RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Robert Baker Aitken

Robert Aitken Roshi on Gay Marriage: A Zen Buddhist Perspective

Posted on

equL

The big headline of the past couple of days has been the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing on the issue of same-sex marriage. There have been some excellent commentaries from Buddhist bloggers on the matter as well, including this one from Justin Whitaker at American Buddhist Perspective and this one from Kenji Liu on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship website.

But one piece of writing on this topic from a Buddhist teacher that isn’t so easy to find comes from the late Robert Aitken Roshi. Way back in 1995, he offered a Zen Buddhist perspective on the matter and came down clearly on the side of equality and justice.

One of the few places I’ve seen the document online is on the Queer Resources Directory: http://www.qrd.org/qrd/religion/zen.buddhist.perspective.on.same.sex.marriage

I’m re-posting the document here. As I read it, I am reminded once again of Aitken Roshi’s fiercely compassionate intelligence.

______________

A ZEN BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE ON SAME-GENDER MARRIAGE             

On October 11, 1995, some religious leaders gave testimony to the Commission on Sexual Orientation and the Law in support of same- gender marriage.  It was one of the most moving meetings of the Commission. Of the approximately 9 speakers, three submitted written testimony (two Buddhist and one Lutheran).  I have retrieved their testimony from the archives and will post each on to the internet.  The first is appended below.

Robert Aitken served much of World War II as a prisoner of war of the Japanese; one of his captors introduced Robert Aitken to Zen Buddhism. Today Robert Aitken heads the western region of the United States.

Aloha!

Tom Ramsey

Co-Coordinator, HERMP

Robert Aitken’s Written Testimony to the
Commission on Sexual Orientation 
and the Law

October 11, 1995         

I am Robert Aitken, co-founder and teacher of the Honolulu  Diamond Sangha, a Zen Buddhist society established in 1959, with centers in Manoa and Palolo [macrons are over first a's in each word]. Our organization has evolved into a network of Diamond Sangha groups on Neighbor Islands and in North and South America, Australia and New Zealand.  I am also co-founder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and a member of its International Board of Advisors.  This is an association whose members are concerned about social issues from a Buddhist perspective.  It has it headquarters in Berkeley, California, and has chapters across the country, including one here on O’ahu, as well as chapters overseas.  I am also a member of the Hawai’i Association of International Buddhists.

I speak to you today as an individual in response to the Chair’s request to present Buddhist views, particularly Zen Buddhist views, on the subject of of marriage between people of the same sex.

The religion we now call Zen Buddhism arose in China in the sixth century as a part of the Mahayana, which is the tradition of Buddhism found in China, Korea, Japan and to some extent in Vietnam.  Pure Land schools, including the Nishi and Higashi Hongwanji, as well as Shingon and Nichiren, are other sects within the Mahayana.

The word Zen means “exacting meditation,” which describes the central practice of the Zen Buddhist and from which emerge certain quite profound realizations that can be applied in daily life. Most practitioners come to a deep understanding that all life is connected and that we are each a boundless container that includes all other beings.

The application of this kind of intimacy can be framed in the classic Buddhist teaching of the Four Noble Abodes: loving kindness, compassion, joy in the attainment of others, and equanimity.

Applying these Four Noble Abodes to the issue of same-sex marriage, I find it clear that encouragement is my recommendation. Over my long career of teaching, I have had students who were gay, lesbian, trans-sexual and bisexual, as well as heterosexual. These orientations have seemed to me to be quite specific, much akin to the innate proclivities which lead people to varied careers or take paths in life that are uniquely their own.

We are all human, and within my own container, I find compassion—not just for—but with the gay or lesbian couple who wish to confirm their love in a legal marriage.

Although historically Zen has been a monastic tradition, there have always been prominent lay adherents. Those who enter the state of marriage vow to live their lives according to the same sixteen precepts that ground the Buddhist monk’s and nun’s life in the world. This way of living opens our path into life. Like life itself, marriage is absolutely non-discriminatory and open to all.

