Dalai Lama Speaks On Gay Sex Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer

DALAI LAMA SPEAKS ON GAY SEX
He says it’s wrong for Buddhists but not for society
Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer
Tuesday, June 11, 1997 (San Francisco Chronicle))

As
he prepares to meet today with gay Buddhist leaders, the Dalai Lama has
clarified his position on the morality of homosexuality for Buddhists and
non-Buddhists.

“We
have to make a distinction between believers and unbelievers,” the exiled
Tibetan leader said at a press conference yesterday in San Francisco. “From
a Buddhist point of view, men-to-men and women-to-women is generally considered
sexual misconduct. “From society’s viewpoint, mutually agreeable homosexual
relations can be of mutual benefit, enjoyable and harmless.” 

His
comments were an effort to clarify statements in a book — “Beyond Dogma,”
published last year by North Atlantic Books in Berkeley — that upset some
gay Buddhists. 

The
Dalai Lama said the same Buddhist scripture that advises against gay and 
lesbian
sex also urges heterosexuals to refrain from oral sex, anal sex and masturbation.
“Even with your own wife, using one’s mouth or the other hole is sexual
misconduct,” he said. “Using one’s hand, that is sexual misconduct.” 

Steve
Peskind, one of the gay Buddhists meeting with the Dalai Lama today, was
disappointed with yesterday’s remarks. 

“We
will be talking to him about the impact of these statements on homophobic 
violence,”
Peskind said. “What is proper sexual conduct for gay Buddhists, and who’s
going to teach us?” 

The
Tibetan leader noted that those same traditional texts that oppose oral
and anal sex approve of vaginal sex with a prostitute. 

Some
Buddhists at yesterday’s press conference said the Dalai Lama was hinting
that those traditional Buddhist scriptures may need to be re-examined in
a modern social context. 

Despite
his worldwide appeal and popularity, the Dalai Lama is not a “Buddhist
pope” and does not have the authority to unilaterally change Buddhist teaching. 

“When
it comes to interpreting scripture, I can’t undertake that on my own,”
he said. “We would need to have consultation with other Buddhist traditions.” 

The
Dalai Lama was also asked to explain recent statements urging his followers
to refrain from using a “protector deity,” Dorje Shugden, in their meditation
and devotional practices. 

Devotees
of that deity, a kind of Buddhist guardian angel, have accused the Dalai
Lama of religious intolerance. The dispute is also thought to be connected
to the slaying of three monks this year at the Dalai Lama’s monastic palace
in Dharmsala, India. 

“Some
people have made the worship of this spirit a dominant part of their religious
life,” the Dalai Lama said. “The Tibetan Buddhist tradition is very profound.
We don’t want to see it degenerate into spirit worship.” 

http://www.tibet.ca/en/wtnarchive/1997/6/12_2.html 

According
to Buddhist Tradition: 
Gays,
Lesbians and the Definition of Sexual Misconduct 
Steve
Peskind 

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?” 

Although
the proscriptions were not discriminatory against “homosexuality” per se,
they were clearly discriminatory in their impact on homosexual men and
women (and even prohibited most of the AIDS safe sex guidelines). Stating
that homosexual orientation is okay, but that homosexual behavior is not,
creates a terrible double bind for any gay Buddhist who believes the Dalai
Lama’s teachings. 

On
the basis of the discrepancy between the OUT article and Beyond Dogma,
I wrote an open, public letter to the Dalai Lama in January of 1997, noting
that many of us who so admired him were confused and distressed by the
inconsistency of his statements and their worldwide ramifications. I respectfully
requested that he “in whatever manner and venue he chooses, speak to the
Buddhadharma, the truth of homosexuality and homosexual behavior.” That
letter resulted, through the agency of the Office of Tibet, in the June
11 private meeting between the Dalai Lama and seven gay and lesbian leaders
in San Francisco. 

At
the meeting I asked the Dalai Lama about a statement he had made at a press
conference the day before. A reporter had asked him to comment on the morality
of homosexual behavior, and he replied: “We have to make a distinction
between believers and unbelievers. From a Buddhist point of view, men-to-men
and women-to-women is generally considered sexual misconduct. From society’s
point of view, mutually agreeable homosexual relations can be of mutual
benefit, enjoyable and harmless.” 

The
Dalai Lama went on to say that the same Buddhist scripture that advises
against gay and lesbian sex urges the same for heterosexuals. “Even with
your wife, using one’s mouth or the other hole is sexual misconduct. Using
one’s hand, that is sexual misconduct.” He added, “The Buddha is our Teacher,”
the historical reference for all Buddhists. 

The
next morning in his diplomatic suite in the Fairmount, I asked him, “If
the Buddha is our teacher, where and when did he teach that homosexual
partners are inappropriate, that homosexual behavior is sexual misconduct?”
The Dalai Lama candidly responded, “I don’t know.” 

During
the meeting the Dalai Lama confirmed for us another sexual proscription
according to Buddhist tradition: heterosexuals are prohibited from having
sex more than five consecutive times with a partner. Jose Cabezon, a gay
Buddhist scholar, promptly asked him, “If the purpose of the proscriptions
is to reduce sexual activity, how does it make sense to allow a man to
have sex with his wife up to five times a night, while saying that it is
sexual misconduct for a man to have sex with another man even once in his
life?” 

