Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gay/Straight, Man/Woman, Self/Other

What Would the Buddha Have Had to Say About Gay Liberation?

An interview with Jose Cabezon
by Amy Edelstein

Jose Cabezon


On June 11, 1997, in San Francisco, gay Buddhist activists met with H. H. the Dalai Lama to take the revered Tibetan Buddhist leader to task for his position that gay sexuality was in violation of Buddhist sexual ethics. In his book Beyond Dogma, the Dalai Lama cites Buddhist rules that classify homosexual activity as misconduct. For practicing Buddhists, the indisputable implication of this contemporary publication was that if one were gay and sexually active, one couldn't be a Buddhist in good standing. Faithful gay Buddhists were upset. Among the eight gay and lesbian leaders assembled to discuss this sensitive issue with the eminent celibate monk was Jose Cabezon, former translator to His Holiness, Professor of Philosophy at Iliff School of Theology and self-described gay Buddhist. I was intrigued by the furor that had erupted and began to wonder—setting aside the doctrinal debate over the modern interpretation of Buddhist law—how relevant is one's sexual orientation to enlightenment, the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path?

When I thought about gay liberation and Buddhist liberation, I saw technicolor. Loud, flamboyant images, evocative poetry, outrageous creative escapades . . . Allen Ginsberg, John Giorno, the beatniks. Adventurous men who, from the Bowery to San Francisco to the banks of the Ganges and the hilltops of Darjeeling, brought us mixed metaphors of uninhibited male love and Eastern spiritual pursuit. These unusual men took these metaphors into the public arena, out of the privacy of the bedroom and the silence of the meditation hall. Over one million people called in to hear Giorno's passionate and often provocative dial-a-poems. In places as conservative as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1970s Allen Ginsberg chanted verses about nirvana, satori [enlightenment experiences] and male sexual ecstasy while his lover droned in the background on a harmonium, sparking the spirit of the quest in countless young poets, myself among them. I thought of Whitman and the transcendentalists. I thought of a movement associated with an endless crescendo of epiphanies, with an ecstatic celebration of the divine in the human body, a movement propelled by a great energy, fueled by defying convention and breaking boundaries—in search, in search of something beyond, something ecstatic, exalted, something both immanent and transcendent.


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