The Authentic Self

By Joshua Knobe

Mark Pierpont used to be an important figure in the evangelical Christian effort to help “cure” gay people of their homosexual desires. He started out just printing up tracts and handing them out in gay bars, but his ministry grew over time, and eventually he was traveling the world and speaking to crowds that sometimes numbered in the thousands. There was just one problem. Mark Pierpont himself was gay. He continued to feel sexual desires toward other men and was constantly engaged in an effort to suppress them. In the documentary film “Protagonist,” Pierpont movingly describes his inner conflict, saying that he sometimes felt an almost physical revulsion at his own desires and would then think: “Good. I hate this.  I hate sin, just like God hates sin.”

Faced with a case like this one, we might be tempted to give Pierpont some simple advice.  We might tell him that what he really needs to do is just look deep within and be true to himself. Indeed, this advice has become a ubiquitous refrain.  It can be found in high art and literature (Polonius’s “To thine own self be true”), in catchy pop songs (Madonna’s “Express Yourself”) and in endless advertisements for self-help programs and yoga retreats (“Unlock your soul; become your authentic self”).  It is, perhaps, one of the distinctive ideals of modern life.

Yet, though there is a great deal of consensus on the importance of this ideal, there is far less agreement about what it actually tells us to do in any concrete situation.  Consider again the case of Mark Pierpont.  One person might look at his predicament and say: “Deep down, he has always wanted to be with another man, but he somehow picked up from society the idea that this desire was immoral or forbidden.  If he could only escape the shackles of his religious beliefs, he would be able to fully express the person he really is.”

But then another person could look at exactly the same case and arrive at the very opposite conclusion: “Fundamentally, Pierpont is a Christian who is struggling to pursue a Christian life, but these desires he has make it difficult for him to live by his own values.  If he ever gives in to them and chooses to sleep with another man, he will be betraying what was is most essential to the person he really is.”

Each of these perspectives seems like a reasonable one, at least worthy of serious consideration.  So it seems that we are faced with a difficult philosophical question.  How is one to know which aspect of a person counts as that person’s true self?

If we look to the philosophical tradition, we find a relatively straightforward answer to this question.  This answer, endorsed by numerous different philosophers in different ways, says that what is most distinctive and essential to a human being is the capacity for rational reflection.  A person might find herself having various urges, whims or fleeting emotions, but these are not who she most fundamentally is.  If you want to know who she truly is, you would have to look to the moments when she stops to reflect and think about her deepest values.  Take the person fighting an addiction to heroin.  She might have a continual craving for another fix, but if she just gives in to this craving, it would be absurd to say that she is thereby “being true to herself” or “expressing the person she really is.” On the contrary, she is betraying herself and giving up what she values most. This sort of approach gives us a straightforward answer in a case like Mark Pierpont’s.  It says that his sexual desires are not the real him.  If he loses control and gives in to these desires, he will be betraying his true self.

But when I mention this view to people outside the world of philosophy, they often seem stunned that anyone could ever believe it.  They are immediately drawn to the very opposite view.  The true self, they suggest, lies precisely in our suppressed urges and unacknowledged emotions, while our ability to reflect is just a hindrance that gets in the way of this true self’s expression.  To find a moment when a person’s true self comes out, they think, one needs to look at the times when people are so drunk or overcome by passion that they are unable to suppress what is deep within them.  This view, too, yields a straightforward verdict in a case like Pierpont’s.  It says that his sexual desires are what is most fundamental to him, and to the extent that he is restraining them, he is not revealing the person he really is.

In my view, neither of these two perspectives fully captures the concept of a true self. The trouble is that both of them assume that the true self can be identified in some straightforward way with one particular part of a person’s psychology. But it seems that the matter is more complex. People’s ordinary understanding of the true self appears to involve a kind of value judgment, a judgment about what sorts of lives are really worth living. So people will tend to arrive at different judgments regarding the nature of Pierpont’s self depending on whether they think that a homosexual lifestyle truly is a valuable one.

