Male Homosexuality and Transgenderism in the Thai Buddhist Tradition

Peter A. Jackson

Excerpted from the book  "QUEER DHARMA: VOICES OF GAY BUDDHISTS"  edited by Winston Leyland,  ISBN: 0940567229

An earlier version of this article was presented at a conference in London, England in 1993. Peter A. Jackson

 PETER ANTHONY JACKSON Ph.D. (Melbourne, Australia) was born in Sydney in 1956 and is currently Research Fellow in Thai History at the Australian National University, Canberra. His books include Buddhadasa: A Buddhist Thinker for the Modern World (1988), Buddhism, Legitimation and Conflict: The Political Functions of Urban Thai Buddhism (1989), and Dear Uncle Go: Male Homosexuality in Thailand (1995).



In the early to mid 1980s the official Thai response to the spread of HIV infection in that country was characterised by denial and silence. It was only in the latter years of the decade that the threat HIV/AIDS posed to public health in Thailand was formally acknowledged by government and public health officials and that public education campaigns began to be formulated and implemented. As in many other countries, the initial responses of many public figures in Thailand to the recognition of the serious issues posed by the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS were informed more by prejudice and fear of seropositive people than by reasoned consideration of the evidence on modes of infection. In this period homosexual men and female prostitutes were widely condemned as sources of AIDS and threats to public health by many Thai journalists, politicians, public health officials, Buddhist monks and other public figures. 1

In my 1995 book Dear Uncle Go: Male Homosexuality in Thailand I argued that popular Western perceptions of a general tolerance of homosexuality in Thailand are to an extent inaccurate. While there are no legal or formal sanctions against homosexuality in Thailand, a wide range of cultural sanctions operate to stigmatise Thai homosexual men and women. These anti-homosexual sanctions are diffused throughout Thai Society rather than being focussed in any clearly definable institution or set of homophobic practices, as has historically been the case in most Western societies.

However, this situation changed somewhat in the late 1980s. The initial "shock-horror" response to AIDS provided a focus for the previously diffuse anti-homosexual sentiments as homosexual men were publicly labelled as the "source" or "origin" (Thai : tonhet) of HIV infection in Thailand. A number of Buddhist writers were involved in this stigmatisation of homosexual men, drawing on Buddhist teachings to construct arguments against homosexuality that contributed to the fear and angst surrounding much public discussion of HIV/AIDS in the country in the late 1980s.

In this article I consider the background to some Thai Buddhists' anti-homosexual arguments by reviewing scriptural and doctrinal references to homoeroticism in the Thai Buddhist tradition. I begin by describing accounts of male homoeroticism in the Thai language translation of the Tipitaka, the canonical scriptures of Theravada Buddhism, noting, firstly, divergences in ethical judgments made on homosexuality in the canon and, secondly, similarities between scriptural descriptions of pandaka (Thai: bandor) and the popular Thai notion of the kathoey (transvestite, transsexual, male homosexual). Ethical attitudes presented in the canon are reproduced in many contemporary Thai Buddhist commentators' discussions of homosexuality and an appreciation of the ancient scriptural accounts is important in understanding views on homosexuality that are now represented as being sanctioned by religious authority.

I then consider traditional Thai accounts which propose that homosexuality arises as a kammic consequence of violating Buddhist proscriptions against heterosexual misconduct. These kammic accounts describe homosexuality as a congenital condition which cannot be altered, at least in a homosexual person's current lifetime, and have been linked with calls for compassion and understanding from the non-homosexual populace.

Lastly, I mention more recent Thai Buddhist accounts from the late 1980s that described homosexuality as a wilful violation of "natural" (hetero)sexual conduct resulting from lack of ethical control over sexual impulses. These accounts presented homosexuality as antithetical to Buddhist ideals of self-control and were associated with vehement anti-homosexual rhetoric and vociferous attacks on male homosexual behaviour as the purported origin of HIV/AIDS.


The Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism contains numerous references to sexual behaviour that today would be identified as homoerotic and to individuals who would be called homosexual and transvestites. However, as would be expected of a series of texts composed over two milennia ago in a non-European culture, sexual categories found in the Pali canon do not match contemporary notions of homosexuality or of homosexual people. Most notedly, the canon does not clearly distinguish between homosexuality from cross-gender behaviour such as transvestism. Nevertheless while not being given a single, distinctive name, male-male sex is referred to in many places in the Vinayapitaka2 the monastic code of conduct, being listed amongst the many explicitly described forms of sexual activity which are proscribed for monks. As Leonard Zwilling (1992:203) states, we should not expect any term with the precise connotation of homosexuality to appear in Buddhist literature. However, homosexual behaviour stemming from an apparent disposition to seek sexual gratification through relations with members of one's own sex in preference to the other did not go unnoticed . . . Indeed, careful exegesis of the references in the Vinayapitaka can provide us with insights into early Buddhist attitudes towards homoeroticism. It is important, however, that Theravada Buddhist accounts of homosexuality are understood in the context of the religion's general disdain of sexuality and distrust of sensual enjoyment. It is also important to keep in mind that Buddhism began as an order of celibate male renunciates, the sangha, and that the Vinaya is predominantly a clerical not a lay code of conduct.

Theravada Buddhism's Anti-Sex Attitude

In Buddhism all forms of sexuality and desire must be transcended in order to attain the religious goal of nibbana, literally, the extinction of suffering. The first section of the Tipitaka3 the Parajika Kandha of the Vinayapitaka , provides detailed guidelines on the practice of clerical celibacy in the form of often explicit examples of the types of sexual misconduct which lead to "spiritual defeat" (parajika) and automatic expulsion from the sangha. To quote an often repeated formula in this section of the Vinaya, "Whichever monk has sexual intercourse is parajika, a defeated one, and will not find communion [in the sangha]" (VinayaVol. 1, p. 27, passim). The definition of sexual intercourse (methunadhamma) given in the Vinaya reflects the strong distaste for sex within the early Buddhist tradition, That which is called methunadhamma is explained as: the dhamma of an unrighteous man (asattapurisa), the conduct of the common people, the manners of the low, dhamma which is evil and crude, dhamma whose end is but water, an activity which should be hidden, the dhamma which couples should perform together. (Vinaya, Vol. 1, p.49) The precision with which monks' conduct is monitored is shown in the canonical definition of "perform" in the expression "to perform sexual intercourse" which is described as a monk inserting his penis into a vagina, mouth, anus, etc. "even if only as far as the width of a sesame seed" (Vinaya, Vol. 1, p. 49).

The extreme imagery evoked in the Buddha's denunciation of a monk who was found to have kept and trained a female monkey to have sex with him, denunciation whose core descriptions of hell are repeated in the condemnation of several other forms of clerical sexual misconduct, graphically portrays the kammic consequences that were believed to follow from a monk's violation of his vow of celibacy or brahmacariya,

Behold O worthless man (moghapurisa), the penis you insert into the mouth of a poisonous snake is yet better than the penis you insert into the vagina of a female monkey. It is not good. The penis you insert into the mouth of a cobra is yet better than the penis you insert into the vagina of a female monkey. It is not good. The penis you insert into a pit of blazing coals is yet better than the penis you insert into the vagina of a female monkey. It is not good.

For what reason do I say the mentioned points are better? Because the man who inserts his penis into the mouth of a poisonous snake, and so on, even if he dies or suffers to the point of death because of that action . . . , after death and the dissolution of his body will not enter the state of loss and woe (apaya), the states of unhappiness (duggati), the place of suffering (vinipata), hell (naraka). As for the man who inserts his penis into the vagina of a female monkey, after death and the dissolution of his body, he will enter the state of loss and woe, the states of unhappiness, the place of suffering, hell (Vinaya, Vol. 1, p. 29).

According to the canon, sexual misconduct (kamesu micchacara) should be avoided by the pious laity as well as by monks and nuns. On early Buddhist attitudes to lay sexuality, Zwilling (1992:207) observes, Buddhist tradition essentially conceives of sexual misconduct in terms of sexual relations with various types of prohibited women (agamya) and the performance of non-procreative sexual acts. Among the commentators only Buddhaghosa 4 and the anonymous author of the commentary to the Abhidharmasamuccaya include men among forbidden sexual objects. In Thailand lay sexual misconduct (kamesu micchacara) has traditionally been glossed as phit mia khon eun, "violating another person's wife," or as phit phua-mia khon eun, "violating another person's spouse (husband or wife)". Homosexual activity between laypersons has traditionally fallen outside the scope of kammically significant sexual misconduct in Thailand.

Most contemporary Thai Buddhist writers follow early Buddhist attitudes and describe sex as extremely distasteful, even for the laity. One Thai writer on Buddhism, Isaramuni, equates sexuality with tanha (Thai: khwam-yak—craving or desire) and raga (Thai: kamnat—sexual lust), which are the antithesis of the Buddhist ideal of dispassionate equanimity (Isaramuni 1989:4). And while the Vinaya in general details an explicitly clerical code of conduct, similar anti-sex attitudes are now expressed in many Thai Buddhist writers' discussions of lay sexual ethics. In a discourse on married life Phra Buddhadasa, 5 an influential reformist thinker, calls reproduction "an activity that is distasteful, dirty and tiring" (Buddhadasa 1987:24) and says that sexual desire is a defilement (Pali: kilesa) that arises from ignorance (Pali: avijja), which Buddhist doctrine generally describes as the source of human suffering. Phra Buddhadasa says that in the past people were "employed" or "engaged" (Thai: jang) by nature in the "work" (Thai: ngan) of reproducing the species, but people now "cheat" nature by using contraception and having sex without being engaged in the work of reproduction. He maintains that this "cheating," i.e. engaging in sex for pleasure rather than reproduction, is "paid back" because it causes problems such as nervous disorders, madness and physical deformities (ibid. :25).

