‘Hello, Dalai’ (1994)

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

2 minutes

During an interview for the February-March 1994 issue of OUT magazine, Scott Hunt asked the Dalai Lama about birth control, homosexuality, and AIDS:

“The Dalai Lama himself has noted the similarities between Catholic and Buddhist monastic orders, particularly their strict vows of sexual conduct, and between the ritual traditions of the two religions. The Dalai Lama, however, is clearly much more receptive to change and more tolerant of differences than is his Catholic counterpart. On the issue of birth control, for example, he declared in our interview, ‘A further increase in population is out ofthe question. In order to save a better future and our fight for precious life, our conclusion must be that we have to take birth control measures.’ He spoke in a rich baritone voice, leaning back regally in a simple chair in his receiving room. ‘If some religious tradition is against birth control. we. have to study and find ways to get past these. … I have already shared this thought with my Catholic brothers and sisters.’

The Dalai Lama is also more liberal on issues of sexuality. ‘Using one’s hand is not harming on others. and if you have no vow, then it is simply for temporary satisfaction,’ he said. This principle apparently applies equally to homosexuality, a topic that caused noticeable discomfort for the translator and the assistant who sat in small chairs on the side of the room. At first the Dalai Lama seemed to say that homosexuality was prohibited by traditions proscribing sexual misconduct. ‘Blow, here,’ he said in broken English, pointing first to his mouth and then to his groin, ‘is wrong.’ After giving the issue more thought, however, he arrived at an answer that modified his initial response: ‘If someone comes to me and asks whether it is OK 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’—he laughed heartily—’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 OK.’

This may seem a surprising statement for one of the world’s foremost religious leaders. But in Buddhist teaching, the Dalai Lama pointed out, ‘individual rights means we have the individual right to engage in any action that gives satisfaction, provided it does not harm others. We cannot say on the basis of individual rights that it is OK to steal from someone or to kill someone. Why? These also give individual satisfaction, but this is not sufficient, because it creates harm on others. Any action or activities that do not create a problem for others, and even for the temporary satisfaction of the individual if it does not create suffering in others, then that kind of action is all right.

Equally difficult to solve is the AIDS epidemic, and on my mention of the disease a sense of sorrow overcame the Dalai Lama’s face. To answer, he relied on his knowledge of Tibetan medicine, which is legendary in Northern India for curing terminal illnesses. According to Tibetan medicine, the causes of disease may be divided into two types, long-term and immediate. The long-term causes are anger, desire, and mental darkness that create an imbalance in the body’s constituents. Immediate causes are such things as diet, use of sense organs, sleep, and daily conduct. ‘To Tibetan physicians,’ said the Dalai Lama, ‘AIDS is really something new, and the immediate cause is negative: sexual liberty. That is the way one receives the disease. Tibetan medical experts say that the present use of more chemicals, air pollution, and contaminants on vegetables is another part of the immediate cause.’ Like most diseases. he added, ‘such a major illness or major negative event also has a karmic cause, no doubt. But,’ he said frankly, ‘I think AIDS also has. a positive aspect. It has helped to promote some kind of self-discipline.'” (pp. 102, 104)

Hunt - Hello, Dalai (OUT Magazine February-March 1994 pp. 101-102, 104)

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.