Many abusers maintain control over their victims with a combination of three manipulations. First, they blame the victim, trying to convince them it is their fault the abuser gets angry. Second, they make the victim feel incompetent and incapable so that the victim feels they can never escape. Third, they offer the occasional act of love and kindness so the victim keeps coming back chasing after those moments of relief. These three manipulations are all questions of degree, like volume knobs turned up and down to maintain control.
Why does the abuser do this? It’s all about maintaining control. Because they have extreme attachment thinking their happiness depends upon what the other person does, they feel they need to control their victim to get them to do the “right” things. It is sometimes even motivated by confused form of caring. The abuser cannot bear those they love suffering, so they get mad at them to prevent their victim from doing things that the abuser thinks could cause them suffering. For example, a child gets hurt on the playground and a parent beats them for having played recklessly.
Virtually all dysfunctional relationships have similitudes of such abusive manipulations. Often victims of abuse turn into abusers themselves despite vowing to never do so.
If we find ourselves a manipulator of others, check and see if we are doing these three things and ask ourselves why. Realize your happiness does not depend upon what other people do, but depends upon the inner conditions of your own mind. If your mind is happy, you will be happy regardless of what others do. If your mind is unhappy, you will be unhappy, again, regardless of what others do. Blaming others for your unhappiness doesn’t help you because you spend your time and energy controlling others instead of healing your own mind. And you create a tremendous amount of negative karma in the process, which will one day come back to bite you. Also, learn to accept those around you will suffer, and there is often little to nothing you can do about it. Their suffering is an opportunity for you to care for others and improve your qualities of love and compassion. Accept each person must learn to travel their own path in their own way, and sometimes the best way to learn lessons is to have life teach them.
If we find ourselves the victim of these three forms of manipulation, we need to train in learning to disarm them. To disarm any of them, we first need to realize clearly how they are harmful to both ourselves and to the person using them. Then we need a method for actually disarming them.
Disarming others blaming us for their unhappiness: When others get mad at us, they are blaming us for their unhappiness, saying it is our fault they are angry or miserable. If we assent to their view, thinking they are right, we can quickly develop self-hatred thinking how awful we are. We also then think it is our responsibility to change ourselves or manage all of the external conditions around the angry person so that they don’t get angry. We become terrified of them getting angry, and exhaust ourselves trying to arrange everything to avoid their wrath. This doesn’t help the angry person, rather it just encourages them to continue to get angry as a means of getting what they want; and, more deeply, it wrongly confirms their mistaken belief that their happiness depends upon what we do. Further, it doesn’t help them because our assenting to their view that we are to blame enables them to continue to create all sorts of terrible negative karma for themselves by continuing to abuse us. To disarm this, we need to remember each person is responsible for what happens in their own mind and their own experience of life. This is true for the abuser and it is true for us, and it is true for everyone. We need to be crystal clear about this and internally categorically refuse to assent to their assignment of blame. Just because they blame us for their unhappiness doesn’t mean they are right.
Disarming others making us feel incompetent: The abuser is often largely motivated by attachment thinking that the other person’s actions are an essential condition of their own happiness. They actually fear us leaving, so they have to prevent our escape, even if they are doing so only sub-consciously. One of the most effective ways of them preventing our escape is convincing us that we are incapable of doing so. They tell us we are weak, we are stupid, we are incompetent, we are worthless, and we are powerless so that we convince ourselves we can’t get out and we resign ourselves to our fate. Once we assent to this, we are “broken,” like a horse who submits to its master. To disarm this, we need to once again not assent to their view of us. Just as we are not to blame for their experience of life despite them vividly thinking we are, so too we are not the enfeebled person they make us out to be. Here we need to make a clear distinction between ourselves and our delusions. Our true self is our pure potential that one day will ripen in our full enlightenment. While this may seem impossibly far off in the future, it is nonetheless the destiny of all of us. The only question is when it happens. When it happens depends upon us choosing to embark upon the path of ripening that potential. Our delusions are like clouds, and our true self is like the sky. No matter how violent the storm, the sky itself is never tarnished by what passes through it. The same is true with our true selves. The laws of karma are definite, so if we start to create new karmic causes and we make effort to purify our negative karma, it is 100% guaranteed we will eventually succeed in changing our karma and dispelling the clouds of negativity from the sky of our mind. All we need is perseverance and correct spiritual methods for purifying our mind. Simply recognizing that the other person is making us feel incapable of escape as a method of control helps break the spell – we see what is going on, so its power over us is broken. We should awaken the inner French person in us and set out to prove wrong those who say we can’t escape.