Phra Buddhadasa calls on laypeople to be mindful and establish spiritually informed intelligence (Pali: sati-panna) and to have sex only for reproduction. Furthermore, he maintains that the highest ideal in marriage is to live together without sex, describing the solitary life dedicated to the achievement of nibbana as a higher ideal than married life (ibid. :35). Indeed, Phra Buddhadasa maintains that marriage is a stage of life for those who have not yet realised absolute truth, saying that once the inherent transience and unsatisfactoriness of the world is understood there will be no more desire for sex. He provides an example from the Tipitaka (no source cited) of ten year old children in the Buddha's time becoming arahants, perfected beings who have achieved nibbana, and maintains that this would be possible today if children were educated in Buddhist principles and led to see the truth revealed by Buddhism. Phra Buddhadasa adds that as adults such children would have no interest in sex because of their high spiritual status (ibid. :36-37).

Significantly, contemporary Thai Buddhist views on laypersons' sexual behaviour are often more proscriptive and extreme than attitudes reflect in the Pali canon or in traditional or popular Thai accounts of Buddhist doctrine and ethics. Phra Buddhadasa's work has been especially influential among educated and middle class Thai Buddhists. However, his views on sexuality are at variance with Thai Buddhism's traditional distinction between lay and clerical ethical conduct. The ethical extremism of Phra Buddhadasa and other contemporary Buddhist reformists in Thailand such as Phra Phothirak results from a clericalising trend whereby ethical demands traditionally made only of monks are now increasingly also being required of laypersons. The much publicised asceticism and celibacy of the prominent political figure and strict Buddhist Major-General Chamlong Srimuang, epitomises the monastic regimen that some contemporary reform movements within Thai Buddhism (e.g. Santi Asoke) require of their devout lay followers.

Heterosexuality and Homosexuality as Equivalent Defilements

In the context of Buddhism's general anti-sex attitude, the Vinayapitaka often describes homosexuality in terms that place it on a par with heterosexuality. But this ethical equivalence is negative, with heterosexuality and homosexuality being described as equally repugnant sources of suffering and as constituting equivalent violations of clerical celibacy. The Vinaya identifies not two but four gender types, proscribing monks from having sexual relations with any of these four. The four gender types are male, female, ubhatobyanjanaka and pandaka. The latter two Pali terms are used to refer to different things in different sections of the canon and I attempt to define them precisely in the next section. But broadly it can be said that ubhatobyanjanaka 6 refers to hermaphrodites, while pandaka 7 refers to male transvestites and homosexuals. The Vinaya lists those sexual activities with men, women, pandaka and ubhatobyanjanaka that entail spiritual defeat and a monk's automatic expulsion from the order. These proscribed sexual activities are:
  1. Anal, vaginal or oral intercourse with a female human, non-human (i.e. an immaterial being) or animal;
  2. Anal, vaginal or oral intercourse with an ubhatobyanjanaka human, non-human or animal;
  3. Anal or oral intercourse 8 with a pandaka human, non-human or animal; and
  4. Anal or oral intercourse with a male human, non-human or animal.
Considering proscribed sexual activities with each gender type in detail, the Vinaya then lists twenty-seven types of sexual intercourse with a human female which entail spiritual defeat. These are: anal, vaginal and oral sex with a waking or sleeping woman, a drunk woman, a mentally deranged woman or a woman with a nervous disorder, an intellectually deficient woman, a dead woman, a dead woman whose body has not yet been eaten by animals and a woman whose body has been gnawed at by animals (Vinaya, Vol. 1, pp. 53-69). These same examples of proscribed sexual conduct are then repeated for the three other gender categories, with vaginal sex being deleted from the lists of proscribed sexual acts between monks and pandaka and males.

Together with bestiality (see "The Case of the Female Monkey," Vinaya, vol. 1, p. 27), necrophilia (see "The Two Cases of Open Sores [in Dead Bodies]," Vinaya, Vol. 1, pp. 221-222) and sex with inanimate objects (see "The Case of the Moulded Image," Vinaya, Vol. 1, p. 222 and "The Case of the Wooden Doll," Vinaya, Vol. 1, p. 222), the Vinaya also proscribes a range of homoerotic or strictly speaking autoerotic forms of sexual activity such as auto-fellatio (see "The Case of the Nimble-backed Monk," Vinaya, Vol. 1, p. 221) and auto-sodomy (see "The Case of the Monk with a Long Penis," Vinaya, Vol. 1, p. 221).

In the Vinaya's listings of proscribed sexual activities, sex between monks and the various categories of women, hermaphrodites, transvestites, men, dead bodies, animals and inanimate objects are all described in equivalent terms, none being presented as any more morally reprehensible than any other and all entailing spiritual defeat, although sex with inanimate objects was regarded as a lesser infraction entailing penance but not expulsion from the sangha. However, elsewhere in the Vinaya and in other sections of the Tipitaka it is made clear that ubhatobyanjanaka and pandaka are spiritually and ritually inferior to men, often being compared with women and criminals. But before reviewing these scriptural references I first consider in detail the definitions of the Pali terms ubhatobyanjanaka and pandaka and their relationship to the Thai notion of kathoey.

Defining Ubhatobyanjanaka, Pandaka and Kathoey

The Pali Text Society Pali-English Dictionary defines ubhatobyanjanaka as "Haying the characteristics of both sexes, hermaphrodite" (Rhys Davids 1975:154) and the reformist Thai Buddhist writer Phra Ratchaworamuni 9 provides a similar definition in his Dictionary of Buddhist Teachings, namely, "Beings with the genital organs of both sexes" (Ratchaworamuni 1984:435). Khamhuno, author of a weekly newsmagazine column on Buddhist affairs, has defined ubhatobyanjanaka in Thai as kathoey thae or "true kathoeys" (Khamhuno 1989:37), that is, hermaphrodites. However, Bunmi Methangkun, head of the traditionalist Abhidhamma Foundation, indicates that psychological as well as physiological factors are involved when, following the Abhidhammapitaka (no reference cited), 10 he describes two types of hermaphrodites, namely, female (Pali: itthi-ubhatobyan janaka) and male (Pali: purisa-ubhatobyanjanaka). According to Bunmi, an itthi-ubhatobyanjanaka is physically female, including having normal female genitals, but when physically attracted to another woman, her previously female mind disappears and changes instead into the mind of a man, and at the same time male genitals appear while her female genitals disappear and she is able to have sexual intercourse with that woman. (Note: "to disappear" here does not mean that she does not have [female genitals any more].) (Bunmi 1986:238) A purisa-ubhatobyanjanaka is the opposite of the above, that is, someone who is physiologically male but when sexually attracted to another man loses his masculinity and takes on the mental characteristics and physical features of a woman so that he is able to have heterosexual relations with the man who arouses him (Bunmi 1986:238-239) 11 Bunmi goes onto say that male and female hermaphrodites are primarily distinguishable as follows, An itthi-ubhatobyanjanaka person is herself able to become pregnant to a man and can also make another woman pregnant but a purisa-ubhatobyanjanaka person cannot himself become pregnant even though he can make a woman pregnant. (Bunmi 1986:239). In an interesting precursor to the modern distinction between sexual orientation and biological sex, Buddhaghosa describes the hermaphroditism of the ubhatobyanjanaka as arising from a dissonance between the masculine and feminine "power" (indriya) of an individual and their sexual organs (byanjana). He describes masculine and feminine behaviours as respectively arising from the "power of masculinity" (purusindriya) and the "power of femininity" (itthindriya). However, he maintains that these powers are not the cause of the male and female sexual organs and goes on to describe ubhatobyanjanaka as persons with the body of one gender but the "power" of the other. As Zwilling correctly observes (1992:206), in this account Buddhaghosa does not in fact describe hermaphroditism but rather bisexuality or homosexuality.

A famous scriptural example of such a sex-changing ubhatobyanjanaka is the case of a wealthy man named after his home town of Soreyya that is recorded in the Dhammapadatthakatha the commentary on the Dhammapada. The Sri Lankan scholar Malalasekera summarises the Soreyya legend as follows,

Once when he [Soreyya] and a friend with a large retinue were driving out of the city to bathe, he saw Maha Kaccayana [a prominent disciple of the Buddha] adjusting his robe before entering the city for alms. Soreyya saw the Elder's body, and wished that he could make him his wife or that his wife's body might become in colour like the Elder's. Immediately Soreyya turned into a woman and, hiding from his companions, went with a caravan bound for Takkasila. Arriving at Takkasila, he became the wife of the Treasurer of that city and had two sons. He already had two sons in Soreyya born to him before his transformation. Some time after, he saw his former friend driving in a carriage through Takkasila and, sending a slave-woman to him, invited him to the house and entertained him. The friend was unable to recognise him till he revealed the truth. Thereupon they both returned to Soreyya and invited Maha Kaccayana to a meal. Soreyya fell at his feet, confessed his fault, and asked for forgiveness. When the Elder pardoned him he once more became a man. He entered the order under the Elder and went with him to Savitthi. There people having heard of his story worried him with questions. He therefore retired into solitude and, developing insight, became an arahant. Before that when people asked him which of his children he loved best he would say, "Those to whom I gave birth while a woman," but after attaining arahantship he would say, "My affections are set on no one" (Malalasekera 1960:13l1-1312) Definitions of pandaka are more diverse than those provided for ubhatobyanjanaka. The Pali English Dictionary defines a pandaka as "A eunuch, weakling" (Rhys Davids 1975:404), while the Thai translation of the Vinaya provides the definition, "a kathoey, a castrated man or eunuch" (Vinaya, Vol. 1, p. 768). 12 Suchip Punyanuphap, author of a comprehensive Thai language summary of the forty-five volumes of the Tipitaka, equates pandaka with kathoey and defines both in behavioural and psychological rather than physiological terms as, "a person who takes pleasure in having relations with a man while feeling that they are like a woman" (Suchip 1982:224n). Khamhuno says that pandaka are people who have abnormal sexual feelings, whether homosexual, sado-masochistic, etc., while ubhatobyanjanaka denotes physical kathoeys, i.e. hermaphrodites (Khamhuno 1989:37). Bunmi says that a pandaka is "a person who has a deficiency in the signs of masculinity [for men] or femininity [for women] (Bunmi 1986:235) 13 and goes on to describe five types of pandaka identfied in the Abhidhammapitaka (no reference cited). 14 However, only one of these five types matches his own definition of showing deficiencies in either masculinity or femininity. The five types of pandaka Bunmi lists are:
  1. asittakapandaka—A man who gains sexual satisfaction from performing oral sex on another man and from ingesting his semen, or who only becomes sexually aroused after having ingested another man's semen (ibid. :235-236).
  2. ussuyapandaka—A voyeur, a man or woman who gains sexual satisfaction merely from watching a man and a woman having sex (ibid. :236).
  3. opakkamikapandaka—Eunuchs, that is, castrated men lacking complete sexual organs. Unlike the other four types of pandaka Bunmi describes, these men attain their condition after birth and are not born as pandaka (ibid.:236). 15
  4. pakkhapandaka—PeopIe who by the force of past misdeeds become sexually aroused in parallel with the phases of the moon, either becoming sexually aroused during the two week period of the waning moon (Pali: kalapakkha) and ceasing to be sexually aroused during the fortnight of the waxing moon (Pali: junhapakkha) or, conversely, becoming sexually aroused during the period of the waxing moon and ceasing to be sexually aroused during the period of the waning moon (ibid.:236). 16
  5. napumsakapandaka (also sometimes called simply napumsaka)—A person with no clearly defined genitals, whether male or female, having only a urinary tract (ibid. :237). Another definition of a napumsaka given by Bunmi is, "a [male] person who is not able to engage in activities like a man" (ibid. :239). Elsewhere Bunmi adds that napumsakapandaka are born without any genital organs as punishment for having castrated animals in a past life (ibid. :267). 17
Bunmi also notes that "lower level" spirits such as thewada (Pali: devata) and pretasurakai (Pali: preta-asurakaya), which he collectively calls phi-sang-thewada, can also be kathoeys, in this case using the Thai term kathoey to include both the Pali categories of pandaka and ubhatobyanjanaka (ibid. :255).

