Same-Sex Weddings, Hindu Traditions, and Modern India

By Ruth Vanita

Over the last three decades, Indian newspapers have reported same-sex weddings and joint suicides taking place all over the country, both in urban and rural areas. Most of the couples are non-English-speaking young women from lower-income groups. Most of them are Hindus (not surprising since Hinduism is the majority religion in India); there have been a few Sikhs and Christians, and some interreligious as well as many inter-caste unions.

At first glance, this phenomenon might appear related to the push for gay marriage in the West, but in fact, it is not. None of these young women were connected to any movement for equality; most of them were not aware of terms like “gay” or “lesbian.” Many of them framed their desire to marry in terms drawn from traditional understandings of love and marriage, saying, for example, that they could not conceive of life without each other, and wanted to live and die together. The closest counterparts to these same-sex unions are heterosexual “love marriages” and joint suicides that are also regularly reported in the Indian press.

Modern Homophobia or Traditional Authoritarianism?

Same-sex desire and even sexual activity have been represented and discussed in Indian literature for two millennia, often in a nonjudgmental and even celebratory manner, but a new virulent form of modern homophobia developed in India during the colonial period (more specifically after the decisive crushing of indigenous cultures, such as the urbane culture of Lucknow, following the revolt of 1857).

This homophobia was part of a more generalized attack on Indian sexual mores and practices undertaken by British missionaries as well as educationists. It is evident not only in the anti-sodomy law introduced by the British in the Indian Penal Code of 1860 (overturned by the Delhi High Court in 2009), but also in the deliberate heterosexualization of entire literary canons and genres (such as the Urdu ghazal, or love poem, which gendered both lover and beloved as male). Saleem Kidwai and I explored this extensively inSame-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History.

Most Indian nationalists internalized this homophobia and came to view homosexuality as an unspeakable crime, even as they also attacked polygamy, courtesan culture, matriliny, polyandry, and other institutions that were seen as opposed to heterosexual monogamous marriage. Prior to this, homosexuality had never been considered unspeakable in Indian texts or religions.

The new silence surrounding homosexuality is one reason modern institutions such as the police force and educational as well as religious organizations today typically respond to same-sex unions with horror and even violence. However, I would argue that in contrast to these public institutions, most families respond to same-sex unions in the same authoritarian spirit with which they respond to disapproved heterosexual unions. Most Indian families tend to be suspicious of and resist love marriages of all kinds—not just cross-caste, cross-class, cross-religion, or international marriages but even eminently “suitable” marriages that they themselves might have arranged. The degree of resistance varies widely from family to family.

Female-female unions are always love unions. Hence families respond to them as they do to male-female love unions. Depending on family dynamics, the responses range from wholehearted acceptance to hesitant tolerance to virulent opposition. When female couples elope and marry in temples, their families often enlist the help of police to track them down and separate them. Such families usually invoke the law against abduction, which is also commonly used against eloping heterosexual couples.

The violent intervention of right-wing Hindu organizations has the effect of strengthening parental opposition and inhibiting traditional types of compromise. Thus, when nineteen-year-old Seeta attempted suicide by poisoning in Meerut in January 2006, because her bride, eighteen-year-old Vandana, whom she had married in a Shiva temple, had been locked up in her parental home, the local activists of two right-wing organizations—the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Association) and the Shiv Sena—held a rally outside the district magistrate’s office. In an uncanny echo of the demonstrations at Matthew Shepard’s funeral, they also protested outside the hospital where Seeta lay battling for her life, shouting slogans like, “Stop perverse marriages, stop anti-social impulses,” according to The Telegraph. Both young women are from poor families and were workers in a hosiery factory.

It is important to remember that these same Hindu right-wing organizations are also opposed to cross-sex dating and romance. For over a decade, they have protested and attacked establishments that offer Valentine’s Day cards or gifts, threatening young heterosexual couples who go out together to celebrate.

Homophobia is thus only one aspect of their larger opposition to all forms of erotic love outside marriage, which they view as products of globalization, Western neo-imperialism, and market forces that commercialize sex. They forget that there is a tradition in Hinduism, dating back two millennia, of worshiping the god of love, Kamadeva, especially at spring festivals like Madanotsava, from which the modern festival of Holi, which has strong erotic overtones, descends.

