The Real Problem—Not
I was very disappointed in the article “Becoming Buddha: The Life and Times of Poet John Giorno” [Vol. IV, No.1]. His life is not exemplary in any shape or form. The real problem is not that he is gay, but that he has such poor taste and this poor taste also includes the editors that approve the article and its author.
Albert L. Bross, Jr.
New Vernon, New Jersey
John Giorno’s comment that “the Vinaya…and the Lower Vehicles are very much against homosexual activity” was quite puzzling, especially since he emphasized earlier in the article that the Buddhist monks he met were totally unfazed by his very open gayness. In fact, the Vinaya simply prohibits all sexual conduct, regardless of the gender (or species) involved—there’s no special stigma or hatred of same-sex sexuality, as there is in the Judeo-Christian West, and laypeople who have not taken special vows are not castigated for same-sex or opposite-sex sexual activity, unless it involves adultery. Far from being “taboo” in Indian culture, the third sex, which includes those whom we might characterize as gay men, lesbians, transvestites, and hermaphrodites, as well as other sexual/gender variations, is described matter-of-factly in Indian texts from the Vedas onward. Furthermore, both female and male same-sex practices are described in the Kama Sutra in detail, without any real moral opprobrium. I’m afraid Mr. Giorno is reading Western homophobia into Buddhist and Indian culture—mistaking a rope for a snake.
Sound of One bell
bell hooks suggests [Vol. IV, No. 1] that traveling to the East represents “cultural imperialism” or “colonialism” by white students of Eastern religions. I think the travel of Westerners to Asia reflects the truth of suffering. Rather than traveling with a sense of superiority, these students of Eastern religions feel something is lacking, both in their culture and in themselves, and hope to find something to relieve their pain in the East. In leaving home, these travelers are simply following in the footsteps of Marpa when he left Tibet for India, of Dogen when he left Japan for China, Atisha when he left India for Sumatra, and of thousands more seekers over the past 2,500 years who were looking for a better way. Indeed, even the Buddha himself left home, and I doubt he did it out of a sense of cultural imperialism.
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