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Friday, January 30, 2009
Sex in the monastery
We used to be shocked by sex scandals in the clergy. Given the endless stream of those wrongdoings, we no longer are. Heterosex has also become old news. The rage now is about gay and paedophile monks.
The latest scandal involved an abbot in Nakhon Si Thammarat. His lover accused him of being unfaithful after finding out that the abbot had invited a group of teenagers to drink and party at his quarters. The last straw was reportedly the taint of semen on the abbot's mattress.
Their quarrel turned violent. The jilted lover, after being beaten up, reported the matter to the police. The abbot fled and quit the monkhood to avoid arrest and forced disrobement.
Having sexual intercourse, either straight or gay, is a cardinal sin in the monks' code of conduct. Their monkhood automatically ends once they commit the crime. When found out, they must be expelled from the clergy.
Other three cardinal sins include stealing, killing and boasting of supernatural powers.
How many "real" monks do we have left nowadays, given the widespread sex scandals, temple corruption and commercialisation of Buddhism?
The scandalous case of the Nakhon Si Thammarat abbot has highlighted the issue of homosexuality in the clergy which has never received any serious attention from the elders.
Well, what's new? The elders, comfortable in their cocoon of prestige and wealth, have never paid attention to any problems that have eroded public faith in the clergy anyway.
Since the abbot had already quit the monkhood, the issue was considered closed. As a matter of procedure, the Office of National Buddhism has advised abbots nationwide to be more strict with ordination since it is against the vinaya to ordain the "pandaka," which is routinely translated as "homosexuals".
In today's more liberal society, the issue of homosexuality and ordination has posed a challenge to traditional Buddhists. Since the Buddha says all human beings have the Buddha nature in themselves, meaning that everyone has the potential to attain nirvana, or spiritual liberation. So why not gays of all shades too?
If women in Theravada Buddhism feel they have the right to be ordained so they can earnestly practice to transcend the illusion of self, lust, greed, anger and hatred, why then should this spiritual chance be denied to gay men and women?
Some Buddhist experts have interpreted the ordination rule against the pandaka as applicable only to transvestites. But this remains debatable. Traditionalists would say it applies to gay men as a whole since it is considered too dangerous to put fuel near a fire.
May I add my two cents?
The issue here is not about the ordination rule or homosexuality. It is about violation of the vow of celibacy. And in many cases concerning the scandal of gay monks, it is about the sexual abuse of children. It is about letting paedophiles have a field day in the clergy.
Gay or straight, this must not be tolerated.
Many say they have noticed a stark increase in the number of "katoey" novices who show little restraint in expressing themselves, including the use of cosmetics, the readjusting of robes for a fashionable look, and the public display of feminine gestures. Could this suggest rife sexual abuse of minors in the temple, too?
Inside temples, stories abound of paedophile sex. Not only novices but temple boys are vulnerable to this abuse. If the abbots are not the abusers themselves, they often involved other senior monks.
Many abbots confess their fear to intervene, not only with sexual matters but also other misconduct. Drugs, for example. The temples have become a refuge for people with problematic backgrounds and are ridden with power plays between cliques and factions. Trying to expel rogue monks, they say, might cost them their lives.
And why do anything when the top monks do not care anyway?
The monks' sex scandals are just one of the symptoms of the crisis in the clergy. When monks no longer know what ordination and monkhood means, there is little hope for change.
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