Contemporary Thai accounts of ubhatobyanjanaka and pandaka are complicated by the tendency of authors to identify both these groups as kathoeys and to use this Thai term interchangeably with the Pali terms. Different Thai authors use the term kathoey to refer to at least four distinct conditions covering a diverse range of physical, psychological and emotional phenomena that are now usually separated out into biological sex (hermaphroditism), psychological gender (transvestism and transsexualism) and sexuality (homosexuality). Originally kathoey appears to have referred to true hermaphrodites. However, it has come to be used more broadly to refer to people who are believed to possess or take on physical, behavioural or attitudinal characteristics generally ascribed to the opposite sex. The complex of phenomena referred to by the term kathoey reflects Thai cultural norms of masculinity and femininity and notions of appropriate sex roles, gender behaviour and sexuality. Kathoey denotes a type of person not simply a type of behaviour and in different contexts can include one or more of the following groups:

  1. Hermaphrodites (Pali: ubhatobyanjanaka; Thai: kathoey thae or "true kathoeys"): that is, people who to a greater or lesser degree are either born with or at some time after birth naturally develop physical characteristics of both sexes. Hermaphrodites also include people born without any clearly determinable sex (Pali: napumsakapandaka ).
  2. Transvestites and Transsexuals (Pali: pandaka, itthi- & purisa-ubhato byanjanaka; Thai: kathoey thiam or "pseudo-kathoeys"): that is, people who are physically male or female but prefer either to dress and behave as a member of the opposite sex or, in the case of transsexuals, to undergo hormone treatment and/or surgery in order to change their body to more closely approximate the physical features of a person of the opposite sex. In the Pali canon transsexualism is described as a spontaneous change of sex caused purely by psychological factors and not requiring medical intervention.
  3. Homosexuals (Pali: pandaka; Thai: variously, kathoey, gay, tut, etc. for men; kathoeys, tom, dee, etc., for women): that is, people who are physically male or female and are sexually attracted to people of their own sex.
The term kathoey includes homosexuals because in Thailand homosexuality, on the model of hermaphroditism, is popularly regarded as resulting from a psychological mixing of genders. That is, within the Thai cultural context a male homosexual is commonly regarded as having a woman's mind and a woman's sexual desires and a lesbian is regarded as having a man's mind and a man's sexual desires. The blending of genders denoted in the term kathoey may thus be solely physical, solely an imputed psychological mixing, or a combination of both.

The Thai term kathoey is derivationally unrelated to the Pali scriptural terms it is commonly used to translate, suggesting an indigenous pre-Buddhist conception of abnormal gender/sexuality. The Thai peoples adopted Theravada Buddhism around the eleventh and twelfth centuries of the Christian era. But whether or not Buddhism has been instrumental in influencing the development of the popular Thai notion, a very similar mixing of physical and psychological sex, gender behaviours and sexuality occurs both in the Pali terms pandaka and in the Thai term kathoey. Both terms are parts of conceptual schemes in which people regarded as exhibiting physiological or culturally ascribed features of the opposite sex are categorised together. If Buddhism was not the source of the popular Thai conception of kathoey then at the very least it has reinforced a markedly similar pre-existing Thai cultural concept.

Several points emerge from the diversity of definitions for ubhatobyanjanaka, pandaka and kathoey:
Firstly, the mix of sexual and gender phenomena denoted by the terms ubhatobyanjanaka, pandaka and kathoey are lumped together because in both the canonical Buddhist and traditional Thai views they represented an assumed continuum of sex/gender imbalance, from the solely physical (hermaphroditism) to the psycho-physical (transvestism, transsexualism) and the solely psychological (homosexuality).

Secondly, what further united the diverse physiological, psychological and behavioural categories brought together under these terms is the assumption, detailed further below, that all have a common kammic origin in heterosexual misconduct in a past life. Indeed, the issue of the origin of homosexuality dominates contemporary discussions of the topic by Thai Buddhist commentators and, as described in detail in the following sections, this has important implications for Buddhist ethical pronouncements on homosexuality.

Thirdly, ubhatobyanjanaka and pandaka denote types of people rather than types of behaviour and are primarily gender categories—denoting assumed deficiencies or aberrations in masculinity or femininity—rather than categories that denote sexuality. This is shown by the fact that the Vinaya in places refers to homosexual behaviour between monks who are not identified as being either ubhatobyanjanaka or pandaka That is, homosexuality is not the central defining feature of these two categories. But having said this, it is still the case that the aberrant gender of ubhatobyanjanaka and pandaka people is generally assumed to imply that they engage in homosexual behaviour.

The traditional sense of the Thai term kathoey also appears to have focussed primarily on assumed gender aberration as defining a type of person and only secondarily on homosexual behaviour. However, the diffuseness of many contemporary Thai discussions of pandaka appears to result not only from the diverse range of phenomena referred to by the term in the Pali scriptures but also from a recent shift from assumed gender imbalance to homosexuality as the defining characteristic of a kathoey individual. This recent semantic shift in Thailand—to regard homosexual behaviour as much as cross-gender attributes as defining some persons' individuality—is still in process and older, gender-focussed readings of the term kathoey co-exist with the newer emphasis on sexuality. Nevertheless, the extent of the semantic shift that has taken place in the past two or three decades can be seen from the fact that kathoey is now commonly used by heterosexuals as a derogatory term for any homosexual man even when that man is not effeminate and does not cross-dress. 18

This shift in the sense of kathoey, together with the common tendency to use this word to translate the Pali term pandaka, leads many contemporary Thai commentators to read the Buddhist scriptures as referring to "homosexuals" in the modern sense of the term. For example, in his article "Gays Appear in sangha Circles" Khamhuno uses the Pali, Thai and English terms pandaka, bandor and gay interchangeably to mean homosexual men (Khamhuno 1989:37). This represents an important shift in the reading of the term pandaka. Many ethical judgments made of pandaka in the Vinaya (see below) relate primarily to the transgression of ascribed gender roles for men and women. However, when kathoeys is understood to mean "homosexual" or "gay" and pandaka is translated by kathoey then scriptural judgments on pandaka are read as referring to homosexuality or gayness whether or not these are associated with cross-gender behaviour. In other words, early Buddhist pronouncements on one phenomenon—cross-gender behaviour—are now widely read in Thailand as referring to another, distinct phenomenon—homosexuality or gayness.

Attitudes to Pandaka and Ubhatobyanjanaka in the Tipitaka

It is difficult to discern a single distinct ethical position on homosexual behaviour in the Pali canon. The Vinaya proscribes all intentional sexual activity for monks and in this regard makes no distinction between heterosexual or homosexual activity. There are some cases in the Vinaya where ubhatobyanjanaka and pandaka are regarded tolerantly, being treated no differently from other people. Yet there are also other cases where they appear to be discriminated against. However, it is not always easy to determine whether it is these individuals' cross-gender behaviour or their homosexuality which is tolerated or criticised in the different references, as the two issues of gender and sexuality were not conceptually distinguished in the canon. But given the tendency of some contemporary Thai authors to read these references as in fact making judgments on homosexuality it is important that they be considered in some detail in order to understand the impact of religious teachings on attitudes today.

The Vinaya does not appear to contain any explicit ethical pronouncements on the behaviour of lay pandaka or ubhatobyanjanaka. Furthermore, the Theravada scriptures and related commentary literature are not consistent in their ethical judgments of pandaka and ubhatobyanjanaka within the sangha, recording attitudes varying from the accepting and compassionate to the unaccepting and discriminatory. What appears to determine the Buddha's described attitude in different cases is not the individual pandaka's or ubhatobyanjanaka's different gender or sexual interests as such, but rather how openly he/she reveals his/her difference and whether their condition was known before they were ordained into the sangha or was only discovered after ordination. In general, the Buddha was more tolerant of pandaka and ubhatobyanjanaka who were less open about their difference and whose condition was only discovered after ordination.

