WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) -- Sex between clergymen and boys is by no means a uniquely Catholic phenomenon, a noted American scholar said Wednesday -- it's been going on in Buddhist monasteries in Asia for centuries.
"Of course, this is against the Buddhist canon," Leonard Zwilling of the University of Wisconsin in Madison told United Press International, "but it has been common in Tibet, China, Japan and elsewhere."
"In fact, when the Jesuits arrived in China and Japan in the 16th century, they were horrified by the formalized relationships between Buddhist monks and novices who were still children. These relationships clearly broke the celibacy rule," said Zwilling, who has written extensively about this topic for more than three decades, and was one of the first to do so.
Zwilling, who holds a doctoral degree in Buddhist studies said in a telephone interview this practice continued until well into 20th century.
Although the Buddha clearly proscribed sex of any kind in monasteries, "we know of incidents where members of the Bob-Dob, an order enforcing discipline among Tibetan monks, fought each other over boys," continued Zwilling.
"They clobbered each other with huge keys that were the tools of their trade. We also know that generations of Dalai Lamas had their 'favorites,' although we have no proof that these relationships were sexual."
Other studies show that Buddhist monks in Japan practiced a non-sexual form of "pedophilia" as long ago as the 10th century, according to Minnesota-based Ralph Underwager, a pastor, psychologist and one of the world's leading experts on child abuse.
In an interview with Paidika, a scholarly journal specializing in the phenomenon, Underwager and his associate Hollida Wakefield pointed out that "the concept of Platonic love as an asexual affection is describing pedophilia."
Underwager and Wakefield explained that the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, Sophocles, Aristotle, the playwright Aristophanes and the statesman-soldier Alcibiades "all claimed that love motivated pedophilia."
But if they did, it wasn't in the sense of sex.
According to Zwilling, monks having engaged in "sex with penetration and ejaculation" face expulsion from the Sangha, the monastic order that along with the Buddha and the Dharma (teaching) is part of Buddhism's three-fold refuge.
"This is true whether a monk has broken his vow of chastity with a woman, a man or a child," Zwilling said. "The punishment will be less severe if there were no penetration or ejaculation."
In that case, the offender would only be disciplined, perhaps demoted in rank, but not evicted from the monastery, the scholar explained.
"Actually, pedophilia is hardly mentioned in Buddhism's canonical writings," he went on. "I have only come across one passage describing the fate of a man who loved boys. He went to hell and came to a river filled with acid -- and boys swimming it. They were in agony.
"Out of his love for the children, the man jumped in -- and had to suffer their pain."
Peter A. Jackson, a renowned Australian researcher on Buddhism, has pointed out that in this faith all forms of sexuality and desire must be transcended in order to attain the religious goal of the extinction of suffering.
Citing the Vinaya, Theravada Buddhism's monastic code of conduct, Jackson wrote, "Whichever monk has sexual intercourse is ... a defeated one, and will not find communion (in the Sangha)."
The Vinaya is very explicit in condemning sexual misconduct, including auto-sodomy (one of its chapters is titled, "The Case of the Monk with a Long Penis"). It does not single out homosexuality, though, which is treated as a third gender in ancient Buddhist writings, said Zwilling.
However, the Vinaya does relate that already some 2,500 years ago, the outrageous behavior of one "pandaka" (homosexual, in Pali, the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism), has prompted the Buddha to ban the ordination of such men.
The story reads thus:
"The pandaka had been ordained in a residence of monks. He went to the young monks and encouraged them thus, 'Come all of you and assault me.'
"The monks spoke aggressively, 'Pandaka, you will surely be ... spiritually destroyed. Of what benefit will it be?" ... He went to some large, stout novices and encouraged them thus, 'Come all of you and assault me.'
The novices spoke, 'Pandaka, you will surely be destroyed. Of what benefit will it be?'
"The pandaka then went to men who tend elephants and horses and spoke to them thus. 'Come all of you and assault me.' The men who tend elephants and horses assaulted him.
"The Blessed One then ordered the monks, 'Behold monks, a pandaka is one who is not to be ordained, ... and (pandakas) who have already been ordained must be made to disrobe.'"
According to Zwilling, homosexual behavior may not land a Buddhist layman in hell. That kind of fate is reserved for adulterers and rapists. On the other hand, a homosexual orientation is an extended form of punishment for those who in a previous life have committed such sins.
Prasok, a celebrated Thai newspaper columnist writing on Buddhism, related that this was the fate of the Buddha's personal attendant, Phra Ananda.
Wrote Prasok, "The reason he was born a kathoey (Thai for homosexual) was because in a previous life he had committed the sin of adultery. This led him to stew in hell for tens of thousands of years.
"After he was freed from hell, a portion of his old karma still remained and led him to being reborn as kathoey for many hundreds of lives."
While this may sound a rather severe punishment for a sexual transgression, Buddhism may have something even worse in store for an unfaithful husband, Zwilling told UPI: "He could be reborn as a woman."