Sirisak is one of the Rainbow Warriors here in Thailand. Last week Sirisak took on the most revered institution in the country. It went public. Below is a paraphrase translation of what appeared as a result of Sirisak’s meme a couple of days earlier at the beginning of Pride Month.
Do Not Tarnish Religion “Phra Payom” Slaps “One Who Dressed As a Monk” Wearing a Rainbow Sash Indicating Sex
A Facebook posting appeared with text indicating broad-mindedness about sex, saying that everyone is whatever sex they are, and should be entitled to be ordained as a Buddhist. [The posting] included an illustration of a man dressed as a monk ordinarily would be robed. But something that attracted attention of Netizens was that he had a cloth over his shoulder that was rainbow colored. In response, “Phra Payom” who is head of a monastic division, a preacher, and social activist from Nontaburi Province warned, “That’s inappropriate. Do not tarnish religion.”
Phra Payom mentioned that there are uniforms for some groups such as military, police, students, and clergy. “Who could cause confusion by wearing such clothing?” He asked, “Is that right or not? It shouldn’t have to be explained. It would be best to just not be confusing. You are free to choose what you like, or to separate into another religious sect. There are all kinds of attractive colors to choose from that one might consider beautiful. But if you are ordained you relinquish matters of beauty. We like to say everybody’s the same, why can [only] some be ordained? Why can’t I be ordained as that one is? There are many different kinds of good people, elite people, lovely people, common [low] people. Good behavior is not all the same, so don’t say that selectivity is a Buddhist corporate matter. If there were no selection there would be no Buddhism today. So do not advocate giving up the chance to be selective. If you want to set up a company and take in people indiscriminately, giving rights to one and all, take a look at how Sita rejected the Demon King. How will you govern once those you picked indiscriminately have tarnished your religion? If you are going to critique anything you have to gather complete data or ask those who are knowledgeable in that area. Otherwise you get false data in your criticism.”
The one who posted on the Internet commented, “Everyone should be able to be ordained. Ordination depends on conviction [reverence] and not genitalia. LGBTIQANs+ are not sinners. Ordination as a Buddhist monk is held to be open to males. So other sexes, e.g. women, are prevented; lesbians are prevented; gays are kept out; kathoeys are excluded; intersex individuals are not allowed to be ordained as men are.
“Historically women were not excluded from ordination. Permission for women’s ordination is recorded in the Traipidok. But later, women monks [ piksuni ] were prevented, using the reasoning that such ordination had been discontinued.
“Ordination of banthewa บัณเฑวะก์ [translated variously as “bisexual, hermaphrodite, homosexual, gay, lesbian; eunuch] in the earliest era was permitted, but later ordination was prevented because a group of monks came to the Buddha and asked him to stop ordaining this [whole] group only because they were contrary to discipline. Preventing ordination only because people have different sex organs is a group decision. Nobody should be subjected to a general decision like that if they have done nothing wrong.
“Ordination does not depend on sex organs, but on faith. Do not bring sex restrictions into it. (Thanks to Shine Wara Dhammo for this material). To say everyone should be eligible for ordination is not to say everyone should be ordained. It does not imply anybody can do just anything, or that kathoeys have higher privileges than others, e.g. that ordained kathoeys should be allowed to yell or dress as they like. But everyone should be under the same rules. Whoever breaks the regulations should endure the consequences.
“Do not declare as a group that the ordination of LGBTIQANs+ will destroy religion. The issue is that everybody should be able to be ordained in the same way that everyone has equal access to religion as a human right.
“In addition, if Buddhists believe that donning the saffron robes is the greatest honor one can pay to one’s mother and father because it refers to entering heaven, but if LGBTIQANs+ are prevented from ordination, does this not indicate that Buddhism is limiting, dividing, restricting, and selectively practicing who can enter the faith [and get into heaven], insofar as only males get ordained and have the ability to reward their fathers and mothers for their merit and thus helping them get into heaven?
“Many people say, ‘You gay kathoeys, go reward their merit in some other way.’ The question is why are the sexes divided in matters of faith and religion? In summary, these days do we come to faith with our hearts or by way of our sex organs?”
Note: this is Pride month. [Sirisak, the person who posted the meme dressed in monk’s robes] posted these pictures in the campaign to study this together in that an opposing view and pictures [of a monk denouncing trans people] had been previously circulated which generated responses pro and con.
Ken Dobson’s Queer Reflection on this article:
The monk is both restrained in his retort which the headline calls a “slap” and he is repeating the familiar lines that (a) it is proper and valuable for Buddhism to make selections about how the corporate organization is run, and (b) if anyone objects to those decisions they are free to set up their own organization. The monk does not address the rationale by which women are refused equality and access to ordination which they used to have, long ago. Instead, he argues that Buddhists needs rules and standards in order to survive.
Sirisak, on the other hand, was first actually responding to a widely circulated story of a monk who denounced trans individuals and then all non-binary persons as “sinners.” His diatribe was an attack. Sirisak chose the opening of Pride Month to counter-attack by challenging the basic position of the Buddhist establishment in Thailand that prevents women from being ordained. That decision, Sirisak infers, was a corporate one made by an insider group and not based on defensible religious principles applying to all people. Sirisak is also clear that when the true basis for this discrimination is seen to be just a matter of who has male sex organs, then that basis will be erased and only faith will be the issue of ordination and full inclusion.
As a whole, this is an excellent example of how the argument has been conducted for the past couple of decades in Thailand. The weakest point in the decision the Thai Sangha has made about ordination is that it discriminates against women without being able to come out in the open to say why it does so. The response is usually, “Well, we have to have rules or there would be chaos that would undermine everything.” The usual rebuttal is more nuanced than Sirisak’s bald “is it about sex organs or faith and reverence?”
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.