Disarming being duped by occasional acts of kindness: When the victim of abuse has had enough and is starting to make the decision to leave, the abuser will often then say things like, “I’m sorry, I’ll change, I promise.” They will then be kind and offer some love. Because we have been so hollowed out by their previous abuse, their kindness and love comes as this huge relief to our inner pain, and we go running back. These acts of occasional kindness are like drugs which give us the occasional relief, or even feelings of ecstasy, which we then start chasing after. We seek their validation that we are not so awful, not so incompetent, and that we are worthy of love. We think, maybe the person is redeemable and I can help them. I can save them. So out of “compassion,” I need to keep going back. They need me. To disarm this manipulation, we need to identify clearly how every time we go back, things almost immediately start to return to the past patterns and the abusive behavior starts up again. These occasional acts of kindness are part of the cycle of abuse, and should be viewed as such. They do not exist outside of the abuse, they are part of it. When we see it as part of the cycle, we are much less likely to be fooled. It’s just like spam. When we first receive the email from the Nigerian princess who wants to transfer us money for safe keeping if only we give her our bank account numbers, we might be tempted; but once we see it for the scam that it is, even though it might still show up in our inbox, we will no longer be fooled by it. Likewise, we need to realize we can never fill the void we feel within through external validation. Quite the opposite actually, the more we chase external validation and love, the more we amplify the void within. The only way to fill the void within is to ripen our own pure potential and realize we actually lack nothing. As Buddha said, do not seek enlightenment outside of your own mind. We need to be kind to our true selves by escaping from these three manipulations.
Escaping from abusive relationships is never easy. It always seems easier to go back. We know as soon as we try to start to get out, they can harm us in so many ways and we fear that, so we remain trapped in fear. It is true, if we try escape, they will throw everything they have at us and it will hurt. But the short-term pain of getting out is much less than the long-term misery of forever remaining trapped. It is no different than somebody who is addicted to drugs. Breaking addictions is hard, but those who succeed in doing so never regret having broken free. The same is true for escaping abusive relationships. Breaking free begins with deciding to do so. It ends with disarming completely these three forms of manipulation.
Once we have made the decision to break free, our problems become largely material in nature. We may lack the material means to be self-sufficient where we are not dependent upon our abuser for our basic survival. This is particularly true for children, or for wives who have no means of supporting themselves financially. Overcoming this obstacle can be difficult. The solution is often some combination of (1) learning to need less, (2) becoming humble enough to ask for help, (3) gradually developing means of self-sufficiency, and (4) praying conditions arrange for us to escape.
None of this is easy, and all of this takes time. But escape is possible. As they say, “it does get better.” We just need to believe while we may be trapped now, one day we will escape. Then we work to build the outer and inner conditions necessary for us to do so.
I pray that all those who read this find release.
Second, we need unwavering faith in Guru Heruka and Vajrayogini. Once again, the Christians basically got it right. They say if faithful practitioners remember Jesus at the time of death, they will be reborn in heaven. We essentially say the same thing, except we try remember Guru Heruka or Vajrayogini with a mind of faith at the time of death. Why is this important? To reach the pure land, pure karma must be activated at the time of our death. Negative minds activate negative karma, leading to lower rebirth. Positive minds activate positive karma, leading to upper rebirth. Pure minds activate pure karma leading to a pure rebirth. Just as merely seeing a Buddha image creates pure karma regardless of our motivation, so too remembering Guru Heruka or Vajrayogini with a mind of faith at the time of our death activates pure karma on our mind. Our mind of faith opens up our mind to be able to receive the sun-like blessings of our guru, which then enter our mind and activate the karmic seeds to take rebirth in the pure land. Buddhas attained enlightenment to guide living beings out of samsara. We can be certain our remembering them at the time of our death will invite them all to accompany us through death and to the pure land. Doing so is why they attained enlightenment in the first place. They then take us by the hand and lead us to their home.
