Monthly Archives: May 2012

A Western Buddhist View of Homosexuality and Gay Liberation

homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself.

the Dalai lama

I am not going to insult the reader by collecting quotations from the Pali Canon or later non-canonical authorities based on various theories of monastic discipline or appropriate and inappropriate organ pairings. Rather, I will try to look at this question from first principles based on an essential, nonsectarian and universal understanding of dharma. The Buddha is not represented as one for whom rules are moral absolutes or even relatively important in the context of emancipation. He himself appears to have been celibate after his emancipation. However, until his renunciation six years before, he is represented as one intimately familiar with the hedonistic lifestyle over a long period, encouraged by his father. He married young and had a child. Clearly, therefore, he experienced sexual intercourse and orgasm. He was a man. This presents a striking contrast to the strictly asexual presentation of Jesus in the official Church portrait, although Jesus may have had an erotic relationship with Mary Magdalene. This distinction is psychologically important. It shows that Buddhist transcendence is based on psychological assimilation, whereas the Christian conception is fundamentally anti-natural and repressed, and therefore repressive. Since a Buddha is, by definition, a bodhisattva in his final rebirth, it is clear that the state of advanced bodhisattvahood (as distinct from arhantship) is not incompatible with an active sexual life. On the other hand, the Buddha gave up sex when he renounced his wife and child, sacrificing himself to his quest for emancipation. It is worth noting, perhaps, that this quest only led to emancipation after he gave it up.

Peter Masefield, author of Divine Revelation in Pali Buddhism (1986) writes of a sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya,

This sutta is of particular interest in that in maintaining that Isidatta continued to enjoy sexual relations with his wife (abrahmacari ahosi sadarasantuttho) we are given an indication of the extent to which lay savakas continued to participate in the household life. (p. 11)

Padmasambhava, a realized master, widely recognized as a Second Buddha, was sexually active simultaneously with realization. This is shown by the following quotation:

I have thought about the princess Khrom-pa rgyan;
Physically she is beautiful and mentally she is still innocent.
Acting on behalf of the living beings she will make them live in harmony.
In order to put an end to the rumor that my line will die out because I am impotent,
I, the guru, promise to take her to be my wife.[1]

The Dalai Lama, after half a century of intensive spiritual discipline, has publicly admitted that he still experiences sexual desire. The Buddha is reported to have instructed his disciples not to have sex with or as the puthujjana, the common (puthu) folk (jjana). This became the Third Precept, after killing and stealing – simplistically, abstinence from sex, complete physical observance of which is the prerogative of the infantile, the elderly, the asexual, the repressed, the sick, monks, and the dead. From this, one might deduce that only monks can achieve emancipation, but the Pali suttas do not support this view. Many of the Buddha’s hearers (savakas) were householders, many were married, and many achieved emancipation either spontaneously or after a relatively short period of practice. Therefore, it does not follow that emancipation depends on the following of rules. Nevertheless, the rules exist as intentions, just as it is intentions, and not actions, that cause karma and therefore define identity, such as the identity of the followers of the Buddha as separate from the puthujjana. Therefore, if one’s intentions are pure, then one’s actions are pure, regardless of whether they conform to historically and geographically contingent cultural norms or not.

Common folk were common then and are now. One can imagine the types of behaviours to which the Buddha might be alluding, all singularly characterized by the absence of intention and attention or mindfulness. The Buddhist community is primarily differentiated and characterized by the practice of mindfulness. Since the practice of mindfulness leads to certain results that are observable, those results became hardened into rules based on imitation and the rules became endowed with the sanctity of dharma. Finally, in the mappo (the “degenerate age”), they have become moral absolutes that themselves are delusorily believed to lead to emancipation, as if the acausal can be produced by any karmic action, intention, or organization, as the Brahmans in the Buddha’s time believed. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, this is the sin of idolatry.[2]

Therefore, for the Buddhist, the question becomes, what is the right way of sexuality, not, is homosexuality right? Homosexuality is certainly included in sexuality; whatever applies to the former applies of necessity to the latter. The answer, clearly, is mindfulness. The first five attributes of mindfulness are the five precepts:

  1. Do no harm to living beings, including killing;
  2. Do not take what is not given;
  3. Do not have puthujjana sex;
  4. Do not lie or cause harm using speech; and
  5. Avoid drunkenness.