To put this hypothesis to the test, I teamed up with my colleagues — the psychologists George Newman and Paul Bloom. Together, we are pursuing a project in the emerging interdisciplinary field of “experimental philosophy.” That is to say, we are taking these abstract philosophical questions and using them to generate systematic experimental studies that can give us a better sense of how people actually use these concepts.


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27 Responses to The Authentic Self

  1. Audarya-lila dasa

    The whole premise of suppressing the sexual urge needs a better context in terms of authenticity. People may suppress their sexual urges for various reasons. But if through introspection one looks beneath the surface, a person will find they either are a person who craves companionship or who is very comfortable living alone. I think for authenticity this will be a more pertinent question.

    Suppressing the sexual urge in the way that Mark was forced to do based on his beliefs can be very unhealthy if Mark functions better as a person in a deeply committed relationship with a partner. I think this is one reason why monastics in the gaudiya tradition sometimes have problems. Many have become monastics thinking that avoidance of sex is the principle to follow and the best practice for making spiritual progress without deep consideration of their own psychology as a person.

    I believe it goes without saying that the true self is beyond material desires of any type (at least that is a given in the gaudiya tradition) – but how to become truly desireless is the key and can’t be done artifically. A gay person is not more or less likely to be psychologically fit for a monastic lifestyle than a heterosexual person and should not be forced to live that way due to outdated moral ideas on what constitutes proper sexual desire. No gay person will have sexual desires for the opposite sex and certainly not all gay persons would thrive in a monastic lifestyle. It is for this reason that I think the premise of the article above misses the mark.

    • Gurunistha dasa

      Audarya-lila,
      I think the author’s example of Mark holds, although it’s quite an un-PC example to give. For Mark, because of his deep faith in the teachings of his path, homosexuality is a harmful desire, a problem that has to be resisted at any cost. The author gives the example of heroin addiction. That’s how Mark feels about his desires in relation to what he believes is in his highest interest.
      You suggested a committed relationship but that is your opinion of what is the best solution in the given situation (I certainly share your opinion though) and although all the psychology and field research in the world might say that it’s unhealthy to suppress one’s homosexuality it goes against Mark’s deeply integrated beliefs about right and wrong and thus goes against his understanding of his “true self”.

      • Vrindaranya dasi

        Basically this philosophical question is about the relationship between belief and desire. I think it is valid to question a belief that causes an extreme conflict between one’s desire and one’s ability to suppress the desire. This extreme conflict can cause one to hate oneself and other people, which doesn’t seem like a very valuable platform for spiritual growth. In cases where the desire is extremely harmful to oneself or to others, then I think it is reasonable to suppress the desire or better yet, to try to get to the underlying factors that create the desire. Homosexuality and heroin are not comparable in terms of harm to the self and others, but rather only in terms of the fact that they both might clash with a person’s beliefs. To get to the root of this philosophical question, I think we can’t assume that every belief we have is worth adhering to.

        • Gurunistha dasa

          Vrindaranya, you say:

          Homosexuality and heroin are not comparable in terms of harm to the self and others, but rather only in terms of the fact that they both might clash with a person’s beliefs.

          Again, this is a personal opinion that is made to look like a general rule. It’s certainly true that from a sociological or psychological point of view homosexuality is not at all on par with heroin but this is where faith comes into play:

          from Mark’s point of view homosexuality is a deadly sin that will take him to hell forever. For him there are more profound implications that we won’t believe because we don’t share his faith. But if we disregard his faith off-hand by saying that it’s irrational etc., how are we then to defend our own faith against similar attacks?

          How can we make distinctions between different spiritual beliefs since they are all based on principles that we can’t prove to be either right or wrong?

          • Vrindaranya dasi

            Gurunistha,

            In this very life, anyone can agree that a heroin addiction will cause harm to the self and others. This is inevitable. The same cannot be said for homosexuality.

