Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gay Pride and the Buddha

In the 1960s, all around the world, something was shifting and the winds of change were starting to gather pace. The fabric of society in countries like the USA appeared to be gradually coming apart at the seams.
There was civil unrest, anti-government/anti-war protests, and declarations of personal and sexual liberation abounded.
But the system didn't like change - it never does. Clashes and clamp-downs followed almost every tender baby-step forward.
The police appeared to be always involved in bashing the heads of one group or another - the blacks, the hippies, the anti-war protesters, the gays.
As the 60s were coming to a close the marginalised and the dispossessed had had enough and the scene appeared to be set for inevitable all-out uprising.

June 27, 1969 started out just like any other day for New York's front-line gay activists and ordinary homosexuals alike ... work, rest and plans to play for a few hours at one of the city's quasi-underground gay bars [most of which were just fronts for the mafia's protection rackets].

But then everything began to change ... rather quickly. It was announced on the main evening news that Judy Garland had died. Many of the fledgling gay community and their friends were so distraught about their icon's tragic demise that they hit the bars en masse. A night unfolded that would alter the world's politico-sexual history forever.

The Stonewall Bar was a run-down but extremely popular meeting place for gay men and women, bi-sexuals, trans-sexuals, and the generally-fabulous of every shape and size. By late evening it was filled to bursting and got completely out of control. By the time the police arrived and began beating and arresting the tired and emotional a sequence of events had been triggered that would unleash the power of 'queer'-consciousness across the globe.

Not only did the Stonewall's loyal patrons protest against the mafia who had been exploiting them for years, they lashed out at the police who had come to shut them up ... the most outrageous, most courageous, bitchy, ballsy down-trodden had just had ENOUGH.

The fight back had begun. 40 years later, it hasn't really stopped. Violent uprisings, political battles - progress has moved on, albeit at a glacial pace. Back then, gays were fighting for the right not to have to hide anymore. Equal status has been the goal ever since. Those of us who came out in the 70s and 80s owe everything to those glorious creatures who went before ... often to their deaths or worse ... insane asylums. Homosexuality has only relatively recently been removed from the list of mental illnesses. Curiously though, Prejudice never made it onto the list.

Despite all our uphill battles, and the secret self-hatred that has arisen from so much vitriol directed unrelentingly at us as the decades roll by ... Despite all that, we are still here, still queer, and we're not going shopping at least not until equal status, civil partnerships and all the rest of it has come [and the credit crunch has gone ... oh, and the fascist, conservative minority who continue to bugger everything up for the world!]. We still hold in our hearts the truth that gay rights are human rights and the hope that all will be well in our life-time.

But things are changing ... slowly ... we are assured. Ireland may even have second rate civil partnerships [of sorts] any year now. Regardless of California's recent REVERSAL of pro-gay laws it seems the Federal Govt will now strive to serve and protect US gay citizens [God Bless Obama]. On June 1, the US president made a ground-breaking Proclamation of LGBT Rights. This will either prove the courage and integrity of the man, or it will get him assassinated.
It can be found all over the web and you can read it here.

Whether we like it or not, the rest of the world looks largely to the US to show us what may soon be coming our way over here in the muddy backwaters. When they were allowing their police to brutalise 'perverts and cross-dressers', we knew that we would soon be following suit. In fact, we in Ireland prided ourselves on many a macho pre-emptive strike against the 'quares' all down through history - we hounded them, stabbed and mutilated them, and kicked them to death in every town and village across the country. Maybe, just maybe then, when America gets its act together around equal status legislation - and police protection rather than harassment - the rest of the world won't be far behind.

Even in religious terms big changes are occurring in relation to homosexuals. Regardless of what the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury may say against gays, the average parishioner - and even their low-ranking clergy - believes in their heart of hearts that gay people are just the same as them and must be equal under the law.
Other world religions are no different.

And what of Buddhism?

The Buddha taught the equality of all that lives and had nothing specific to say about homosexuality one way or the other it seems.

