Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 12 January 1998

MYSTICS, MYTHS, SYMBOLS & GAY BUDDHISTS


Jesse Monteagudo's Book Nook


CASSELL'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF QUEER MYTH, SYMBOL AND SPIRIT: GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER LORE, by Randy P. Conner, David Hatfield Sparks and Mariya Sparks; Cassell; 382 pages; $21.95.

THE ESSENTIAL GAY MYSTICS, edited and with an Introduction by Andrew Harvey; HarperSanFrancisco; 290 pages; $22.00.

QUEER DHARMA: VOICES OF GAY BUDDHISTS, edited by Winston Leyland; Gay Sunshine Press, Box 410690, San Francisco, CA 94141; 416 pages; $19.95 (add $2 when ordering by mail).

TWO FLUTES PLAYING: A SPIRITUAL JOURNEYBOOK FOR GAY MEN, by Andrew Ramer; Alamo Square Press, Box 14543, San Francisco, CA 94114; 159 pages; $12.95.

Gay people, like many others, are spiritual people. All too often, we were alienated from our religion by the heterosexual men who lead most Jewish, Christian and Muslim institutions; who quote their scriptures out of content and who use their power to dominate women and oppress sexual minorities. Only recently, after the emergence of a devastating disease that has decimated our ranks, have many lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people reclaimed the spiritual dimension in our lives. Some of us found spirituality in gay or gay-friendly Jewish or Christian groups. Others gave up the religions of their parents altogether in favor of alternative, Eastern, New Age or pagan faiths that accept them for who they are.

CASSELL'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF QUEER MYTH, SYMBOL AND SPIRIT is an argosy of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender spirituality. Randy P. Conner, the author of Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming the Connections Between Homoeroticism and the Sacred, joined forces with his companion David Hatfield Sparks and their daughter Miraya Sparks to create what is in many ways a continuation of his earlier work. Unlike other encyclopedias of religion, which limit their (heterosexual) scope to the "major religions", Cassell's Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit covers all spiritual traditions, including African, Buddhist, Chinese, Christian, Goddess Reverence, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Queer Spirit, Radical Fairy, Shaman, Shinto, Sufi and Wicca.

"We homosexuals are the only minority group that completely lacks any vestige of a separate cultural heritage," wrote the gay Beat poet Jack Spicer. "We have no songs, no folklore." As Cassell's Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit tells us, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are the heirs to centuries of culture and folklore, which the patriarchs in charge of the major monotheistic religions tried vainly to suppress. After an introductory section on the various Spiritual Tradition, the Encyclopedia lists over 1,500 alphabetically arranged entries of people, places, traditions and philosophies. The Beat Movement is there, of course. So are Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, Amazons, Blackberri, Demeter, Galli, Gerald Heard and Annie Sprinkle. This will not please those who think homosexuality is a twentieth century construct, those who "insisted that male homo- eroticism and lesbianism share no common history." Cassell's Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit tells us otherwise.

Many of the men and women who grace Cassell's Encyclopedia are mystics, women and men who have "a direct and naked perception of Godhead, beyond dogma, beyond ideas, beyond any possible formulation in words of any kind." Andrew Harvey might be considered a mystic; the Encyclopedia describes him as a "Gay writer and spiritual seeker of Anglo-Indian heritage, inspired primarily by Hinduism, Sufism, and Christianity."

Harvey is also an expounder and popularizer of ancient mystics, particularly the 13th century Persian Rumi. In The Essential Gay Mystics, Harvey collects the works of those men and women whose affectional or sexual orientation toward members of their own sex influenced their mysticism. "The testimonies of the homosexual mystics I have collected here speak far louder than any rhetoric could of the extraordinary achievements throughout history of the homosexual mystical genius. It is my hope that this anthology will offer alternative and divine -- images of what gay relationships can be." Among the gay mystics in The Essential Gay Mystics are Sappho, Plato, We'wa, Hafiz and Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz.

A recent article in Time magazine examined the increased popularity of Buddhism in the United States. That many American Buddhist are gay or lesbian should be no surprise. Unlike traditional Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Buddhism does not have a history of homophobia. "Buddhism," writes Kobai Scott Whitney, "seemed silent on the issue of sexual preference, and this helped make it accessible and attractive to gay people." "Despite the ambivalence concerning homosexuality in Buddhist history, the evidence seems to suggest that as a whole Buddhism has been for the most part neutral on the question of homosexuality," adds Jose Ignacio Cabezon.

"The principal question for Buddhism has not been one of heterosexuality vs. homosexuality but one of sexuality vs. celibacy." Even the Dalai Lama, the most respected leader of a Buddhist sect, is ambiguous on the subject of homosexuality. However you might interpret it, all in all Buddhism has been more gay-friendly than the major Western faiths. Gay Sunshine's Winston Leyland, himself a Buddhist within the Tibetan Nyingma tradition, brought together the various strands of gay male Buddhism in the anthology Queer Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists. "Planning the volume, I decided on a multi-cultural approach: historical essays, fiction, poetry, but with the main emphasis on articles by practitioners from various traditions (Zen, Vipassana, Tibetan, etc.) on the integration of their gay sexuality and Buddhist practice." Among these practitioners are the late Allen Ginsberg, John Giorno, Tom Moon and Christopher Osborne, a teenager who "survived" high school in the heartland as an openly gay Buddhist. Cassell's Encyclopedia describes Andrew Ramer as a "US gay writer and mystic. Of Jewish heritage, Ramer is the author of two best-selling books on the phenomenon of Angels." Ramer's best-known work, Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men, was originally published in 1990 (in spiral binding) by Body Electric Publishing. Using the time-honored (if controversial) device of channeling, Two Flutes Playing discusses men-loving men and our special roles within humanity. "Gayness is a matter of vibration. Gay men are 'tuned' differently than other men. This difference in vibration is what allows men who are drawn to men to recognize each other. ... For gayness is far more than sex. And as men remember this who are tuned to other men, wisdom will begin to rise into consciousness that is ancient and healing and needed by all of humanity." Two Flutes Playing arouses "The Spirit of Man Love", assists "The Awakening of The Joy- Body", and tells gay men everywhere what we were, what we are, and what we can become.

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