“…if the recognition of the third gender can let Intersex people receive more benefits and happiness and reduce distress, Buddhists should take up encouraging these roles and offer an arm of support to them.”
From the following interview about Buddhism with Professor Shih 釋昭慧法師, by intersex activist Small Luk, founder of the Chinese intersex advocacy organization Beyond the Boundary-Knowing and Concerns Intersex.
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A righteous view at the problems faced by Intersex (hermaphrodite)
An interview by Dr. Small Luk from Hong Kong (Part 1)
I was interviewed by Dr. Small Luk after today’s lunch at Feng Yuan.
I heard Dr. Luk’s story of being a Intersex, it was no easy to walk out of all the shadows of discrimination and I was indeed shocked by it! She has been very active fighting for rights of Intersex people as well as their social recognition and further counsel Intersex people, I am very touched by it.
Dr. Luk is the founder of an organization which caring for Intersex people, called “Beyond the Boundary-Knowing and Concerns Intersex”, we got to know each other during a conference held in Hong Kong earlier in January 2017 & our friendship flourished from there. Although I have constantly focused on the issues of the LGBT community, but I have limited knowledge on the suffering experienced by Intersex people. She gave herself a brief introduction in her letter to me. ( I will make reference from her letter.)
Intersex people are despised by the general society and it is also a taboo (Taiwan names Intersex people as Yin-Yang people) . Intersex people are also seen as a kind of sickness or disorder in the medical issues and the functional defects.
The presence of Intersex people has slowly came to view by the society in recent years, but misunderstanding & discrimination are kept and held by many people’s heart, unspoken from the mouth. There have been cases of Intersex people being sent to Genital Construction Surgeries by their parents to remove their “abnormal” organ via surgical means. It is an inhumane act, when such surgeries and treatments are carried out without gaining the consent of the person itself, there are many Intersex children whom had suffered in a long time, there has been many human rights organizations and the United Nations whom had raised voices that these intrusive act is against basic human rights.
Dr. Luk told me that she was very happy to hear me say “no one is perfect and is not free from discrimination, but this imperfectness can be made perfect by others and oneself. ” Dr. Luk further commented that my insight in Buddhism has greater impacted her the value of Intersex people & she would really like to have a deep discussion with me on this subject.
Dr. Luk raised the subjects below and asked me to give my insight from the Buddhist perspective:
1) There are some Intersex people who sees themselves as being special and different from others and some who even felt that they were the original perfect human and primitive human, there are also many Buddhists who felt that these Intersex people are some humans with defects and these defects originate from bad karma & retribution from previous lives, these people may need to cleanse their negative karma in the harder way as compared to others and some will even restrict them from professing the Buddhist Faith.
2) There are some Intersex people who also sees themselves as being a product of their bad karmic actions of their previous lives, this group of people constantly live in both physical & mental stress which makes them unable to forgive themselves, being unable to breakthrough, they are unable to communicate with people and Buddhism.
3) The general society & medical fields discriminates Intersex people as people of physiological defect and sees for Intersex people to receive treatment in order to rectify and back to their their “normal function” to for the general perception of the society. I would like to know the Buddhist perspective of these born Intersex people? Does the Buddhist perspective only recognizes male & female gender? What are the suggestions Buddhism will have to offer to Intersex community?
4) There are Intersex people who hopes to fight for being the third gender amongst the social perception of of male & female gender. I would like to know the Buddhist view on this issue.
5) Intersex people are neither conditioned by male or female gender definition, so the common classification of heterosexual & homosexual does not fit Intersex people in this case and Intersex people find it hard to enter a relationship or to find a partner with such heavy feelings, there are people who jokingly said that Intersex people are suitable to enter the Buddhist monastic order, can I know how would you reply from your deep insight of wisdom?
