Krishna-kirti das, Date: 5 Dec 2014.
In many countries in the world, what is called “gay marriage” is accepted by law and practiced if not lauded in those countries. Naturally, devotees and prospective devotees from these countries ask about the place of gay marriage in Krishna consciousness and sometimes harbor doubts because Srila Prabhupada not only did not endorse it but spoke unequivocally against it. More often than not, these devotees are misdirected by others who in the name of Krishna consciousness preach a faulty notion of incremental purification called “gay monogamy”, which is the idea that if you restrict your sexual partners to one instead of many, then that results in some purification, because fewer sexual partners means less sinful activity. This mistaken notion belies a lack of knowledge about how dharma actually purifies the practitioner, and those who follow such advice miss the opportunity for genuine emancipation from their troublesome condition. In explaining what will not and what will work in terms of purification, these topics will be explained in order: how dharma in pursuit of bhakti purifies us, the nature of sex desire and its implications for homosexuals, what homosexuals who are or want to be devotees should do to overcome their conditioning.
Purification through dharma
Devotees sometimes ask , “If bhakti is superior to dharma and we are already engaged in performing bhakti, then do we need to follow the prescribed rules and regulations for dharma?” Lord Krishna addresses this very question in His famous conversation with His friend and disciple, Arjuna, in the Bhagavad-gita. “Some men declare that all kinds of fruitive activities should be given up, but there are yet other sages who maintain that acts of sacrifice, charity and penance should never be abandoned” (18.3). Lord Krishna then gives his opinion: “Acts of sacrifice, charity and penance are not to be given up but should be performed. Indeed, sacrifice, charity and penance purify the great souls” (18.5). Thus according to the Lord, dharma is not optional, it is mandatory even for the great souls.
What is it that even the great souls need to be purified of? Attachment to matter. In the next four verses (18.6 – 9) Lord Krishna explains how performing one’s prescribed duties leads to renunciation. “Anyone who gives up prescribed duties as troublesome or, or out of fear, is said to be in the mode of passion. Such action never leads to the elevation of renunciation” (18.8). Renunciation of one’s prescribed duties leads away from detachment from matter, which is true renunciation. “But he who performs his prescribed duty only because it ought to be done, and renounces all attachment to the fruit—his renunciation is of the nature of goodness, O Arjuna” (18.9). In the purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada elaborates on this principle.
Prescribed duties must be performed with this mentality. One should act without attachment for the result; he should be disassociated from the modes of work. A man working in Krishna consciousness in a factory does not associate himself with the work of the factory, nor with the workers of the factory. He simply works for Krishna. And when he gives up the result for Krishna, he is acting transcendentally.
The preceding verses and Srila Prabhupada’s commentary on those verses establish that performing one’s prescribed duties as a matter of duty steadfastly, without abandoning them, without expectation of reward, and for the sake of Krishna leads to detachment from matter. The same principles directly apply to charity, austerity and penance.
Renunciation is, of course, a very important result, because unless one has developed detachment from matter, it will be very difficult to make advancement in devotional service. This is because attachment to matter obliges one sooner or later to engage in sinful activity. Yesam tvanta gatam papam jananam punya karmanam, te dvandvam moha nirmuktah yajante shradayanvitah, “Only to those who have acted piously in this life and in previous lives, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My devotional service with determination” (7.28). Otherwise, it is like pouring water while trying to light a fire. Therefore Lord Krishna has advised that prescribed duties must never be given up, for they help one maintain his determination to make advancement in Krishna consciousness.
The salient points to remember about dharma are that one’s prescribed duties (sva-dharma) must be performed steadfastly without abandoning them, without expectation of reward, and for the sake of Krishna. That will lead to detachment from matter.
The Nature of Homosexual Desire
Devotees who are homosexual and who know that acts of sacrifice, charity and penance are mandatory and beneficial for spiritual life therefore inquire about marriage. They understand that their appetite to enjoy sex with other men, or if women their appetite to enjoy other women, is a great stumbling block for their own devotional service. And since the homosexual urge seems natural to them, they inquire with the hope that marriage can be adjusted to accommodate their sexual preferences. Could not an adjusted form of marriage for gay and lesbian devotees not also be beneficial?
