Badpuppy Gay Today

Tuesday, 13 May 1997


Buddhists Agonize Over an Apparent Reversal of Non-Judgmental Attitudes

Apologists Say Leader's Statement Applies to Heterosexuals As Well

By Jack Nichols


The beloved spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, has, with the publication of his views on what constitutes proper sexual behavior, alarmed a number of gay and lesbian Buddhists. In Beyond Dogma the Dalai Lama writes that "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."

The proper use of such organs, according to the book, is when "the couples use the organs created for sexual intercourse and nothing else."

Steve Peskind, co-founder of the Buddhist AIDS Project in San Francisco, has responded with an open letter to the Dalai Lama, explaining that these remarks seem inconsistent and that they may have potentially harmful effects.

Eric Marcus, in his 1993 book, Is It a Choice?, discussed the viewpoints of various faiths and said of Buddhism: "The best news comes from the Buddhists, who welcome openly gay people, ordain them, don't consider it a sin, and have no formal teaching policy on gay and lesbian people. Hallelujah!" This was before the publication of Beyond Dogma.

Eva Herzer, president of the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet and the coordinator of a non-violence conference in San Francisco, insists that "The statements that appear to be discriminatory against gays and lesbians (in Beyond Dogma) are not; they apply to straight people as well."

Peskind, disagreeing, believes that the famed spiritual leader's commentary on sex acts will contribute to anti-homosexual attitudes worldwide. "A growing number of gay Buddhists are reading the Dalai Lama's teachings, wondering what the hell is this," he told the San Francisco Examiner.

A gay Buddhist writer, Bob Hass of Sonoma, California, is also distraught. He'd converted to Buddhism, he says, partly because he'd seen it as "an open non-judgmental religion." There are independent gay Buddhists, however, who accept the psychological insights they receive studying Buddhist teachings, but who do not follow dogmas set down by any specific Buddhist thinker.

"Buddhism isn't a follower's religion," said Mark Shastrom, unperturbed by the Dalai Lama's views. "I, for one, am an ardent student of Buddhist thought because it stands quite outside of the provinces of any gurus, any Dalai Lamas or priestly castes. Its a 'religion' which teaches us to depend on ourselves for our salvation, not on any spokespersons. In fact, the very last words of The Buddha were reported as saying: 'Work out your own salvation with diligence.' That's what I do, as a Buddhist, and I don't need a spiritual leader. I create and lead myself."

A group of concerned gay Buddhists who have called on the Dalai Lama to explain himself, will have an opportunity to talk with him in June in San Francisco at the forthcoming non-violence conference.

Eva Herzer says that "the Tibetan issue has been receiving very positive support from the gay and lesbian community," and she hopes, she says, for a "much more clear statement from His Holiness supporting the gay and lesbian community."

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