Unapproved young couples (whether same-sex or heterosexual) are often violently separated and then pushed into family-arranged marriages. On the eve of such a marriage or following it, they often commit joint suicide. Lovers often perform private wedding rituals before killing themselves and leave behind notes that frame the suicide as a type of wedding in death. A typical example is that of high school teacher Ranu Mishra, 21, and college student Neetu Singh, 19, who consumed poison together in May 2005, when Ranu’s parents forcibly arranged her marriage to a man. Before taking poison, the women married each other privately, Neetu applying sindoor (vermilion) to the parting-line of Ranu’s hair. Application of sindooris a common ritual in many Hindu weddings.

Compromise and Acceptance

Not all families oppose love marriage or even same-sex marriage. Many families first resist and then accept a marriage, incorporating it into that flexible arena called “tradition.” Like families, Hindu priests, too, adopt a range of attitudes to love marriages, including same-sex love marriages. In North India, family-arranged weddings generally take place at home, while a wedding disapproved of by parents often takes place in a temple. Runaway heterosexual couples frequently get married in temples. Female couples have been marrying in temples all over the country, from the first such reported case in 1987 when two policewomen, Leela Namdeo and Urmila Srivastava, married in a temple in Bhopal in central India, to the present day. Many cases have been reported of families coming to accept same-sex unions and participating in, as well as arranging, wedding ceremonies for the couple.

Hinduism and Democracy

The law courts, the media, and some Hindu spaces are the three forces that have proved most helpful to female couples (as well as heterosexual couples in cross-caste and cross-religion unions). Whenever female couples have managed to get past local police and appeal to the law, the courts have consistently upheld their right to live together. If the women have some economic resources and social support, they may then be able to live independently, without police harassment. However, if local communities or their families subsequently harass them, courts have not been able to offer timely protection. Nevertheless the courts’ declaration that two women have a constitutional right to live together as consenting adults is important.

The national, English-language media have helped by generally portraying the women’s feelings and relationships sympathetically, upholding their right to liberty, and also by bringing them to public attention, thereby putting them in touch with civil liberties and sexuality rights organizations, who have helped out some of them.

Hindu spaces, often seen by the Indian Left as irredeemably reactionary, have in fact often worked in tandem with these democratic institutions to support female couples. Both in India and Nepal, many female couples have married in Hindu temples. The media, the women themselves, and their supporters have also used Hindu vocabulary and doctrine to legitimize these marriages. Among these doctrines are Hindu ideas of “love marriage.”

Read the entire Tikkun article, here.

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42 Responses to Same-Sex Weddings, Hindu Traditions, and Modern India

  1. I don’t know the intent of publishing this article here – is it to show that the same-sex marriages are legitimate, and are really a part of Hindu tradition? I disagree – Doesn’t it go against the principles of the Gita, where Krishna tells Arjuna that he’s the Kama which is not against religious principles? It should be noticed that these tendencies have shown a major jump in last 10-20 years – clearly these are not natural tendencies – and if encouraged – I wonder in which direction will our society proceed.

    • Ritesh, please cite scriptural support for your statement that same-sex marriages are against religious principles.

      Your citation of the Gita does not support this statement. Instead, you imply that same-sex marriage is only a product of lust (kama) without considering that heterosexual marriages can also be products of kama.

      As is clearly stated in the article, it is the influence of politics, from British rule onward, that has created stigma against same-sex marriages. Prior to the politicization of marriage, “homosexuality had never been considered unspeakable in Indian texts or religions.”

      • The purpose of marriage, in ancient, medieval India was good progeny, and if progeny cannot come naturally from same-sex marriages, how can it be established on the basis of scripture? In Srimad Bhagavatam 11the canto, 17th chapter, and 39th verse, Lord Sri Krishna instructing Uddhav about varna-ashrama dharma – “One who desires to establish family life should marry a wife of his own caste, who is beyond reproach and younger in age”.