Third, we need sufficient merit. Nothing can happen without first creating its cause. Every action has four karmic effects, one of which is the ripened effect. The ripened effect is the substantial cause of a future rebirth. Once again, negative ripened effects result in lower rebirth, positive ripened effects result in upper rebirth, and pure ripened effects result in a pure rebirth. If we do not have pure karma on our mind, we will not be able to take rebirth in the pure land. Therefore, we need to accumulate a vast reserve of pure karma so there is lots of material on our mind that the Buddhas can bless. How do we create such pure karma? There are many different ways, but they all come down to connecting with something that exists outside of samsara. Seeing an image of a Buddha creates pure karma because Buddhas exist outside of samsara. Relying upon the spiritual guide creates pure karma because he is a portal connecting our mind to all of the pure lands. Engaging in actions motivated by renunciation or bodhichitta create pure karma because the final intention of the action is beyond samsara. Making mandala offerings or self-generating as our highest yoga tantra deity create pure karma because we are quite literally creating pure worlds with our mind. Geshe-la teaches in multiple places that making mandala offerings is the most effective way of creating the karma to be able to take rebirth in a pure land. This makes sense because generating a mandala is a mental action of generating a pure land, and offering it to our Spiritual Guide invests that merit in the portal out. The practice of self-generation itself is, for all practical purposes, a mandala offering, the only difference is the basis of the offering is ourself transformed into the pure land.
Finally, we need to use our life to train in how to die. Just as water consistently flowing can eventually create grand canyons, so too our persistent training in how to die and take a controlled rebirth in the pure land will carve within our mind a spiritual Grand Canyon leading all of the waters of our mental continuum inexorably to the pure land when we die. There are three things in particular we should do. First, is practice the yoga of sleeping every time we go to bed. Falling asleep and dying are very similar processes, so as we fall asleep we should strongly believe we are now going to die, generate the compassionate wish to take rebirth in the pure land so we can complete our training, engage in the yoga of sleeping, and then fall asleep with that mind. By gaining familiarity with this every night, we will know exactly what we need to do at death. Second, we should train in the three bringings of generation stage. The three bringings are really a method of self-powa of exactly what we need to do at the time of our death to take rebirth in the pure land. We are essentially practicing how to die and take rebirth in the pure land. Third, we should practice powa for others every opportunity we get. Doing powa for others not only creates the karma to take rebirth in the pure land ourselves, it also creates the karma for others to do powa for us. And let’s be honest, we will need all the prayers we can get. If we do these three – yoga of sleeping, three bringings, and powa for others – throughout our life, when death comes we will be ready.
Through almost impossibly good karma, we have encountered these methods through which we can guarantee our eventual enlightenment. Perhaps we doubt we can complete all the grounds and paths in this life, but it is not hard to understand how it is doable to attain the pure land. If we attain the pure land, we can complete the rest of our training. We have the opportunity and we have the methods. What more important thing could there possibly be for us to do with our life?
Dealing with difficult people is not easy. But learning how to do so is how we develop skillful means.
Much of it comes down to learning how to establish limits. We avoid doing so because we know when we do, it will provoke a fight with the difficult person, and we don’t want to deal with that, so it seems easier to just go along. But because we just go along with their dysfunction, it keeps coming again and again and again. The sum of all these little dysfunctions far outweighs the more extreme, but short-lived problem of them being upset when we establish limits.
It also doesn’t help them for us to allow them to continue to create negative karma for themselves; so setting limits, if done correctly, can be an act of compassion.
“Everybody welcome” is the essence of the Kadampa way of life, but that does not mean their delusions and harmful behavior are welcome. There is no contradiction between saying “you are welcome, but these delusions or negative behaviors are not” because we make a clear distinction between the person and their delusions. If the other person says, “if you are going to establish such limits on me, then I’m outta here,” you can say, “that is your choice. If you change your mind, you are always welcome back.”
All of that being said, of course we need to pick our battles. It’s usually best to focus on small things that are highly representative of larger patterns. But if that is too hard, start with the most harmful and the most disruptive behaviors.
Dorje Shugden is a miracle worker. If we understand how he works, we can develop unwavering faith. And it is our unwavering faith in him that unlocks his power.