Buddhist teaching regarding sexuality is expressed in the precept of “taking up the way of not misusing sex.” I understand this precept to mean that any self-centered sexual conduct is exploitative, non-consensual—sex that harms others. In the context of young men or young women confined within monastery walls for periods of years, one might expect rules and teachings relating to homosexuality, but they don’t appear.

Homosexuality seems to be overlooked in Zen teachings, and indeed in classical Buddhist texts. However, my own monastic experience leads me to believe that homosexuality was not taken as an aberration, and so did not receive comment.

All societies have from earliest times across the world formalized sexual love in marriage ceremonies that give the new couple standing and rights in the community. Currently both rights and standing are denied to gays and lesbians who wish to marry in all but three of the United Sates. If every State acknowledged the basic married rights of gay and lesbian couples, young men and women just beginning their lives together, as well as those who have shared their lives for decades, a long-standing injustice would be corrected, and these fellow citizens would feel accepted in the way they deserve to be.

This would stabilize a significant segment of our society, and we would all of us be better able to acknowledge our diversity. I urge the voters of California to keep gay and lesbian marriages legal. This is the most humane course of action and in keeping with perennial principles of decency and mutual encouragement.

A Place for Political Buddhists … The System Stinks!

Posted on

“Imagine thousands of people skilled in both organizing and Buddhism,
out in the world working to transform it in the ways we need most.
All with the compassion and wisdom practices that lie at the heart of Buddhism.”
~Katie Loncke

 

Are you a Buddhist who thinks that talking politics and taking action are an essential part of your dharma practice?

If not, you can stop reading right now.

But if you are, there’s a fantastic new project in the works from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship that you’ll love.

BPF has a special place in my heart — I worked there from 1999 – 2002 as the associate editor of Turning Wheel magazine, served on their board from 2003 – 2004, and then was invited back to serve as executive director from 2004 – 2007. While the structure and staffing of the organization have changed a great deal since then, the mission remains the same:  to serve as a catalyst for socially engaged Buddhism and to cultivate compassionate action.

Now, the dynamic new collaborative leadership of BPF, embodied by co-directors Katie Loncke and Dawn Haney, are creating “The System Stinks” (inspired by one of Robert Aitken Roshi’s favorite phrases). This will be a 12-month dialogue and crowdsourced curriculum, hosted online,  with options to participate by phone and in face-to-face, self-organized local study groups.

The “System Stinks” will create space and opportunities to explore themes like:

  • Getting Real About Nonviolence
  • Theft of Land, Theft of Culture
  • The Lies That Build Empire
  • Gender Freedom
  • Decolonizing Our Sanghas

Katie and Dawn write, “As Buddhists who care about politics, we need to find each other, learn about one another, and start to discover what role engaged and political Buddhists can play in today’s world.”

You can help make this initiative a reality by donating to BPF’s Indiegogo campaign. Some of the great perks for doing so include

  • A selection of 3 Engaged Buddhist Art postcards featuring exquisite original art by Hozan Alan Senauke, Roshi Joan Halifax, Aneeta Mitha, and Nopadon Wongpakdee.
  • The System Stinks curriculum + 12 postcards + a beautiful mug featuring the classic Buddhist Peace Fellowship logo.
  • An exclusive hour-long group phone call with an engaged Buddhist teacher: Joanna Macy, Bhante Buddharakkhita, Roshi Joan Halifax, and Alan Senauke.

So give our friends at BPF a hand and help be part of creating a very innovative practice/study/action opportunity for engaged Buddhists worldwide. The Indiegogo campaign ends on November 15th, so check it out soon!

And a special bonus: For the next week, everyone who contributes to BPF’s campaign at $30 or more will be entered to win one of 10 slots for a group phone call with a wonderful Buddhist leader — Joanna Macy, Bhante Buddharakkhita, Roshi Joan Halifax, or Hozan Alan Senauke.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,983 other followers

%d bloggers like this: