‘Queer Dharma’ (1998)

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

3 minutes

In 1998, the book Queer Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists was published. It contained an interview by the book’s editor Winston Weyland with John Giorno. The entire book can be found here.

Among other things, Giorno speaks about homosexuality among Tibetan monastics:

“Tibet tends to be a less homophobic country. I have a theory: everyone who has a gay propensity there, becomes a monk. When you’re young and you realize that you have homosexual feelings, you take refuge in a monastery or nunnery, with other people of the same persuasion. This is a joy, like coming out; and a monastery is often a way to earn a living or stay alive in this world. As a result, you find few gay people in Tibetan society; they’re all in a monastery.

Homosexuality in Tibetan monasteries is rampant. Almost every one of all the monasteries of all the four traditions, Gelug, Kagyu, Sakya, and Nyingma are totally gay, in heart, if not sexually active. ‘It is condoned,’ said H.H. Druk Chen, smiling pointedly. I thought, this is wonderful, being a gay man. But I also think if you take monastic vows, you should abstain from sexual activity. Desire, straight or gay, is desire.

The monasteries are very very gay, but they don’t think of themselves asgay. In 1971, when I was first being introduced to it all, I remember staying in a monastery in Sarnath, India. There were these beautiful young men, nineteen years old looking like they were fourteen, and with the emotional worldliness of a twelve-year-old, sleeping in each other’s arms, in a rapturous embrace. They tried to keep it hidden, but often I’d come upon them. There were three monks and three beds in every room. They may not call it gay, but they were lovers. They loved each other, their hearts were open and their bodies were open. I really liked this vibe, a great deal of love from the heart center in a completely male world, so I really liked being with them all, as I studied and did practice.

Of course, then, there is the funny and sweet way they have sex, when they do. According to the monastic rules or vinya: it is really bad for there to be penetration and ejaculation. No tongue in the mouth, no rimming, no asshole fucking, no deep throat blow jobs and cumming in the mouth. Monks have these sex routines, like putting their dicks between each other’s legs, and cumming. And it is done very secretly.

This is a far cry from the great accomplishments of our Western sexuality: great bliss and clarity, fist fucking on LSD and crystal meth in the summer Olympics, going for the gold with full ignition, open and vast as the sky.

Monks, asthey get older, get less interested in the physical aspect of being gay. As they become great meditators, they are not attached to anything; and because of the hassles of a homophobic world. Others go straight, give up their vows, and have girlfriends and wives, working with their sexual energy that way. This often happens when monks go west. Whatever they do, it doesn’t matter, as the primary activity is to fully realize the nature of Buddha mind, and compassion.

Homosexuality in monasteries in Thailand and Sri Lanka is even more rampant. A substantial number of those orange-robed monks everywhere, the young ones and the old ones are gay. But slightly different from Tibetan monks, more out and gay in your face, and relaxed about it.

To get back to your question: Buddhism is homophobic, as all religions are homophobic, whether they call it a sin or sexual misconduct, even though Buddhism liberates that cultural appendage early on. The wisdom of the Shakyamuni Buddha somehow was also made into a religion, with all the tyrannies of religious dogma. For instance, in the lower vehicles of Buddhism, there is the belief that you can only become enlightened, you can only achieve realization if you’re a fully ordained monk. Now that’s a lot of hogwash. Or it’s true for some people. But often it becomes about control and political power. It’s a way for the monastery to gather and keep their power; they hold the key to heaven, just like in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Buddhist fundamentalists, and even the Gelug tradition, say that you can only become enlightened if you’re a male monk. If you’re an ordinary lay person, forget about it; it is not possible to realize your Buddhanature. If you’re a female, also impossible. If you’re a woman, you can become a nun, then in your next life, if you’re lucky, you can be born a man and become a monk and can become enlightened. That’s all a bunch of hogwash. All men and women can become great meditation masters, fully enlightened beings, by simply doing the practice.

The Dalai Lama said in an interview in 1994, that it is ok to be gay, as long as you’re not a monk, and don’t cause suffering. I thought that it was totally wonderful of him to say that, a giant step forward, a breakthrough for the Buddhist, ‘It’s ok to be gay!’ The Dalai Lama is a totally heroic being. But now in 1997, the Dalai Lama has recently formally and publicly said (in his visit to San Francisco): ‘We have to make distinctions between believers and unbelievers. From a Buddhist point of view, men-to-men and women-to-women is generally considered sexual misconduct. (See article ‘The Dalai Lama and Gay Love’ on pp. 351 of the present book.)

This is unfortunate. The Dalai Lama is totally great, but he is also a Gelug; and it is impossible for him to go against the teachings of these strict fundamentalist lamas. Unfortunate that he had to retreat to a small minded view. Gelugpas have a great understanding of great clarity, but they have no understanding of great bliss. Both heterosexual and homosexual great bliss frightens them.” (pp. 281-283, links added).

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.