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Homosexuality in japanese buddhism


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Pleasures are learned much as duties are Ruth Benedict. This idea for this essay arose out of material I had gathered for my Ph. The very long and complex history of homosexual relations within Japanese Buddhist institutions has only now come to light in the English-speaking world with the recent translation of a few key documents and a number of commentaries on them these are referenced throughout the pages below.

I was struck, as I hope the reader of this essay will be, by how normative sexual interactions between men in Buddhist institutions in Japan became, and how these relationships were accepted by the wider society with equanimity. Indeed, as I show, homoerotic relationships that had developed in Buddhist institutions actually served Homosexuality in japanese buddhism the basis for wider same-sex sexual relationships between men throughout Japanese society from the thirteenth to the end of the nineteenth century.

My point in making this research available in this journal "Homosexuality in japanese buddhism" not to argue that such relationships should become normative today, for the present configuration of sexuality within modern western culture makes this inconceivable. In making sense of this problem, I have found the insightful work of Michel Foucault and his various postmodern and feminist heirs to be most useful.

For various reasonsin Japan the Buddhist priesthood and the samurai military caste constructed a vision of the female body in such a way as to minimize its attractiveness.

Conversely, the youthful male body was constructed as optimally desirable and a fitting object of attraction for adult men. For men, same-sex sexual options were not distinguished as different orders of sexual interaction homosexual as opposed to heterosexual definitive of specific types of people homosexuals as opposed to heterosexuals but were instead understood as simply a certain style, one among many, through which sexual pleasure could be enjoyed.

The youthful male body was constructed and displayed as a fitting object of aesthetic and sensual appreciation for other men throughout Japanese history, beginning in Buddhist institutions from the ninth century and reaching its apogee in the samurai towns of the seventeenth Homosexuality in japanese buddhism eighteenth centuries.

Because of the strong reactions that discussion of homosexuality can produce in Anglo-American cultures[2], I have tried to make this an academic argument, referencing all my sources and acknowledging my own speculations as such. I hope that the material outlined here can encourage people to think about the issues surrounding homosexualitysame-sex friendship and the practice of Buddhism in new ways.

Buddhism and sex in Japan. From the earliest times until today, indigenous Japanese religionknown as Shintohas maintained a sex-positive ideology, particularly with regard to the role of sex in procreation.

Even now, it is possible to see in village festivals processions which feature enormous carved wooden phalli which are taken out of the local shrine and paraded around the fields so as to bless them and make them fecund. Unlike in Christian creation myths where the advent of awareness of sexual dimorphism is seen to mark a deterioration in the human condition resulting in expulsion from Edenin Japanese mythology the divine ancestors Izanagi and Izanami are shown to be curious and experimental about sex.

As one seventeenth-century theologian explains: From the beginning of the two support oomikami, Izanagi no mikoto and Izanami no mikoto, down to the birds and the beasts who receive no instruction, the intercourse of male and Homosexuality in japanese buddhism is a way, like naturethat has been transmitted to us.

Since the procreation of descendants is a great enterprise, it must be revered. The first challenge to Japanese nativism came with the introduction of Buddhism in the seventh century. However, as with Christianitythere are broad outlines or features that have persisted over time and that can be pointed to when attempting to make generalisations. Firstly, early Buddhism discerned two forms of lifestyle appropriate to Buddhist believers: As with other actions"Homosexuality in japanese buddhism" are subject to the application of the golden mean: In Buddhismdesire was a problem, not because it was evil but because the attachment it produced caused suffering.

Buddhism was essentially disinterested in procreation which was, after all, seen as the mechanism whereby beings were chained to a constant round of rebirths in sa. This necessarily brought it into conflict with the indigenous cultures of Eastern Asia where, under Confucian influence, the perpetuation of the family line was seen as an obligation to the ancestors. Yet, although doctrinal Buddhism had little interest in procreation and never developed a discourse about it, Mahaayaana Buddhism did utilise the powerful imagery surrounding the sex act as a hermeneutic device.

From the fifth century in northern Indiavarious Buddhist schools developed which utilised sexual imagery as a means of communicating metaphysical truths such as the non-differentiation of sa. Male Buddha and bodhisattva figures were represented in sexual union with their female consortsthus giving a heightened exposure to female elements within the tradition. Practitioners occasionally Homosexuality in japanese buddhism beyond symbolism and integrated sexual practices into their rituals.

