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What’s up with the Dalai Lama?
Spiritual leader admits he has no knowledge of Buddha commenting on same-sex activity

by Steve Peskind
and Donald Miller

When asked if the Buddha gave teachings prohibiting same-sex partners, the Dalai Lama replied, “I don’t know.”

He’s one of the most revered spiritual leaders in the world and the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. He’s the author of such inspiring words of wisdom as “The Art of Happiness” and “Imagine All the People.” He’s addressed heads of state worldwide and continues to seek justice for the people of his native Tibet.

But, despite all his wisdom and compassion, the Dalai Lama apparently cannot imagine gays and lesbians leading fulfilling, happy and ethical lives.

Although he says 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 persists in considering the natural expressions of gay and lesbian sexual orientation as “wrong,” “unwholesome,” a “bad action” and as “vices.”

In an interview with the French magazine Dimanche, the Dalai Lama says of gay and lesbian sexuality:

“It’s part of what we Buddhists call “bad sexual conduct. 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.”

In the same interview, he specifically said he was “for” (heterosexual) sex with condoms or the pill. That is, it’s fine for heterosexuals to have non-procreative, recreational sex — as long as it doesn’t involve foreplay with other areas of the body.

A Newsweek article on the Dalai Lama entitled “Lama to the Globe” stated that, “Although he has affirmed the dignity and rights of gays and lesbians, he has condemned homosexual acts as contrary to Buddhist ethics.”

In the past decade he has repeatedly stated in publications, in public talks and in international press interviews that non-vaginal sex is “wrong and against Buddhist ethics” for any human being “of good faith,” not just gay and lesbian Buddhists.

While the Dalai Lama is not a Buddhist version of the Pope and makes no claims of infallibility, he cannot speak authoritatively for other Buddhist teaching lineages, such as Theravada and Zen. Nevertheless, he is perhaps the most well-known Buddhist in the world and he may well be the most prolific Buddhist author, given the number of publications issued yearly under his name. He frequently comments internationally on world issues from the perspective of Buddhist teachings, unfortunately sometimes with no historical qualifications for the Tibetan Buddhist or Indian cultural context of his remarks.

He often speaks “for himself beyond tradition” and his mostly wise and skillful public statements worldwide are highly regarded and believed, without question, by a worldwide audience.

The Dalai Lama is also a devoted lifelong Buddhist monk. When one ordains as a Tibetan Buddhist monk or nun, one renounces engaging in all personal sexual behavior and wholeheartedly upholds vows of sexual celibacy for the sake of spiritual practice and awakening.

He has said repeatedly “the Buddha is the historical reference for Buddhists” — for daily practice and international discussion of Buddhist issues. Yet, when asked in 1997 when and where the Buddha gave teachings prohibiting same-sex partners, he replied, “I don’t know.”

When respected lesbian educator and Claremont Graduate College Professor Lourdes Arguelles asked the Dalai Lama when and where the Buddha gave teachings on inappropriate organs to use during sex, the Dalai Lama again honestly replied, “I don’t know.”

There is no record of the Buddha ever giving such teachings, although later prominent teachers in the Dalai Lama’s Indo-Tibetan Buddhist lineage did make such ethical pronouncements. Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama’s persistent “wrong sex” teachings marginalize the gay and lesbian community and contribute to a continued tide of intolerance.

In the United States, fundamentalist anti-gay Christian organizations have quoted the Dalai Lama’s sexual misconduct statements in their literature opposing gay civil unions, partnership rights and marriage.

The Dalai Lama himself has said that he will pay attention to the international discussion of Buddhists, scientists and others on this issue, so there remains hope that the he will interpret human sexuality more clearly for 21st century Buddhism.

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