Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Dalai Lama on Homosexuality

The question of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s stance on homosexuality bothered me and so I decided to see for myself. In his 1996 book Beyond Dogma: Dialogues and Discourses, he said that homosexuality was wrong. He later clarified that homosexuality was wrong because it involved the use of the mouth, rectum and/or hands as opposed to only using genitalia. He added that the use of the mouth, rectum and hands are also proscribed in heterosexual encounters.

The primary issue is whether an act is “sexual misconduct.” The problem is that “sexual misconduct” was not defined by Buddha. An article published on the World Tibet Network News website of a transcript between an interviewer and the Dalai Lama, he explains that sexual activity, and therefore sexual misconduct, has to be separated into two different categories.

The first category is for those who are in religious communities–nuns and monks. The second category is for those who are not celibate–everyday Buddhists. In the first instance, any form of sexual activity, including masturbation would be wrong because there would be ejaculate (he obviously had men in mind). However, the same could not be said of masturbation for someone not in a religious community.

In actuality, there is a third category: non-Buddhists. Although he viewed homosexuality as “sexual misconduct” for Buddhists, he said that it was “non-harmful” for non-Buddhists. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes him as saying, “From society’s viewpoint, mutually agreeable homosexual relations can be of mutual benefit, enjoyable and harmless.”

The article linked to the World Tibetan News site is difficult to read in that the DL doesn’t always know how to say things in English and relies on his interpreter. Nevertheless, what is clear is that he is a celibate man who has never really considered these issues. The first time he did so in depth was during a private meeting with a number of LGBT Buddhists who were deeply concerned about the statements in his book. That meeting was the beginning of a shift in his position toward greater study and concern.

Fast forward to 2006 when the DL sent greetings and support to the International Lesbian and Gay Association on the occasion of their 28th World Congress. In the interim, as he stated during his visit with LGBT Buddhists in 1997, I believe he reflected on several of the supposed methods of committing “sexual misconduct” and realized, as he hinted at that time, that they may have been shaped by their culture and point in history. I also believe that he followed through on his desire to learn more about LGBT people through scientific study.

It seems to me that the DL has done/is doing exactly what LGBT Christians of all faith traditions want their leadership to do–come into the 21st Century and realize that the Bible should be referenced in the context of place, time and culture. I’m surprised no one has mentioned that it has gone through several translations into its current form and many things could easily have been mistranslated “accidentally on purpose.”

I think it would be instructive for others to read the evolution of the Dalai Lama’s thoughts. While not a direct line of progression, a Google search using the terms “dalai lama homosexuality” might be helpful, should you want to draw your own conclusions.