Actually, that was a trick question. Those statements are what The Buddhist Canon records as Buddha’s Three Conceits.
In reality, none of us are any better or worse than anyone else; nor are any two human beings exactly alike. Even identical twins have slight differences, if you know where to look.
Yet, when it comes to the explosive issue of gay marriage, we are very quick to forget all of that. Gay marriage is a Western concept. Therefore, many of our Western readers have asked what Buddhism would say about gay marriage.
The answer is hardly cut and dried. After all, spinning scripture is a very old game and, just like in the West, different denominations of Buddhism often embrace, reject or cite whatever chapter and verse suits their fancy.
In the West, everything Westerners have is descendant from the Greeks. But in Thailand and Southeast Asia, everything that we have is descendant from a combination of what we call a ‘Bodhisattva,’ as well as our gracious Monarchy.
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to reach Nirvana and Enlightenment. A Bodhisattva is a term that represents a person who is capable of reaching to Nirvana, Enlightenment and all the top stages of Buddhism, yet delays his arrival there out of a selfless conviction to save suffering human beings who otherwise could not get there on their own.
You also need to understand that, in Buddhist philosophy, we believe that spirituality is not defined as simply following arbitrary rules or commandments, but as in losing yourself into something much greater – much as how table sugar dissolves into a container of water. There, truly, is where the sweetest of things can be found.
Thai Buddhism teaches that a good marriage can be like a Mahayana spiritual journey. It’s no longer about me or you; but all about us. In a good marriage, you lose yourself into something much bigger.
Classical Buddhism is unlike many other religions in that historical Buddhism never sought to define, redefine or otherwise control marriage. We simply accepted the practice within each culture and society largely as we found it.
Thai Buddhism does not generally require that you marry within the Faith. Nor does it explicitly teach that marriage needs to be between two or more particular people of any kind (race, gender, creed, etc.). Instead, we teach a number of other critical lessons on marriage. For example, we caution that many marriages will be entered into for the wrong reasons and will increase human suffering, rather than decrease it.
Buddha taught that all people, men and women alike, could reach Buddhahood – a radical concept for his ancient days. He also taught that reaching Buddhahood, Enlightenment or Nirvana ultimately required us to leave all of our worldly attachments behind, including self and gender. Thus, an objective Thai Buddhist would have to concede that gay marriages suffer from the same overarching challenges as all other marriages: Jealousy, deceit, adultery, revenge, anger, co-dependence, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health; and the list goes on…
For a Buddhist to either stop a gay marriage, advocate for or oppose gay marriage, or force any kind of marital institution upon other religions would be for us to meddle in the Wheel of Karma – and if we were to meddle in the spinning Wheels of Karma & Rebirth, then we would ultimately pollute our own practice by absorbing the sins of others via osmosis.
Bad marriages may increase suffering, but we teach that good marriages can be about spiritually, losing yourself into something bigger, seeing things from an entirely new vantage point, and being challenged with questions that you otherwise would never have been asked.
Of course, not everyone will ever completely agree on anything in this human world of ours. There will always be dissenting opinions (at a minimum), or preachers of hate (at a maximum). Yet, amidst all of that coil, there are a number of lessons that I think all Buddhists and non-Buddhists can agree upon.
Firstly, when we discuss modern issues such as gay marriage or other mighty affairs, we must remember that not all of our answers can be found in arcane books. To understand gay marriage, we have to set aside what we think is right or wrong in order to find out HOW something is right or wrong. Buddha taught us that the real meaning of life is found in empathizing with other beings, not necessarily fully understanding them.
Secondly, although he was not a Buddhist, the great songwriter Fred Small perhaps best-summed this entire affair in a song he wrote called Everything Possible. Performed by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, the lyrics say:
“Some women love women. Some men love men. Some raise children, some never do. You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around, you can choose one special one; but the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind… when you’re gone.”
Now that’s the real truth of the matter. Life’s all about the love you leave behind when you’re gone. So what, you might ask, would Buddha want for our gay readers who simply want to get married like many others have?
Simple: ‘Everything Possible’.
All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News taking readers on an exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths. If you have specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will do my best to accommodate your interests.