        Another meaning of dharma is “which sustains”. If same – sex marriage cannot sustain families(by means of progeny) – can it be called dharmic?

        Speculative interpretations of texts(and that too Urdu poems, not vernacular “Hindu” texts) and torturous logic is used to show instances of same-sex marriage in ancient/medieval India – there might be some stray cases(and there’s no factual historical account of the same) – however can such speculative interpretations be used to conclude the Hindu society accepted and even, encouraged these unions? I doubt it.

        On another note, Scandinavian countries,have seen significant dissolution of families and demise of marriage as a social institution – “Not coincidentally, these countries have had something close to full gay marriage for a decade or more”. Same-sex marriage and unions are actually even undermining the notion of marriage itself.(

        Present day “liberal” writers, authors, opinion makers etc. hardly worry about any effects such trends and influences might have on the society as a whole. Its astonishing to note that even in discussions like these, the cumulative effects of encouraging phenomenon as such is disregarded, and not even considered. Are individual rights,above the responsibilities that individuals have,towards maintaining the equilibrium of the society?

        • The purpose of marriage, in ancient, medieval India was good progeny . . .

          You ignore the Dharma sastra I cited: Marriage is for praja, dharma, and rati, not praja alone.

        • Ritesh,

          The study of Stanley Kurtz you cite has been refuted here:

        • The purpose of marriage, in ancient, medieval India was good progeny, and if progeny cannot come naturally from same-sex marriages, how can it be established on the basis of scripture?

          The exact same argument could be made for heterosexual marriages. Some couples are not psychologically capable of raising children properly. Some couples are unable to have children because of unforeseen medical problems.

          If your argument against same-sex marriages is based on “good progeny,” then that argument includes many heterosexual marriages as well.

          Your reference to Srimad Bhagavatam does not directly support heterosexual marriage. It supports the effort to find a psychologically compatible partner if one is serious about maintaining a family for the long-term.

          One could argue that the dharmic reason for marriage is that it helps sustain one’s religious and spiritual practice–which may not be sustainable without the emotional support afforded by marriage. Depending on the people involved, it is entirely possible that a same-sex marriage is most suitable for religious life.

        • Good points. And yes, dharma is ultimately that which sustains one in relation to spiritual pursuit.

        • If psychological well-being of “partners” is being considered, what about the psychological implications for children born out(artificially) of such couples? Who will offer such children the emotional support of a mother, who has different biological functions than that of men?
          Your argument of “psychological compatibility” can be used to justify even bizarre scenarios – what about men/women who feel “psychological compatible” with teenagers/children? About teenagers/children who feel psychological compatibility with each other? Should society than allow such marriages too?
          Again,I repeat, have we really thought about the implications of allowing such marriages, on the stability of society and on the psychological and “dharmic” well being of children? Is this point being considered at all? Unadulterated libertarianism cannot
          As an aside, I wonder what’s the priority here – encouraging same-sex marriages, or promotion of traditional forms of marriage(which are clearly coming down) in face increasing incidences of children being born to unwed, even school going mothers(more than 40% now in US). Or can even this be justified in terms of relativistic moral standards?

        • Ritesh,

          You bring up scenarios that involve sex with minors that are not comparable to sex between consenting adults. Such affairs are illegal for good reasons.

          Why do your refer to same sex marriage as unadulterated libertarianism when it seeks to curtail sex? Would you prefer that homosexuals continue to engage in sex outside of marriage, or is you goal to do away with it altogether? If it is the latter, how do you propose to do that, knowing that it requires that a percentage of society become celibate, which is something one can only attain in a psychologically healthy manner after considerable spiritual advancement?

          You have failed to demonstrate how same sex marriage will negatively influence children. Homosexual couples cannot produce children, and adopted children of homosexual couples are arguably better off than they were not being adopted. They are loved.

          You say that traditional forms of marriage are “clearly coming down,” as if to say this is directly related to same sex marriage. Where is the support for this? We should of course promote traditional forms of marriage for heterosexuals. Why not also promote the curtailing of homosexuality to sex within a monogamous relationship?