            The harm to self and others that you think is comparable is that it is possible that both the homosexual and the heroin addict will burn forever in hell. You are correct to say that no one can say definitely whether this is true or not. However, unlike the inevitability of harm to self and others in the case of heroin addiction, the potential of burning forever in hell is merely one interpretation of scripture, an interpretation that many Christians would not agree with. Since most Christians don’t believe in reincarnation and don’t believe that people have karma from a previous life, it is beyond me why God would expect some people who don’t have samsara for renunciation to renounce their sexuality entirely or to try to switch their sexuality to a gender that they have no attraction for, and that if they were unsuccessful he would send them to burn in hell forever. Why would God would be so twisted?

            You ask how I would defend my own faith against similar attacks. I would say that there are many Gaudiya Vaisnavas with similarly unhealthy interpretations of scripture. I think it is better not to defend this kind of faith but rather to argue for a more integrated and spiritual interpretation of scripture. This is Guru Maharaja’s approach. Furthermore, we may have beliefs that we can’t prove but that don’t cause harm to self and others. No harm, no problem.

      • Audarya-lila dasa

        The point of my comment was not to critique whether or not the idea of a homosexual needing to suppress his sexual urges because they are viewed as immoral is PC or not – and the article makes it clear that Mark believes this to be the case based on his faith. My point really, and I believe the analogy of monasticism and freedom from sex pushed within Iskcon and the revulsion one is supposed to feel at the mere thought of sex serves as an example within our own tradition of the same thing, is that the sexual urge on the surface is an urge to satisfy the senses but often beneath that sensual urge is the urge for companionship and intimate relationship. Not everyone has that ,and for those who can function well without intimacy, monasticism does not lead to disfunction. However, my argument is that it is unhealthy for many people to deny their ‘sexual urges’ altogether based on a percieved idea of perfection because it denies a more fundamental need – one that could be argued to closer to the idea of self authenticity.

        The author’s point would still stand but I believe it would be a stronger one, more ‘authentic’ if you will, if framed within the context of relationship rather than sensuality.

  2. The best understanding of sexuality on all levels can be found in the Tantra tradition.
    Gaudiya Vaishnavism actually borrows quite a bit from that tradition in general, including elements of proper understanding of sexuality. Too bad that devotees in general try to ignore the proper understanding of sexuality in this world, while concentrating on the spiritual sexuality. That approach does not work for most people and that is why so many leave or never join our movement, while devotees as a group display an astounding amount of dysfunctional sexual behavior.

    • The most important Tantra idea in Gaudiya Vaisnavism is that Sri Chaitanya is Krsna and Radha combined. Some traditional GV sects actually distance themselves from the claim and say that Sri Chaitanya is Krsna in the mood of Radha and not Krsna and Radha combined.

    • That is an interesting point, GV, and very, very deep – much deeper than most devotees (me included) conceive. And that point is hard to understand without knowing more about Tantric understanding of male and female energies.

      In the Tantra understanding, an individual living entity gradually acquires taste for being part of either male or female flow of cosmic energy, and from that point on it reincarnates just in that chosen type of bodies, male or female. It is quite clear that for the gay people this choice is not yet made firm. Thus personal development for such people is not about suppressing gay sexuality, but about discovering their real taste and identity in the energetical sense.

      We could say that Lord Caitanya is immersed in the raging river of both divine energies and that is why the symptoms of his internal ecstasies are so confusing and wonderful to behold.

      • Vrindaranya dasi

        Kula-pavana, can you provide support for the statement that “In the Tantra understanding, an individual living entity gradually acquires taste for being part of either male or female flow of cosmic energy, and from that point on it reincarnates just in that chosen type of bodies, male or female”? I find this to be very limited in terms of the potential variation of what it means to be male or female. Why should sexual desire be so black and white for men and women when other desires and qualities that differentiate men and women are not? Where are the guidelines that delineate what exactly this “male or female flow of cosmic energy” is? Does it relate only to sexual preference or is there a set of behaviors and desire that make a person male or female?