To answer this question one must begin with an inquiry about the fundamental nature of sexual desire. According to Lord Rshabhadeva (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.8), pumsah striya mithuni- bhavam etam, “The fundamental principle of material existence is the attraction between male and female.” Because this statement is comprehensive, it means that homosexual attraction must be understood in terms of male-female attraction. There is no third gender. There is only male and female, and all sexual attraction must be understood according to this principle.
As explained by Srila Prabhupada in his commentary on the Bhagavatam (SB 3.20.26 purport), “It appears here that the homosexual appetite of males for each other is created in this episode of the creation of the demons by Brahma,” and when at the request of Lord Vishnu Lord Brahma shed his body, that body took on the appearance of a beautiful female who continued to attract the minds of the demons (SB 3.20.29). Thus the Bhagavatam explains homosexual attraction also in terms of male-female attraction. This is in accordance with the principle enunciated by Lord Rshabhadeva, that male-female attraction is the fundamental principle of material life.
Since homosexual attraction is of the same nature as male-female attraction, it differs only by degree, not in kind. In terms of degree, the homosexual appetite represents an extreme condition of lust, which is described at graphically and at length in Bhagavatam verses 3.20.29 – 37. In this regard, Srila Prabhupada comments, “As early morning is the period for spiritual cultivation, the beginning of evening is the period for passion. Demoniac men are generally very fond of sex enjoyment” (SB 3.29). What we see in this section of verses is that lust is definitive of the demoniac mentality. “The difference between demons and demigods is that a beautiful woman very easily attracts the minds of demons, but she cannot attract the mind of a godly person” (SB 3.20.31 purport).
The salient points to remember about the nature of homosexual desire is that it is a form of male-female attraction, it is an extreme degree of lust, and it is definitive of the demoniac mentality.
Overcoming Homosexual Conditioning
As all devotees know, “we are not the body.” This means everyone is eligible to overcome his (or her) material conditioning, chiefly the attraction to sex life. In this regard, within the Krishna consciousness movement, there are two kinds of sincere devotees who are materially conditioned. According to Lord Krishna (BG 12.9), one kind of devotee is able to follow the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga and does so in order to develop a desire to attain love of Krishna, abhyasa yogena tato mam icchaptum. The other kind (BG 12.10) cannot follow the regulative principles but is nonetheless willing to do something for Krishna. In due course of time, that person also will attain perfection, kurvan siddhim avapsyasi. That means the way one should be directed to purify himself from attachment to matter depends on whether he is fit to follow the regulative principles.
The implication of this for homosexual devotees is that they should expect to spend much more time doing some service for Krishna without expectation of being able to follow the regulative principles than would other devotees. Anyone who is afflicted by extreme lust will have great difficulty following the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga. Since being homosexual means one is afflicted by excessive lust, devotees who are homosexual will tend to have more difficulty following the regulative principles than most other devotees.
The implication of homosexuality being an extreme form of male-female attraction means that the prescribed duties followed by heterosexual devotees, such as marriage, will also purify homosexuals, provided, of course, one who is homosexual also has the steadfast determination to follow his (or her) prescribed duties without expectation of reward and for the sake of Krishna. If someone is determined to follow his prescribed duties however troublesome, then his attraction to matter (and hence sex life) will also slacken as a result. He will be elevated to the platform of renunciation.
Whether heterosexual or homosexual, some have the mistaken belief that companionship in marriage (companionate marriage) shared by two people is somehow purifying. But is it? Let’s say instead that a husband and wife in a marriage actually despise each other. They can’t stand each other, but they stay married nonetheless. Are they being purified of their attraction to matter? They most definitely are!
As discussed earlier, sacrifice, austerity, and charity must be performed in the mode of goodness to be beneficial. If they are performed in the modes of passion or ignorance then they have no spiritual worth. That is the difference between a grihastha and a grihamedi. A grihastha and his dharma-patni help each other perform their prescribed duties without expectation of reward and however troublesome. A grihamedhi and grihamedhini however are focused on material enjoyment, which is why they are apt to divorce. As discussed earlier, Lord Krishna says that renunciation of one’s prescribed duties because they are troublesome is renunciation in the mode of passion. If you want to leave a marriage because you don’t have an affectionate wife, or you don’t have an affectionate husband, then you are in the mode of passion, and your pending separation and divorce will do no one any good.