        • Ritesh,

          I believe this young gay teen boy’s speech says all that needs to be said about whether it is possible for a child who is raised by two same-sex parents, even of the opposite sex to the child, to turn out as a good citizen.

          It is an inspiring speech even for those of us who are convinced on this matter. The boy was speaking in favor of same-sex marriage.

        • Ritesh,

          You have given examples of relationships that are obviously not dharmic. There is consensus that these types of relationships are not benefical to the participants or society in general.

          However, you continue to state that same-sex marriages can never be dharmic. Your reasons for this statement, praja and rati, are also applicable to heterosexual relationships.

          Yet you fail to recognize that it is possible for same-sex marriages to be dharmic while never admitting that the majority of modern heterosexual relationships are not dharmic. Why? Would it not be better to discuss what makes a marriage dharmic and apply that standard to both same-sex and hetero marriages?

        • Ritesh: As an aside, I wonder what’s the priority here – encouraging same-sex marriages, or promotion of traditional forms of marriage(which are clearly coming down) in face increasing incidences of children being born to unwed, even school going mothers(more than 40% now in US).

          The priority of a Vaisnava is to bring souls to bhakti, to the service of the Lord. Marriage is not the priority. If a woman through no fault of her own is single and with a child and going to school in an effort to support that child’s upbringing, why would any preacher promote some idea of “traditional marriage” for her as a pre-requisite to her taking up bhakti? She, or any soul in a variety of situations in conditioned life, needs to be encouraged to be situated in whatever lifestyle best supports her efforts in spiritual practice. That will be different for different people, and no “traditional” situation is objectively best. For those people who require partnership, a committed relationship (which is the essence of marriage) is being promoted, due to its favorability for the person’s spiritual practice. Marriage is the regulation of sexual relations.

          All that is being encouraged here is equal opportunity for bhakti, and a darsana of the real priority – bhakti, as opposed to religion, or tradition. Tradition may serve to assist some people in their pursuit of bhakti/spirituality, but where it falls short, and prevents aspiring spiritualists from progressing, tradition/religion must be cast aside.

          I know that may look messy sometimes in society. It may jar our social sensibilities, but tradition is constantly being challenged, reform is a constant in this world, and we must seek out the essence, enter the river, and “go with the flow” while keeping our head above water and our eyes on the prize.

  2. What I find so interesting about this article is how the word “love” in “love marriages” (heterosexual) is highlighted as being just as negatively viewed as same-sex marriages in modern Indian culture. Did you catch that? Our sensibilities naturally call us to honor love, to glorify it as good, to rejoice when people find love… But here, love marriages (eloping or marriage outside consent of the family) and same-sex marriage are equally negative! That is something to really deeply think about. In our “demoniac western culture of asuras” we have plenty of negative views towards same-sex marriage, but in general we like it when heterosexuals “fall in love.” This article highlights an even more conservative cultural viewpoint coming from mother India.

    How much do devotees want to identify with a culture (I would argue is mutated rather than “Vedic”) which views LOVE, whether between a same-sex or heterosexual couple as a threat (and sometimes the lovers threatened with death) in favor of rules, tradition, family consent, obedience and ultimately self-denial?

    These are tragic stories.

    • Dhrama sastra informs that there are three purposes to marriage: Praja (procreation), dharma (religious life), and rati (love/sex).

      • I think this is simply too important to miss. It’s particularly telling that such instruction comes from dharma shastra, which we tend to think of as conservative and promoting more rigid traditional views. So, if even dharma shastra enjoins that these three purposes are legitimate, let’s think carefully about how same-sex marriages might fit in. It shouldn’t take much imagination.

    • Still I think there is a place for emphasizing duty over love in marriage, inasmuch as what is thought to be love is often no more than infatuation that leads to frustration if allowed to be pursued full throttle.