In the present context, this would exclude things such as rape, sadomasochism, autoerotic asphyxiation, seduction, promiscuity in the largest sense (i.e., thoughtless, unconsidered sexual intercourse), abuse, and drunken sex. Certainly, there is no clear prohibition of homosexuality as such, although homosexuals also engage in all of these behaviours as heterosexuals do. The aesthetics of sexual attraction or disgust are irrelevant, forms of emotional attachment with no significance or self-being.

The foregoing discussion applies to homosexuality as such, which appears with greater or lesser frequency in all of the civilizations and religions of the world as far back in time as we know. However, one must not conflate homosexuality with gay liberation. The latter is a social movement that originated in the 1960s and led the way to significant reforms in society, including legalizing homosexuality and gay marriage. Unfortunately, gay liberation also unleashed a homosexual subculture that has ignored or rejected, sometimes militantly, all social norms. Promiscuity, sexual violence and exploitation, mixing sex and drugs, pornography, and even sexual self-mutilation, all characterize this subculture, as well as much of the larger culture with which it coexists. Thus, gay liberation is a symptom of a larger social malaise that has not yet figured out how to establish the fundamental order that is the precondition of all real freedom. Instead, it creates a culture of fake freedom that is really a culture of nihilism and death – a culture, in short, of the puthujjana.

Homosexuality cannot be made subject to moral law if it is itself rejected as inherently immoral, a perspective that is based on the error that rules, and not intentions, are the primary karmic factors (this is the same error on which the “inappropriate organ pairings” theory is based). Every kind of fundamentalism makes this error, which is adharmic. By failing to acknowledge that homosexuals are capable of formulating moral intentions and submitting to moral rule, and demanding in fact that they do so, we create the very thing we abhor. Therefore, such a view cannot be characterized as dharmic.

Notes

1. Herbert Guenther (1996), The Teachings of Padmasambhava, Brill’s Indological Library, ed. Johannes Bronkhorst et al., Vol. 12 (Leiden: E.J. Brill), p. 2, n. 1.

2. Many religious Buddhists, especially Tibetans, whose cultural conservatism is notorious, take an extremely puritanical attitude toward sex in general. Thais also seem to be conflicted on this topic, despite their reputation. It is common to hear Indians state that sex in all its forms is inherently dirty and disgusting, and should only be used for procreation within the context of marriage. Ironically, modern Indian sexual conservatism is actually influenced by the attitudes of Western colonialist powers, especially Muslims and the British. There is evidence to suggest that ancient Indian views of sex were much more tolerant and open. Modern Indian sexual conservatism coexists with the truly disgusting fact that over 50% of Indian children have been abused sexually – something that Indians themselves deny (ref.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_sex_in_India). This seems to be true even within the Tibetan ecclesiastical establishment (see, e.g., the Confessions of Kalu Rinpoche). Paradoxically, perhaps, phallus worship occurs in Buddhist countries as far apart as Bhutan and Japan. In 1993, the Dalai Lama stated in an interview that homosexuality was forbidden by Buddhist teachings based on a theory of improper organ pairings. When asked what the canonical basis for this opinion was, he admitted that he did not know. Subsequently, his office released the information that the statement is based on the writings of Ashvaghosha, a first to second century CE Hinayana [sic] Indian writer. The Dalai Lama subsequently acknowledged that these views are culturally contingent on the Indian civilization of the time. The conclusion is therefore inescapable that the Buddhist cultural prohibition against homosexuality as such (as distinct from the ordination of homosexuals, which is a different issue) is culturally contingent and not even canonical (ref.: http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1977). As such, it has no relevance or application at all to the dharma transmission to the West. While it is true that ‘wrong conduct’ (miccha-dhamma) is referred to in the Cakkavatti-Sihanada Sutta (DN 26), this is not defined in the Canon, although Buddhaghosa, an Indian Theravadin of the fifth century CE, opines in his Sumangalavilasini that this refers to “men with men, women with women.” There is more Canonical support for the inferiority of women than there is for the inferiority of homosexuals, whereas transexuals (but not bisexuals [ubhatovyanjañaka] or passive homosexuals [pandaka]; according to the ancient Indian view of sexuality, which is shared by many traditional cultures, the active or “dominant” partner in a same-sex encounter is considered to be what we would call “heterosexual”; of course, monastics are restrained from any sort of sexual activity, with the sole exception of unintentional dreams) are explicitly referred to and accepted as members of the Sangha, who are, therefore, at least potentially capable of emancipation (ref.: http://www.enabling.org/ia/vipassana/Archive/J/Jackson/homoBuddhaJackson.html).

