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January 2010

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Ardhanari Naga

medusasowl in glbt_hindus

Dharma of the Third Sex

I just started reading Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex. Understanding Homosexuality, Transgender Identity, and Intersex conditions through Hinduism finally (among all the other things I'm reading, I've got a head full right now! :P). I'm only in chapter 3 and already there's a lot of wonderful thought provoking stuff. I'd already read the info on the GALVA website (which has changed a lot since I last took a look) but there's a lot more in the book already. I'm not Vaishnava myself, but I think both the information on this website and in this book are incredibly valuable for GLBT Hindus of any sect (or lack thereof) and their families to look into.

One of the many things that has struck me so far is the discussion of a person's nature. So often, people who are fearful and ignorant of GLBT people argue that we are "unnatural" or that it is "against nature" or adharmic. Those of us who pay attention to nature, such as in the rest of the animal kingdom and within ourselves, know better. The Rishis of the Vedas are often referred to as Spiritual Scientists - closely studying and observing nature and how it reflects divinity and vice versa. GLBT people have always existed and are a natural part of the world. The Ancient Vedic world recognized this, and we were recognized as having our own dharma and roles.

Anyway, the gist of this is already covered on the website's FAQ and in the book, and I'll resist the temptation to copy it all down here. But back to the "natural" vs "unnatural" I was intrigued by how the book describes the ancient Vedic take on sinful homosexual behavior and appropriate homosexual behavior. For example:

If two men of the First Sex (straight male) engage in gay sex out of convenience (for example, in prison) it is considered adharmic and wrong because it is against their nature.

Similarly, if a man of the Third Sex (in this case, the gay male grouping of Third Sex individuals) marries and sleeps with a woman in order to be perceived as "normal" and to have children, that too as adharmic because it is against his nature.

As my favorite quote from the Gita says "It is better to follow your own path imperfectly than someone else's path perfectly." We were once recognized as having our own dharma, our own paths, and being productive members of society despite our not being reproductive.

My partner and I were discussing this, and wondered if perhaps part of what breeds prejudice against the Third Sex is not just that our being different, but perhaps that people see or hear about the unnatural and uncomfortable vibes of heterosexual "merely convenient" sex in the first example, and confuse them with the more natural Third Sex relationships. There's tons tons more, and again I'm only on the third chapter, but lots of food for thought already!


I think I may have to pick that one up...
A couple of quick comments.

First of all, people who haven't been to the Gay Spirituality blog should probably check it out; some very nice people here (I might contribute an article to it at some point):

Secondly, to do something that is motivated by social pressure is the exact opposite of the teaching of the Gita to surrender to the Divine within. If you do something -- anything at all, even a supposedly "good" thing like giving charity -- out of a need to submit to apparently "external" causes like social pressure or fear of social ostracization, you are basically just reinforcing your ego, and behind the appearances of your "good deeds" you are probably doing a lot of harm. Case in point: if someone gives a lot of charity but is just doing this to show off or to gain points in society rather than out of a sincere aspiration for self-giving and surrender to the Divine, they will likely only be trapping those they are helping into a karmic net of psychological dependency (indeed this is probably one of the main reasons why all the Western aid to Africa has barely helped!). So the issue is not really *what* we do, but rather consciousness from which we are acting -- whether it is an egoic consciousness or a selfless soul-level or spiritual consciousness. This discernment is very crucial -- it is at the heart of all true spiritual paths.

Most people, especially in religious societies, aren't doing things in a spirit of true self-giving or intimacy with the Divine. Rather they are blindly following rules and rituals for social acceptance and similar reasons, without any awareness of the Reality of God. It is the difference between the dead letter and the living word. As such for every "good" thing such people do, they also end up doing harm which they remain blissfully unaware of because they do not have the trained inner eye of a yogi.

As far as being gay goes, the unnatural argument simply doesn't hold up for so many reasons. For one thing, homosexuality is observed not just in human beings, but in several other species. Indeed, if you look up Joan Roughgarden and Bruce Bagemihl, you'll find that they've documented hundreds -- yes, hundreds -- of species that show both homosexuality and gender-deviant behavior. The Creator clearly likes diversity -- fancy that, eh? It is only the human mind that likes to classify things in such a black-and-white, cut-and-dried fashion, because Reality is seldom that clear-cut.

Furthermore, why should nature be our ideal at all? In truth, nature is largely amoral. Animals (generally) aren't as self-reflective as humans (though certainly some animals do show developed cognition but still not as much as humans), and are in a sense in a state of innocence because they just spontaneously follow their instincts. We humans on the other hand are in this bizarre state of half-angel, half-ape, having tasted the tree of good and evil so to speak. So I'm afraid using nature as a measuring rod isn't a very good idea right at the outset.