Another implication of homosexuality not differing in kind from male-female attraction is that gay marriage is not approved of or sanctioned by the shastras or acharyas. As already noted, Srila Prabhupada was unequivocally against it. The reason there cannot be homosexual marriage is that one’s religious duties are prescribed according to one’s nature. That means there are certain duties that come with having a particular kind of body, because that body is ultimately given to us by the Lord.
“Everyone should think that he is engaged in a particular type of occupation by Hrishikesa, the master of the senses. And by the result of the work in which one is engaged, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, should be worshiped” (18.46).
What this means is that if you are a man and you marry, your duties to a wife are prescribed for you, because it is your nature. You have a male body, so one has duties to complement the fact of one’s embodied existence. Thus sva-bhava (one’s nature) determines one’s sva-dharma (prescribed duties). That is why the Lord says, “It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Prescribed duties are never affected by sinful reactions” (Bg 18.47).
Getting the Mercy of the Devotees
Since most devotees who are homosexual will find it too difficult to follow the four regulative principles, they will have to not only do some steady service on behalf of Krishna but also cultivate friendships with and serve unreservedly devotees who are, as Srila Rupa Goswami says, sushrushaya bhajana vijnan ananya anya nindadi shunya hridam ipsita sanga labhdya, advanced in undeviated devotional service and whose hearts are devoid of the propensity to criticize others. This is very important because such devotees are so powerful that they themselves purify holy places. And if one receives great favor from them, one may immediately come to be situated irrevocably on the transcendental platform.
There are many examples of this. By the grace of Vidura, Dhritarastra and Gandhari immediately left home to prepare for death. The prostitute that was dispatched to entrap Srila Haridas Thakura in a sex scandal herself became a fully transcendental \devotee of the Lord in a matter of a few days just by hearing Haridas Thakura chant the Mahamantra. Freedom from material desire can happen in an instant. A humble service attitude will attract the mercy of the Lord and His devotees.
Avoiding bad association
If good association can immediately free one from material entanglement, then bad association can ruin one’s spiritual life just as quickly. One should recognize that since a demoniac nature implies excessive sex desire and excessive sex desire implies a demoniac nature, and since homosexuality itself is a symptom of excessive sex desire, one is very likely to encounter one or more so-called devotee homosexuals who are determined to promote something irreligious in the name of Krishna.
For example, some self-styled advocates for the cause of gay devotees in the Hare Krishna movement claim that the Bhagavatam does not address homosexuality and that we have to engage in creative “moral reasoning” about it, and others say that in addition to male and female there is a third (homosexual) gender. But both are wrong because they propose something that is contrary to the Lord’s statement. If there were actually a third-gender whose fundamental principle of sexual attraction is different from that of male-female attraction, then the Lord’s verse would be in error, and the Bhagavatam as an authoritative scripture would be useless. One should avoid the company of such persons. They twist the message of sastra, however well-meaning they may seem to be.
Devotees who are homosexual have extra challenges they face. Nonetheless, the community of devotees is willing to help, but the help should be sought on Krishna’s terms. That means especially following the means given by Srila Prabhupada through the parampara and not following some other idea that might bear some resemblance to religious principles but actually are not.
Some principles to keep in mind:
- All sexual attraction is male-female sexual attraction, even when it seems otherwise.
- Homosexuality has to be understood as an extreme manifestation of male-female sex attraction.
- Since sva-dharma is based on sva-bhava, and since homosexuality is also fundamentally male-female attraction, one’s prescribed duties will be the same as those of heterosexual devotees in society.
- Good association will help promote one to the transcendental platform. Bad association could ruin you for life.
- Keep the association of advanced devotees and humbly serve them.
- If you are married to someone of the opposite sex, stay married.
- Perform your duties without attachment and without abandoning them.
- Do not associate with people who promote religious principles opposed to the Bhagavatam.
- Do not participate in or become involved in the new gay marriages. They will not help.
- Do not openly identify as a homosexual if you can avoid it.