Further Reading

Buddhism and sexual orientation

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Buddhist Prophecies of the 21st Century and Beyond

As far as I know, there are two major Buddhist prophetic cycles that may be related to the 21st century: the 2,500-year mappo cycle [1] and the Kalachakra prophecies. (The prophesy of the “sword-interval” or “age of science” is also referred to in the Pali Canon (DN 26.21). In one sense we have already entered this age (see historical chronological entry for 1757). In another sense, if we take the duration of one week literally, the “age” of science can only refer to a qualitatively transformative or catastrophic event that will occur over a very brief span of time and kill the majority of the human population, i.e., a mass extinction event. Anthropologists now refer to a Sixth Mass Extinction event that began with the rise of mankind between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, but is accelerating towards a climax about 2100, at which point half of all terrestrial “higher life forms” will be extinct.)

The word mappo (more correctly, mofa) derives from the Chinese 末法, meaning “the end of dharma,” and refers to the last of three ages, commencing with the death of the Buddha, estimated (according to current scholarship) to correspond to the year 405 BCE. In the Sutra of the Great Assembly (Mahasamnipata Sutra), the three periods are further divided into five five-hundred year periods, the fifth and last of which was prophesied to be a time when the Buddhism of Shakyamuni would lose all power of salvation and a new Buddha would appear to save the people. This period would be characterized by unrest, strife, famine, and other natural disasters. The final millennium and century of this 2,500-year cycle represents the nadir of the first 2,500-year cycle of historical Buddhism, and the arising of a new current. Descriptions of the three periods also appear in other sutras. Since the Buddha died about 400 BCE, this means that the “new current” may be expected about 2100, corresponding very neatly both with the rise of the technological singularity (2045) and the future appearance of Shambhala according to the Kalachakra.

If one looks at historical Buddhism in the light of this theory, the following historical development may be seen:

  • 400 BCE-100 CE: The death of the Buddha followed by the consolidation of the teachings in the Pali Canon; a period of establishment and consolidation; Outer Buddhism. This is the first half of the Age of the Righteous Law, characterized by salvation.
  • 100 CE-600 CE: the Fourth Buddhist Council leading to the arising of the Greater Way (Mahayana) culminating in the appearance of Nalanda University; a period of expansion and differentiation; Inner Buddhism; culminating in the appearance of the “barbarian dharma.” 600 CE also corresponds to the prophesied “end of the sangha.” This is the second half of the Age of the Righteous Law, characterized by meditation.
  • 600 CE-1100 CE: the rise of Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism culminating in the appearance of Padmasambhava; a period of intensification and realization; Secret Buddhism. This is the first half of the Age of the Counterfeit Law, characterized by reading, intoning, and the letter of the Law. 
  • 1100 CE-1600 CE: the appearance of the first Dalai Lamas; a period of preservation, consolidation, and externalization; beginning of decline. This is the second half of the Age of the Counterfeit Law, characterized by the worship of stupas and temples.
  • 1600 CE-2100 CE: the full decline of Buddhism, with the promise of revival at the midpoint, at the point of greatest darkness. This is the Age of the Decay of the Law, characterized by strife and division.
  • 2100 CE-2600 CE: the Dharma Transmission to the West (DTW); a period of renewal and revivification in the midst of great darkness.

According to this exegesis, then, the high point of historical Buddhism was reached in the ninth century of the Common Era, corresponding to Nalanda University and Padmasambhava, and the low point, the nineteenth century, corresponding to the revival of Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism and the beginning of the Dharma Transmission to the West. Padmasambava’s sudden appearance in Tibet also occurred at the midpoint of the 2,500-year cycle, midway between the parinirvana of the Buddha and our own time.

In this context it is interesting to note that the advent of the Kali Yuga in 3102 BCE, which also corresponds to the advent of the current age of the Mayan cycle in 3114 BCE, plus 2,000 years, equals 5,000 years (2 x 2,500 years). The length of this age also corresponds quite well with the astrological precession of the equinoxes (roughly 26,000 years), culminating in the so-called “Age of Aquarius.” All of these theories appear to be consolidated and harmonized in the Buddhist chronology just presented.