        • Perhaps you cannot reincarnate as unicellular organism like amoeba or bacteria that don’t need any male or female principle and no sex either 🙂

        • Didi Vrindaranya,
          I am kind of tied up now but I will try to find some references for you in the tantric sources. Most of that stuff i have read many years ago.
          It all starts with understanding what makes something ‘female’ or ‘male’. That is a very interesting subject in itself. Ultimately it is all about rasa, or taste, for a particular type of consciousness.
          If you read the stories in the Puranas you will see that male characters tend to receive a male body in various incarnations, and female characters tend to keep female bodies. Variation is limited by our choice – and thus it is not really limited at all.
          If you want to better understand the female and male energy flow in this world you can also study Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Their personalities and interactions are very instructive in that matter.

          • Vrindaranya dasi

            That sakti tattva takes incarnations in female forms and Visnu tattva in male forms (although there are exceptions) is a given that says little about jivas caught in the cycle of samsara. There are plenty of stories involving men becoming women and women becoming men in the Puranas. Indeed, the Puranas explicitly teach that this is possible and how it happens. For that matter they also teach transmigration. There is no such theory that men tend to be reborn as men, etc. in the Puranas or any sastra that I am aware of.

            My point was that what makes someone male or female cannot be delineated in sharp, discreet categories, and hence that it is questionable to say that a person is confused about their sexuality if they aren’t attracted to people of the opposite sex. It is apparent that homosexuals can be just as clear about their sexual preference as heterosexuals (i.e. they aren’t confused who they are attracted to; they are attracted to those of the same sex). The third sex concept is also insightful in that it says that male-male attraction, for example, is a unique taste and disposition, a separate sphere rather than a blending.

            It is quite progressive that Hinduism shows a whole range in terms of “female” forms of divinity—from Parvati to Kali and of course the 360 nayika/heroine types (interesting that there are only 96 nayaka/hero types), thus somewhat counteracting the very limited conception of female qualities that religions generally highlight. That said, I’ve seen many young women take up and become disillusioned with the Sita role, particularly when their husbands fail miserably at the Rama role. The wiser course of action, imho, is to develop a more balanced range of male and female qualities in oneself. This pays off in many spheres, including in one’s ability to have mature, loving relationships.

          • Didi Vrindaranya, in the Tantra earthly jivas are seen as living reenactment of the grand cosmic dance played by the male and female Tattvas. Thus their lives become perfected when their reenactment becomes perfected. That is at least the general idea.

            Those attracted to the role of Seeta should try to perfect their life along that line, regardless whether their husband fails at his role of Raam. What would Seeta do now? That should be the frame of mind.

            And those attracted to the role of Parvati should not feel pressured to play the role of Seeta. We are all forced to act in accordance with our nature and repression does not get us very far.

            Confusion regarding our sexuality should be treated like any other confusion – it is removed by proper realized knowledge.

            You are right, in nature there are no sharp delineating lines – it is all one fluid current or spectrum. Yet such sharp delineations are often made even by the shastras, for the sake of day to day practicality.

          • Vrindaranya dasi

            Kula-pavana,

            Those in the Bhaktivinode parivara integrate some aspects of tantra (emphasis on the sakti, pancaratra, etc.), but obviously not the conception you are describing, which is monistic. So it seems odd to me that you are using this conception (one I hope you don’t follow yourself) as a means of labeling homosexual people as “confused” and thereby continuing the hurtful tradition of prejudice.

            Many of those who actually do follow the path of tantra you describe see it as completely compatible with homosexuality, because people have both male and female energies and find themselves somewhere on the continuum. For that matter, there is no clear statement in any Hindu scripture condemning or even labeling homosexuality as confused. So your opinion is not really grounded in sastra, even while you refer to the tantra.  

