Hinduism and Homosexuality
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For adultery with a woman of equal cast, a man incurs the highest fine; with a woman of lower cast, the middle fine; with a woman of higher cast, [the penalty is] death, and the woman is to have her ears, and (nose) cut off. Yajnavalkya Smriti (2.286)
Whoso knows a woman unnaturally, or voids his water upon a man, also one who has carnal knowledge of a female mendicant, shall be fined twenty-four panas. Yajnavalkya Smriti (2.293)
Hinduism is different from many other religions. It is neither judgmental nor dogmatic with regard to human conduct. A person is divine or demonic according to the preponderance of qualities (gunas) and the nature of desires. The same principles apply to all human beings, whether they are male, female or born with certain mental or physical defects and aberrations. While one cannot change the past, one can create a better future and a better next life through virtuous conduct and selfless actions. By performing pious and virtuous actions and offering all actions to God without expectations, one can greatly neutralize past karmas and secure peace and happiness. In the following paragraphs, we examine the attitude of Hinduism towards homosexuality and how Hinduism views people with homosexual tendencies. This article is written from a very broad perspective, keeping the ethos of Hinduism in mind and its fundamental beliefs and principles about life, duty and creation.
Emphasis on duality
In Hinduism the emphasis is unequivocally on Duality (dvanda). God is one, but the phenomenal world is characterized by duality. The diversity of creation is characterized by pairs of opposites, day and night, earth and heaven, soul and body, light and darkness, heat and cold, good and evil, gods and goddesses, man and woman, male and female, stable and unstable, gods and demons, death and rebirth, the sun and the moon etc. Human beings are forever caught in this duality, driven by desires and attachments, which create in them feelings of attraction and aversion. The ideal portrayed is that every human being should rise above these dualities and become equal to them. This is called samatvam, equanimity, which is the condition of a stabilized mind experienced by the yogis and ascetics at the end of a long spiritual journey. Attraction and aversion towards objects of creation, whether it is sexual or otherwise, is responsible for our bondage and until we become equal to all, we cannot enter transcendental states.
Emphasis on bisexuality
You will find in Hinduism a clear emphasis upon bisexuality and the bisexual nature of entire creation. Bisexuality is hidden in every aspect of creation. At the highest level it is represented in the form of Purusha (the male Principle) and Prakriti (the female principle). They are also called variously as Father God and Mother Goddess, God and Nature, Shiva and Shakti, Narayana and Narayani, and Pure Consciousness and Energy. They are responsible for the diversity and duality of creation. Creation is not possible without their active participation and cooperation. According to the Bhagavadgita seated in Prakriti, the Purusha creates the worlds and beings. Prakriti is the womb, and Purusha is the seed. Hence, in Hinduism, unlike in the Judeo-Christian religions, you have both male and female divinities, and God Himself is worshipped as both male and female. Except for the celibate ones like Anjaneya, every male deity in Hinduism is associated with one or more female deities. The Tantras (texts of Tantrism) suggest that the male deities by themselves are inactive. They become active only in the presence of their female counterparts. In creation the two are inseparable. You may worship either of them or both of them, but your offerings are shared by them equally.
The transgender archetype
In Hinduism, the male and female aspects of creation are often depicted together in the form of Ardhanarisvara, meaning half female and half male. Ardha means half, nari means a woman and Isvara means the Lord, or God. Thus in Ardhanarisvara you have a transgender archetype. It is often used by some scholars to support the cause of homosexuality. However, there is a fundamental difference between a homosexual person and a transgender person. Homosexuality is basically related to mental preference and attitude, whereas transgender condition is a physical abnormality. Homosexual people refuse to be treated as mentally abnormal. They believe they are born with a certain predisposition and they are helplessly drawn into it. The situation is somewhat different in case of transgender people. They are born with certain physical defects and hormonal imbalances, whereby they are mentally disposed to act like either a male or a female but rarely both. In Hinduism, transgender people have a special status. They are both despised as a menace to society for the attention they seek and respected for their condition as an aspect of Shiva. In truth, Ardhanarisvara Is not a symbol of transgender sexuality but the duality of creation. Ardhanarisvara is the World Being (Viraj) aspect of Brahman. He represents the material manifestation of God in the macrocosm as the combination or union of Shiva and Shaktii. In the microcosm of a living being he represents the embodied Soul (jivatma) or the union of the soul and the body.