The Kalachakra prophesies the advent of Shambhala 1,412 years after the advent of the Kalachakra era in 1012 CE (which also corresponds to the advent of the mappo), in 2424 CE,[2] when spirituality and technology (technocracy) will converge in a new, global, post-Abrahamic civilization of the future (2424 – 1012 = 1,412. This is 412 years after 2012. Similarly, 1012 + 400, corresponding to the best current estimate of the parinirvana of the Buddha, = 1,412. Thus, the mappo began at the midpoint of this cycle). At that time, the world will be divided between the “barbarian dharma” and Buddhism. The barbarian dharma, about which we can only speculate since it is so far in the future, will then wage a war of final annihilation on the dharma, but its own karma will return upon it and destroy it, resulting in the advent of a planetary dharmic civilization that is identified with the end of the Kali Yuga. This constitutes an alternative chronology to the Hindu/Vedic view in which the Kali Yuga lasts for hundreds of thousands of years. The time from the advent of the Kali Yuga to the advent of Shambhala is therefore 5,525 years. The midpoint of this cycle is close to 400 BCE. The midpoint of the second half of this cycle is about 1000 CE, corresponding to the Kalachakra itself.

Historical Chronology

3000 BCE. End of the Neolithic. Writing. Bureaucratic age (Rifkin, Hancock). Kali Yuga (3102 BCE). Mayan epoch (3114 BCE).
900-876 BCE. Kalachakra Root Tantra. Suchandra, First King of Shambhala.
800-200 BCE. Axial Age (Jaspers).
c. 402 BCE. Parinirvana of the Buddha according to most modern scholars, plus or minus approx. 20 years. Kali Yuga + 2,700 years (Ursa Major cycle).
1st cent. BCE. Pali Canon written down on palm leaves for the first time.
1st cent. CE. Fourth Buddhist Council.
320-467. Expansion of Nalanda University.
5th-7th cent. Most Mahayana sutras were completed by the fifth century CE. A few were written as late as the seventh century CE.
c. 799. Padmasambhava visits Tibet. Parinirvana + 1,200 years; + 1,200 years = 1999 CE.
1000. Birth of the first terton,Sangyé Lama.
1012. Kalachakra appears in India (some say 966). Birth of the second terton,Drapa Ngönshé. Padmasambhava predicted that the advent of the first tertons would correspond with the advent of the era of the mappo.
1027. Kalachakra introduced to Tibet. Advent of the Kalachakra era (KE).
1197. Sack of Nalanda University by Islamist invaders.
1391-1474. First Dalai Lama.
1578. Third Dalai Lama.
1642. Fifth Dalai Lama. Sovereignty of Tibet established.
1757. Swedenborg’s vision of Apocalypse corresponding to the birth of William Blake and the age of industrialism (the Buddhist satthantarakappa, “age of science” or “sword interval”).
1860. Revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
1908. Allan Bennett (Ananda Metteyya) leads the First Buddhist Mission to the West.
1927. Aniruddha (Tib. Magakpa) (1927-2027). Who Draws and Binds the Entire Three Worlds. Aniruddha, the present Kalki king, was prophesied to rule in a time when Vajrayana Buddhism and the Kalachakra are nearly extinguished.
1959. 14th Dalai Lama leaves Tibet, enters India.
1999. Padmasambhava + 1,200 years.
2010. Nalanda International University established on site of original Nalanda University.
2012. 1012 + 1,000 years.
2025. 14th Dalai Lama turns 90.
2027. Narasingha (Tib. Miyi Senge) (2027-2127). Ruling by the Wheel, Holding the Conch. Kalachakra Era + 1,000 years.
2045. Year of the Singularity (Ray Kurzweil).
2064. 2424 – 360 years (one deva year).
2100. Parinirvana + 2,500 years. Kalachakra (900 BCE) + 3,000 years. Buddhist 3,000-year cycle associated with the udumbara, the blue lotus flower, said to bloom once every 3,000 years. The Buddha attained Enlightenment, at the age of 35 under this tree.
2299. End of second Ursa Major cycle from the Kali Yuga and one Ursa Major cycle from Parinirvana.
2327. Raudra Chakrin (Tib. Dakpo Khorlocen). Forceful Wheel Holder. The Kalki king prophesied to appear to humans all over the world in 2424 to defeat the degenerate world rulers, establishing a planetary Golden Age. He is the last king prophesied in the Kalachakra.
2424 CE. Manifestation of Shambhala (i.e., Buddhist global technocratic civilization). Advent of the “Age of Aquarius.” 300 years after 2124. 360 years after 2064. 3,300 years after Kalachakra Root Tantra.