Furthermore, canonical attitudes to pandaka in particular appear to have developed over time as the Buddha attempted to ensure that the newly formed sangha remained respectable in the eyes of the public of his time. As reported in the canon, attitudes to pandaka in the sangha developed in response to incidents of public criticism as much as in response to any application of general ethical principles. In trying to avoid being seen as disreputable in the eyes of lay society in ancient India, the early sangha appears to have absorbed, codified and institutionalised prevailing antagonistic attitudes to pandaka. As Richard Gombrich notes,

Whenever the Buddha is represented as disapproving of something, he says that it is not conducive to increasing the number of believers. He then pronounces a rule, for which he gives a stock list of ten reasons. They can be summarised as the protection and convenience of the sangha, the moral purity of its members, increase in the number of believers and the good of non-believers. This, we might say, epitomises the Buddhist view (at least in the Theravada tradition) of how Buddhism relates to society. Nor is this empty rhetoric: the occasions for promulgating rules are frequently lay dissatisfaction (Gombrich 1988:90). In following sections I detail how attitudes recorded in the canon prefigure contemporary Thai Buddhist accounts of homosexuality on at least two main counts. Firstly, canonical divergences permit a variety of contemporary accounts of homosexuality—ranging from the compassionate if condescending to the discriminatory—to be presented as authoritative Buddhist pronouncements on the issue. Secondly, the Buddha's own social pragmatism on the issue of the sangha's treatment of pandaka and ubhatobyanjanaka monks parallels inconsistencies in the writings of some modern reformist Thai Buddhist thinkers who have developed progressive and compassionate analyses of social issues such as poverty and the impact of rapid social change on village life but who remain steadfastly antagonistic on the issue of homosexuality.

Instances of Scriptural Tolerance of Pandaka

There are a number of scriptural examples of pandaka and ubhatobyanjanaka being tolerated within the sangha, in some cases becoming honoured members of the order respected for their high levels of spiritual attainment. The Vinaya describes cases of ordained monks changing gender and taking on the physical characteristics of women and, conversely, of ordained nuns changing gender to take on the physical characteristics of men. When these cases were brought to the Buddha's attention he is reported as saying that he had approved their ordinations and they had maintained the rainy season retreat (Pali: vassa, Thai: phansa) of the sangha, that is, they had demonstrated their worthiness as members of the sangha. He then gives permission for the monk who became a woman to live with the order of nuns and follow the nuns' code of conduct, and for the nun who became a man to live with the order of monks and follow the monks' code of conduct (Vinaya, Vol. 1, p. 220). Commenting on this liberal pronouncement, Bunmi laments, "But in the present time who will be the judge if a monk changes into a woman? There are no longer any nuns for such a person to go and live with" (Bunmi 1986:255). That is, given that the order of Theravada Buddhist nuns fell into decay in early medieval India and for technical reasons cannot be reconstituted in modern Thailand, 19 it is no longer possible for the Buddha's liberal pronouncement to be followed.

The commentary literature also contains a number of legends and stories of pandaka and ubhatobyanjanaka being accepted within the sangha. The previously described account of Soreyya is a case in point. In particular, the scriptural claim that Soreyya ultimately attained arahantship would appear to contradict the view held by some contemporary Thai Buddhists that homosexuals are constitutionally incapable of achieving nibbana or other high spiritual attainments. Bunmi for one opposes this view and provides scriptural support for a compassionate and accepting stance on homosexuality by citing scriptural references to spiritually eminent and respected pandaka and by equating pandaka with kathoey, which he in turn identifies with gay or homosexual. Bunmi refers to the Abhidhammapitaka (no reference cited) as stating that Ananda, the Buddha's first cousin and personal attendant, had been born as a kathoey in many previous lives (Bunmi 1986:261). Prasok, a newspaper columnist writing on Buddhism, 20 also refers to this scriptural account, saying,

In previous existences Phra Ananda, the Buddha's personal attendant, had been a gay or kathoey for many hundreds of lives. In his last life he was born as a full man who was ordained and was successful in achieving arahantship three months after the Buddha attained nibbana. The reason he was born a kathoey was because in a previous life he had committed the sin of adultery. This led to him stewing in hell for tens of thousands of years. After he was freed from hell a portion of his old kamma still remained and led to him being reborn as a kathoey for many hundreds of lives (Prasok 1989:10). Malalasekera cites the Dhammapadatthakatha, the Dhammapada Commentary, which describes Ananda's various previous existences, as the source of this story and gives the following apparently bowdlerised summary, When Ananda was born as a blacksmith he sinned with the wife of another man. As a result he suffered in hell for a long time and was born for fourteen existences as someone's wife, 21 and it was seven existences more before his evil deed was exhausted (Malalasekera 1960:267-268). The case of Vakkali noted by the lay Buddhist author and academic, Sathienpong Wannapok, provides further evidence of the non-canonicity of the contemporary Thai view that homosexuals are incapable of following the Buddha's teachings or of achieving the "fruits of the path." In his article, "When Gays See the Dhamma," Sathienpong relates his version of the Vakkali legend to provide scriptural support for the position that gay men can achieve enlightenment by renouncing their sexual desire in the same way as heterosexuals and that homosexuals and heterosexuals are no different spiritually. Sathienpong begins by noting that in the commentaries on the Tipitaka (no reference cited) those who saw the Buddha and subsequently developed faith in his teachings are divided into four categories:
  1. rupapamanika (variously spelt rupappamanika)—literally "measuring [significance] by form," that is, those who developed faith because of attraction to the Buddha's impressive physical appearance, including his "radiant coppery complexion" (Sathienpong 1987:59).
  2. ghosapamanika (variously spelt ghosappamanika)—those who were impressed by the Buddha's voice and developed faith.
  3. lukhapamanika (variously spelt lukhappamanika)—those who were impressed by the simplicity of the Buddha's way of life and so developed faith.
  4. dhammapamanika (variously spelt dhammappamanika)—those who were impressed by the Buddha's teachings and consequently developed faith.
Sathienpong says many men in the rupapamanika category were so taken by the Buddha's physical appearance that their attraction to his "handsomeness" was the prime reason they gave up their worldly lives to follow the sangha's ascetic practices, adding that in modern terms men in this category would be called gay. Significantly, men described as rupapamanika are not otherwise described as being ubhatobyanjanaka or pandaka. That is, rupapamanika denotes a man with no deficiency in his masculine characteristics who was attracted to the Buddha's physical appearance and became an ordained monk.

In the version of the legend related by Sathienpong, 22 Vakkali was the son of a Brahmin from Savitthi and was so impressed by the Buddha's physical appearance that he sought ordination. But after being ordained he did not undertake the normal monastic activities, instead spending his time following the Buddha everywhere so that he could look at him. One day when Vakkali was staring unblinkingly at the Buddha, the Buddha castigated him, asking what he was looking for "in this stinking rotten body? Anyone who sees the dhamma has seen the Buddha and anyone who has seen the Buddha has seen the dhamma" (Sathienpong 1987:60). The Buddha then ordered Vakkali out of his presence. Vakkali was so shattered by this command that he attempted to kill himself by jumping off a mountain. But deva or spiritual beings informed the Buddha of Vakkali's dejection and he quickly went to the monk's aid in time to save him from committing suicide. With an extremely brief exposition of the dhamma, "The eyes see dhamma," the Buddha gave Vakkali the insight he needed in order to attain enlightenment and he immediately attained arahantship.

Instances of Scriptural Discrimination Against Pandaka and Ubhatobyanjanaka

The scriptures describe the Buddha as expressing a compassionate attitude towards people who began to show cross-gender characteristics after ordination and to those who, while attracted to members of the same sex, were regarded as being physiologically and behaviourally true to the then prevailing cultural notions of masculinity. However, the Buddha opposed accepting into the sangha those who openly expressed cross-gender features at the time they presented for ordination. Volume Four of the Vinaya recounts a story of a pandaka who violated the clerical vow of celibacy and whose bad example led to a comprehensive ban on the ordination of pandaka. This story is interesting on a number of counts and I reproduce it in full below.
The Story of the Prohibition of the Ordination of Pandaka

At that time a Pandaka had been ordained in a residence of monks. He went to the young monks and encouraged them thus, 'Come all of you and assault 23 me." The monks spoke aggressively, "Pandaka, you will surely be ruined. pandaka, you will surely be [spiritually] destroyed. Of what benefit will it be?" Having been spoken to aggressively by the monks, he went to some large, stout novices and encouraged them thus, "Come all of you and assault me." The novices spoke aggressively. "Pandaka, you will surely be ruined. Pandaka, you will surely be destroyed. Of what benefit will it be?" Having been spoken to aggressively by the novices, the pandaka went to men who tend elephants and horses and spoke to them thus. "Come all of you and assault me." 24 The men who tend elephants and horses assaulted him and then publicly blamed, rebuked and criticised [the sangha], saying, "A samana of the lineage of the son of the Sakyas is a pandaka and these samanas, even those who are not pandakas themselves, assault the ordained pandakas. When such is the case these samanas are not practising brahmacariya (celibacy)." The monks heard the men who tend elephants and who tend horses blaming, rebuking and criticising thus and informed the Blessed One of the matter.

The Blessed One then ordered the monks, "Behold monks. a pandaka is one who is not to be ordained. Monks should not give them ordination and those who have been ordained must be made to disrobe" (Vinaya, Vol. 4, pp. 141-142).

