buddhist stand on the 'wrong orifices/parts' used in sexual activity? Then even the Tibetan Buddhist opinion is split on this, one saying that it applies only to heterosexuals and the other, it is applicable in a Tantra context (even so, there are diverse views on this). Of course, the general idea behind this across the board would be to watch one's mind and craving from degenerating into hindrance for one's spiritual development and attainment. Again, standards for the ordained monastics and laity would differ.

On Mr Yap's response:
I am of the opinion that despite his 'training', the same old misinformed opinions and patronising sympathy on the GLBTIs have prevailed in statements like:
"Homosexuals refer to people who are unable to suppress a sustained fantasy of intimacy with someone of the same sex, and who are repulsed by the opposite sex."
"For those who wish to change through therapy, it is possible to succeed."
And contradicting himself with:
"There are many factors leading to homosexuality."
"We should extend our kindness to them, rather than over-reacting to them."
4. 2011-08-24 16:35  
"We should extend our kindness to them, rather than over-reacting to them."

Well, thank you, Mr. Yap Hock Heng! It's so gratifying that you're willing to throw us inferior types a few bread crumbs from your lofty table of supercilious goodness.

I suspect Mr. Yap meant no ill will, and I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that perhaps something got lost in the translation to English, but as written, there exists a slight Orwellian air of finely-cloaked bigotry in his statements. As in the novel "Animal Farm," we learn that everyone is equal, but some (we) are more equal than others (them).

His suggestion that homosexuals are defined as such simply because they're "unable to suppress a sustained fantasy of intimacy with someone of the same sex, and who are repulsed by the opposite sex" is actually rather outrageous. A "fantasy of intimacy"? The blatant inference here is that REAL intimacy can only exist between a man and a woman. And if he thinks gay men are "repulsed by the opposite sex," he hasn't met many gay men. Personally, I think too many of them are enamoured of the opposite sex rather than repulsed by them.

I think he could have chosen his words better. Perhaps, "not sexually attracted to the opposite sex." I've known plenty of women in my life to whom I was not sexually attracted, but they sure didn't repulse me. Again, perhaps it was muddled in translation.

Conversely, and on a happier note, I found most of Miao Jan's comments both forthright and refreshing... I daresay, "enlightened." (See, Mr. Yap, I'm not repulsed by her whatsoever!)
Comment edited on 2011-08-24 16:40:24
5. 2011-08-24 20:49  
The last sentence that reads, "For those who wish to change through therapy, it is possible to succeed."

I don't think they understand, how it is possible to change sexual orientation. The American Psychological Association (APA) has carried out a systematic review of many studies on Sexual Orientation Change Effort (SOCE) and concluded on many grounds that SOCE brings more harm than good.

And by the way, suppressing yourself is not good either, I can bear testimony to that. Accept yourself for who you are - now this is a choice.
6. 2011-08-24 22:37  
Oh, but #5, those APA people are basing the outcome on proper science and using peer-reviewed methodology. That can't be the right way to do it! In order to get the RIGHT answer, you have to already have the conclusion you want fixed in your mind, then ensure that only the data that support your predetermined conclusion are used in the testing. (OK... turning the sarcasm off...)

Religious organizations have turned their nose up at the APA (and other equally esteemed groups) for a long, long time... ever since that wicked, secular group of scientists declared that homosexuality wasn't a mental disorder. Didn't fit with their personal world view, so they just pretend it's not valid.

Being true to who you are is why I applauded Miao Jan's comments. At least SHE'S on the right track (baby).
7. 2011-08-25 04:11  
Hi Fridae editor, just to let you know that you have used parts of my translation of Sinchew Daily for the first half of this article which I posted on Facebook. I am totally fine with it. Actually different Chinese papers reporting the event included or excluded certain information. I get that there are still a lot of misinformation about gay people in Buddhism (such as Mr Yap's statements), but the overall spirit is one of acceptance as a part of society, for all are equal, as Ven Miao Jan has said, in spite of some rulings in their ancient scriptures forbidding contact with LGBT people. Homosexuality may have been as old as the world, but same-sex marriage is a relatively new thing. Even Islam (Acheh) could not find any law forbidding it in their holy writ. For civilization to be truly enlightened on this subject, i think people have to stop quoting from their ancient scriptures passages that are totally irrelevant to the issues at hand. While Buddhism may emerge as the winner of the most gay-friendly world religion, I sense there are still some vestiges of a homophobic past that remain in some adherents. Still this represents a small step forward in combating the tide of homophobia in Malaysian society. (By Felix Liew)
8. 2011-08-25 18:01  
buddhism or not, Kuala Lumpur seems very gay unfriendly.

but i dont understand the angle for this article, and it lacks focus in talking about the issue it is trying to write about.
9. 2011-08-25 21:17  
10. 2011-08-26 18:18  
We gay people may be sin but we're not bad people. What about in the eyes of God? Do we fear the burning sands & storms of fire? "I said, at least in hell there'll be memory of pleasure"

The greatest civilisations of ancient time have found transcendance in the arsehole of a man.
Comment #11 was deleted by its author on 2011-08-28 11:03
12. 2011-08-28 11:02  
Perhaps that pleasure, being only a memory, would be the essence of hell.
13. 2011-08-29 10:50  
to me the whole article comes across as being be nice to them and let them be, but they are wrong.

they say come out and accept but than each one quotes scriptures or makes comments that totally contradicts what they have just said.

Miao jan: bless you but really holy people can't even touch you.
Datuk Ang Choo Hong: let them be but they can't reach enlightenment.
Mr Yap Hock Heng: can't supress them but they can change.

don't see this as any different than any other religion. (excluding the fundementalist sides)
14. 2011-08-30 13:01  
this only my idea that may be wrong.
God has alot of creativities and He is the greatest on them.
Gay is a form of God's creativity. Gay is not easy to be understood by people who are not Gay. Except the one got blessed.
Is there any prophet to get blessed about Gay?
because none people are perfect including prophet.
So, as we are gay. We should not insist non gay people to accept us, because it is a difficult thing. we better accept non gay people including to accept their weakness/imperfectness
15. 2011-09-03 03:45  
Agreed with AlongWithMe. KL is scarily unfriendly...yet it has more gay bars scattered throughout the city than the whole area of 2 Singapores put together!!! Kinda strange,huh...or shall we say...paradoxical lol
16. 2012-01-27 21:13  
Buddhists are generally gay friendly but should do more for gay equality. It amazes me that in a predominantly Buddhist country like Singapore, Buddhists aren't more active in repelling the persecution of gay people by Christian fundamentalists. How have they allowed the fundies to have so much sway? They should be actively pushing for the abolition of 377A, and the recognition of gay people as an oppressed minority.

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