Making Room for Gay in Gayatri: Hinduism and Homosexuality
When it comes to matters of sexuality, the Hindu Dharma has a wonderful opportunity to show the world its true enlightened thinking.
BY: Fred Stella
When it comes to matters of sexuality, especially homosexuality, the Hindu Dharma has a wonderful opportunity to show the world its true enlightened thinking. Some faiths are bound by the black and white dicta of their scriptures. For so many, no matter how much they want to be opening and affirming they are held back by verses they believe come straight from the lips of God. The Dharma (when expressed from its summit) allows for many instruments of knowledge to define Truth; including our scriptures, of course, but also the words of our modern day saints and sages, science and our own sense of reason and personal experiences. It is my understanding that much of contemporary Hinduism's (and India’s) less than progressive attitude towards homosexuality stems from the dismal legacy of Moghul and British rule over 800 years. I have read accounts of greater tolerance and appreciation in ancient times. We must reclaim this. I have heard great ignorance in the form of proclamations of fundamentalist Christian preachers that no civilization in recorded history has accepted homosexuality as a social convention.
As an actor I have had the gift of many more friendships in the gay community than perhaps most straight people are afforded. Yes, I've seen plenty of examples of what I consider adharmic activity (promiscuity, hedonism, etc.), just as I've seen in the hetero world. But I've also seen long-term loving, monogamous relationships that are inspirational.
One problem with this conversation is that we concentrate too much on the "sex" in homosexual. A committed, loving relationship between two people is way much more than the one percent of the time they are actually engaged in sexual activity.
Indian culture is quite passionate about family stability and the rather strict mores that accompany life in that paradigm. I certainly sympathize with parents who would go through the challenges of realizing they have a gay son or daughter. But we know from way too much experience that trying to force someone into a gender role that he or she cannot fulfill is damaging to everyone involved. It is much wiser for parents to accept the situation and encourage them to lead a healthy life with the hopes of finding a partner and creating a committed relationship. Much of the self destructive behavior that is so often found in the gay community comes not from the sexual orientation itself but things like being ostracized from friends, family and religious communities.
Of all the religions around the best answer as to why people are gay in the first place may come from Hinduism. I once heard a swami say that it could occur after a person has spent a number of lifetimes incarnated in one sex, and then for karmic reasons must experience rebirth in the opposite gender. It makes sense that for this human experience the soul would have brought with it many samskars of all those other lives, including sexual attraction. So yes, a man who is coming off a cosmic go-round of six or seven lives as a woman may have a bit of a challenges being attracted to women. I know this is not science but theological speculation. But it sure beats any notion of God punishing some poor person for no explained reason.
So let’s bring this subject out of the dark corners of our lives and when faced with this reality in our families and temples respond from the very highest and most noble sentiments of our tradition.
FRED STELLA began his spiritual search within the Hindu Dharma at the age of 15. He was initiated into his specific tradition over 20 years ago. His training includes time spent in temples and ashrams both here and in India. His articles have appeared in Freeman, India Link and Hinduism Today magazines, and the Grand Rapids Press. For over a decade Fred has held leadership positions in the local chapter of Self Realization Fellowship (Yogoda Satsanga Society in India) , a worldwide society deeply rooted in the Hindu/Yoga system of teaching. He is an ordained Pracharak (which translates to "Outreach Minister") for the West Michigan Hindu Temple. Under the direction of Vivekananda Kendra in 2005 Mr. Stella completed a 30 city lecture tour in India, joining the effort to promote indigenous culture and religion in areas facing the encroachment of Western influence. Here in the United States, he has given lectures, facilitated workshops and retreats at schools, churches and in the private sector. Fred is on the adjunct faculty of Muskegon Community College, where he is an instructor of Hatha Yoga. He is also president of Interfaith Dialogue Association, and hosts its weekly radio program on Religion and Spirituality, Common Threads on local NPR affiliate, WGVU-FM. Mr. Stella was educated at the University of Detroit, where he majored in Media Studies. Besides IDA, Fred sits on the advisory boards of Grand Dialogue (promoting conversations between Science and Religion), The Kaufman Interfaith Institute and the West Michigan chapter of the ACLU, where he often consults on freedom of religion issues.