            Thus what is the need to label homosexuals as confused about their sexuality? Take your argument a little further: if homosexuals become “clear” about their sexuality and are attracted to members of the opposite sex, what is the real value of this “clarity”? Heterosexuality is ultimately ignorance as well! Thus your statement that they can overcome “confusion” with “proper realized knowledge” is ironic as this “proper realized knowledge” leads merely to another form of ignorance as a stepping stone to monism.

            While we’re on the topic of irony, I also couldn’t help notice how you seem to have no issue with the idea that a women with a fallen husband (who is supposed to represent the guru in this conception) is supposed to think, “What would Seeta do now?” I assume that you are implying the Sita would never leave Rama and should therefore continue to serve as a chaste wife. The irony, of course, is that you are extremely vocal on the topic of fallen gurus. How would you feel if you were expected to continue to follow a fallen guru, no matter how promiscuous or physically or emotionally abusive he was? But excuse me if I misunderstood you, perhaps you merely meant that Sita might ask herself, “What should I do now?” And answer, “Gads, Rama is the paragon of righteousness…who is this pretender? I am a servant of truth, not falsity.”

          • Didi Vrindaranya,
            No need for an attack or defense. Just read carefully what I wrote in response to YOUR questions in the flow of conversation, where it is you who take up the issue of persons who are confused about their sexuality. Contrary to what you say: “Heterosexuality is ultimately ignorance as well” – The polarity of the Universe (male/female) is the eternal principle of Creation, and a reflection of the spiritual world where sexuality exists in its most refined form.

            It is not ‘monists’ who are the most vocal critics of homosexuality, but the supposedly ‘most compassionate’ and ‘gentle’ devotees in modern times. The classical Vedic tradition does not pay much attention to that issue.

            I have no clue what would Seeta do with a fallen husband. I would not even pretend to try to tackle that one. I merely suggested a line of reasoning for a person who is inspired by Her example.

            Yes, I am very vocal when it comes to fallen gurus or various other forms of cheating, arrogance or ignorance, going on in the name of religion or tradition. Ultimately the value of any practical advice must be verified by tangible results. That applies to the advice of ‘proper’ gurus as well.

          • And if anybody is interested in my views on homosexuality, they are plainly expressed here: https://harmonist.us/2009/04/vaishnavism-and-homosexuality/

            Some teachers in our tradition present sexuality in the material world by bringing it down to the lowest common denominator, as is customary in many fundamentalist religions dominated by renunciates. It would have been great if this approach actually worked in modern times for MOST people, but it does not. The levels of frustration and abuse in our society related to these issues are alarming, leading to many disfunctional relationships, broken marriages, and people scarred for life by the treatment they encountered among the devotees.

            Lord Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita (7.11) dharmaviruddho bhuteshu kamo ‘smi bharatarshabha – “I am kama (desire) which is not against dharma”. That is a very deep statement. I think we should look for Krsna in kama, instead of trying to portray kama in a most disparaging way, presenting only it’s most animalistic form. I think this approach would lead to a more balanced perspective on sexuality, with less chance of abuse and frustration. It worked for me at least.

          • Kula-pavana,

            OK, I have looked over the previous posts, and I see that you originally said that it is clear that homosexuals have not made a firm choice whether to be male or female and that for personal development they need to decide their real taste and identity. In a subsequent post, I replied that it is questionable to say that a person is confused about their sexuality if they aren’t attracted to people of the opposite sex, and in your reply, you said that “Confusion regarding our sexuality should be treated like any other confusion – it is removed by proper realized knowledge,” thus appearing to disagree with what I said about homosexuals not being confused about their sexuality. Hence my last response.