Divine nature of sex
In Hinduism, sex in itself is not considered evil or impure. It is in fact divine and an aspect of Shakti, the female principle of creation. Its purpose is procreation and preservation of the creative cycle until the end. Participating in sexual intercourse for the purpose of procreation is an obligatory duty. It becomes evil only when it is used for personal and selfish enjoyment. The same principle applies to every aspect of human behavior. The Vedas make it abundantly clear that using any organ in the body for selfish purposes is sinful and leads to rebirth, while using it as part of an obligatory duty and for selfless purpose leads to liberation and freedom from the cycle of births and deaths. The demons, asuras, habitually engage in selfish sex, cruel sex and forced sex. Hence, the children born out of such actions also become asuras and possess the same demonic qualities. The gods also engage in sexual acts, but they do it primarily for the welfare of the world. Hence, beings born from such a union possess divine powers and act like gods themselves. The Tantras further suggest that it is possible to experience the blissful state of Brahman through a sexual act, provided it is performed according to certain specifications as a yogic practice. The bliss experienced in the consummation of a sexual act is as an aspect of the blissful nature Brahman. It is however millions of times weaker. It can be enhanced and prolonged through various tantric rituals involving a yogi and a yogini.
Tolerance is the essence of Hinduism
From the above we may conclude that Hinduism does not explicitly approve of homosexuality, unless it arises from a physical condition or associated with a birth defect. It does not regard homosexuality as a serious crime, but does not approve it either (pleaser refer to the quotes at the beginning of this article. Adultery was considered a more serious offence by Yajnavalkya than sodomy). Its attitude towards homosexuality at the best is one of tolerance rather than acceptance. In Hinduism there is no Judgment Day. Our scriptures suggest that our thoughts and actions arise from our desires, not from an external source like a Devil. Hence, we cannot blame anyone except ourselves if we fall into wrong ways. The demons can corrupt us and invade our minds and bodies only when we become vulnerable to selfish desires. A mortal being is greatly exposed to the risk of bondage and suffering. The phenomenal world in itself is a great temptation and distraction and each individual is subject to the law of karma and the consequences arising from the actions performed. Every living being is subject to innumerable births and deaths, and in each birth the soul may be born either as a male or female or transgender depending upon past karma.
Therefore, Hindus who believe in Karma and their scriptures need not have to condemn transgender people or those with homosexual tendencies as evil people or servants of Devil, but only as victims of their past karmas. Karmically, they are not much different from people who indulge in selfish actions and desire-ridden sex. The consequences arising from their sexual acts are the same as those of any desire-ridden sexual act performed by other individuals. In other words, Hinduism does not especially castigate homosexuality as extra evil thing. It is an evil only because of the selfishness involved, and because it does not lead to procreation and preservation of family.
Homosexuality and Hindu way of life
A homosexual person has a right to worship God as much as a bisexual person and work for his or her liberation. They have a right to participate in the preservation and upholding of creation by performing their obligatory duties such as serving gods, ancestors, other living beings, fellow human beings and God. They can mitigate their karmas to some extent, by atoning for their past karma, practicing self-control, celibacy, virtues and austerities for a better life in their next birth. Hinduism is not a dogmatic and judgmental religion. Therefore, one should not indulge in hateful behavior towards those with whom one disagrees.
Like any other living being or human being, homosexual people are also endowed with souls. They are neither inferior not superior to other people. Spiritually, they have the same opportunities as others to work for their self-transformation and liberation. If they indulge in evil actions, they will be responsible for their deeds. You may distrust their sexuality, as much as you distrust the sexuality of others, but you should not distrust them more because they have a different preference. Thus, while Hinduism may not approve their sexual orientation or their actions, it provides them with the same opportunity to live in peace and participate in the creation of God.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Hindu Gods - Lord Ganesha
- God and Self in Hinduism
- Goddesses of Hinduism, Their Symbolism and Significance
- Purusharthas in Hinduism
- Hinduism and Buddhism
- Death and Afterlife in Hinduism
- Hinduism and Divorce
- Hinduism and Adultery
- Hinduism, Food and Fasting
- The Hindu Marriage, Past and Present
- The Origin and Definition of Hindu
- Hinduism and Polygamy
- Hinduism and polytheism
- Hinduism and Premarital Relationships
- About Suicides in Hinduism
- Religious Tolerance in Hinduism
- Violence and Abuse in Hinduism
- Traditional Status of Women in Hinduism
- Essays On Dharma
- Esoteric Mystic Hinduism
- Introduction to Hinduism
- Hindu Way of Life
- Essays On Karma
- Hindu Rites and Rituals
- The Origin of The Sanskrit Language
- Symbolism in Hinduism
- Essays on The Upanishads
- Concepts of Hinduism
- Essays on Atman
- Hindu Festivals
- Spiritual Practice
- Right Living
- Yoga of Sorrow
- Mental Health
- Concepts of Buddhism
- General Essays
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