Posted on May 28th, 2012 | Filed under Challenges, Featured, Interfaith, Intra-Faith, Leadership, News, Popular Culture, Social Issues, Theology
Tagged with Buddhism, community, ethics, Homosexuality, Humanism, Peace, pluralism, politics, tolerance, transformation
My cynical side intuits our "gay marriage" culture-feast to be a Carl Rove-esque, divide-and-conquer, election-year diversion from the corrupting, greed-driven control over our millionaire Congress and Senate members of both parties by their financial industry overlords.
In fact, however, the feverish desire to outlaw gay marriage because of religious disapproval of lived homosexuality is nothing other than an plan to impose a form of religious law on the entire American populace, and therefore is no less a threat to our democratic society than the ideological and financial corruption of the legislative and judicial branches of government. This is because, to give merely one reason, not every religion pronounces marital relations sacramental.
It turns out that some religions, such as Buddhism, have always regarded marriage to be a completely secular social arrangement, an affair of householders and their families alone. The earliest (and present) vinaya records of the ethical rules of the male and female monastics, created during the lifetime of Buddha Shakyamuni Siddhartha Gautama, prohibit monks and nuns from becoming match-makers or serving as go-betweens in romantic relationships and intimate unions of the lay populace.
As with all such rules, the inspiration was an earlier situation gone awry: when monastic match-making ended badly, there was no way to differentiate the blame of the incompatible parties from the match-makers. Buddhist monastics were thus prohibited from match-making activities, and weddings have never assumed the status of sacraments in Buddhism. While blessing ceremonies may be conducted by Buddhist monastics and lay priests alongside secular social celebrations marking the exchange of family members (i.e., women historically) from one family to another, there is no scriptural basis for any marital liturgy in Buddhism. Rather, the four-fold members of the Buddhist congregation, the sangha, consisting of male and female monastics and male and female householders respectively, are all exhorted to routinely behave in a manner which avoids harm and cherishes the life and well-being of all sentient beings.
Thus for celibate monastics, all sexual activity is misconduct, because it is contrary to their commitment to set aside compulsive temporary desires for self-gratification. This is done in exchange for a training of abiding in a peace which derives from an inner understanding and command over one’s body, speech, and mind, and therefore is intended to be a transcendent rather than repressive vocation. Sexual misconduct of lay persons can be interpreted to include homosexuality as well as oral sex, according to traditional proscriptions to avoid using the "wrong" orifices, while contemporary interpretations proscribe any activity which could be considered to be harmful or disrespectful, while stopping short of advising against any particular sexual or intimate act, or gendered preference, and therefore is not hostile to homosexuality either.
In any case, Buddhist leaders can only report and discourse on scriptural teachings and interpretations of ethics, and live wholesomely by example. Buddhism has always been a matter of individual reflection and choice, and social support, rather than a culture of strong-arm dictates and edicts. Buddhist practitioners ultimately must use the advice of the Buddha, teachings, and congregations along their own listening, reflection, and reasoning to determine which actions are non-virtuous and which are wholesome, and which lead to suffering and which lead to happiness. We all must choose to live with the consequences of avoiding or pursuing behavior respectively. Teachers and sangha can only hope to provide guidance and lived examples of avoiding harm and benefiting others.
Therefore, for Buddhist Americans, the spectacle of public outcry and legislation prescribing particular genders to secular, state-ratified marriage on the basis of religion must surely be received as completely incongruous with Buddhist religious practice. At the same time, perhaps it may inspire some American Buddhists to come out of the shadows of secular culture, to speak out in favor of civil rights, provided all human sexuality can be actualized (or ideally transcended, as the case may be) in a manner which is non-violent, respectful of human dignity, and not harmful to others.
From our roots in pre-modern social configurations, of society at the center with its reclusive renunciates on the fringes, now is the time for us to fully participate in a secular “middle-way” society, which respects and preserves freedom for all human beings, be they sexually-active or renounced. Let us favor a society governed by civil and human and animal rights, which thereby dignify us all with universal rights to well-being and non-malevolence. May we all experience the virtues of a lifestyle of cherishing others and renouncing hatred.
Image Copyright (c) JIRD c/o Bhikshuni L. Trinlae 2012
Bhikshuni Lozang Trinlae, B.Sc., Ed.M., (भिक्षुणी लोजाङ् त्रिन्ले) is presently a doctoral student in practical theology at Claremont School of Theology at Claremont Lincoln University, where she is conducting research in formal Vajrayāna contemplative practices. She was ordained a novice Buddhist nun in Mysore in 1991; took full-ordination Bhikshuni precepts in 1998 in Bodhgaya, India; and is also a priest in the Buddhist Vajrayāna tradition (Drukpa Kagyu and Gelug lineages primarily). A summa-cum-laude graduate in physics, she earned her master's degree in education from Harvard University, where she also studied Tibetan language in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies and non-profit management at the Kennedy School. She taught science and English in India and in Tibet while undertaking contemplative training in Vajrayāna Buddhism. After teaching Buddhism in Taiwan in the mid-1990's, she founded Mahāpajāpatī Hermitage in Sagarmartha Mt. Everest National Park in Nepal, where she completed ten years of cloistered, intensive, Vajrayāna retreat, including two great approaching retreats (शतलक्ष मन्त्र इष्टदेव पुरश्चरण/བསྙེན་ཆེན།). Bhikshuni Lozang is also a trained chaplain and certified instructor in relationship education. More details of her present research, and hermitage, including texts and photo album, can be found at bhikshuni.insightdeliverysystems.com, research.insightdeliverysystems.com, and mahaprajapativihar.insightdeliverysystems.com.