The
Dalai Lama roared with laughter, saying,”You have a point there!” Earlier
he had asked all of us, “Sex is for procreation, right?” Our collective
silence was our response. When I asked, “Which of the proscribed behaviors
regarding partner, organ, or excessive frequency do you personally consider
most important?” he responded with a thoughtful look, not saying anything. 

In
preparation for the meeting the Dalai Lama had traced the sexual misconduct
teachings back to the Indian Buddhist scholar Ashvaghosha, and said they
may reflect the moral codes of India at the time, “which stress moral purity.”
He was open to the possibility of Buddhist tradition changing eventually
in response to science, modern social history, and discussion within the
various Buddhist sanghas. He urged all of us to go forth and advocate our
interests, basing our action on Buddhist principles of “rigorous investigation
and non-violence.” He noted that he is not unilaterally empowered to change
tradition: “Change can only come on the collective level,” he said. 

Religious
teachings on sex-make that “wrong sex”-are well known to be a principal
cause of violence and discrimination against sexual minorities and a primary
cause of self-destructive behavior among them. This is true in the West
and it is true in the East. Clearly, some of the traditional Buddhist teachings
are violent to the truth and lives of Buddhist sexual minorities. It’s
still questionable whether the Dalai Lama, whose words carry much weight
in the court of world opinion, really “gets” the impact of Buddhist tradition
labeling the way we make love as “sexual misconduct.” My partner of twenty-one
years and I don’t appreciate it. And the Buddha didn’t say it at all, according
to the evidence. 

According
to the oldest Buddhist teachings, the Buddha cautioned against “misconduct
of sensual desire.” He warned of mental stains from “drowning in sensual
pleasure-harmful and disturbing intentions and actions arising from wrong
perception and the dualistic fixation on self and other. He did not mention
sex, inappropriate organs and partners. During the June 11 meeting the
Dalai Lama clearly stated that “the goal for all Buddhists is Nirvana”-complete
freedom of mind free of wrong perception, dualistic fixation, defilements
and hindrances. He did not clarify, however, how sex as an expression of
emotional intimacy, or moderate and respectful recreational sex, or gay
tantric sex for that matter, in any way impedes full awakening, freedom
and peace of heart. 

The
meeting was warm, serious and much too hurried. The 45 minutes was a 15
minute extension to the 30 minutes which the Office of Tibet originally
allotted for “this historic meeting.” The Dalai Lama encouraged the seven
of us and others to hold conferences on Buddhism and sexuality and other
pressing concerns, including Tibetan Buddhist full-ordination of women
as nuns. Although the Dalai Lama opposed violence and discrimination based
on sexual orientation, he did not commit himself to helping correct harmful
Buddhist teachings still on the books-including the conduct codes which
can fuel homophobic behavior among Buddhist teachers and students. Famous
for saying, “When science points to or proves a truth contrary to Buddhist
teaching, then Buddhist teaching must change,” he said as we were leaving
his suite, “Changing Buddhist traditions will be much harder than advocating
for your human rights.” 

So
it’s up to us to affect change, with lots of help from Buddhist teachers
who are quite awake on the subject of sexual right action, teachers such
as Khandro Rinpoche, Drukchen Rinpoche, the late Dudjom Rinpoche, Lama
Tarchin Rinpoche, Robert Aitken Roshi and others. We must continue to insist
that the tradition change. Three years ago I asked Khandro Rinpoche, the
gifted young Tibetan teacher, about her views on homosexual behavior and
the dharma. This eldest daughter of Mindroling Rinpoche, and Kagyu and
Nyingma lineage holder, offered the following response as part of her public
teaching in San Francisco on “AIDS: Compassion and Skillful Means”: 

“One
can grow spiritually by being a monk, through getting married, through
homosexual relations. If you really love another man as a man, no problem.
Within the Buddha’s doctrine itself homosexuality is nothing special, nothing
new. Such a thing as realization means being free from attachment to whomever
it may be-a man to a man, a man to a woman, a woman to a woman, or whomever
it may be. Each person is responsible for his or her own mind, own thoughts,
emotions, understanding, awakening, realization. It’s possible for a homosexual
person. It’s possible for all sentient beings.” 

We
cannot control tradition and politics. We cannot control psychological
and physical violence born of delusion. But Buddha’s way is not about the
“control” of suffering; it’s about responding with open awareness to the
whole display of our experience, including suffering. The Dalai Lama accurately
observed that he is not unilaterally empowered to change Buddhist tradition.
But he is empowered to speak for himself. His speaking to the irrelevant,
false aspects of sexual misconduct teachings will certainly help the cause. 
A
Buddhist’s responsibility is to insist that Buddhist oppression of sexual
minorities, women and others, including heterosexual couples, end. The
San Francisco-based Buddhist AIDS Project is formulating “A Respectful
Request to the Dalai Lama,” in the form of a petition asking him to speak
directly to the irrelevance and harm of some traditional misconduct codes
found in all lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. 

Steve
Peskind is coordinator of the Buddhist AIDS Project in San Francisco. He
is the editor of the anthology, Heart Lessons From an Epidemic: Buddhist
Practice and Living with HIV, to be published by Parallax Press. He can
be contacted at bap@hooked.net 

“According
to Buddhist Tradition”, Steve Peskind, Shambhala Sun, March 1998. 
http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1977

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