Note

  1. Various Buddhist schools refer to cycles of different lengths, but upon analysis we discover that all of the cycles are divisions or multiples of the original 5,000 year cycle declared by the Buddha, i.e., 500 years; 1,000 years; 2,500 years; 5,000 years; and 10,000 years (Dane Rudhyar has discussed the significance of the 10,000 year cycle in his book, Astrological Timing: The Transition of the New Age (1969), chapter 2, “Planetary Cycles.”) Thus, all of these cycles are interdependent. The crucial moments appear to correspond to the advent of the Age of Degeneration (Kali Yuga, Mayan epoch, “bureaucratic age,” etc.) about 3000 BCE, the advent of the first Kalki king about 1000 BCE, the advent of Shakyamuni about 500 to 400 BCE, the advent of the Indian Kalachakra about 1000 CE, the Dharma Transmission to the West about 2000 CE, and the manifestation of Shambhala about 2400 CE.
  2. According to the currently accepted ayanamsa (Wikipedia) of 23.85 degrees (2000), or 24.045 576° (2014), at the current rate of 50.290 966 arc seconds per year (an approximation, since the rate of precession is currently increasing), the Age of Aquarius will commence in 2014 + 426.238 114 years = 2440. This is only 16 years later than 2424. If we accept 2424 as the advent of the Age of Aquarius, the Age of Pisces began in 276 CE, somewhat after the lifetime of Ptolemy (90-168), the great Western astronomer, who stated that the tropical and sidereal zodiacs coincided about his time. 276 CE falls into the second half of the Crisis of the Third Century, when the Roman Empire (Age of Aries) fell into anarchy and effectively ended the era of Roman hegemony, leading to the Triumph of the Church beginning in 313 (Age of Pisces). This implies a current ayanamsa of 24.272 412 degrees. Thus, each astrological age equals 2,147.5 years, an entire “great year” taking 25,770 years to complete, just under the round number estimate of 26,000 years, based on one degree of precession per 72 years. (The average of the three major systems of ayanamasa today [viz., Krishnamurti, Lahiri, and Raman] gives an ayanamsa of 23.55°, which gives a date of 2014 + 461.819193 = 2475. That given above is close to the Lahiri. The current Lahiri ayanamsa of 24.0672 degrees gives a slightly closer year estimate of 2438. The Krishnamurti ayanamsa only differs from the Lahiri by 7 minutes of arc or 8 years of time later. The median value of a list of 22 ayanamsas was 23.904 444 degrees. A simple ayanamsa of 24 degrees projects to 2443.) According to Dr. Alex Berzin, “according to the Kalachakra Laghu Tantra, the invasion will occur 1800 years after the founding of the non-Indic invaders’ religion. If we take that religion to be Islam, which was founded in 622, the date of the Hijra and start of the Muslim calendar, then 2422 is 1800 years after that. However, the Kalachakra Laghu Tantra also states that 403 years before the start of the 60-year prabhava calendar cycle was the year of Muhammed. The first year of the Kalachakra prabhava calendar was 1027, which puts the year of Muhammed and presumably, what the Tantra considers the founding of Islam as 624, which makes 2424 to be 1800 years after that. 624 was the year of the Battle of Badr, the first battle of Islam and marked as the year that Islam began to spread. That would be a fitting event for the Kalachakra Tantra to consider as the start of the invader’s Dharma” (personal email communication, January 30, 2015; quoted with permission). 1,800 is half of 3,600, 60 x 60 and an important number in the Kalachakra (see Berzin, “Kalachakra Does Not Advocate or Predict an Actual World Armageddon“). The 1,800-year cycle implies a 3,600-year cycle, therefore. In fact, 2424 – 3600 = 1177 BCE, which has been called “the year civilization collapsed” (see Eric. H. Cline, 1177 CE: The Year Civilization Collapsed, passim). Similarly, the duration of the Kaliyuga is declared to be 360,000 years (confer 2424 – 360 years = 2064 CE. 360 human years is the length of one deva year.).

  1. The Kalachakra identified the “barbarian dharma” with what would now be called Islamism, influenced by current events, just as the early Christians identified the Antichrist (= the Kalki Avatar) with Nero. However, this identification may be historically contingent and not necessarily relevant in the future.

References

Weisstein, Eric (2007). “Precession of the Equinoxes.” World of Physics. http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/physics/PrecessionoftheEquinoxes.html.

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/mistic/kalachakra01.htm

http://www.pnas.org/content/97/8/3814.long

http://balkhandshambhala.blogspot.ca/2015/11/malahim-armageddon-mappo-cycle.htm