Review – “LGBTQ & Buddhism – Clearing Misconceptions”

The concept of “change” or impermanence, is the constant refrain in the ongoing evaluation of Buddhist teachings on homosexuality [1].

By his own perceptions, Venerable Phra Chun Kiang, at the by-invitation-only talk titled “LGBTQ & Buddhism – Clearing Misconceptions” held at the Pelangi Pride Centre, Singapore, 19 March 2016, encouraged Buddhist practitioners to question the truth and consequences of all traditional teachings (just as the Buddha instructed). Because, in Buddha’s way, moral ethics are not dictated from a ‘God’ in heaven [2]. Following this argument, Venerable Phra went on to explain that some sexual-misconduct codes (yes, even ideas and thoughts about homosexuality), may have been legacies from ancient China and the social mores of that time. As such, he encouraged the audience to always think critically and investigate deeply the tenets of Buddhist scriptural teachings, while still being able to honour Buddhist tradition at the same time.

Dealing with discrimination

In his response to a question from the audience, who asked for his advice on the secular issue of repealing of section 377A in Singapore, he again stressed the concept of impermanence and the ego state [3], explaining that essentially, we cannot control religious history and politics.

By the same argument, when asked about how to deal with discrimination of any forms, Venerable Phra stressed again that we cannot control psychological and physical violence born of delusion. But Buddha’s way is not about the control of suffering; it’s about responding honourably, with open awareness to suffering [2]. Our only freedom as human beings is in the fullness and integrity of our response [4]. In the same vein, he also expressed optimism that Singapore society will continue to provide tolerant spaces for LGBTQ people to develop as individuals and that LGBTQ individuals, couples and groups will develop creative solutions to the challenges of being both queer and Buddhist.


For someone who identifies as a lesbian and a Buddhist, the feeling that we belong in this life is not so simple for us. When our society create conditions of exclusion, enmity and/or violence, life can be painful [4]. This is the manifestation of the Buddha’s First Noble Truth – that life is full of suffering [5].

Philosophical debates over whether sexual orientation is included in the Pali Canon (Mahayana, Theravadan Buddhist scriptures etc), or whether being LGBTQ is a skillful or unskillful way of living in the world are all secondary and perhaps even distractions from the core experience of “who am I?” [4]. My key takeaway from the talk is that as long as we conduct our lives with as much awareness and authenticity as we can, regardless of our external circumstances, we can develop a spiritual sanctuary that cannot be taken away from us, and this is the ‘home’ that we can bring with us wherever we are, no matter what shows up in our lives. In gladness and in safety, may all beings be at ease.

Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu,
Yvonne Loh
21 March 2016

[1] S. Takeuchi, and M. Brase, Flower petals fall, but the flower endures : the Japanese philosophy of transience: Tokyo, Japan : Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture, 2015., 2015.
[2] S. Peskind, “Buddha’s way,” Advocate, no. 738, pp. 11, 07/22/, 1997.
[3] J. Garfield, S. Nichols, A. Rai, and N. Strohminger, “Ego, Egoism and the Impact of Religion on Ethical Experience: What a Paradoxical Consequence of Buddhist Culture Tells Us About Moral Psychology,” Journal of Ethics, vol. 19, no. 3/4, pp. 293, 12//, 2015.
[4] L. Yang, “Coming Home to Who We Are: Buddhist Spiritual Practice and Transformation,” Tikkun, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 47, 2010.
[5] B. Finnigan, “How Can a Buddha Come to Act? The Possibility of a Buddhist Account of Ethical Agency,” Philosophy East & West, vol. 61, no. 1, pp. 134-160, 2011.