First, he has the power to optimize the ripening of karma for our swiftest possible enlightenment. Sometimes people misunderstand this as he is like some external god who can arrange anything, and so if something bad happens, we think Dorje Shugden is either evil or punishing us. It is impossible for us to experience anything we have not created the karma for. We each have extremely diverse good and bad karma on our mind, and all he can do is work with the karma we have given him. Negative things happen to us because we have negative karma, lots of negative things happen because we have lots of negative karma. But what Dorje Shugden can do is manage the ripening of that karma so that what karma ripens when, in what dosages, and in what order leads us to develop the inner realizations we need when we need them, in what dosages, and in what order for our swiftest possible enlightenment given the karma that we have. The better karma we create for and offer to him, the better material he has to work with. Eventually, the karma we offer becomes purer and purer and we align ourselves more and more with him, and he quite literally builds the pure land around us.
Second, he is a wisdom Buddha that has the power to bless our mind to realize how whatever ripens is exactly perfect for our spiritual development. From its own side, we can say every appearance is neutral – neither good nor bad – it is nothing from its own side. It’s just a mere karmic appearance to mind. Dorje Shugden has the power to bless our mind in such a way that when something we would normally think of as terrible (the ripening of some negative karma) is in fact exactly what we need for our spiritual growth or the fulfillment of some pure wish. He likewise has the same power with the ripening of “good” karma, which if we are honest is sometimes more dangerous to our spiritual development than the ripening of negative karma. The point is, regardless of what appears (what ripens), we are blessed with a special wisdom to see it as “perfect.” If we see it as perfect, then it is not a problem for us. This wisdom quite literally solves all of our “problems.”
He has exactly this same power for helping others we pray for. Others are empty, meaning they too are mere karmic creations of our mind – they are the beings of our karmic dream. What is a prayer? It is a pure wish conjoined with wisdom faith. A pure wish is a spiritual wish for somebody, such as wishing they grow spiritually from some adversity, that they escape from some delusions, that they purify some karma, that they take rebirth in the pure land, that they be led to enlightenment, etc. Faith has three interlocking parts. Admiring faith is able to see a glimpse of purity. Believing faith is a confidence that purity is attainable. Wishing faith is a pure wish to want to attain that purity. Wisdom faith is faith informed by the wisdom realizing emptiness. In reality, prayer is emptiness in compassionate action. Buddhas accomplish all of their good deeds through the power of their prayer. Taken together, this means we can pray pure wishes for others, requesting that Dorje Shugden care for others as he cares for us. It is only our grasping at others as somehow being separate from us that makes it seem like we can’t equally invoke Dorje Shugden for the sake of others.
So how do we access his power? Very simple. Through prayer. His power in our lives is a dependent arising – dependent upon the purity of our wishes, the depth of our faith, and the extent to which we realize emptiness. We first generate pure wishes for ourselves or for others. The purer and stronger then wish, the more powerful our prayers. With deep faith, especially believing faith understanding how Dorje Shugden works his miracles (explained above), we make our prayer, or pure wish, for ourselves or others. As we pray, we recall emptiness – that everything is a construction or imputation of mind. Our karmic dream is infinitely shape-able. These three – pure wish, deep faith, and wisdom – set the prayer in motion, like sending a ship out to sea. We then try maintain the continuum of our prayer in our mind until it is eventually fulfilled. If we never abandon our prayer, it is gurantanteed it will eventually be fulfilled – in this life or in future lives. To accelerate the fulfillment of our prayers, we can add merit (create good karma we offer) and purify negative karma to remove obstacles. We should also, of course, do whatever practical, external things seem appropriate to move things along.
I have been relying upon Dorje Shugden now for 25 years. Quite literally, from the very first day I started relying upon him until today, he has been my best friend, my closest companion, and my spiritual father. I pray that he becomes the same for you.
In my meditation this morning, I realized the generation stage mandala is actually like a phase transition progression. I imagine Dorje Shugden’s protection circle around the Charnel Grounds of the self-generation, so that the entire mandala is inside his protection circle, and everything that happens within it is perfect for the enlightenment of all beings. Outside his protection circle, I normally imagine the completely still, radiant Dharmakaya, which I understand to be Chakrasambara – all of samsara gathered and purified into the clear light emptiness. I imagine I have purified all of samsara for each and every being within it. But let’s assume I haven’t done so and samsara as we normally see it appears. This sets up a progression:
- Samsara for all living beings, the things we normally see as the outermost ring. This is reality 1.0.