The Buddhist perspective of Intersex people
An interview by Dr. Small Luk from Hong Kong (Part 2)
Our discussion took place from lunch to 4pm in the noon. Now I can not answer the details from the memory, only can tell you the brief outlined below:
1) There are indeed many Buddhists who sees Intersex people are a result of negative karma or retribution from sin, such beliefs or predestination are in fact against the basic tenet of the teachings of the Buddha and neither does it rightly portrays the true light of Buddhism. There are many reasons for Intersex people’s existence, such as karmic conditions of the past existences, consumption of medicines during pregnancy and many other reasons which might not be made known to us.
It should be known that the main focus of Buddhism is to respect & protect all forms of life to the best of it’s ability to relieve one from suffering & achieve happiness, this is the responsibility of Buddhists, so no matter whichever causes are, a true Buddhist should not anticipate in such discrimination to the Intersex community, such discrimination only reflects the degeneration of morals & humanity.
For those who feels that Intersex people are not fit to embrace the Buddhist faith, may it be by deeds or thoughts hidden in the depths of one’s heart, this is indeed the greatest karmic obstacle of the one who discriminates against others, thus Buddhists should always near righteous contemplation & understanding and refrain from malicious speech!
2) No one is free from discrimination in personal aspect, I would like to suggest one to learn to bravely face these discrimination and build a happy life on the basis of the Buddha’s teachings & techniques, but in social aspect, there is a continuous need to fight for equal treatment through legal legislation and get social spaces.
3) Buddhism focus on changing for the better on the current state of condition, thus towards all forms of sufferings on both physiological & psychological aspect, Buddhism should be able to offer positive words & actions to relive from distress & achieve happiness.
The Buddhist code of discipline (Vinaya) did mention restrictions of castrated man into the Bhikkhu monk order, one needs to construct a proper understanding via the 16 restricted people such as those moments whom are diagnosed with leprosy & fatal diseases or those whom has not received consent from their parents & spouses to enter the Buddhist Sangha Order, many of these weren’t actually focusing on the intrinsic nature of sin & karma but instead arose from the Sangha order’s interaction with the society.
As for an alternative gender within the Bhikkhu (monk) & Bhikkhuni (nuns), the Sangha had never discriminated against it, of one has received his ordination in the under physiological understanding as a monk and latter wishes to convert it’s gender, he will have to enter the Bhikkhuni order, there is no need to be re-ordained again.
Amercian scholar Allan R. Bomhard, pointed out the Pali term “Pandaka” has two layers of meaning, the first layer refers to those whom has been castrated of their organs / impotent, while the secondary later refers to those whom are addicted to sexual activities. The Buddha ordered for Pandaka monks to leave the Sangha Order because these Pandakas were often addicted by sexual activities and even talk other monks and even outsiders into engaging sexual activities with them. They were congenital on being unable to control and curb their sexual desires but not ordered to leave the Sangha order because of their sexual conviction.
Reference to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandaka
Although Intersex, transgender and homosexuals bear some differences in characteristics, but they usually face some common or similar situations.
Dr. Luk had reconfirmed with me that when changing from the monk order to the nun order if there is really no need to go through a gender change operation? My reply is that one should see his own psychological acceptance of oneself and not engage in an gender conversion operation because it will cause further meaningless distress only, these operations will only bring more pain and harm to these people, if the lack of constructive understanding, it can be viewed just as some kind of “violence”, the Buddha himself is a pioneer advocator of anti-violence.
4) There are different perspective within the Buddhist community, but it on the basis and grounds of the Buddha’s teachings, one should not discriminate any forms of life, if the recognition of the third gender can let the Intersex people receive more benefits & happiness and reduce distress, Buddhists should take up the encouraging roles and offer an arm of support to them.
5) Ordination into the Sangha Order is not the only way out for Intersex people, but if Intersex people carefully considers and agrees that leading a life of minimal desire can progress one’s own spiritual quest, he can of course chose to be ordained into the Sangha Order. Chances of he / she will succeed is high, higher over to those who cannot practice self restraint to sexual temptations.
Writer: Professor Shih 釋昭慧法師
Translated by Chen Hsiongcai