However, as with Taoist sexo-yogic practices designed to promote long lifethese practices were not meant to result in ejaculation but to transmute sexual into spiritual energy.

These developments represent an important difference between Buddhism and Christianity with regard to sex. What was remarkable about certain trends within Japanese Buddhism was that sex came to be viewed as a good in itself apart from its role in procreation.

In Japanese Buddhismthe divorce of sexuality from procreation enabled sex to become a religious symbol released from the domesticating realm of the family.

The very long and complex...

Although present, Tantric sexual imagery which involved the unification of male and female was of marginal influence in Japan. Far Homosexuality in japanese buddhism pervasive in male Buddhist institutions was the influence of homoerotic and even homosexual imagery where beautiful acolytes were understood to embody the feminine principle.

The degree to which Buddhism tolerated same-sex sexual activity even among its ordained practitioners is clear from the popular myth that the founder of the Shingon school, Kooboo Daishi Kuukaiintroduced homosexual acts upon his return from study in China in the early ninth century.

This myth was so well known that even the Portuguese traveller, Gaspar Vilela had heard it. Writing inhe complains of the addiction of the monks of Mt.

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Jesuit records of the Catholic mission to Japan are full of rants about the ubiquity of pederastic passion among the Buddhist clergy. What particularly riled the missionaries was the widespread acceptance these practices met with among the general populace. The organisation of Buddhist monasteries into sexually-segregated communities, often set in the remote countryside or mountains, encouraged the development of a specific style of homoeroticism revolving around young acolytes or chigo.

Monastic legislators fought the same losing battle as the shogunate did with the kabuki theatres, when it attempted to limit the ostentatious dress on stage.

Regulations repeatedly warn against the use of certain fabrics and colours but they seem to have been implemented with some reluctance, if at all.

The homoerotic environment of Buddhist monasteries actually inspired a literary genre, Chigo monogatari Tales about acolyteswhich took as its theme the love between acolytes "Homosexuality in japanese buddhism" and their spiritual guides. A common theme of these tales is the Homosexuality in japanese buddhism of a Buddhist deityusually Kannon Sanskrit Avalokite'svaraJizoo skt. The acolyte then uses his physical charms to endear himself to an older monk and thereby lead him to Enlightenment.

In the fourteenth-century Chigo Kannon engiKannon takes the form of a beautiful novice to become the lover of a monk who is longing for companionship in his old age. After a few years of close companionship, however, the acolyte diesleaving the monk desolate.

Kannon then Homosexuality in japanese buddhism to the monkreveals that he and the acolyte were one and the same and delivers a discourse on impermanence. Kannon has appeared to the old man to teach him about human transience and the futility of earthly pleasures.

Japanese Buddhism responded to the homoerotic environment created by a large number of monks living together with youths and boys in a very different way to Christianity which tended to respond to expressions of homoeroticism within monastic communities with vehement paranoia, characterising sodomy as Homosexuality in japanese buddhism worst of sexual sinseven worse than incest[13].

In our region a certain abominable and most shameful vice has developed The befouling cancer of sodomy is, in fact, spreading so through the clergy or rather like a savage beast, is raging with such shameless abandon through the flock of Christ that for many of them it would be more salutary to be burdened with service to the worldthan, under the pretext of religionto be enslaved so easily under the iron rule of satanic tyranny.

Hence, even sexual attractionwhich in early Buddhism is considered a defilementcan be used as a means to communicate the Buddhist truth or Dharma.

Homosexuality and Buddhism In Japan

Other than acolytes in training to be monksthere were many other young boys in Buddhist monasteries because they served as schools for the children of the elite. Their clothes were sumptuous, they had their eyebrows shaved and were made up like women. Leupp[16] reads the very large number of references in literary and artistic sources which depict actual sexual relations between monks and acolytes as reflecting their widespread practice.

As evidencehe cites a vow containing five resolutions, which was Homosexuality in japanese buddhism in at the Todaiji temple in Nara by a year-old monk: I will remain secluded at Kasaki Temple until reaching age forty-one.