            To restate my position, I think it is unfair and inaccurate to imply that personal development for homosexuals is to discover their “real taste and identity,” as you say that heterosexuals have. In this statement, you appear to be implying that personal development for homosexuals is to become heterosexuals (and thus firm up their “real taste and identity”). However, both heterosexual and homosexual identities are not our real identity, and our means of awakening to our real identity is chanting the holy name. One can transcend prarabdha karma (which homosexuality or homosexuality are a manifestation of) in this life and attain perfection. Where is the support for the idea that heterosexuals are more developed than homosexuals? You try to support this position by citing tantra. As far as I understand, your argument is that (1) those following tantra identify with Siva or Sakti, (2) for homosexuals to perfect tantra, they must first “discover their real identity” as either male or female, (3) therefore it is “personal development” for homosexuals to make firm their identity as male or female. Implied in this argument is that a “firm” male identity is heterosexual. If I have misunderstood you position, I look forward to clarification.

            In the other article that you cited in regard to your position about homosexuality, you say, “In the purely biological sense it is better when homosexual individuals form unions between themselves and not with heterosexual partners, because in that way their genes are not propagated in the population.” Perhaps you could clarify that as well.

          • What I tried to say is that for most people sexuality is merely a part of their identity: be it material or spiritual. Sexuality is a byproduct of a particular rasa, or taste for life, they are developing. As our taste changes, the sexuality may change as well. What I see as a measure of a personal development is the development of a particular identity that tends to gravitate towards one or the other pole of the cosmic energy (male or female) and be fairly stable. In the spiritual sense that process is quite well known in the GV tradition. Still, it is often presented in somewhat contradictory terms. We all know that gopis are female and Lord Krsna is male. But are his cowherd boys female as well? How about those souls in Vaikuntha, who reside there as husband and wives? If the sexuality is absent in the spiritual world, or limited to gopis only, why make such elaborate charades? Is Nanda Maharaja female too? Such thinking strikes me as totally bogus. Actually, these issues can only be understood when one understands the Tantra, and that part of Tantric knowledge is not circulated in the Bhaktivinoda parivara.

            But yes, there are also eternal positions in the spiritual world which ‘appear to be’ sexually neutral, such as Krsna’s ornaments, flute, etc. Perhaps gay devotees who see their sexuality as neutral can aspire for this type of permanent identity if they see no reason to oscillate towards either pole of the cosmic energy.

            If Para-Brahman flows in two distinct currents: male and female, why should it be any different for individual particles of Brahman that are living entities? And perhaps some particles are neutral. And why not, since just about everything exists as full spectrum and one fluid movement.

          • Actually, these issues can only be understood when one understands the Tantra, and that part of Tantric knowledge is not circulated in the Bhaktivinoda parivara.

            I will have to disagree with this statement, neither have you supported it. And I suggest you don’t bother to try. Ours is a tantric tradition in many respects—nana-tantra-vidhanena. Thus the Goswamis have cited the relevant tantras for Gaudiya Vaisnavas. If one prefers a prakrita sahayjia take on Mahaprabhu, that is another thing.

            Furthermore I would not depict homosexuality as neutral. Even within homosexuality there is a male and female sensibility. And I think you make a bit too much out of our material sexuality in terms of identifying it with an eternal identity.

            As for Param Brahma flowing in two distinct currents, one is Param Brahma the other is his sakti. Whatever one does in the Vraja lila in rasananda, even if it is an expression of love between two devotees, it is centered on the pleasure of Sri Krsna and thus constitutes a relationship between purusa and prakriti. Such a loving exchange between Nanda and Yasoda, for example, is a sancari-bhava that augments their sthayi-bhava for Krsna. Sri Rupa calls it suhrit-rati—”love of the friend.”

          • Maharaja, I have always heard that in order to be admitted into the circle of madhurya rasa in the spiritual world, a living entity must be born as a woman in this material world and participate in the manifested pastimes of Sri Krishna in that capacity. That would make the apparent ‘material’ sexuality rather relevant in the final stages of developing our spiritual identity. That rule seems to apply to cowherd boys as well.