There is no Pope in Buddhism, thank God. And any Buddhist teacher commenting negatively about gays is merely expressing their own personal ignorance and the prejudice they have received through their national culture. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Buddhism, Buddhists or the Buddha.
For example, Buddhism comes from Asia. Like most places, Asia too is a hot-headed hot-bed of homophobia - to say nothing of sexism and xenophobia. So it follows, unfortunately, that some spiritual teachers who were raised in such an environment may have inherited local ignorance.
That is their problem. They are mistakenly deluded and have not understood the teachings of the Buddha.
Mostly, such masters say nothing about homosexuality rather than embarrass themselves by saying the wrong thing ... especially when they are in the West. Of course some masters are themselves gay but they stay quiet too. VERY few masters actually go all out and teach positive messages about homosexuality.

The hearts of LGBT Buddhist practitioners around the world are uplifted and rejoice, therefore, to have found a handful of major, senior masters from various lineages teaching about the equality and spiritual insight of gays and other LGBT individuals. Afterall, we are all equal. All beings share the same essence, according to the Buddha. Just now we are not using our full potential. We do not realise our true nature as buddhas-to-be.

Two well-known Tibetan masters are leading the way. Although they are not themselves gay, they have chosen to extend their spiritual work to specifically include and speak directly to the LGBT community who wish to receive the Buddha's teachings.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche has recently offered teachings to a group of LGBT dharma students ... where? ... New York, of course - the cradle of Western civilisation. The DVDs are now also published so that others may benefit.

Similarly one of my own masters, Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, has recently been teaching a Soho, London-based dharma group of gay people. Including this particular meditation group on his international teaching schedule is quite significant. It is said to be the only time a Tibetan Lama has so openly welcomed an openly-gay group of dharma students who have requested him to be their teacher. If you like, you can read about the Soho group here.

Gay Pride and the teachings of the Buddha have a lot in common. They both encourage us to live in truth and light, fearlessly.

I can say, personally, that the voyage of self-discovery and awareness by which i came to rejoice in my own homosexuality prepared the way quite perfectly for the spiritual voyage i now undertake with the buddhas as my guide.


  1. I presume you have heard about Triratna Buddhist Order and it's founder, Sangharakshita. He has been openly gay at least since the founding of TBO (then WBO) in 1967/8. We have accepted gays, lesbians, bi, transgender etc right from the beginning. Of course those were the days when Sangharakshita was much maligned and ostracised by virtually all Buddhist groups on account of his known sexuality. And this Buddhist movement has itself been much maligned and castigated on account of it being 'a hot-bed of homosexuality' by other Buddhists right up and into the 21st century. Things are beginning to change.

  2. Western Buddhist Order has been criticised for many things, including:
    1. Just being 'made up' by Dennis Philip Edward Lingwood aka Sangharakshita ie not having an authentic lineage
    2. His sexual abuse of male[?] members is well documented
    3. Cover ups and re-branding merely attempt to mask what is commonly known
    4. Calling itself THE Buddhist centre and targeting young people and students plus placing posters around uni's and public toilets does not endear one to it
    5. [F]WBO is generally dismissed as a cult by other sanghas and the public in general
    6. Its members feel free to trawl the net looking for opportunities to troll detractors and promote the cult wherever possible

    ... I totally accept the legitimacy of any/all sanghas that pop up [western or otherwise].
    Just don't expect people who know what the WBO is up to to stand idly by while you try to hoodwink and ensnare joe public with your particular brand of snake-oil

    I suggest you [and anyone reading this] educate yourself about this third-rate operation by googling what its [ex-]members have to say about it by way of warning...

    I would start here http://www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/fwbofiles.htm
    Even the half of it is one hell of a read

    So there you have it 'Dewa Dorje'.
    You thought riding the coattails of my post on being gay and buddhist was a great opportunity for you to push your over-diluted, over-inflated, over-transparent agenda?
    How's that working out for you ?

    Love and Light,