There’s a strong streak of anti-essentialism in feminism, just as there is in Buddhism. It is the understanding that something like gender is not fixed or absolute, that not all women or men have some masculine or feminine essence that defines us. To put it in Buddhist terms, gender has no 'self-nature.'JAMES: For me, one of the best examples of such transcendence is the archetype, Avalokiteshvara or Kwan Yin (Guanyin). The bodhisattva I relate to most. In some Buddhist cultures, this bodhisattva is depicted as an effeminate man, while in others the form is clearly feminine. As such, Avalokiteshvara transcends all labels of male or female, shining the light of wisdom through the darkness to reveal our shared essence, our shared oneness--male or female. All are equal in the dharma.
It is true that some Buddhist traditions haven't been very open to ordaining women as monks/leaders but that isn't a problem with the dharma. It is a problem with imperfect human beings--yes, even monks fall victim to faulty perceptions that lead to discrimination of all types. It is my belief, that while the Buddha didn't ordain women as monks until some time later, it seems to have been an extension of his hesitancy to teach anyone upon his enlightenment.
It is my opinion, from researching this subject that his is hesitancy wasn't out of bigotry but out of a concern and compassion for the children. In his era, which was well before the feminist movements of the last century, the wife was the anchor of the house-hold--without them the children would suffer because most men had to work all day long, usually in the field, to bring a small, bit-of-food for the family. There was no such thing as a "week-end","living-wage" or "8 hour work-day." Fathers had no time to help with children. There wasn't time left to care much for the kids. This was also well before the era when women could work, and take advantage of day-care and flex-time to enable a life outside the home.
But, yes, it must be said that it was a very patriarchal society, well before the time of enlightened husbands. So, the fact that Buddha reversed his ban on female nuns at all should be seen as very enlightened for 2,500 years ago! Presently, women are allowed in many of the Buddhist monastic traditions, especially Mahayana traditions (Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Vietnamese Zen). The Zen tradition I follow, as led by the venerable, Thich Nhat Hanh has always allowed women within its sangha (started in 1966)--known as the "Order of Interbeing" or "Tiep Hien," in Vietnamese. The order has started by 3 men and 3 woman. Women are a very integral part of this school/tradition. His Zen tradition is a leader within Buddhism on accepting diversity within the sangha--which, brings me back to Avalokiteshvara.
The androgynous essence and unconditional love, support and compassion of Avalokitshvara underlines the relative acceptance and openness toward those in the LGBT community by large numbers of Buddhists. The many arms of Avalokiteshvara symbolizes that we should accept everyone as deserving of acceptance, love and compassion. As with the arms of Avalokiteshvara, our loving arms should not discriminate. Besides, the precepts do not ban homosexuality, but simply "sexual misconduct" which is defined as engaging in sex without love and commitment. Gay marriage is about love and commitment.
However, the precepts are recommendations. Therefore, as the website, "The Big View" explains, "This means the individual is encouraged to use his/her own intelligence to apply these rules in the best possible way [James's note: for further reference, see the Kalama Sutra--Buddha's charter on free-inquiry]. Second, it is the spirit of the precepts -not the text- that counts, hence, the guidelines for ethical conduct must be seen in the larger context of the Eightfold Path."
It is my conclusion, therefore, that Buddhism is one of the only major religions that allows for homosexuality--and that makes me proud to be Buddhist. <>
~i bow to the buddha within all beings~