Gay History: Gay Marriage: What Would Buddha Do?

As a gay Buddhist, and someone who has a lot of respect for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I often have his sometimes controversial/sometimes contradictory comments on gays and gay marriage, thorn at me. It’s a difficult question, I know…how can I support someone who seems to be non-supportive if gays within the Buddhist community, yet support gay issues for non-Buddhists. I personally consider the Dalai Lama as a great man, capable of great compassion and understanding. I also know he is the head of a traditional Tibetan sect of Buddhism called the Gelug sect, and as such has his moral teachings within the beliefs of that sect. I would like to think that being the intelligent and loving man that he is, that these questions are something he has to often contemplate, and try to understand within an old tradition that has to live in the modern world. Buddhism is not just one sect, but many different sects all following diverse interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings. As such, there are conservative and liberal strands of Buddhism, so beliefs are not universal. The Dalai Lama is but the leader of one sect, and only speaks for that sect. I choose not to judge him to harshly! Om mani padme hum 📿🏳️‍🌈

A lot of people ask me what the “Buddhist take” on gay marriage is. Well, it depends on who you talk to. A few years back, in an interview with the CBC, the Dalai Lama rejected same-sex relationships to the surprise of many convert Buddhists, who sometimes too easily assume that Buddhist ethics are consistent with their typically progressive views.

As the Canadian interview bounced around the internet, some people were shocked and perplexed, but the Dalai Lama’s position shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the issue. After all, he has been consistent. At a conference some 12 years ago, when gay leaders met with him in San Francisco to discuss the Tibetan Buddhist proscriptions against gay sex, he reiterated the traditional view that gay sex was “sexual misconduct.” This view was based on restrictions found in Tibetan texts that he could not and would not change. He did, however, advise gay Buddhist leaders to investigate further, discuss the issue, and suggested that change might come through some sort of theological consensus. But at a time when same-sex marriage has taken front-stage center in American politics, the Dalai Lama’s more recent statements come as unwelcome news to proponents of civil rights.

A lot of people ask me what the “Buddhist take” on gay marriage is. Well, it depends on who you talk to. A few years back, in an interview with the CBC, the Dalai Lama rejected same-sex relationships to the surprise of many convert Buddhists, who sometimes too easily assume that Buddhist ethics are consistent with their typically progressive views.

As the Canadian interview bounced around the internet, some people were shocked and perplexed, but the Dalai Lama’s position shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the issue. After all, he has been consistent. At a conference some 12 years ago, when gay leaders met with him in San Francisco to discuss the Tibetan Buddhist proscriptions against gay sex, he reiterated the traditional view that gay sex was “sexual misconduct.” This view was based on restrictions found in Tibetan texts that he could not and would not change. He did, however, advise gay Buddhist leaders to investigate further, discuss the issue, and suggested that change might come through some sort of theological consensus. But at a time when same-sex marriage has taken front-stage center in American politics, the Dalai Lama’s more recent statements come as unwelcome news to proponents of civil rights.

Friends of mine have argued that the Dalai Lama doesn’t really look askance same-sex relationships, that he has no choice but to uphold his tradition’s dictates; and that maybe the Dalai Lama is just stuck with the old texts’ proscriptions in the same way that a Catholic, say, must deal with Thomas Aquinas. Of course, we can’t know and must take his public statements at face value. In his case, though, our expectations tend to be different than they might be for the local minister, priest or orthodox rabbi. And so many of us who have benefited greatly from his teachings are apt to feel disappointed.

References

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