- Once we enter Dorje Shugden’s mandala, we phase into the charnel grounds. What was before seen as samsara is now seen as the charnel grounds. What appears may still be whatever normally appears, but we understand it to be the charnel grounds where everything is teaching us the profound truth of Dharma. This is reality 2.0.
- After having spent some time in Dorje Shugden’s mandala, we are gradually led into the paths of Highest Yoga Tantra. This is symbolized by Heruka’s wisdom protection circle which is in between the charnel grounds and his mandala. When we bring our mind into that, it is impossible for negative karma and delusion to arise because they have no basis for doing so. We are in the pure land. Just inside Heruka’s wisdom protection circle, we have the completely pure three thousand worlds in the aspect of the different continents of the mandala offering. Beings who live here are in the pure land, but they are still part of the three thousand worlds – just a purified version of them. These worlds are like a city surrounding the central castle, but inside the protection of the city walls. This is reality 3.0.
- In the center of these worlds is Mount Meru. Mount Meru itself is layered with all of the different pure lands of the four classes of Tantra, and I would say other religions as well. Beings who live in these worlds are firmly centered in the spiritual progression aspects of the pure land. This is reality 4.0.
- On the top of Mount Meru is Heruka’s celestial mansion. From Heruka’s perspective, this is the highest of all the pure lands. This is like the castle on the top of the hill in the center of the city of enlightenment. All of the different Kadampa temples sprouting up around the world are actually emanations of Heruka’s mansion, and serve the same function. Within his celestial mansion, all beings are gathered where they are taught the Kadam Dharma and their subtle bodies are completely purified by the body mandala deities. Entering this mansion temple is reality 5.0.
- We then receive highest yoga tantra empowerments and learn how to impute our I onto the body mandala. We enter into and become one with the Guru Deity and his retinue. But it is not just us as an individual doing this, we long ago exchanged self with others and we experience the body mandala as us “as all living beings” identifying with the self-generation. It feels as if we are directly purifying the channels, drops and winds of all living beings who have been gathered into the body mandala with us. This is reality 6.0.
- We then enter into Heruka Father and Mother and center ourselves (again, as the synthesis of all living beings) within the deity. Heruka Father and Mother are experienced as the completely purified indestructible drop not only at our heart, but at the heart of all living beings. All beings are experienced directly as being connected at the heart, where we have gathered all impure winds. Within this drop, all impure winds of all living beings are completely purified in the aspect of Heruka Father and Mother of the body mandala. This is reality 7.0.
- At Heruka’s heart is the seed letter HUM and the nada. This is our indestructible wind, our Enjoyment Body, our vajra body. All living beings have been completely purified into the nada. This is our life raft we want to be in when we die so that death has no hold on us. We attain the immortal body. This is reality 8.0.
- Inside the nada is the clear light emptiness. This is our indestructible mind, our Truth Body, our vajra mind. All living beings and all impure worlds have been dissolved into Chakrasambara. When we mix our mind with this Dharmakaya, it functions to purify the contaminated karma of all empty beings. This is reality 9.0.
- As we delve deeper through the layers of the clear light, our mind becomes purer and purer until eventually it is so pure the union of the two truths of a Buddha appear directly to our mind. The entire mandala, from the samsaras that beings normally see through to inside the nada are all seen as inseparable from our Truth Body. The duality between pure body and pure mind are completely dissolved away and we experience ourselves and all living beings as having been always enlightened. This is reality 10.0, or full enlightenment.
In my meditation, I sit with this awareness, strongly believing it all to be true. In many of our meditations, Geshe-la says, “and then strongly believe“ something that is (conventionally) objectively not true, such as believing we have taken on the suffering of others, believing in our divine pride etc. There is always then this part of our mind that doesn’t believe what we are imagining, and our meditation lacks power. How can we overcome this doubt? We do not believe these things are true in the sense that they are objectively, inherently true, because nothing is. Rather, “believing something to be true” is a mental action which functions to complete the karma of our meditation. This karmic seed will ripen at a later date in the form of others appearing to be freed from their suffering or ourselves appearing as the guru deity. Why do beings appear to us now to be suffering sentient beings? Because in the past we assented to contaminated appearances, believing them to be truth, and that karma is now ripening in the form of our present appearances. If we start to believe our generated pure appearances, we will create karma which will ripen in the future where things appear to us directly as being pure. This is how samsara is created, and it is how the pure land is created. This is why generation stage is called a creative yoga.
