Colombo Telegraph

Buddhism And The Politics Of Homosexuality

By Thrishantha Nanayakkara

Thrishantha Nanayakkara

Last weekend, I enjoyed some time with the kids and my wife in the beach. As always, it was so relaxing to watch how the waves arose, broke down on sand, and receded back to the sea. Walking along, we were paying attention to the sound of waves impounding on sand. Every wave had a sound track with its own subtle uniqueness that sent waves of unique feelings inside me. At some point, I closed my eyes, and started to watch these waves of feelings triggered by every new wave that broke on the beach. It re-confirmed me that I had no control over the waves of feelings being propagated in my mind – ear (rupa) comes into contact with sound (rupa), a vinyana or the discriminative awareness arises (vi-for vibhedana or splitting, and nyana-for knowing that splits a “me” here vs a “wave” out there), detailed sensations (vedana) of the sound comes under discriminative awareness, and perceptions and judgments arise (sanya). When I closed one ear (augmented the physical organization of the process of hearing or kaya sankara), the way I felt the sound of waves changed. So my feelings and perceptions depended on kaya sankara too (sankara in general refers to any thing with a structure in body, mind, or language).

What was striking is that this whole internal wave starting from the contact of a sound wave on the ear all the way to perceptions was so self-driven. I had no control over the process, and the end effect depended on so many laws of nature (dharmatha) of which I was only a manifestation, than a controlling authority. This notion is explained in Buddhism in one word called anatta (the non-self nature).  When we are unaware of this process, somebody who goes to the beach will enjoy the feelings for sometime, but get bored of it over time, or find some fault there, like the chill in the air. This non-satisfactory nature of being unaware of sensations is called the quality of dukka (du– for weak, akka-for axis), or in other words the compulsion to move away seeking a more pleasurable thing out there. It works like a wheel mounted on a weak axis – hence it is called du-akka or dukka. Moreover, the variation of the sound track of every new breaking wave, and the variability of resulting perceptions is called the quality of anicca or anithya every present in nature. Buddha explained that all five aggregates – rupa, vedana, sanya, sankara, and vinyana – that underpin compounded objects and mind, possess the three qualities – unaware clinging leads to unsatisfactoriness (dukka), the aggregates are subject to change (anithya), and there is no superseding owner of the five aggregates but they are self driven, conditioned, and transient phenomena (anatta).

Take another experience like handedness. When you open a bottle, if you are right handed, you would most often choose the left hand to hold the bottle and the right hand to twist the cap. Do it over and over again, you may notice that how the two hands share responsibility to do the task vary (anithya). If you do not pay enough attention to the task, there maybe things you want to blame, like the lack of grip in the hands, lack of stability, and lack of strength, without realizing that it is the best the two hands could do, etc (dukka). And you may notice that this particular organization (sankara) that led to how the two hands shared responsibility can be conditioned to a different pattern to change the self-driven process with you having no control over it (anatta).

The same applies to sexuality. I married a woman because I get attracted to women. I have no control over the process that starts from the sight of a woman to a sexual attraction. All I have control over as a Buddhist are: practicing self-restraint (sila), practicing mindfulness (samadhi) to be aware of my feelings and to strive to develop wholesome qualities while weakening unwholesome qualities, and practicing to refine the view about the nature of this process (ditti), and the conditioning of my intentions (sankappa), together grouped as wisdom (pragnya). This way we can train ourselves to take control over things from feelings to actions, though we have no control over the former part of the process that leads from sensory contact to feelings. Therefore, one who gets attracted to the same sex has no control or ownership of that process starting from the sight of a person to the feeling of homosexual attraction. However, we may not like that sensual manifestation called homosexuality. This is one instant where Buddhist practice helps us to come to perfect peace with the way things are. Just like homosexuality, there are so many things in the universe we may not like. However, the realization that all those things we like and dislike are driven by waves of causes and conditions formed by natural laws (dharmatha) that work for and against our desires, and the fact that there is no owner to be blamed, brings a radical ability to be in harmony with the World, leading to the end result – unconditioned happiness.

Why I took homosexuality as the focus of this note is the way the Government abused an incident where Dr. Harsha De Silva, an opposition MP in the parliament of Sri Lanka, had rested his hand on the shoulders of a Buddhist monk in a political rally. There were several things we can think of improving there. First, it is a totally inappropriate event for a Buddhist monk to participate. Second, it is wrong judgment of the opposition to fall down to the level of the Rajapaksa administration in the way they abuse the presence of Buddhist monks in politics. Third, Dr. Harsha de Silva could have been more mindful, though quite understandably, the situation took his attention to the gathering in front of him. Fourth, it is not very appropriate for those who claim to be Guardians of Buddhism to abuse public phobia on homosexuality to gain political mileage by interpreting it as an act of homosexuality.Fifth, it is hypocritical to point fingers at homosexuals while covering up rapists among Government ranksHowever, it is so encouraging to see Dr. Harsha de Silva’s bravery to come on media to make a public apology. This is a ray of hope in modern politics in Sri Lanka, when everybody is hell-bent on covering up misbehavior.

Even if it was an act of homosexuality, as practicing Buddhists, we realize that the process that works in homosexuals is exactly the same as ours, but it is only that their sankaras lead the process to a different destination of feeling and then a perception. They have no control over it, because the process does not have an owner (anatta). What should happen therefore is a spontaneous arising of compassion towards them.

Finally, I request again from the opposition not to drag Buddhist monks to politics. Yes, I understand that the majority of voters have made a soup out of religion, ethnicity, and politics. Yes, I do understand that the Rajapaksa administration just nurtures on that soup and kindles the fire underneath the pot too. Our reaction to that should not be falling down to the same level, but to practice our religions in their true sense and encourage others to do the same. Bad politics will just fade away when people penetrate ignorance. If possible, do something to construct forest retreat centers for practicing Buddhists in the working masses to take weekends off to practice, than having symbolic presence of the yellow robe in your politics. Please also reflect upon the way state media was abused by the UNP led administrations in the past too. Like Dr. Harsha de Silva demonstrated his gentlemanship and bravery by coming on public media to apologize for his misbehavior, if possible publicly confess misuse of state properties and media in your own past, with a firm resolve to correct them in the future as the main political party in the opposition. This would be more powerful in our eyes than mirroring the Rajapaksa administration of which we are losing hope so fast.

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