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Question
To Stuart,

My name is Nik and I am quite new to Buddhism.

I have a question in regards to monk ordination, specifically about LGBT people being ordained. I have read in some temples and monasteries it is fine and then in others it isn't. By fine I mean they can be ordained if they remain celibate and the like and in others they can't be ordained no matter what.

I just wanted to know what your thoughts were on the issue and if you can shed some light on it.

With metta,

Nik

Answer
Hi Nik. As you have seen, there are different schools of Buddhism, with no central authority that demands they all use identical rules or teachings. The answer I'll give you is based on the school I practice with, the Kwan Um School of Zen, which is a Korean tradition brought to the West by Zen Master Seung Sahn.

The purpose of Buddhism is to understand yourself, and to help other beings. We sometimes call this our "direction." Most of us are lay people, who have jobs... doctor, plumber, computer programmer, whatever. While we do these "outside" jobs, we're always also doing our "inside" job, which means keeping this direction.

Becoming a monk means that your outside job is the same as your inside job. In other words, if you want to become a monk, the Zen master would approve IF he believe that your motivation is to be 100% dedicated to understanding yourself & helping others. That's all that matters.

The precise meaning of "celibate" is to remain unmarried. In Japanese-style Zen, monks do get married. But in Korean-style, monks never get married; this is so they can remain dedicated to their direction, and to serving the community of fellow Buddhists.

As for the common definition of "celibate," i.e., abstaining from sexual relationships: in our school, even lay students take a vow to avoid sexual misconduct motivated by lust. This means that we should always be motivated by love (caring about another being) rather than lust (using another being like an object, for our own gratification).

Monks have many additional rules (called "precepts") to follow, and among these are prohibitions against sexual activity. We take rules very seriously. That means sometimes we follow the rules, and sometimes break them. The important thing isn't whether or not you follow the rules, it's the motivation behind it. If you have sex... why? If you refrain from sex... why? If it's only for yourself, it will lead to suffering. If you're acting for others, then it will remove suffering. So everyone, monk or lay person, needs to be carefully attentive to what we do, and the motivation behind it.

None of the above is dependent on gender.

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Stuart Resnick

Expertise

I'm a long-time practitioner in a Korean-style Zen school. I can answer questions regarding Zen, formal sitting meditation, self-inquiry, the practice of "koan" transmission, and offer the particular perspective of this school on the great life questions.

Experience

18 years of formal practice with the Kwan Um School of Zen, currently with the Empty Gate Zen Center of Berkeley, currently a "Senior Dharma Teacher" at this center, I give periodic talks and informally answer questions of students interested in Zen practice and teaching style

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