            Yes, there is always a danger of projecting material sexuality onto the spiritual plane, but perhaps negating it altogether, or vilifying it by reduction to a mere animalistic instinct, is not much better. Seems to me that somewhere between these two extremes lies a path that would be most practical for people in general.

          • I have always heard that in order to be admitted into the circle of madhurya rasa in the spiritual world, a living entity must be born as a woman in this material world and participate in the manifested pastimes of Sri Krishna in that capacity. That would make the apparent ‘material’ sexuality rather relevant in the final stages of developing our spiritual identity. That rule seems to apply to cowherd boys as well.

            According to the Goswamis, the birth you refer to is a birth in Krsna lila in a bhava-deha free from kama.

            Yes, there is always a danger of projecting material sexuality onto the spiritual plane, but perhaps negating it altogether, or vilifying it by reduction to a mere animalistic instinct, is not much better. Seems to me that somewhere between these two extremes lies a path that would be most practical for people in general.

            Sri Krsna says “Kamo’smi . . . “

          • I think one of the things that continuously injures the homosexual identity, which for us has been hard earned, is when Absolute Reality also conforms to the heteronormative metaphor of male-female, Param Brahman-sakti, Krishna-Radha, etc. What is difficult for us is not so much that reality should be discussed in this manner, as reproductive (or reproductive capable) metaphors, but that we never have Absolute Reality being discussed in homosexual metaphors. In fact, if the reader just had a strong reaction to reading this last sentence, it may be because the idea of the Absolute being discussed in this manner still repulses or scares us.

            There may not be a direct correlation between material identities and eternal identities, but heterosexuals can find their identities, passions, and longings reflected in eternal reality whereas homosexuals always have to find a way to widdle ourselves into a heterosexual model in order to see ourselves There. It is extremely injurious to our identity, I would even dare state traumatizing, to not see ourselves reflected in the world; eternal or material. In the comment you make about homosexuality not being neutral and that homosexality has male-female aspects, you are implying such a conformity to heteronormativity. It may be so, but it is still injurious.

          • Audarya-lila dasa

            I hope this finds it’s way in the right order (just after Gopa Kumara’s comment) – That’s an interesting commnet Gopa Kumara. I wasn’t repulsed by it, but I did find it a little odd. By that I mean that whatever our bodily identification and attractions are presently we have to transcend that and become free of material ego to enter into the spiritual realm. So while the paradigmatic relationships seem to conform to relationships we see in the material world (and yes, the depiction is decidedlhy heterosexual) – in reality, they are completely different. Consciousness in the spiritual realm is completely pure and focused on Sri Krsna, not on the individual self.

            Vrndaranya made the point above that both homosexual and heterosexual identities need to be transcended and are impediments to suddha bhakti. Thats really the salient point.

            Some have found what you appear to be looking for in the relationship between Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Gadadhara Pandit – who are none other than Krsna and Radha appearing in different forms for a different purpose. But the orthodox position of Gaudiyas is that Mahaprabhu taught through his acharya lila that all material designations must be transcended. He lived as a renunciant to teach us. Not that we all have to be in the renounced order of life, but that all material identification must ultimately be transcended if we really want to enter in the land of love.

            This tradition is ego effacing for everyone. I don’t understand how it would be traumatizing to find that any aspect of your material identity hasn’t been depicted as a reflection of something in the spiritual world. I mean homosexual or heterosexual is ultimately about love and intimacy – it is that love and intimacy that can be found reflected in the depictions of the Puranas.

          • I think one of the things that continuously injures the homosexual identity, which for us has been hard earned, is when Absolute Reality also conforms to the heteronormative metaphor of male-female, Param Brahman-sakti, Krishna-Radha, etc.

            Gopakumar, I recently thought about this in the context of answering a question about how Hinduism could be sexist. I concluded that the “heteronormative metaphor of male-female” must be a means by which the baddha-jiva can have some orientation to the lila.

            I think your question about whether or not the Absolute can be described in terms of a homosexual metaphor is interesting.

