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Buddhadharma : Winter 2017
review | jeff wilson 109 ingrained psychic pattern. All sense plea- sure is in this sense addictive.” This is a serious problem for Buddhists intent on reaching nirvana, as attachment to momen- tarily pleasurable but ultimately painful desires becomes a never-ending feedback loop of fruitless chase and frustration. For many readers, among the least familiar yet most intriguing material will be a lengthy discussion of Buddhist views of gender. From the beginning, says Cabezón, Buddhists typically recognized three genders: male, female, and queer. Like all categories, there was no universal understanding of what each label meant, especially over time and between different commentators. Male and female were rela- tively stable categories, but the notion of who belonged to the queer gender and why varied significantly; the category tended to expand as time went on to encompass a wider cross section of people who do not conform to male or female sexual or gen- der norms. Thus we see the inclusion not only of those we might recognize today as homosexual or transgender but also the addition of impotent men, sterile women, voyeurs, and others. In the traditional Buddhist worldview, gender was not a neutral fact of biology or psychology but rather represented a hier- archy of moral value in literal embodiment. Men were born as men because of their greater moral behavior in the past, whereas those born as women had conducted them- selves less morally in previous lives. And given their past behavior, it would be wise to be suspicious of them in the present as well. At the bottom of the karmic and social hierarchy were queers, whose bodies and desires were seen as evidence of their deviance. Just as women experienced sig- nificant discrimination compared to men, queers were subjected to even more preju- dice than women. Cabezón doesn’t bother to cloak his feelings behind academic pre- tenses of disinterest: “Buddhism is not dif- ferent from any one of a number of other religions that affirm their culture’s gender and sexual stereotypes at the expense of sexual minorities, the disabled, and the downtrodden of society...I cannot help but think that the Vinaya’s rejection of people who are different will come to be seen for what it is, the unjust prejudice of a bygone era.” At the same time, Cabezón notes Bud- dhist sources affirmed that all beings had existed in every gender role during their ceaseless slog through the round of rebirths. Furthermore, Mahayana sutras explicitly claimed that bodhisattvas inten- tionally took on female and various queer forms in order to liberate beings as needed, seemingly short-circuiting the attempts elsewhere to associate holiness only with masculinity. So while Buddhists of all tra- ditions believed the exclusion of queers from the sangha was justified (though they disagreed on why, and who precisely should qualify as queer), violence or other forms of persecution toward queers was not sanctioned, and active persecution was rare in Buddhist societies. Although not within the scope of Cabezón’s book, two further notes on the subject are of interest. First, since this book does not touch on East Asia, there are sig- nificant differences that go unexamined— for instance, eunuchs, who were classi- fied as queer in classical Buddhism, were permitted to ordain as monastics in China. Second, since this book is about texts, it is mostly silent on actual practice. From other historical accounts and more modern ethnography and autobiography, we know that there have been many exceptions to the rules. Homosexual activity was actually fairly common in Buddhist monasteries (as in many single-sex environments), and gay,