by Jangchup Phelgyal
This essay is a shorter version of a
talk given to GBF on
Sunday, February 14, 1999.
When I agreed to speak to the Gay Buddhist Fellowship
in February, I hoped for a topic which offered listeners
support for their Buddhist practice. I told my teacher,
Geshe Yeshe Phegey, that I'd decided to pose the
question, "Do monks have sex with each other?" He
laughed and asked why anyone would be interested in
a monk's sex life. But I knew the idea of men cut off from
general society while at the same time engaged in
Buddhist practice was a picture not just of monks, but
of the GBF membership. What, then, could be
In January I traveled to Gaden-Shartse, my monastery in
southern India, to ask my question. The vow of celibacy
I had taken three years before when I was ordained
allows for no sexual act (wet dreams are the exception-they
occur in sleep and are unwilled). Masturbation clearly
breaks that vow-and monks, I learned, did it. "But no
one speaks about this," one monk explained. "The young
monks get up and wash their sheets and say nothing."
Awake and busy every day from six in the morning until after
midnight, monks would naturally be deprived of needed
rest by sexual arousal. They masturbate, I was told, while
trying to go to sleep. For Buddhists, the "why" of an act,
its motivation, is as critical as the act itself.
But because I now knew that (some) monks did (sometimes)
masturbate, I wondered if they were also having sex with
each other. Had I not seen plenty of young monks walking
along the monastery's crisscross of dirt roads, holding hands,
bending close and sharing private thoughts?
Consider this, however: in Tibet, India, and Nepal,
adolescents are encouraged to form strong and intimate
relationships with each other. The young monks I saw were
doing what so many others do, and if some were having sex
together, I would argue the intimate nature of their
friendships actually reduced the likelihood of sexual
In the end, whatever the work of sex and intimacy in monk's
lives, as Buddhist practitioners we must ask this: what
act/mindset best supports the work of compassion? How
do we each manifest the Bodhisattva prayer? This, after all,
is what the monastic vows are meant to encourage,
and what my own talk was meant to help illuminate:
May all sentient beings be parted from aversion and clinging,
not feeling close to some and distant from others.
May they win the bliss that is specially sublime.
May they find release from the ocean of unbearable sorrow,
and may they never be parted from freedom's true joy.