This story shows the Buddha's concern to uphold the public image of the sangha and his wish that his followers should not be seen to violate commonly accepted standards of behaviour. 25 A number of cultural assumptions underlie the elements of this story and the Buddha's concluding pronouncement. Firstly, the fact that the pandaka monk is described as approaching in succession "young monks," "large, stout novices" and a presumably coarse group of "men who tend elephants and horses," reflects a conjuncture of notions about types of sexually attractive men still found in sections of both Thai and Western homosexual subcultures today. Secondly, while the individual monk in question violated sangha discipline, the Buddha betrays an assumption that all pandaka are likewise unsuited to monastic life when he prohibits any further ordinations of pandaka and orders those already in the sangha to be expelled. Kathoeys are often regarded in a similar way in Thailand today, commonly being stereotyped as untrustworthy prostitutes with hyperactive sex drives. These contemporary Thai stereotypes of kathoeys have precedents in descriptions of pandaka in Pali. Zwilling (1992:205) notes that the view of pandaka as "lascivious, shameless, unfilial and vacillating" was reflected in early Buddhist literature, According to Buddhaghosa pandakas are full of defiling passions (ussanakilesa); their lusts are unquenchable (avapasantaparilaha); and they are dominated by their libido (parilahavegabhibhuta) and the desire for lovers just like prostitutes (vesiya) and coarse young girls (thulakumarika) (Samantapasadika III, p.1042). Thus the pandaka . . . was considered in some degree to share the behaviour and psychological characteristics of the stereotypical "bad" woman. It might be contended that what the Buddha's ban on the ordination of pandaka reflects is concern about the disruptive effect of effeminate transvestite homosexuals in an order of celibate, predominantly heterosexual monks. However, the above piece emphasises homosexuality, indeed passive homosexual sex, as the violation and source of disruption. What the above-quoted section of the Vinaya suggests is a conflation of passive homosexual sex with demasculinisation, i.e. being a pandaka. Leaving aside the ethical misconduct of the individual pandaka monk, what the Buddha's subsequent comprehensive ban on the ordination of pandaka indicates is a concern to exclude non-masculine men from the sangha. The ban also shows that a characteristic regarded as defining a man as non-masculine or a pandaka is a preference for certain types of homosexual sex. These same attitudes remain prevalent in Thailand today. A man who is known to be the receptive partner in anal sex may be labelled a kathoey. i.e. non-masculine, even if he is not effeminate or a transvestite, but the inserter in anal sex rarely suffers such stigmatisation. The above-cited scriptural references to penetrative homosexual sex (i.e. methunadhamma defined in "masculine" or penetrative terms), while proscriptive, do not imply that the men who engaged in such sexual behaviour with the pandaka monk jeopardised their masculinity. In other words, the canon appears to inscribe attitudes to male-male sex and masculinity that parallel views widely held in contemporary Thailand.

The ban on the ordination of pandaka or kathoeys has continued until today. In 1989 Khamhuno reported a meeting of the Mahatherasamakhom or Sangha Council, the supreme governing body of the Thai sangha, at which the matter of "sexually perverted (wiparit thang phet) persons being ordained as monks" was raised (Khamhuno 1989:37). The Sangha Council discussed the matter after news reports of the ordination of a kathoey and local criticism of the abbot who permitted the ordination. In reporting the Council's meeting, Khamhuno reaffirmed the Buddha's edict that pandaka should not be ordained, writing, "In fact, the Vinaya and the laws of the Mahatherasamakhom clearly specify that people who are kathoeys or pandaka are prohibited from being ordained." adding that pandaka and ubhatobyanjanaka are also prohibited from being ordained as novices (ibid.).

Khamhuno comments that when a man presents for ordination he is ceremonially asked a number of questions in Pali by the ordaining preceptor. Among these is the question, purisosi—"You are a man, are you not?" The ordinand is then expected to answer with the affirmative expression, amabhante. Khamhuno says that this question is meant to determine whether the ordinand is in fact a man, not a person with two genders (ubhatobyanjanaka) or a kathoey (pandaka), and justifies the ban on gays in the sangha on the basis of having to prevent people who can bring the order into disrepute from being ordained. 26 By equating gays with kathoeys and hermaphrodites and affirming the ban on their ordination, Khamhuno indicates that the crux of the prohibition on their ordination is, as suggested above, the expression of inappropriate or inadequate masculinity. The ordination question, "You are a man, are you not?" thus refers to more than biological male sex, also including the culturally defined gender notion of masculinity. In other words, the ordination question could be translated as You are a 'real' man, are you not?"

That deficient masculinity lies at the core of the notion of pandaka (and also of kathoey), and is the basis of discriminatory attitudes towards this group in the Buddhist scriptures, is further demonstrated in sections of the Vinaya where pandaka are described as having a spiritually inferior status to men. For example, Volume Four specifies that if a monk is ill on the day when the patimokkha, the two hundred and twenty seven clerical rules of conduct, are ritually recited and he is unable to join in the ceremony he may declare his moral purity, that is, the fact that he has not violated the clerical code during the past fortnight, to another monk. This second monk may then convey the ill monk's affirmation to the assembly of monks at that monastery. But if the monk to whom the ill monk makes his affirmation has some stigma attaching to him then the affirmation is invalidated and must be made again to another, ritually pure monk. The specified types of stigma that invalidate an affirmation of moral purity include: the fact that a purported monk is only a novice (i.e. not fully ordained into the order), if the monk is mentally deranged, a murderer, a non-human (i.e. a spirit) posing as a human or if the monk is a pandaka ( Vinaya, Vol. 4, pp. 194-195). That is, according to the Vinaya, pandaka, along with murderers, the mentally deranged, non-humans, etc., are spiritually defective and lack the ritual authority required in order to convey an ill monk's affirmation of moral purity to the assembly of monks.

Furthermore, in the section of the Vinaya dealing with ceremonial seating arrangements for monks. The Buddha permits monks to sit together with other monks in a specified arrangement but explicitly prohibits them from sitting together with pandaka, women and ubhatobyanjanaka, indicating that he considered it spiritually inappropriate for monks to sit with members of these three non-masculine groups (Vinaya, Vol. 7, p. 84). 


Scriptural attitudes to pandaka and ubhatobyanjanaka are not uniform and depending on which sections of the Tipitaka are referred to or emphasised can lead to differing ethical positions on homosexuality, some compassionate and others invidious. Indeed, two broad schools of thought on homosexuality are current among contemporary Thai Buddhist writers, one accepting, the other unaccepting. The key factor differentiating the divergent stances is the author's conceptualisation of the origin of homosexuality. Those who maintain that homosexuality is a condition which is outside the conscious control of homosexuals and has its origins in past misdeeds take a liberal stance, while those who maintain that it is a wilful violation of ethical and natural principles take an antagonistic position.

Kammic Accounts of the Origins of Homosexuality

Bunmi has provided a detailed exposition of the traditional kammic explanation of homosexuality and the ethical corollaries of this account. Like most contemporary Thai Buddhist authors, Bunmi translates pandaka into Thai as kathoey, which he appears to understand in its more traditional sense of primarily denoting an assumed gender imbalance and only secondarily denoting homosexuality. In places he uses the terms rak-ruam-phet (homosexuality) and "gay" when he wishes to focus more on sexuality than gender, but in general Bunmi does not distinguish being homosexual from being a kathoey, conflating sexuality with gender.

Bunmi lists a number of types of sexual misconduct in a past life that can lead a person to engage in homosexual activity in their current life. These misdeeds include committing adultery, being a prostitute, sexually interfering with one's children or being sexually irresponsible, such as a man not caring for a woman who becomes pregnant by him (Bunmi 1986:120- 121). Bunmi emphasises that the strength of old kamma (Thai: kam kao) generated by such transgressions cannot be counteracted and its consequences have to be accepted,

Even if brought up well in this life or born into a high family or as the child of royalty, no matter how prestigious their background, they [people who committed sexual offences in a past life] will not be able to stop themselves from becoming mixed up in sexual matters from an early age. No matter how much their parents criticise them and no matter how much they are instructed, they will still easily act wrongly with regard to sex and will not see it as dangerous but rather as something ordinary (ibid.:121).
Criticising popular Thai ideas on the origins of homosexuality, Bunmi denies that being a kathoey is caused by raising a boy with girls or by raising a girl with boys, maintaining that individuals in the categories of human beings, animals and "lower level spirits" (phi-sang-thewada) are born as kathoeys because of causal factors in their past lives (ibid.:39-41). Buddhist views that being a pandaka/kathoey is a type of stigma that marks a person as deficient are clearly shown by Bunmi's note that the Abhidhammapitaka (no reference cited) lists the kammic causes of being born with a disability. He maintains that being a kathoey is included in this list of disabilities along with being born or becoming physically disabled, being mute, mad, blind, deaf and intellectually disabled (ibid.:265). The Buddha prescribed that people with any of these disabilities, plus those with serious illnesses and diseases, should be barred from ordination.

Bunmi maintains that sex-determined kamma is of two types, that which manifests from birth and leads to hermaphroditism and that which manifests after birth and leads to transvestism, transsexualism and homosexuality (ibid. :287). He says those who are born hermaphrodites cannot attain nibbana in this life but those who become kathoeys after birth can attain nibbana if they apply their discriminating intelligence (Thai: panya) to the task of spiritual liberation (ibid. :294). Bunmi also says that kathoeys tend to be born in societies in which sexual misconduct is prevalent because such societies provide appropriate environments for them to expend their kammic debts (ibid.:301).

Significantly, Bunmi maintains that actions and desires which have an involuntary cause in the kammic consequences of past sexual misconduct do not themselves accrue any future kammic consequences. They are the outworking of past kamma, not sources for the accumulation of future kamma. According to Bunmi, homosexual activity and the desire to engage in homosexual activity fall into this category and are not sinful and do not accrue kammic consequences. In a similar vein, he says that,

Changing one's sex is not sinful (Pali: ducarita). Consequently the intention to change one's sex cannot have any ill kammic consequences. But sexual misconduct (Thai: phit-kam) is sinful and can lead to consequences in a subsequent birth (ibid. :306).
In Bunmi's account the only sexual activities that accumulate future kammic consequences are traditionally sanctioned forms of heterosexual misconduct. Bunmi says that sexual misconduct with a member of the opposite sex has kammic consequences because, "it is like stealing, because the person responsible for that person has not given their permission" (ibid. :308). Bunmi does not explicitly refer to female kathoeys and his examples of sexual misconduct that lead to being born a kathoey are moral infractions committed by men. His use of a proprietary simile, comparing adultery to theft, appears to reflect a view of women as men's property. It is also noteworthy that in Thai the words used to describe the results of a wife or child being sexually interfered with are very similar to the terms used to describe the results of being robbed. Bunmi describes both robbery and adultery as kert sia hai—"causing a loss or damage (to wealth, reputation, etc.)" (ibid.).

