Monday, January 26, 2009

“According to Buddhist Tradition”: Gays, Lesbians, and Sexual Misconduct

Posted at Shambhala Sun

Buddhist Reverend Danny Fisher has sparked a well-thought thread over at his blog, concerning the Dalai Lama’s stance on homosexuality. Danny deftly unearths key statements the Dalai Lama has made over the years on the issue, and points readers to what the late AIDS activist Steve Peskind wrote as a “Buddhist response” in the Shambhala Sun, back in 1998. Peskind’s communication campaign resulted in an historic meeting between the Dalai Lama and seven gay and lesbian leaders in San Francisco.

Peskind is no longer with us; he died in 2004. But his Shambhala Sun article is just as relevant today as it was back in 1998, and we’re pleased to offer you that again—read on.

, by Steve Peskind (from the March ‘98 Shambhala Sun)

Leaving the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco, having just met with the Dalai Lama, the words, “according to Buddhist tradition” reverberated in my head. Stepping out into the June sunlight, I felt tired, calm, enormously grateful—and disappointed.

I was grateful for the Dalai Lama’s willingness to meet with gays and lesbians to discuss their concerns about Buddhist teachings on sexual misconduct, and for the press release from the Office of Tibet supporting human rights regardless of sexual orientation. But I was disappointed that he chose not to speak personally and directly, beyond Buddhist tradition, to the real harm of some of these misconduct teachings, and their irrelevance for modern Buddhists and others. I wondered, does the Dalai Lama, whom many consider the embodiment of Avalokiteshvara, who “hears the cries of all sentient beings and responds skillfully,” really hear the cries of sexual minority Buddhists?

The story of our meeting with the Dalai Lama begins with an article in the February/March, 1994 issue of OUT magazine, which quoted the Dalai Lama as saying: “If someone comes to me and asks whether it is okay or not, I will first ask if you have some religious vows to uphold. Then my next question is, What is your companion’s opinion? If you both agree, then I think I would say, if two males or two females voluntarily agree to have mutual satisfaction without further implication of harming others, then it is okay.”
Gay men, lesbians, and others reveled in reading the OUT article. We copied the article, sent it home, sent it…everywhere! We reprinted it in community newsletters that made their way around the world. A major spiritual leader, “the favorite lama of the world” as a friend referred to him, had finally told it like it is. We thought.

But in 1996, North Atlantic Books published Beyond Dogma: Dialogues and Discourses, a collection of talks and discussions from the Dalai Lama’s 1993 visit to France. On page 46 he responds to the questions, “What are proper sexual attitudes? What do you think of homosexuality, for example?” The Dalai Lama replies: “A sexual act is deemed proper when the couples use the organs intended for sexual intercourse and nothing else….Homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact. Is this clear?”

My immediate reaction on reading this was: “No. This is not clear!” Was the natural behavior of my sexual orientation a violation of the moral precepts of Tibetan Buddhism and consequently negative karma in itself? As a sexually active gay man, a longtime Buddhist practitioner, and an AIDS services provider for the last 16 years, I asked myself, “What happens when `new’ Buddhists, often refugees from harshly judgmental Divine Revelatory religions, read this? What about men and women around the world living and dying with AIDS? How will they feel?”

Gay Buddhist Fellowship
E-Sangha, Gay and Lesbian Buddhists

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