      • Infatuation is surely not the same as love. Love requires commitment, service (giving) to the partner, and dedication. But while infatuation may not be synonymous with love, it is certainly a fertile ground upon which deep mature love can develop. A fascination, excitement, and inspiration to be with another person are great foundation on which a long term committed relationship may be founded.
        What I fear as described in the article is an overbearing, possessive and controlled form of duty, absent any seed of love, whether it be infatuation or not. The discounting of love to the point of threatening couples who celebrate their love on Valentines day is pretty extreme. And the fact that “love” whether infatuation or not, is discounted to the degree that couples commit suicide to avoid being separated speaks of a culture of great oppression. Also, I think the fact that homosexual couples pursue a relationship in such a hostile environment indicates a level of commitment which has exceeded mere infatuation.
        Even still, infatuation is a difficult fire to put out once ignited.

        I find it interesting that I can think of several examples of divine “love marriages” from our scripture. These are the gandharva weddings, where the couple garlands each other and run off into the sunset. I’m struggling to think of one scriptural anecdote of a god or human being repressed of their interest in a partner, perhaps locked up, while having their family calculate what marriage partner will best benefit their own social upliftment, etc.

        While we may draw lessons from scriptural stories about the temporary nature of “love in the material world”, loveless relationships that are unnatural, forced or based solely on duty are psychologically damaging and possibly degrading to a persons spiritual prospects.

        It would seem to me that ours (or other cultures of excess) are the cultures in which infatuation is given such free reign that it can lead to frustration. There has been research done on comparison of longevity of arranged vs. “love” marriages, but I can’t remember the outcomes, and I think culture would have everything to do with those outcomes.

        • Very interesting analysis, Madan Gopal.

          It may be that the attitudes towards love marriages in India stems from the dynamic and often unreliable definition of what love is, particularly to young people (presuming that marriages in Vedic culture tend to be among the young, as that is the prescription for life’s blueprint). Combined with the expectation that marriage is forever and that there are generally not any do-overs (again, in India, if my assumption holds), the prospects may be judged to be not worth the risk. It may also be judged that if the spark of infatuation is the source of the love in question, how can one trust that such a spark, which is cultivated, for example in Japanese cultures in the art of the Geisha, would not be equally potent for either partner at some point within the marriage, thereby threatening the integrity of the union? These are the kinds of thoughts I imagine the families in India consider, apart from steadfast adherence to tradition. I would be very interested in reading the research to which you are referring.

          For my part, I have been the hopeless romantic poet for many years of my life and I am thankful to have moved beyond and to have, dare I say, transcended romance, at least spiritually. Perhaps I have fooled myself, and yes, I do still have a monogamous, committed, female love partner. However, recently I discovered that every time I think of romance, I think of it as appealing to the juvenile within who is still engaged in an identity crisis. I view romance as appealing to ego and I find myself thinking, oddly, that Valentines Day is essentially all about ego, particularly when one examines the feelings of so many disappointed females in America. I offer these observations as nothing more than personal anecdotes. Having had the opportunity to witness genuine love among married couples (arranged) from India and having questioned the partners about how their love evolved, what I can report is that they firmly point to the importance of shared values and social status. They still had some say (in modern households), but generally the affection that developed out of the commitment to the cultural values not only of the society, but also of their families, combined with the fact that they were indeed very well suited for each other, yielded fertile ground for lasting, mature love. In fact, I would say that even those couples possessed the spark of infatuation, but they at least were able to enjoy it without the concern that it was founded in transitory sensory responses.

          If my disdain for the word romance has not already offended too many sensibilities of readers here, I hope that it may be safe to add that rather than romance, I value tenderness in a relationship. That sort of affection certainly leads to activities that might be conflated with romance, but it has a different root, as I see it, in appreciation; I contend that ego-driven ‘love’ is about validation. Romance, at least in Western societies (and perhaps in Western cultural exports), I believe, is therefore rooted in ego. Surely, that must be the source of the philosophical rejection that has manifested in the East for such holidays as Valentine’s Day.

          In an effort to derive some spiritual value from this discussion, I would like to ask: does anybody else see “Romance” as a device of attachment? I found that once romance was no longer an emblem of importance, I was able to relinquish the possessiveness that had previously plagued me in relationships, which was something that for me, personally, led to trust issues. We are told (by popular psychology at least) that mistrust is common for men and women who feel their significant others are dynamically attractive to the opposite sex. In fact, the Western media preys on the public’s confidence in commitment by flaunting high profile affairs. Even so, it seems to me that it may be possible to carry on a loving sexual relationship, for intimacy, in a monogamous partnership without compromising spiritual progress, if possessiveness and lust (not to be equated with desire) can be removed as influences. My hunch, having not yet studied the Vedanta in this regard, is that in the spiritual history of India others have reached similar conclusions.

