Japan: Buddhism tries to reach out to LGBTs until the very end

For sexual minorities who are Buddhist, the struggles they face in their daily lives over their identity extend right up to the time of their death.

Buddhism, like other religious teachings, promises a posthumous life that is all about happiness and free of suffering. But here's the rub. In Buddhist tradition, when a person dies, a Dharma name called “kaimyo” is given by a priest, proof that the individual has become a disciple of Buddha in the Pure Land. The deceased is then known by that name beyond the grave.

The name comes with an honorific title that implies gender and age, and sometimes social and religious status. For example, “koji” and “doji” are given to adult males and males who are minors, respectively. Likewise, “daishi” and “dojo” are reserved for females. In some cases, “shinji” for male and “shinnyo” for female are used. Kaimyo is usually pronounced in a priest’s chants at the funeral, and written with a calligraphy brush on the deceased’s mortuary tablet and stupa.

But what if your sex and gender identity don’t match? What should a priest do when a person was born a male but lived as a female, or when a person did not come out publicly as a sexual minority? Which box do you tick for, male or female?

This has resulted in a conundrum that Buddhist denominations are trying to address as they come face to face with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people confounded by the kaimyo practice.

Traditionally conservative-minded Buddhist priests are rising to the challenge. The Chisan school of the Shingon sect hosted a workshop devoted to LGBT issues last November at a temple in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. Fifty or so priests attended to listen to Hideki Sunagawa, a 52-year-old anthropologist who makes no secret about being gay. Read more via Asahi