My daughter has recently helped me realize how my non-acceptance has hijacked my Dharma understanding to turn me into an unwitting emotional tyrant.
I often see clearly how delusions seize my kids and family and how they and I suffer as a result. I know the opponents and how they should be thinking instead. My non-acceptance that they need to work through things themselves, my non-acceptance of their suffering, my non-acceptance of the drain on me associated with having to bear the brunt of their delusions or to have to spend the time to help them work through their delusions has all combined together into an implicit expectation on my part that everyone around me be emotionally perfect; and if they are not, I am judging them, becoming frustrated by them, and expecting them to already be free from their delusions.
This in turn makes the people around me feel like an emotional failure, makes them hate themselves and beat themselves up for not already being perfect. Because they are trying to live up to my expectations of emotional perfection, they then begin to repress all of their delusions, pretending they don’t have delusions, which then causes things to fester and build up underneath the surface. Inner stress and tension then builds up in them into chronic anxiety and self-hatred, which then triggers more delusions in them in a vicious spiral.
I see now how I have been doing this to my eldest daughter, with my son, with my other daughter, with my mildly autistic son, with my other son who has no particular problems so I expect him to be even more perfect. I have been doing this to my wife for 25 years. I do this with my father, with my brother, and even to this day, I do this with my long dead mother.
Of course, I haven’t been doing this on purpose, and wasn’t even aware it was happening. It’s all very subtle and sub-conscious in all those involved; but when brought to the surface, I now see it quite clearly.
This behavior in me manifests most strongly when I am very pressed for time and feel as if I have no capacity to deal with one extra burden of some emotional meltdown or problem by those around me. I have felt I don’t have time to deal with others’ delusions, which then becomes a non-acceptance of others who still have delusions, which then turns into them not accepting themselves still having delusions, leading to repression, anxiety, and self-hatred in them in a vicious spiral. As my daughter so aptly pointed out, the truth is accepting others as they are is actually more time efficient in the long run because non-acceptance leads to even more problems. I actually dont have time to not accept others.
Becoming aware of how I do this is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received in my spiritual life, and I’m extremely grateful to my daughter and to Dorje Shugden for helping me see this. Old habits die hard, and it will take a long time before I’m able to change, but whole new vistas of potential spiritual growth now appear before me.
In many ways, the civil rights question of our time is LGBT+ rights. The recent push for recognition of gay marriage, for example, has been a proxy for this larger debate. While thinking in much of the world in the last 10 years has changed radically, this is still a relatively new field of acceptance for many people, especially in more traditional and conservative countries (or pockets of communities). This is a topic that is rife with emotional and physical suffering. As my small contribution to this on-going discussion, I thought I would offer my thoughts on how I see all of this through the lens of Dharma.
Before I begin, it is first worth noting I do not pretend to say my views are in any way the definitive Dharma view of all of this, rather, this is just my understanding. Also, I think it is always a bit dangerous to discuss politically charged topics from a religious perspective. The first danger is if people politically disagree with our position, there is a risk they could wind up rejecting the Dharma entirely because they think that then requires them to think in a particular way which politically they don’t want to. The second danger is mixing Dharma with politics.
If I’m careful, I believe in writing this I can avoid both dangers. I can avoid the first by saying feel free to ignore everything I am saying, I’m simply sharing my thoughts. I welcome any other thoughts and am happy to discuss with anybody who has an open-mind. If you disagree with me, perhaps you are right. I don’t know. The problems of mixing Dharma with politics primarily come from using the power of the state to enforce one person’s religious views on another. I am clearly not doing that here. Dharma practitioners are allowed to have political opinions. Political life is part of modern life, and our job is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life. Politics is also necessarily worldly, so it is important that Dharma does not become worldly as we try to make it fit our political predispositions.
