Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, has come out in support of gay marriage. During a recent interview with Larry King, the spiritual leader voiced his support of gay unions, saying “If two people – a couple – really feel that way is more practical, more sort of satisfaction, both sides fully agree, then OK”, while also commenting that people should follow their own religions’ rules on sexuality and that, while the matter does fall under the jurisdiction of each country’s government, it is ultimately the individual’s business. He also cited homophobia and bullying of the LGBT community as being ‘a violation of human rights’, stating flatly that it is wrong.
The Dalai Lama, who describes himself as a feminist, is one of the world’s most progressive spiritual leaders to have arisen from a traditional religious background. This strong stance on the issue of gay marriage clears up a somewhat previously cloudy understanding of his views in the west. It’s importance is not to be understated. None of the nations in which Buddhism is most prevalent currently allow gay marriage. The Dalai Lama possesses one of the most influential spiritual voices of current times, thus his statements on the matter may serve to change things in the years to come.
Deeper than this, however, Gyatso is taking steps in demonstrating some of the most important tenets that lie at the heart of the Buddhist ethic and its humanitarian underpinnings. By declaring the sexual affairs of two consenting adults to be wholly within their own rights, he is removing the stigma of ‘sexual misconduct’ – from which refraining is part of the basic morality of buddhism – from such a union. In so doing, he is making a very important distinction – one that greatly broadens the definition of love itself within the Buddhist tradition. It is a powerful display of deep compassion regarding the choices of others.
The Dalai Lama has long cited a particular passage by the 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar-saint Shantideva as one of his favourite regarding the path of the Bodhisattva: “For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world.”
In true spiritual tradition,TenzinGyatso, it appears, is using his passage through this world to do just that.