University of Winchester

ABSTRACTS /Kulavir P.Pipat

Gender and Sexuality in Thai Buddhism

There are beliefs that Buddhism is a source of gender and sexual discrimination in Thai society. For instance, enlightenment cannot happen to a female being, to be born as a woman as well as a homosexual is a result of one’s bad karma in past lives, particularly committing sexual misconduct. With academic curiosity, I therefore started my study on gender and sexuality in Thai Buddhist scripture - called Tripitaka, and offer a different interpretation. Then I returned to the relevance to society, how gender and sexuality function in the Thai contemporary socio-cultural context? The difference between textual and popular Buddhism in terms of gender and sexuality is also scrutinized including how do gender and sexual discrimination interact with Thai Buddhist’s ways of life. Although I attempted to answer these questions in this paper, some further questions have come up pertaining to social change.

According to my study based on the Thai Buddhist text, the findings make it clear that physiological sex provides no obstacles to achieving enlightenment because in meditative practice, one’s body is only a “form” without difference between male and female. Regarding karma and rebirth, to be born male or female depends on the individual’s powerful karma, whether good or bad. If one has no such powerful karma, sex will depend on the cultivated and accumulated sexual characteristics of the individual. Therefore, although the mind has no sex, it is possible for the mind to accumulate certain sexual characteristics or “genders” which are based on social and cultural contexts.

However, it is not clear what causes humans to have different sexual orientations. This provides Thai Buddhists a space to debate on this matter. Many crucial questions regarding social change are coming up; what is the “right and/or proper” sexual orientation for Thai Buddhist society; how Thai Buddhists should deal with gender and sexual discrimination from religious perspectives; and last but not least; how Buddhism should position itself in the complex contemporary world.

Biographical Statement

Kulavir P.Pipat is a researcher at the Women' s Studies Center, Chiang Mai University, Thailand.


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