          I apologize for any incorrect assumptions in advance. I beg for enlightenment!

          All respects to those sincerely assembled here.

          Hare Krishna!

        • We are quite on the same page Enoc…

          Re. your disillusionment with “romance”, I see that as only evidence that you, having experienced infatuation, have seen through its shallowness and have developed an appreciation for a deeper sense of love. Mature people with such experience should help guide those who are often younger, to navigate the sometimes torrential storms of infatuation. Then again, people often learn best through experience…

          Re. the nature and stability of arranged marriages, I also have similar experience as you amongst Indian friends. In fact, my own marriage was for all intents and purposes an arrangement by parents and well-wishing elders that was not born out of a random spark of infatuation. I never had a conversation with, or “dated” my wife before we were suggested as marriage partners. So I can attest to the possibility of infatuation, as well as mature love developing out of such a union. However, I have too much experience of similar unions falling apart due to emphasis solely on duty and the entire discounting of “love” as the purpose of the union.

          What is highlighted in the article and what I am concerned about is what develops in the more marginalized sectors of Indian society, as well as the growth of an ultra-conservative aspect of Indian society and democracy which smells more of remnants of other more conservative cultures influence on India.

          Yes, I think Valentines day is mostly exploited by financial opportunism and has little to do with love. But threatening young couples and attacking/protesting stores that celebrate it smacks of an authoritarian society. This is a cultural climate in which the horrors of honor killings have developed, and such atrocities are done in the name of preventing similar unions mentioned in this article – love marriages, homosexual unions or extra-marital affairs.

          So, we are talking about extremes here. I see benefits in education about “love”, tempering of “infatuation”, advocacy of “dutiful love”, etc., while also solidly emphasizing the essential need of a free society in which love can develop. Love does not develop out of force, it is not born from over-bearing families, and it is often characterized by some broken “rules” whether they are societal, familial, or even legal. Love is dynamic and opposed to law; it often fights it. So laws (rules) need to be just firm enough that they seek to foster mature love. If laws, societal norms, rules are too stringent they may backfire.

        • The difference between infatuation (falling in love) and what Erich Fromm calls “standing in love” can even be accounted for chemically. Here’s an old article I used to have my college writing students read:

  3. Hindu spaces, often seen by the Indian Left as irredeemably reactionary, have in fact often worked in tandem with these democratic institutions to support female couples. Both in India and Nepal, many female couples have married in Hindu temples.

    In a religion that can handle tantric sahajia goings on and the such, same sex unions could hardly seem more outlandish. There are aspects of Hinduism that could make western wierdness seem boring. Compare a rainbow gathering to a Kumbha Mela. Hindu conservatism is a strong current, and one we’ve been assured is the only bonafide way, (love the word bonafide), but there seems to be lots of wiggle room, thank God/ess, so more of us non-traditionalists can find a home. In fact non-traditionalists have had an honored place in that society at times, and have acted as a conscience due to their place outside the normal run of things. There is much brutality in traditional conservative Hinduism, like conservative Christianity, so it’s good a few Ghandis come along once in a while, to remind the people that the essence of religion is love.

  4. @Ritesh – Krsna also says in the Gita that among fishes He is the shark but that statement does not condemn all other types of fish! It merely points out the shark’s unique power and superiority over other types of fish in general. Similarly, there are many different types of ‘kama’ or love but among these, love performed according to religious principles is the highest and therefore represents Krsna. According to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the highest duty in regard to marriage is centering the household and relationship around God–something any couple can do whether same- or opposited-sexed. The Thakura actually minimizes the idea of getting married for the purpose of having children (See “Jaiva Dharma,” Chapter 7).