Finally, I want to mention that any external human identity, whether gay or straight or whatever, is really kind of arbitrary. The soul within exceeds our external identities and merely uses them as instruments to get us to surrender to the Divine. Certainly here being gay ends up becoming an asset, because the social alienation and ostracization will only force us to instrospect and go within where we will find our Master waiting to be discovered. Thus whether you are gay or straight, you are equally still in the realm of Maya or human relativity. And the transition from, for instance, gay to ex-gay, is merely a transition from one illusory identity to another illusory identity, and certainly no guarantee of salvation or anything like (true salvation is incredibly difficult to attain -- there's no silver bullet or get-rich-quick scheme here! ;-) ).
One of the things I adore about Hinduism is that it recognizes the limits of conventional morality and ethics. The Gita and Upanishads *do* emphasize ethics and morality, but they are also clear that ultimately human morality is extremely limited, and for us to cling to moral ideas dogmatically usually ends up making us become more and more hypocritical. So someone who clings to the idea that abortion is a sin might sit by and remain blissfully ignorant of the inhuman and completely unnecessary torture that animals go through in factory farms left, right and center without batting an eyelash and without developing the will to try to put a stop to such practices. Sri Aurobindo explains this very clearly: every context is different, and you can never mentally calculate what the "right" thing to do in every situation is. You have to stay centered and develop the soul, and *that* is what will guide you and tell you spontaneously and intuitively what the right choice at any given point is.

In other words, it is only when we get in touch with a universal, supra-ethical intelligence, and start growing and acting in the context of *that* intelligence, rather than being misled by our own limited minds or society's limited conceptions of right and wrong, that we truly become vessels for love and compassion and agents for change. In short, to quote Sri Aurobindo:

"The double law of sin and virtue is imposed on us because we have not that ideal life and knowledge within which guides the soul spontaneously and infallibly to its self-fulfilment. The law of sin and virtue ceases for us when the sun of God shines upon the soul in truth and love with its unveiled splendour. Moses is replaced by Christ, the Shastra by the Veda."

Ultimately, collective transformation and the transcendence of human egoism is the *only* solution to all of the problems of existence.
One final thing.

From a Darwinian perspective, homosexuality certainly is an enigma and not many people understand why it persists in so many species. Joan Roughgarden's book "Evolution's Rainbow" argues for a theory of social selection, and shows that bisexuality, pansexuality, homosexuality, transgenderism, etc., might actually be playing important roles in the development of friendship, social bonding and compassion.

Now since I'm not a materialist, I'm not bothered at all by the persistence of homosexuality or gender-deviance in the evolutionary tree of life. In Sri Aurobindo's evolutionary vision, what we have is a Reality, which as Vedantists we can call Brahman, which is entering into numerous self-relations, the result of which is the multiplicity and diversity in the manifested world that we see. From this perspective, the Divine delights in manifesting in as many different forms as possible, and realizing himself in each of those forms. Indeed, for Sri Aurobindo the culmination of evolution will be a state in which there is *infinite* diversity -- total unity and harmony in limitless diversity. So from this perspective, homosexuality is merely another variation in the play of Brahman -- nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, some folks in the Aurobindoan community have pointed out to me that the increasing visibility being given to LGBT people today is easily explained in the light of Sri Aurobindo's vision. It is helping humanity grow out of its childish clinging to a binary gender system and pushing us toward a future where each being will be so unique that mental classification will be impossible. It is also a sign that humanity is no longer solely perceiving love as being wedded to physical nature and linked with reproduction. So for me the whole LGBT rights movement is just another evolutionary manifestation within a much vaster ongoing process.
Sorry I'm commenting so much, but your post seems to have really triggered something within me -- I think I've been meaning to get this out for a while!

I think basically that so-called "normal" society likes to stigmatize people as "abnormal" or "insane" so that it can cling comfortably to its limited notions of normality or sanity. You could say that human conceptions of good are precisely what allow human conceptions of evil to persist. Human conceptions of sanity are precisely what allow human conceptions of insanity to exist. And so on. Note the key word "conception" here -- these are just our sense-impressions and our mental preferences, prejudices, etc. They are not the same thing as Reality, though we often confuse the two. I often think that the demonization of homosexuality is akin to how society demonizes prostitutes, criminals, etc. -- just so it doesn't have to face its own hypocrisies. Because basically this whole argument boils down to: "My lust is better than your lust!" ;-)

What is happening is that socially-constructed notions of "good" or "right" are elevated to a transcendent level, when they are *just* as relative and emblematic of Maya as human notions of "evil" or "wrong" are. The Divine, as Sri Aurobindo tirelessly tells us, is equal to all. He makes no distinction between sinner and saint, fool and sage. The Divine loves all equally. And if we are ever to be able to bear the power of that equality and become channels for that nonpartisan Love, we must shed our egos and desires and let him transform us.

