‘A Dalai Lama Update’ (2001)

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

3 minutes

On May 24, 2001, Steve Peskind († 2004) wrote a guest opinion for the Bay Area Reporter in which he critiqued the Dalai Lama’s pronouncements on homosexuality in the years 1994 through 2001:

“I am very happy that the Dalai Lama was teaching in the Bay Area last week, sharing his wisdom and liberating laugh with us once again. I find it sad, however, that the author of The Art of Happiness and Imagine All the People in 2001 apparently cannot imagine gay and lesbian Buddhists and-other sexual men and women of good faith leading fulfilling, happy, and ‘ethical’ sexual lives.

While saying that no real love between people can be condemned and that any discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation must end, the Dalai Lama nevertheless considers the natural sexual expressionos of sexual minority orientation—manual, oral, and anal sex—’wrong,’ ‘unwholesome,’ ‘bad action,’ and ‘vices,’ not conducive to enlightenment and liberation, according to the Buddhist teaching. Most recently he articulated this view in the French magazine Dimanche. The last two years he has clearly stated his position in Newsweek, the London Observer, and the Orange County Register, to name three publications of which I am aware.

As a gay Buddhist activist who personally met with and questioned the Dalai Lama in 1997 about his reiteration of ‘traditional’ Buddhist sexual misconduct ethics, I read sadly in Newsweek’s ‘Lama to the Globe’ (August 16, 1999) that ‘Although he has affirmed the dignity and rights of gays and. lesbians, he has condemned homosexual acts as contrary to Buddhist ethics.’ Unfortunately, in the past decade, he has repeatedly stated in publications, in public talks, and in international press interviews that non-vaginal sex including masturbation is ‘wrong and against Buddhist ethics’ for any human being ‘of good faith,’ not just homosexual Buddhists.

The Dalai Lama is a pre-eminent spokesman for peace and nonviolence in this very violent world. What a shame that he cannot apparently put the joy and intimacy of human sexual expression, including non-harmful and creative gay and lesbian sex, ahead of his attachment to the ethical doctrines of often patriarchal, misogynist Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Clearly, safeguarding and advocating for the rights of one oppressed people, the Tibetans, while continuing to put forth a Buddhist partyline which spiritually oppresses sexual minorities and others; is neither skillful, kind, or compassionate in this writer’s opinion.

In his most recent interview in Dimanche, in January 2001, the Dalai Lama says:

‘Q: Your Holiness, what do you think of homosexuality?
DL: It’s part of what we Buddhists call ‘bad sexual conduct.’ (Pause.) Sexual organs were created for reproduction between the male element and the female element—and everything that deviates from that is not acceptable from a Buddhist point of view. (He counts off on his fingers.) Between a man and [another] man, a woman and another woman, in the mouth, the anus, or even using a hand (the DL mimes masturbation).
Q: So you share this view with Christianity?
DL: We share much more than that: the same philosophy of love of one’s neighbor, the aspiration to elevate a human being above his/her vices, compassion and forgiveness …’

The Dalai Lama has said repeatedly that ‘The Buddha is the historical reference for Buddhists’—for daily practice and international discussion of Buddhist issues. Yet, when I personally asked him in 1997, ‘When and where did the Buddha give teachings prohibiting same-sex partners?’, he replied, ‘I don’t know.’ When Lourdes Arguelles, a respected lesbian professor of education, asked, ‘When and where did Buddha give teachings on inappropriate organs to use during sex?’, he again honestly replied, ‘I don’t know.’ And he still doesn’t know because there is no record of the Buddha, ‘the ultimate historical reference,’ ever giving such teachings.

Not knowing when, where, or even if these teachings came directly from the Buddha, the Dalai Lama’s persistent ‘wrong sex’ teachings marginalize the behavior and full humanity of sexual minorities and others and contribute to the worldwide atmosphereof permission for psychological, physical, and spiritual violence against them—an atmosphere horrifically culminating in episodes like the murder of openly gay Matthew Shepard and others.

The Dalai Lama is a kind and deeply spiritual man who was raised as a monastic in a partly medieval theocracy. In this relatively imperfect world, he is not ‘perfect,’ ‘omniscient,’ or ‘always right’ as the sometimes cultish behavior of some of his followers would have us believe. Information reaching him is heavily screened. The Dalai Lama was reportedly oblivious, for example, to the oppressive institutional discrimination of Tibetan Buddhism toward women and nuns until recently when Buddhist women finally spoke out. It is important for all of us mindfully practicing Buddhists and people of good faith to speak relative truth to relatively incorrect and misguided power, in this case the person and institution of the Dalai Lama on ‘sexual ethics for the next millennium.’

Deep sadness is one response to the Dalai Lama’s statements on ‘wrong sex.’ Compassion for ourselves and for this international teacher of compassion is another. He has said that he will pay attention to the international discussion of Buddhists, scientists, and others on this issue. I haven’t given up on the Dalai Lama seeing human sexuality more clearly and hopefully stopping his harmful behavior as he continues to step beyond the boundaries of his sometimes medieval monastic male tradition and into 21st century Buddhism.” (p. 6, links added.)

2001-05-24 - Peskind - A Dalai Lama update (Bay Area Reporter 31 (21) 24-05-2001 p. 6) REDUX-BW

About the author

Rob Hogendoorn

Investigative reporter and academic researcher Rob Hogendoorn (b. 1964) began researching the reception of Buddhism in Western society and culture in the early 1990s. His modus operandi remained the same ever since: independent, inquisitive and provocative.