The sexual activities that Bunmi says Buddhism classes as sins are precisely those which in traditional Thai society, and presumably also in ancient India, were regarded as dishonouring and sullying the female victims and their male relatives or spouses, namely, adultery, rape and sex with a girl who has not been given in marriage. In this cultural context two men having sex does not cause any equivalent damage or loss (Thai: sia hai), except perhaps to their reputations as "real men" should they be discovered. But when a man is cuckolded or his wife is raped then his property has been interfered with and, in Bunmi's words, an action equivalent to a theft has occurred. Similarly, having sex with a girl who has not been given in marriage, that is, ceremonially handed over from her father to her husband, is also to interfere with a man's traditional property, in this case his daughter, and may make the young woman difficult to marry off.

There is therefore a close relationship between, on the one hand, those sexual activities which Buddhist teachings proscribe for lay people and which are interpreted as incurring kammic debts and, on the other hand, the traditional sexual mores and gender roles of Asian societies. A range of physical gender imbalances and sexual activities and inclinations which slip outside these traditional norms are considered to have a neutral kammic impact and are not regarded as evil or sinful. Significantly, it is violations of tabus and mores relating to potentially reproductive sexual behaviour which are proscribed in Bunmi's traditionalist Buddhist account, while behaviours and conditions without reproductive consequences, including homosexuality, are not regarded as sinful. However, this situation changes markedly in some more recent Thai Buddhist interpretations which identify homosexual behaviour as most definitely sinful.

Compassion for Homosexuals in Traditional Thai Buddhist Accounts

Prasok is another writer who says that kamma is the root cause of homosexuality but he also believes that the Buddhist principle of anicca or impermanence plays a causal role. Prasok calls homosexuality one of the "perversities of nature" (khwam-wiparit khorng thammachat) and compares homosexuals to calves born with five legs, saying they are strange but still part of natural processes. He maintains that because of the play of the principle of impermanence the factors determining masculinity and femininity are incomplete or mixed in some individuals, leading to physical and psycho-sexual differences. Prasok's views lead him to adopt a compassionate if condescending view of homosexual people when he writes, "I am not criticising anyone [i.e. homosexuals] at all because I see that this proceeds according to the outworking of each individual's old kamma" (Prasok 1989:10).

Prasok adds that in a previous birth all people who are now kathoeys have had to climb the spike tree of hell (Thai: ton-ngiw). After committing sexual sins they were reborn in hell where they were chased by vicious beasts, their only escape being to climb a tree with spikes in its trunks and branches which pierced their limbs and bodies as they clambered up it. Prasok says these people suffered great torment and cried out "Oh! Oh! I've learnt my lesson," and because of the suffering kathoeys have purportedly endured in hell he feels in no position to condemn them, adding that you cannot criticise people because of their kamma.

Bunmi's view on the kammic origins of homosexuality and being a kathoey lead him to a similar compassionate but condescending stance. Bunmi says,

Society in Thailand and in almost every other country in the world does not really accept kathoeys. This is because they do not know the real truth about the causes of becoming a kathoey, which are extremely pitiable (Bunmi 1986:42).

People who study and understand the Abhidhamma will not laugh at or ridicule kathoeys . . . but rather will sympathise with them and feel sorry for them and find ways to help them to the extent that they can be helped. They will point out the ways of dealing more intelligently with life's problems so that kathoeys don't repeat their old mistakes that will lead to great sadness and sorrow in the future (ibid. :40).

Bunmi comments that Thai people generally laugh at kathoeys but they do not know that "those who laugh at and ridicule kathoeys were themselves kathoeys in a past life" (ibid.:251). Bunmi claims that in some past life everyone has been born a kathoey because everyone has been guilty of sexual misconduct at some point in their multitude of previous existences. He maintains, If they studied the causes of being a kathoey, the life of the mind. . . . all those who like to laugh at and ridicule kathoeys would not be able to laugh any more. Because the very people who laugh at kathoeys were themselves once kathoeys. Absolutely everyone without exception has been a kathoey because we have gone through innumerable cycles of birth and death, and we don't know how many times we have been kathoeys in past lives or how many more times we may be kathoeys in the future (ibid. :258). Bunmi here is arguing that kathoeys should be treated with tolerance and compassion, Buddhist virtues regarded as meritorious, and he points out that contemporary Thai society often fails to reflect the ethics of its ostensible Buddhist heritage in the case of kathoeys and gays. But while compassionate, Bunmi's views do not lead to full acceptance of transvestism or homosexuality because he holds up kathoeys as examples of what happens to people who breach codes of sexual conduct. Even compassionate Buddhist interpreters still regard being homosexual or a kathoey as a condition inherently defined by suffering, citing the lack of acceptance, social opprobrium and the ensuing problems these people suffer. It is the perceived suffering of kathoeys and homosexuals that leads traditionalist Buddhist interpreters such as Bunmi and Prasok to regard this variety of sexuality as the kammic consequence of past sexual misdeeds. These interpreters do not consider the possibility that the suffering endured by homosexuals may not be inherent in their sexuality but rather may result from the intolerant social environment in which they live. Following the kammic account of the cause of homosexuality, the suffering of homosexuals can only be endured, not ameliorated, because it is interpreted as resulting from the individuals' own past misdeeds and will continue until the kammic consequences of those misdeeds have been expunged. Bunmi and Prasok construe homosexuals' suffering as a reminder and a moral lesson on the unfortunate consequences of sexual misconduct. Kathoeys may be pitiable and worthy of sympathy but in the kammic account they are still the products of immorality, albeit in a past life, and in an ideal cosmos populated only by moral people they would cease to exist.

AIDS and Anti-Homosexual Intolerance in Thailand

The kammic account of the origins of homosexuality is not the only Buddhist interpretation current in Thailand. Since the arrival of HIV/AIDS in Thailand in the mid-1980s a number of Buddhist writers have presented strongly anti-homosexual views. These more recent critical positions consider homosexuality to be a conscious violation of sexual mores and therefore ethically reprehensible. As in the West, which I suspect to be the source of many of the more extreme anti-homosexual arguments presented in Thailand in recent years, HIV/AIDs has led to the foregrounding of subcurrents of homophobia in Thai culture and society.

The critics continue to conflate gender and sexuality issues, interpreting homosexuality as a consequence of gender imbalance or perversion. However, in the light of the focus on male homosexual activity as a mode of transmission of HIV infection during the early years of the pandemic, Thai Buddhist critics concentrated more on the sexuality of people identified as kathoeys than on these persons' assumed gender imbalance. It is interesting that this inversion of the traditional structuring of ideas of gender and sexuality in the notion of the kathoey, placing homosexuality rather than gender at the focus of the concept, was associated with a shift in Buddhist attitudes from relative tolerance to condemnation of homosexuality. AIDS thus had an important cultural impact in Thailand, contributing to shifts in the understanding of what constitutes a kathoey and leading to increased stigmatisation of male homosexuality.


Buddhism is a complex tradition and there is no single canonical or scripturally sanctioned position on homosexuality. Rather, the Pali scriptures contain a number of divergent trends which different interpreters can use to develop views on homosexuality that range from the sympathetic to the antagonistic. Whether an interpreter adopts a sympathetic or a critical stance depends on whether he or she regards the cause of homosexuality as lying outside the individual, in old kamma build up in a previous life, or in the individual's own supposedly immoral conduct.

It is interesting that the latter, intolerant view is the more recent and, paradoxically, is presented by some authors who are otherwise identified as progressive. Buddhist authors like Phra Ratchaworamuni are generally concerned to reform Thai Buddhism by uprooting institutional corruption, demythologising traditional Buddhist metaphysics and making the sangha a purer and more effective cultural vehicle for transmitting traditional values in the contemporary world. As in the West, public panic about AIDS and latent fears about homosexuality combined in Thailand in the 1980s to produce an increasingly explicit intolerance of homosexuality in some quarters. But AIDS alone does not explain the vehemence of the recent Buddhist attacks on homosexuality. In my 1989 book Buddhism, Legitimation and Conflict: The Political Functions of Urban Thai Buddhism I described how reformist interpretations of Buddhism have been associated with a de-emphasis on kamma as an explanation for why society and people are the way they are. This has opened the way for the development of an interventionist Buddhist social theory in Thailand which focuses more on people's capacity to change their circumstances than on the extent to which their current life conditions are kammically pre-determined. From an ethical standpoint, interventionist and politically progressive Buddhist theories place more emphasis on individuals' responsibility for their own future. However, in the context of the AIDS panic in the second half of the 1980s and a widespread if previously diffuse anti-homosexual sentiment in Thailand, the new reformist accounts of Buddhism fostered the development of a more focussed anti-homosexual polemic.

Reformist and modernist trends in Thai Buddhism are often regarded as politically progressive because of their opposition to the historical alignment of the sangha with the authoritarian centralised state and military dictatorship. On the other hand, traditional metaphysical views of Buddhism which emphasised the assumed determining power of kamma are criticised by reformists as intellectually backward and politically conservative. Paradoxically, however, the reformist, politically progressive interpretations of Buddhism are often linked with a strident moralism and a vehement anti-homosexual stance unprecedented in recent Thai history. While, on the other hand, the conservative traditionalists who still believe in the determining power of kamma take a more laissez faire approach to issues such as homosexuality.

Thailand in the second half of the 1980s thus provided an interesting example of how changing intellectual and social conditions can bring a previously neglected area of social and cultural life to prominence and invest it with new meanings and significance. Thai history in the 1980s also shows that political progressivism, intellectual modernisation and ethical liberalism are not necessarily related trends and can move independently and at different rates. Indeed, the very factors which lead to perceived political progress and expanded socio-economic opportunities for some sectors can simultaneously lead to regressive and discriminatory developments in other spheres which restrict and deny opportunities to other sectors of society.

Nevertheless, the impact of Buddhist authors' anti-homosexual rhetoric appears to have been relatively small. To a large measure this has been because the 1980s issue of homosexual men as the purported source of AIDS has all but been forgotten in the 1990s as the magnitude of the problem of heterosexual transmission of HIV in Thailand has become apparent. 27 The vehement anti-homosexual rhetoric in Thailand in the second half of the 1980s has not led to any noticeable increase in publicly expressed intolerance or discrimination against male homosexuals beyond that which already existed. Paradoxically, the brief period of public anxiety about homosexual men as vectors of HIV/AIDS and the associated religiously authorised criticisms of kathoeys may in fact have contributed to the consolidation of gay identity among increasing numbers of Thai homosexual men and not only because of the public prominence given to homosexuality.

