Certain writers, unacquainted with the scriptures and relying on secondary sources, have claimed that the Buddha forbade homosexuals from entering the Sangha, the Buddhist monastic fraternity. If this is correct it would imply that the Buddha or at least his early disciples, discriminated against homosexuals. It is therefore worthwhile to look at this claim more closely. One of the rules in the Vinaya Pitaka, the monastic code, says that a type of male called a paṇḍaka should not be ordained and if he inadvertently has been he should be disrobed. The etymology of paṇḍaka is unclear but it may be derived from apa + aṇḍa meaning no eggs, or as might be said when referring to an effeminate male, “no balls”.
The incident that prompted this rule gives us some idea of what paṇḍakas are or at least how they might behave. Once a monk who was a paṇḍaka went to different groups of men asking each of them to “defile” (dūsatha) him. All of them refused except the mahouts and grooms in the elephant stables who were happy to oblige, although after they had satisfied themselves they “grumbled and became annoyed and critical”.  . The final part of this incident is telling. Even today some heterosexual men will agree to engage in sex with homosexuals while regarding them with contempt for doing so). Obviously a paṇḍaka is a homosexual of some sort or a homosexual who behaves in a particular way.
It is likely that the ancient Indians were unclear about the distinctions between hermaphrodites, cross-dressers, transgendered and intersex people, eunuchs and homosexuals and lumped them all together. It is also likely that they were unaware that many, perhaps most, homosexuals are no difference in deportment, speech and mannerisms from heterosexuals and consequently they thought of homosexuals mainly as effeminate men or masculine woman, a misunderstanding still very prevalent. It is probable therefore, that paṇḍaka does not mean homosexuals as such, but effeminate, promiscuous, self-advertising homosexuals. If this is so, the rule concerning paṇḍakas becoming monks would not be because of their same-sex attraction but because they might be a disruptive influence within an all-male community. Homosexuals are as capable of maintaining celibacy as heterosexuals and so there is no sound reason why they should be excluded from the monastic order.
- Vinaya I,85 [back]