Friday, March 20, 2009

What do you think of this shit?

Acid River

The sensitive issue of homosexuality in the Dharma is in the news again, with the recent revelation that a celebrated lineage-holder was basically tricked into ordaining a post-op transvestite.

This is a subject that Tibetan lamas avoid like the plague.

However, Santideva didn't and in his Siksa-samuccaya anthology, quotes the Saddharma-smrtyupasthana Sutra as follows:

"Likewise, endless varieties of punishments in a future life are described for the wrong deed of sexual intercourse between two men. The one who commits misconduct with boys sees boys being swept away in the Acid River who cry out to him, and owing to the suffering and pain born of his deep affection for them, plunges in after them."

Indeed, the only sutra where homosexuality isn't condemned is the Kama Sutra, and that one doesn't belong to us.

Although His Holiness the Dalai Lama takes pains to explain that he doesn't have the authority to unilaterally interpret Buddhist scriptures -- and while he remains open-minded and non-judgmental on the issue -- he nonetheless wrote, in his 1996 book Beyond Dogma, "...a sexual act is proper when the couples use the organs created for sexual intercourse and nothing else."

His public attitude is that homosexuality is a form of sexual misconduct. As we all know, sexual misconduct has many forms, so to single out homosexuality as "better "or "worse" misconduct seems unnecessary, and perhaps somewhat unfair. Yet, it is an area of concern when one considers there are now such things as "Queer Sangha." The recent, disturbing news that an openly homosexual, convicted child abuser has been parading around as a Tibetan Buddhist monk sheds light on the potential dangers. It leads us to the question of whether or not Tibetan Buddhism in the West holds any risk for Catholic-style abuse of young boys.

Certainly, in the context of ordinary Western "dharma centers," this doesn't seem like much of a possibility. However, we do have nominally Buddhist cults in America (and elsewhere), and because of their insular nature, it would seem the risk is potentially greater. Indeed, there is evidence that at least one such cult has come to specialize in recruiting gays, then sponsoring them for ordination by unwitting preceptors.

I do know that a large number of gay people have come to Buddhism because they feel ostracized by other religions. Exposure to Buddhism has been helpful for them and for those around them. Perhaps some of them have been able to cease defining themselves by their sexuality, and have begun to examine their own basic humanity.

I personally do not believe in discrimination on any basis. It seems to me that desire is desire. I knew a pilot once, who liked to say, "When I have to land the plane, I don't care if the runway goes north or south. I just land the damn plane."

And, to continue with the analogy, maybe it is charitable to recall that we recently had the example of a pilot who landed in a river in order to save his passengers.

Motivation plays a substantial role in determining the outcome of even highly unseemly behavior.

Despite use of the word "gay," it seems that many homosexual people are deeply unhappy and confused. There is a very high rate of suicide. Many become the victims of violence. If Buddhism brings them comfort, happiness, and insight, then what is wrong with that? If Buddhism becomes their refuge, isn't that what Buddhism is explicitly supposed to do?

"Gay bashing" in the name of Buddhism will never be acceptable. That much should be made very clear. However, what is worth careful examination is whether or not homosexuality -- or indeed any single-issue labeling -- should be allowed to become part of institutional Buddhism as expressed in the West.

With all due respect to "Queer Sangha," why wouldn't "Sangha" be enough?

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