            As Swami stated, there is some “male and female sensibility” in homosexual relationships.

            I wonder if it is appropriate to think in terms of “shaktiman-shakti“, or “receiver-giver”, instead of male-female and accept that traditional gender roles are used to described these more abstract ideas.

            Another thought is that while some people object to Krishna’s relationship with the married gopis, there is the response that “Krishna is the husband of the husbands of the gopis.”

  3. Gurunistha dasa

    Vrindaranya,
    good points. I relativized the matter too far. Only if we don’t believe at all that there is such a thing as the “authentic self” can we say that everyone’s quest for that self is just as valid. The opinions vary but ultimately someone has to be right. Or at least closer to truth than someone else. I stand defeated :).

  4. This editorial seems to have sparked a lot of response. I have not read the responses, so I’m just jumping in.

    So I read the editorial and I think to myself, “Who is Joshua Knobe? Why is such an editorial even included here?”

    Let’s get real. Authentic self? Homosexual or heterosexual – neither one of these options is the authentic self.

    Webster’s Dictionary: Authentic. Conforming to fact and therefore worthy of trust.

    So I ask you Vaishnava ladies and gentlemen – what are the facts?

    The first fact is that I am not this body. Not man. Not woman. Not the sexual orientation of a body that is not me.

    So,why the great delemma? Who am I really? I am part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. I am his eternal servant. “nitya Krishna dasa.”

    So how do I conform to fact? Caitanya Caritamrita. Caitanya means the living force. Carita means the character or activities. Amrita means in the immortal nectarean condition. The character of the eternal living force in the immortal condition. This is what lord Caitanya came to demonstrate, so that we would know how to conform to fact, how to be authentic.

    According to the Bible, Jesus taught the same thing, but only conceptually, for the most part. Love God with all your heart. But Lord Caitanya goes further. He shows by example how we can be our authentic selves.

    There is no difference between the teachings of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita and the teachings of Lord Caitanya. Lord Krishna says that we should put aside our mundane considerations and simply love Him. And Lord Caitanya shows us how to do that.

    We have to understand point blank that whether we choose homsexuality or heterosexuality – neither of these is our authentic self. But if we practice being our authentic self with robust determination and enthusiasm, our mundane conceptions of sexuality will not be an issue. Why? Because they are irrelevant.

    If a homosexual tries to be a heterosexual, he/she will simply be trying to replace one inauthentic sense of self with another inauthentic sense of self. The indulgence in either is spiritual suicide.

    It is true that a neophyte in spiritual life may not immediately be situated 100% on the spiritual platform. But sadhana bhakti is for real. If I do not practice sadhana bhakti, I will be bothered with various urges from the material palatform. But if I practice, then I am safe. Krishna Consciousness is not artificial. It is practical.
    Nor is it dry. Faith and devotion are part of the formula. That faith is generated by associating with those who have faith. Then we have to practice. Practice being our authentic selves, pure spirit soul.

    This is not a joke. It is not about being a card-carrying member of a church, mosque, or whatever. It is about taking up the activites of the soul under the guidance of a realized teacher, so that we can situate ourselves on the spiritual platform.

    It is not about “going to heaven” for being a good boy or good girl. Whatever platform of spirituality we have developed when leaving this material body, this will determine our next birth. So we have to decide for ourselves whether we want to continue living in this hellish material world or if we want to do all in our power to grow in Love of Krishna so that we will not have to come back. Or if we have to come back, at least let us be in position to get a really nice start – hit the ground running.

    So this talk of autheticity, homosexual or heterosexual, it is all nonsense. Because whichever diseased condition we have, homo or heterosexual, we have to transcend it by assuming our authentic sense of self, nitya Krishna das, eternal servant of God, Krishna.

    And if we are not achieving this authenticity, then we need help. And help is available. It is free of charge. We simply have to be sober and serious. And enthusiastic. The rest will follow.

    Hare Krishna! Ishan das

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