There has been considerable discussion among Western gay/lesbian analysts about the historical shift in Western societies from viewing homosexuality as a behaviour to a defining characteristic of a type of person, i.e. the homosexual (see Halperin 1990). The changing relative emphases on gender and sexuality in the notion of kathoey appear to be leading to a similar shift in Thailand. When the class of people identified as kathoeys were primarily defined by their assumed gender imbalance then homosexuality was viewed as a behaviour that "men" as well as kathoeys may engage in. But as kathoeys have come to be defined more by their sexuality then the idea of the homosexual as a class of person has also gained currency in Thailand. This change is reflected in the already noted heterosexual use of the term kathoey to refer derogatorily to homosexual men and the idea that even though a gay man may look like a "man," he is really a kathoey underneath.

There is no doubt that Western notions of the homosexual as a type of person have influenced Thai conceptions of sexuality. However, in Thailand the notions of homosexual personhood and gay identity have developed from a specifically Thai base. The pre-existing notion of the kathoey as a type of person defined by their unconventional gender/sexuality has provided an indigenous foundation for the development of new sexual identities that often appear to mirror those in the West. The view of some Thai critics that gayness in Thailand results from corrupting Western influences or mimicking of Western "sexual fashions" (see Sulak 1984:121) is therefore mistaken, but so is the perception of many Western visitors to Thailand that gay identity there is an exact mirror of Western sexualities.

Despite their discriminatory character, the fact that the Buddhist-based diatribes published in the light of HIV/AIDS focussed on homosexual men's unconventional sexuality rather than their ascribed cross-gender behaviour contributed to the consolidation of notions of homosexual identity in Thailand. In the 1990s Thai homosexual men tend to be defined as much if not more by their sexuality as by their assumed breach of gender norms, and one unintended consequence of the 1980s criticisms may be the firmer establishment of homosexuality and gayness as acknowledged focuses of sexual and social existence in Thailand.


Malalasekera's interesting summary of the legends surrounding Vakkali Thera (Malalasekera 1960:799-800) is reproduced in full below.

"He belonged to a brahmin family of Savatthi and became proficient in the three Vedas. After he once saw the Buddha he could never tire of looking at him, and followed him about. In order to be closer to him he became a monk, and spent all his time, apart from meals and bathing, in contemplating the Buddha's person. One day the Buddha said to him, 'The sight of my foul body is useless; he who sees the dhamma, he it is that seeth me' (yo kho dhammam passati so mam passati; yo mam passati so dhammam passati). 28 But even then Vakkali would not leave the Buddha till, on the last day of the rains, the Buddha commanded him to depart. Greatly grieved, Vakkali sought the precipices of Gijjhakuta. The Buddha, aware of this, appeared before him and uttered a stanza; then stretching out his hand, he said: 'Come monk.' 29 Filled with joy, Vakkali rose in the air pondering the Buddha's words and realised arahantship. 30

"According to the Theragatha Commentary, 31 when Vakkali was dismissed by the Buddha he lived on Gijjhakuta, practising meditation, but could not attain insight because of his emotional nature (saddha). The Buddha then gave him a special exercise, but neither could he achieve this and, from lack of food, he suffered from cramp. The Buddha visited him and uttered a verse to encourage him. Vakkali spoke four verses 32 in reply and, conjuring up insight, won arahantship. Later, in the assembly of monks the Buddha declared him foremost among those of implicit faith (saddhadhimuttanam). 33 In the Parayanavagga 34 the Buddha is represented as holding Vakkali up to Pingiya as an example of one who won emancipation through faith.

"The Samyutta account 35 gives more details and differs in some respects from the above. There, Vakkali fell ill while on his way to visit the Buddha at Rajagaha, and was carried in a litter to a potter's shed in Rajagaha. There, at his request, the Buddha visited him and comforted him. He questioned Vakkali who assured him that he had no cause to reprove him with regard to morals (silato); his only worry was that he had not been able to see the Buddha earlier. The Buddha told him that seeing the dhamma was equivalent to seeing him, and because Vakkali had realised the dhamma, there would be no hereafter for him. After the Buddha had left, Vakkali asked his attendants to take him to Kalasila on Isigili. The Buddha was on Gijjhakuta and was told by two devas that Vakkali was about to 'obtain release.' The Buddha send [sic] word to him: "Fear not, Vakkali, your dying will not be evil.' Vakkali rose from his bed to receive the Buddha's message, and sending word to the Buddha that he had no desire or love for the body or the other khandhas [aggregates or factors making up human existence], he drew a knife and killed himself. The Buddha went to see his body, and declared that he had obtained nibbana and that Mara's attempts to find the consciousness of Vakkali would prove fruitless.

"The Commentary adds that Vakkali was conceited and blind to his remaining faults. He thought he was a khinasava [one whose mind is freed from mental obsessions], and that he might rid himself of bodily pains by death. However, the stab with the knife caused him such pain that at the moment of dying he realised his puthujana [worldly, unliberated] state and, putting forth great effort, attained arahantship.

"His resolve to become chief among the saddhadhimuttas had been made in the time of the Padumuttara Buddha, when he saw a monk also named Vakkali similarly honoured by the Buddha." 36

Buddhist Scriptures

Phra Traipidok Chabap Luang (The Tipitaka Official Royal Edition), Department of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Education, Bangkok, 4th Printing, 2525 (1982).

Other Books

(Phra) Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, Chiwit Khu (Life As a Couple), Sukhaphap Jai Printers, Bangkok, 2530 (1987).

Bunmi Methangkun, Khon Pen Kathoey Dai Yang-rai (How Can People Be Kathoeys?), Abhidhamma Foundation, Bangkok, 2529 (1986).

Gombrich, Richard, Theravada Buddhism, A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1988.

Halperin, David M., One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Love, Routledge New York, 1990.

Isaramuni, Withi Porng-kan Rok Et (The Method to Protect Against AIDS), Isaramuni Pointing the Way Series Vol. 34, Work to Revive the Dhamma for the Return of Ethics and the Supramundane, Liang Chiang Press, Bangkok, 2532 (1989).

Jackson, Peter A., Buddhadasa: A Buddhist Thinker for the Modern World, the Siam Society, Bangkok, 1988.

— , Buddhism, Legitimation and Conflict: the Political Functions of Urban Thai Buddhism, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 1989.

—. Dear Uncle Go: Male Homosexuality in Thailand, Bua Luang Books, Bangkok, 1995.

Khamhuno (pseud.), '"Gay Prakot Nai Wongkan Song (Gays Appear in Sangha Circles)", "Sangkhom Satsana (Religion and Society Column)," Siam Rath Sutsapda (Siam Rath Weekly), Vol. 36, No. 22, 18 November 2532 (1989), pp. 37-38.

Lyttleton, Chris, "Storm Warnings: Responding to Messages of Danger in Isan," in Thai Sexuality in the Age of AIDS: The Australian Journal of Anthropology 1995, 6:3, pp. 178-196.

Malalasekera, G.P., Dictionary of Pali Proper Names (2 VoIs.), Luzac & Co. for the Pali Text Society, London, 1960.

Manit Manitcharoen, Photjananukrom Thai (Thai dictionary), Ruam-san Bangkok, 2526 (1983).

Monier-Williams, Monier, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Oriental Publishers, New Delhi, n.d.

(Phra) Phadet Thattajiwo Bhikkhu, Waksin Porng-kan Rok Ee (A Vaccine to Protect Against AIDS), Thammakay Foundation, Pathumthani, 2530a (1987).

—, Luang Phor Torp Panha (Reverend Father Responds to Problems), Thammakay Foundation, Pathumthani, 2530b (1987).

Prasok (pseud.), "Khang Wat (Beside the Monastery Column)," Siam Rath (daily newspaper), Bangkok, 2 March 2532 ( 1989), p. 10.

Ratchabanditayasathan (Royal Institute), Photjananukrom Chabap Ratchabanditayasathan (Royal Institute Edition Dictionary), Bangkok, 2525 (1982).

(Phra) Ratchaworamuni (current ecclesiastical title Phra Thepwethi), Photjananukrom Phutthasat Chabap Pramuan-sap (A Dictionary of Buddhist Teachings, Compiled Edition), Mahachulalongkorn Ratchawitthayalai, Bangkok, 2527 (1984).

Rhys Davids, T. W. & William Stede (eds.), Pali-English Dictionary, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, New Delhi, 1975.

Sathienpong Wannapok, "'Meua Gay Morng-hen Tham (When Gays See Dhamma)" in Suan-thang Nipphan (Passing [in Opposite Directions] on the Way to nibbana), Chor-mafai Publishers, Bangkok, 2530 (1987), pp. 59-62.

Sulak Sivaraksa, Lork-khrap S. Siwarak (Unmasking S. Sivaraksa), Reuan Kaew Printers, Bangkok, 2527 (1984).

—. Lork-khrap Watthanatham Thai (Unmasking Thai Culture), Suksit Siam, Bangkok, 2531 (1988).

Suchip Punyanuphap Phra Traipidok Samrap Prachachon (The Tipitaka for the People), Mahamakut Ratchawitthayalai, Bangkok, 2525 (1982).

Zwilling, Leonard, "Homosexuality as Seen in Indian Buddhist Texts." in José Ignacio Cabezón (ed.), Buddhism Sexuality, and Gender, State University of New York Press, New York, 1992.

