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Buddhism and sexuality

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-ZB004-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2023
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

The study of Buddhism and sexuality increasingly centres questions of power. Rather than viewing sexuality in Buddhism as a monolith, as if there were one story of Buddhism and one view on sexuality, scholars of Buddhism and sexuality are interested in examining the ways sexuality takes on different meanings across divergent times, spaces, and Buddhist traditions.

The study of Buddhism and sexuality is deeply attuned to the ways different bodies – women’s bodies, queer bodies, trans bodies – are treated within Buddhist thought and communities. For example, how do certain Buddhist texts treat sexual transgressions enacted by monks versus nuns? What are different Buddhist views on queer sexualities and trans embodiments? To put it simply, is sexuality considered a ‘gift’ within Buddhist thought – a mode of being that furthers one’s ability to see clearly into the nature of phenomena, or is sexuality something that hinders one’s Buddhist path and causes both relative and absolute harm, furthering one’s suffering? Depending on the time and place of analysis, and the philosophical orientation the scholar brings to their work (i.e. a feminist or queer framework), the answers to such questions are importantly varied, bringing forth important contemplations on desire, sexual violence, sex, and feminism within Buddhist philosophical thought.

Sexuality is crucial to the study of Buddhism, revealing 1) the challenge of sexual restraint and the punishment that comes from engaging in sexual acts (illustrated in the Vinaya, a text that outlines guidelines, rules, and procedures monastics must follow), 2) the opportunity for experiencing the four joys and realisations of wisdom and method (exemplified within Tibetan Buddhist tantras), 3) the ways sexuality and Buddhist thought can be weaponised to further sexual abuse (documented especially through contemporary scholarship on American Buddhism), and 4) the ways Buddhist philosophies can be used as tools for queer and trans refuge and liberation. The presence of sexuality in Buddhist thought is thus diverse, revealing sites of constraint, liberation, violence, and possibility.

Citing this article:
Buckner, Ray. Buddhism and sexuality, 2023, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-ZB004-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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