With these caveats in mind, I think the Dharma teachings provide a very useful lens for compassionately and wisely understanding the experience and life of LGBT+ individuals. I would in particular like to explore three dimensions – emptiness, karma, and compassion.
According to the teachings on emptiness, a “name” is appropriate if the aspect and function of the basis of imputation are appropriate for that name. It is clearly inappropriate to call my iPad a toothbrush, for example. The teachings on emptiness also say objects come into existence when we name them and that naming is appropriate with the aspect and function. In thinking about gender issues, I find it helpful to think of things along three axes – biological sex, socially constructed gender, and sexual attraction. Biological sex refers to the physical make up of our body, including, but not limited to, our genitalia. Socially constructed gender refers to societal conventional conceptions of male and female personality and interests. Sexual attraction refers to who somebody is naturally sexually attracted to. For example, somebody could biologically have male genitalia, conventionally be a manly man, and be attracted to women. This would be a heterosexual male. Somebody could be biologically male, conventionally a manly man, and be attracted to men. This would be a gay man. Somebody could also be biologically female, conventionally manly, but attracted to men. In the past, this was called a “tom boy,” but now we might call this person a trans man. In total, there are 8 combinations of these three binaries, or 27 combinations of we include the point in the middle of each binary, and queer theorists have come up with “names” for each one. These are observable facts we see in the world. We can find examples of all 27 in the world, people who have a biological sex, who conventionally are more masculine or feminine, and who are attracted to men or women. Having names for each one of these combinations of basis of imputation seems entirely descriptive. So no problem here.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of suffering related to gender questions. The sufferings of sexism arise when we place value judgments saying that which is male is somehow more valuable than that which is female. The sufferings of heterosexism arise when we place value judgements saying two of these 27 combinations (heterosexual male and heterosexual female) are somehow more valuable than the other 25.
Understanding karma enables us to break out of these binaries and realize that each of the three axes are actually spectrums. Somebody might have a penis, but physically more feminine than Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example. Somebody might be attracted to both men and women, but mostly women. Somebody’s personality might be very masculine, feminine or anywhere in between. So there are not just 27 combinations, there are as many combinations as there are people. And one’s position on this matrix is not fixed. In one life, you might be a gay man, in another life a trans woman. Even within one life, one’s positionality is not fixed. I know people whose sexual attraction has changed over time, and I know people whose physical gender has changed. Impermanence teaches nothing is fixed and unchanging. An infinite diversity of past karmic actions will quite naturally give rise to an infinite diversity of possibilities.
The different types of karma also helps us understand the nature of these three axes. One’s biological sex is the ripened effect – born with certain physical characteristics. One’s sexual attraction is largely a product of tendencies similar to the cause of having been attracted to men or women in the past. One’s socially constructed gender is a combination of tendencies similar to the cause and environmental effects of the culture/society we are raised in. Whether one is discriminated against or accepted arises from the karmic effects similar to the cause of how we treated others in the past.
The teachings on compassion are also very helpful in thinking about LGBT+ experience. It is basically undeniable that we live in a heterosexist society, but we seem to be moving in a direction of greater acceptance of the diversity. In the past, LGBT persons suffered from very powerful negative societal value judgments. This caused many to suffer from bullying, guilt, beatings, and sometimes suicide – not to mention the “repression” of being in the closet – pretending to conform to societal value judgments when that didn’t conform with what they felt inside.
Even today, this still occurs. My son, for example, is biologically male, but there is zero doubt that inside he feels more like a girl and personality wise acts more like a socially constructed girl. And he has gotten a tremendous amount of ridicule for it – from his cousins and from his classmates at school. This ridicule made him suffer inside, doubt himself, pretend to be different just to fit in, and become very angry at the frustration of dealing with it all. My daughter is biologically female, but has almost no sexual desire at all, and feels judged or guilty for not ever having had (or really wanted) a boyfriend, like something is wrong with her. When I was growing up, I never got along with “the boys” because I just wasn’t into the same things and I felt socially excluded for a long time until high school when it became OK for a boy to have mostly friends who were girls. My wife was a total tom boy, but in a sexist society that is more acceptable. These are just four examples within one family. I would guess nearly everyone has some experience where their positionality on the three axes gave rise to some degree of suffering due to the value judgments society places on certain positionalities. There are many people who spend their whole life in the closet, there are many who commit suicide, there are many who come out of the closet who lose their family’s love as a result. The examples are endless.
