homophobia, the 4 noble truths, and the 8-fold path

today, on the international day against homophobia and transpobia, i’d like to gather a few thoughts on homophobia in view of the four noble truths, the core ideas of buddhism.

  1. there is suffering – giving birth, aging, illness, etc. in the pali text, there are two things that specifically apply here, i believe: “union with what is displeasing is suffering”; “not to get what one wants is suffering”
  2. the origin of suffering is craving (often presented as “attachment”)
  3. “it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.”
  4. the way leading to the cessation of suffering: the noble eightfold path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

“union with what is displeasing is suffering”.

what is displeasing? we all have ideas of right and wrong. often these ideas are unreflected, not thought about. rather, they are reflexive – mental chain

reactions that we get roped into, because of the conditioning that we experience in our environment: families, schools, countries, cultures. that which is “wrong” and unfamiliar is displeasing. displeasing easily turns into disgusting, probably one of the core feelings in homophobia. “your family does not look like mine and you don’t have sex the way i do. that’s disgusting”

“union with what is displeasing”: union as in being close to. neighbours, for example. “it’s disgusting that my neighbour – in my street, in my city, in my country – lives in a same sex marriage”.

from a buddhist point of view, these sentiments cause suffering – interestingly, not just to the persons who are found to be disgusting but also to the person who feels disgusted.

the suffering comes from what the second noble truth explains: craving. an expectation is a craving. “these people shouldn’t get married!” “they can be homosexuals but shouldn’t practice it!” “they shouldn’t have sex like that!” etc. probably also, “i can’t do and be who i want to be so they shouldn’t either”. the craving of expectation is: “i don’t want reality to be like this!” unfortunately, reality rarely gives a damn.

the homophobic person suffers from wanting reality to be different from what it is. “people of the same sex shouldn’t be parents” and yet they do. “a woman shouldn’t fall in love with another woman” and yet it happens all the time. the homphobic person stomps their foot and creates anti-gay laws, beats up and kills gay men, appropriates lesbian sex for their own fantasies, all to no avail.

and like it is with so many other human foibles and atrocities, we don’t want to give them up, no matter how much suffering they cause us and others. the way we get around recognizing that they cause us suffering is by turning our suffering into false pleasure, which then give birth to more suffering and more craving. the pleasure of a short term solution: “they shouldn’t do it, it’s wrong, so we’ll write a law”. there is a lot of short-term satisfaction in self-righteousness, in the busy work of petitioning and politicking, in gathering around us people who think like us (“union with what is pleasing”), etc. then the law gets written, it goes against reality (dare i say “it goes against nature”?), so it doesn’t really work, so we push more. the wheel of karma grinds on and on.

how can we help our homophobic brothers and sisters give up their suffering?

here it gets tricky. it’s easy to make a simple-minded jump to the eightfold path and say that being homophobic goes against ideas such as right view, right speech and right action. we could even point out that there are striking similarities to the ten commandments there.

but by doing that, all we do is do exactly what they do: OUR way is right, YOUR way is wrong. we get roped into jumping on OUR karmic wheel. they are wrong! they shouldn’t think like this! suffer, suffer, suffer.

for today, it seems to me that starting at the end of the eightfold path might be something we could experiment with. right mindfulness, right concentration. these can be interpreted in many ways; i suggest for this instance to think of right mindfulness as reflection, and right concentration as meditation. reflection is quiet, careful, unhurried contemplation of the situation. of reality. meditation stills the mind and body. these two take us out of the craziness of the frenzied craving for “i HAVE to do something about this!” and “they are SO wrong” and into deeper understanding of underlying realities.

sometimes – often – we can help others best by just stilling our own cravings a bit.

***

others who have talked about buddhism and homophobia:
dharmadude
meditations for black men
my out spirit
san francisco zen center
buddha TN

monkeymind

image by codispodi

9 thoughts on “homophobia, the 4 noble truths, and the 8-fold path

  1. isabella mori

    evan this isn’t an easy question, i believe. one way to ponder it may be by remembering that the origin of suffering is “craving” which is somewhat different from “desire”. in one dictionary definition, craving is said to be an “insatiable longing”. the word “insatiable” is interesting – it points directly to the karmic wheel that goes on and on and on.

    one of the synonyms for “desire” is “wish”. my position would be that in buddhism, there is nothing wrong with having a wish, in the sense that it may direct an action (like writing this post, for example). it is when i become consumed by this wish/desire/craving that it gets problematic.

    re embracing suffering for a cause – do you mean embrace our own suffering (as in what happens in a sacrifice) or the suffering of others?

    and by suffering, do you mean pain/discomfort/inconvenience, or actual suffering? (as in http://srihariwrites.blogspot.com/2009/04/second-dart.html)

  2. isabella mori

    evan – the way is see it, pain is when our brain registers the information that something untoward has happened. suffering is one of the ways in which we react to that information.

    as an example, one thing that i always find fascinating is how we react to a stubbed toe. the pain of a stubbed toe can be very intense. but we tend to interpret that pain as something minor and unimportant, and so it rarely causes actual suffering.

  3. isabella mori

    oh evan, i just love your mind!

    let’s see if we can write this equation:

    pain from seeing/experiencing homophobia + insatiable desire for (immediate/quick?) change = suffering.

    might that work?

  4. Clinton Power

    Isabella, I think you sum it up so nicely here: ” the homophobic person suffers from wanting reality to be different from what it is”

    The root of homophobia is non-acceptance of difference. But I think what underlies this is the role of parenting, the media and our communities play in the messages we give our children as they grow up in a heterosexist world.

    Thank you for writing about this.

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