1 Thanks to Eric Allyn and Ross McMurtrie for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this article. Pali is the classical language of the Theravada Buddhist tradition of Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos and Cambodia and in this article I use the Pali rather than the Sanskrit forms of Buddhist terms, e.g. kamma instead of karma, nibbana instead of nirvana, etc. Note also that Thailand uses the Buddhist Era (B.E.) calendar and all Thai language publications are dated according to this system, which begins with the traditionally ascribed year of the Buddha's death or parinibbana in 543 B.C. To calculate the Christian Era year from the Buddhist Era year subtract 543, e.g. B.E. 2540=A.D. 1997. In this article I also follow the Thai system of referring to authors by their first names rather than by their surnames. In Thailand lists of Thai persons' names are always arranged alphabetically by first name rather than by surname, a practice that follows from the fact that family names were only introduced universally in the early decades of the twentieth century. However, Thais also respect Western custom and list the names of non-Thai persons alphabetically by surname.

2 Zwilling (1992:208) notes that there are no explicit references to homosexuality in the Suttapitaka, the collection of the Buddha's sermons or discourses.

3 I refer to the Thai translation of the Tipitaka in this article because the selection of Thai terms used to translate Pali often reflects Thai cultural values, providing insight into the translators' views and preconceptions. For example, the Pali term pandaka is sometimes translated directly by the equivalent Thai technical term bandor, while at other times it is translated by the colloquial term kathoey. All translations in this paper are my own.

4 Zwilling (1992:209) notes that in his commentary on the Cakkavattisutta of the Digha Nikaya, Buddhaghosa takes the expression "wrong conduct" (miccha dhamma), the cause of humanity's progressive degeneration in Buddhist legend, as meaning "the sexual desire of men for men and women for women." However, the Pali canon itself does not suggest this reading.

5 Phra is an honorific Thai title for monks or bhikkhu.

6 Pali: ubhato—Two-fold, double: byanjana—sign or mark (of gender, etc.); ka—Derivative-forming suffix.

7 It is possible that pandaka is derived from the Pali term anda, which variously means "egg" or "testicles," and may originally have had the sense of male reproductive deficiency or incapacity. Monier-Williams (n.d. :580) defines the cognate Sanskrit terms pandra and pandraka as "eunuch or impotent man." Zwilling (1992:204) says that the term is of obscure origin and may ultimately be derived from apa + anda + ka, "without testicles." He adds, however, that this should not be taken literally as meaning that a pandaka was necessarily an eunuch but, rather should "be interpreted metaphorically as we do in English when it is said of a weak or pusillanimous person that he (or she) 'has no balls.'" Zwilling adds that the term pandaka used in the canon could not have meant a eunuch because, with the exception of the congenitally impotent, accounts of pandaka describe a man who is capable of "either erection, ejaculation, or the experience of sexual pleasure."

8 The fact that vaginal intercourse is not listed as a possibility for pandaka indicates that they are biologically male.

9 Phra Ratchaworamuni (Pali: Rajavaramuni) is the former ecclesiastical title of the monk Phra Prayut Payutto. His current ecclesiastical title is Phra Thepwethi (Pali: Devavedhi).

10 Zwilling (1992:206) cites Buddhaghosa as providing an account of ubhatobyanjanaka in his Abhidharmakos'a that is almost identical to that provided by Bunmi.

11 The popular American science-fiction and fantasy writer, Ursula Le Guin, describes a planet inhabited by such beings in her award winning novel The Left Hand of Darkness.

12 This gloss is provided in a list of terms written either by the Thai translators of the Tipitaka or the editorial team and was not part of the original scripture.

13 According to Zwilling (1992:205), pandaka refers to men who "lack maleness," not to women, denoting a man who "fails to meet the normative sex role expectations for an adult male." This male-focussed orientation of the term could perhaps be expected to follow if, as Zwilling suggests, the derivation of the term is indeed "without testicles." The Pali Text Society Pali-English Dictionary does refer to a feminine derivative form of pandaka, itthipandika, as occurring in the Vinaya (Rhys Davids 1975:404), but Bunmi's extension of the term to denote women who fail to meet the normative sex role expectations for an adult woman is perhaps not strictly canonical and may be influenced by the common tendency to translate pandaka into Thai as kathoey. While in common Thai usage kathoey usually denotes a non-normative male, the term is occasionally used to denote a non-normative female and Thai dictionaries usually do not assign a determinate gender, whether male or female, to the term. The Royal Institute Thai language dictionary (1982:72) defines a kathoey as "A person who has both male and female genitals; a person whose mind (psychology) and behaviour are the opposite of their [biological] sex." In his Photjananukrom Thai (Thai dictionary) Manit Manitcharoen (1983:70) explicitly defines kathoey as denoting either a man or a woman and also attempts to correct popular Thai misconceptions with his definition. "Homosexuals or the sexually perverted are not kathoeys. The characteristic of a kathoey is someone who cross-dresses (lakka-phet) a male who likes to act and dress like a woman and has a mind like a woman, or a female who likes to act and dress like a man and who has a mind like a man."

14 Zwilling (1992:204) traces these five types of pandaka to Buddhaghosa's Samantapasadika, Asanga 's Abhidharmasamuccaya and Yas'omitra's commentary to the Abhidharmakos'a, adding that a similar list occurs in Hindu brahmanical medical and legal treatises.

15 Zwilling (1992:204) says that this type of pandaka "attains ejaculation through some special effort or artifice." Bunmi's description of opakkamika as eunuchs appears to follow another type of pandaka that Zwilling says is identified by Yas'omitra, the lunapandaka, which implies a man who has been intentionally castrated.

16 Zwilling (1992:204) cites Buddhaghosa as saying that a pakkhapandaka "becomes temporarily impotent for fourteen 'black days' of the month but regains his potency during the fourteen 'white days,' that is, from the new to the full moon."

17 According to Zwilling (1992:204) Buddhaghosa describes a napumsaka as "one who is congenitally impotent."

18 For example, in 1988 the prominent Thai social critic, Sulak Sivaraksa, criticised the administrative style of former Prime Minister, General Prem Tinsulanonda, in playing one wing of the Thai military off against another in order to remain in power, as being like that of a eunuch (Thai: khanthi) and a kathoey (Sulak 2531:125). General Prem has never married and is rumoured to be homosexual but as a career soldier, Korean War veteran and former head of the Thai Army he could not be described as matching the traditional Thai conception of an effeminate, cross-dressing kathoey.

19 According to the conservative Theravada tradition followed in Thailand, only a congregation that includes nuns correctly ordained according to that tradition has the authority to ordain another woman as a nun. With no correctly ordained Theravada nuns to be found in any modern country, it is impossible for the female sangha to be reconstituted.

20 I thank Dr. Louis Gabaude for pointing out that Prasok and Khamhuno are pen names of the same author.

21 Note that being born female is here represented as kammic punishment for a man's sexual misconduct in a previous life.

22 The Vakkali story is recounted in a number of texts and has several versions. Malalasekera's (1960:799-800) useful summary of the different versions is included at the end of this article.

23 The Pali term here is dusetha, which variously means "To spoil, ruin; to injure, hurt; to defile, pollute; to defame" (Rhys Davids, 1975:328). Zwilling (1992:207) prefers "to defile." However, the Thai language version translated here renders dusetha as prathutsarai, a term that means "to harm, injure or assault." The Thai translators appear to have understood the text as describing the pandaka as calling on the young monks to perform anal sex on him, and their choice of the Thai term prathutsarai appears to reflect an assumption that anal sex is associated with suffering assault.

24 The laymen that the pandaka monk incited to have sex with him would not have been breaching the clerical code of celibacy and so the use of the term prathutsarai here should probably be interpreted as "to assault" rather than "to commit an offence," presumably referring more to the assumed violence (to manhood?) of the homosexual act than to the violation of a code of conduct.

25 Buddhism, the middle path, has always been concerned with the maintenance of social order and since the Buddha's time the sangha has never claimed to provide a universal vehicle for the spiritual liberation of all individuals in society, explicitly excluding those who are considered to reflect badly on the monkhood in terms of prevailing social norms and attitudes. Pandaka are one of the groups excluded from ordination into the sangha and given the still common Thai conflation of pandaka/kathoey/homosexual/gay, homosexual men are also regarded as being excluded from the sangha.

26 Other authorities cite a different origin for the ceremonial ordination question purisosi, referring to the Buddhist legend of a naga or serpent disguising itself as a man in order to obtain ordination into the sangha.

27 Chris Lyttleton (1995) notes that, at least in many rural areas of Thailand, officially sponsored safe sex education programs conducted in the early 1990s have all but ignored unprotected homosexual sex as a risk activity, focussing almost solely on heterosexual sex. This further demonstrates the marginal nature of homosexuality in Thailand. In the early years of the pandemic homosexual men were isolated and stigmatised as the supposed source of HIV infection. But as the heterosexual population has become threatened in Thailand homosexual men, who are at just as great a risk of infection as heterosexual men, have tended to be ignored in the official safe sex campaigns.

28 cp. Itivuttaka, (P.T.S.) section 92.

29 The Buddha is often quoted in the canon as using this brief expression to accept monks into the sangha.

30 Manorathapurani, Anguttara Commentary (S.H.B.) i. 140f.; the Apadana account (Apadana ii. 465f.) is similar. It says that the Buddha spoke to him from the foot of the rock. Vakkali jumped down to meet the Buddha, a depth of many cubits, but he alighted unhurt. It was on this occasion that the Buddha declared his eminence among those of implicit faith; also Dhammapadatthakatha iv. 118f. The Dhammapadatthakatha reports three verses uttered by the Buddha in which he assures Vakkali that he will help him and look after him.

31 Theragatha Commentary (S.H.B.), i. 420.

32 These are included in Theragatha, vss. 350-354.

33 cp. Anguttara Nikaya (P.T.S.) i. 25; also Divyavadana (ed. Cowell & Neill, Cambridge) 49 and Sammoha-Vinodani, Vibhanga Commentary (P.T.S.) 276; Visuddhimagga (P.T.S.) i. 129.

34 Sutta Nipata (P.T.S.) vs. 1146.

35 Samyutta Nikaya (P.T.S.) iii. 119 ff.; Saratthappakasini, Samyutta Commentary ii. 229.

36 Apadana (P.T.S.) ii. 46Sf.; Manorathapurani Anguttara Commentary (S.H.B.) i. 140.