So I often see both sides missing the larger point in this picture. There is an eros, an erotic energy that animates this universe, which is expressed by us at this mundane level as physical sexuality. But eros is neither gay nor straight; it is universal. Divine Love has no preferences for men or women or anything else, as I said above, it is equal to all. I may have a sexual preference for women, but that is just an external preference. Inwardly, my soul has no preferences and can attain intimacy with all forms, regardless of whether they are male or female or intersexed, or even of another species! So I feel that this larger point about the universality of eros and love is often missed by people on both sides of this gay/straight debate.

I honestly see most of this argument as an unnecessary distraction for sincere spiritual seekers. We ought to just get on with our respective spiritual practices and focus on using every means possible to get closer to the Divine.
I hope I am not sounding like shameless self-promoter now (I'm just glad to be able to vent a little on this subject), but I feel that discussing the whole sin/virtue dichotomy is crucial here. Two posts that I made on the subject on my blog:

"Sin and Virtue"

"The Dangers of Moralism"

The danger of moralism is precisely this: it puts our souls to sleep and it makes us miss the forest for the trees. Rather than have an ever-widening integral and holistic vision of cosmic redemption, which is indeed the many-sided vision of the Divine Shakti, we end up focusing on miniature fragments of that vision and sink into hypocrisy and contradictions. So to go back to my example: a person who dogmatically and judgmentally believes that abortion is a sin because life is sacred, falls into hypocrisy when they proceed to have no issues with abusing animals in the most inhuman way although it's obvious that animals also constitute sacred life.

Ultimately the Gita’s message is of a supraethical, vast, all-encompassing surrender. Krishna tells Arjuna to leave aside all social maxims, all conventions, all dharmas, even all ethical systems, and surrender to him, the Godhead, so that Krishna can purify him of all sin and evil and deliver him from all harm. Whatever you are doing, however foolish or ignorant, just surrender and consent to be transformed, and the Supreme will indeed deliver you if you are sincere. This message of total surrender over and above time-bound ethical systems was far ahead of its time then, and still is today.
I'm just posting real quick to say here that I am not ignoring you! I can't believe how long I keep taking to respond. >_<

Your comments and posts are always very thought provoking and expansive, which is why I always think to myself "I need to contemplate that before responding" and then I end up getting sidetracked and sidetracked, spreading myself ever thinner, and I apologize profusely for this. I always seem to remember when I'm about to go to sleep and can barely think. I am so sorry.

I totally understand your needing to vent there though. I am taking in this book with a grain of salt, as it is written by an ISKCON scriptural literalist. I'm fascinated by the concept of the Third Sex though, for many reasons, although ultimately of course labels are meaningless. I do believe however that labels are useful for creating a common frame of reference in everyday communications.

I also agree that moralizing and the concept of "sin" is very problematic. But it's also useful to speak the same language as someone who's not willing or perhaps yet able to think that way. My very Mormon in-laws have taught me this, in a roundabout way. And at the same time, it's not good to encourage or nurture this kind of thinking. It's all very complicated.

You don't sound at all like a shameless promoter. :) Really, I'm proud to have you on this comm and I'm honestly surprised that there isn't more discussion here as a result of your deep thoughts.
Thanks for your kind words!

I'm just glad I have a place where I can sound off sometimes.

I may eventually sit down and just write a detailed paper on this subject -- referencing historical trailblazers like Christopher Isherwood, Edward Carpenter and other queer people who led very rich spiritual lives. I think it really needs to be done in a world full of so much confusion on this subject.
I was going back through entries and found this one to be very interesting.

The GALVA web site is really intriguing and reading about the "3rd sex" is just awesome.

It feels SOO good to know that the religion I identify with does not condemn ANY aspect of who I am. Even aspects that other religions deem as "evil" or "sinful".

I don't see how anything that comes natural, especially who and how you love, could ever be considered "wrong".
I adore all these concepts as well. :) It's a very interesting book!

Though it is important to remember that even within Hinduism you'll find bigoted and ignorant individuals. But the faith itself certainly does not condemn us.