From a Dharma perspective, it seems to me there is no basis for these value judgments, favoring one positionality over another. A diverse ecosystem is a more adaptive and creative one, so too a diverse humanity is a more adaptive and creative one. Who are we to judge one person’s positionality as being somehow better or worse than another? From the point of view of emptiness, all are equally valuable, just in different ways. There is also no denying people suffer from these value judgments, so as compassionate individuals, it seems to me we should accept everyone as they are and as they define themselves to be. They are not hurting anybody, so what is the problem? If somebody is hurt by another’s gender identity (for example, a parent who can’t accept their child is a lesbian), the parent might need to learn acceptance and the child might need to learn how to be skillful in how she expresses herself in front of her parents to give the parent time and space to adapt.
Grasping at gender identity can even become an obstacle to our tantric practice. Some men, for example, really struggle with being a Vajrayogini practitioner because they think it might make them gay or they grasp so tightly onto their current gender construction that they can’t realize the infinite possibilities – creating an obstruction to their tantric practice.
None of this is easy – for LGBT individuals, their families, or society – but learning how to think about these things in a way that leads to less suffering seems to me to be part of the bodhisattva’s way of life. I might be wrong. If you think I am and you have an open mind, let’s discuss. If you don’t have an open mind about it, feel free to ignore me. I’m OK with that. 😉
I had a very strange dream. I was supposed to teach a meditation class to a group of total beginners. I have not taught a class in a long time. Much happened before the class was to begin. At first, I was completely naked and had no clothes. I was in front of them for a while, but nobody seemed to mind. Eventually, I went to a bathroom to try find clothes, but couldn’t find anything that made sense, so I went back out naked. Then I thought that seems strange, so I went back to find some clothes and found something imperfect, but good enough.
Then, my mouth suddenly filled up with a bunch of gunk, like phlegm, but much thicker, and I couldn’t speak at all. It was so sticky, I couldn’t just spit it out because it was stuck in my mouth. So I went to a different bathroom and tried to pull it all out of my mouth, which was not easy, but eventually I managed to do so for most of it.
Then, I went into the room to begin the class. Everyone was very loud and mentally scattered. I tried to encourage everyone to calm down and eventually sit to do meditation. I then started guiding the meditation, and while I was talking saying things like “let go of your thoughts, etc.” in my mind I saw a demon who was circling around me. Eventually, he latched onto my neck and was trying to strangle me while I was trying to guide the meditation. I thought about how refuge was the only protection. I kept talking guiding the meditation encouraging everyone to let go. I then recalled emptiness, and explained that emptiness provided the best protection because it was impossible for negativity and delusions to latch on to nothing. The hold of the demon on my neck then broke and he started circulating in front of me again and I was mostly free from it.
I then ended the guided meditation and opened my eyes, and some people in the audience had been busy doing Christmas decorations. I then felt I needed to get to know the people around in the audience to know where they were coming from. Most were total beginners, they all seemed to enjoy the meditation.
Then I came to this one woman who had regular clothes on. She then said something about Je Tsongkhapa, which made no sense how she would know him. I then looked at her clothes under her arm, and saw that there were ordained robes underneath. I then asked her how she knew about Je Tsongkhapa, and she started mumbling as if her cover was blown, and then I woke up.
What does this dream mean? I haven’t taught in a long time, but eventually I need to start doing so again. I have a lot of negative karma obstructing my ability to do so – physically, represented by the episode with the clothes; verbally, represented by the episode with the phlegm; and mentally, represented by the episode with the demon. The solution is refuge in the three jewels and in particular realizing emptiness so that there is nothing there for the negativity to latch onto. Each solution to these three levels was imperfect, but good enough for me to continue, meaning for now I should accept good enough to be able to proceed. When teaching Dharma, it is important to know personally the people you are teaching and to accept them where they are at, as represented in the situation with their rowdiness and then doing Christmas decorations. But because people are hurting, they find the meditations meaningful, as represented by the positive reception despite people seeming to be distracted. Finally, we can be certain that some (or all) of the people will be emanations of Je Tsongkhapa in disguise, as represented by the woman who was an undercover emanation.