    Another point: Same-sex or homosexual desire is inborn and not merely a “tendency.” For the vast majority of homosexuals, same-sex desire is lifelong and the only love-attraction they ever experience. Thus it must be dovetailed in a positive rather than negative way. It is also not true that homosexuality is on the rise. There are just more people coming out and being honest about themselves since the stigma has been reduced in recent decades. Homosexuality has a natural base line of about 4 or 5 percent of any given human population. There is no evidence that it ever rises or falls much beyond that.

    @Madan Gopal – I also found it very interesting how Ruth Vanita compared disfavored heterosexual marriages with same-sex marriages. While I believe duty is an important factor in marriage, surely love and natural attraction must be taken into consideration also. There needs to be a balance between the two, avoiding the extremes of a loveless marriage and an overly-passionate one.

    • Similarly, there are many different types of ‘kama’ or love but among these, love performed according to religious principles is the highest and therefore represents Krsna

      There are indeed different types of relationships, but which relationships are to be encouraged?

      Same-sex or homosexual desire is inborn and not merely a “tendency.” For the vast majority of homosexuals, same-sex desire is lifelong and the only love-attraction they ever experience. Thus it must be dovetailed in a positive rather than negative way. It is also not true that homosexuality is on the rise. There are just more people coming out and being honest about themselves since the stigma has been reduced in recent decades. Homosexuality has a natural base line of about 4 or 5 percent of any given human population. There is no evidence that it ever rises or falls much beyond that.

      Has exhaustive, research been done to establish this, and how has the natural baseline being arrived at?

      • Has exhaustive, research been done to establish this, and how has the natural baseline being arrived at?

        I do not believe that the nurture vs nature argument is conclusive at this point but rather a mute point nonetheless, in that if it is a case of nurture, such nurture is so subtle and early on in life that for all intents and purposes it becomes one’s nature. That said, the

        American Medical Association
        American Psychiatric Association
        American Psychoanalytic Association
        American Psychological Association
        American Academy of Pediatrics
        National Association of Social workers

        All hold vastly different opinions on the subject from what they assumed 50 years ago. According to these institutions, homosexuality not a choice and it is not something that can be changed. Science has retired superstitions about homosexuality. Laws have changed too. It used to be illegal in many states in the USA and I believe in India as well as a result of British imposed law. Even the vast majority of conservative politicians in the USA do not consider it immoral. They merely hold back on gay marriage for reasons that will very likely not pass the test of time. Only the far right fringe religious hold fast to outdated opinions that contradict the facts. Homosexuality is not, for example, a human social convention, a crime against nature. 450 species of animals also engage in homosexual activity. Such ideas have been retired by science.

        • Maharaja, what about the implications of it for the society as a whole? Scandinavian countries have already run an experiment for all of us, and the results are shocking.Please see the link I enclosed in my previous comment for the same.Again,this point of societal implications is being ignored in the debate.

          As you say, the scientific evidence is not conclusive at this point, and please note that scientific “facts” change as new evidence appears. It might be choice, and this has not been completely discounted – and results of behavioral studies can change as the sample sizes change. There is a limitation to the scientific method – the results of the method are constrained by observation – and hence scientific studies done over a small period of time cannot be taken as “conclusive”. And moreover, has research been done to see what happens to species involving themselves in this activity?

        • I replied to the study you cited in another comment. It has been refuted. As for scientific evidence for nurture vs nature, where is the nurture? We live in a heterosexual environment and yet some children find at puberty that they are as attracted to the same sex as heterosexuals are to the opposite sex. Furthermore these children find the idea of heterosexual sex repulsive. Thus as I pointed out that although we have not found the homosexual gene and thus nurture is perhaps still plausible, such nurture occurs, if at all, so early in infancy that for all intents and purposes it becomes one’s nature.

          You ask if the science is conclusive and then point out the limitations of science when it supports the position you oppose. If you accept science as the deciding factor, then go with the prevailing science of the time and change with it if it changes. If you do not accept science as the deciding factor, you are left with the testimony of homosexuals, not sastra. For sastra is silent on the matter, and for that matter with regard to morals sastra is fluid. Sri Krsna’s position in the Mahabharata is that sastra does not speak for all times and circumstances on morals and thus reason should prevail in determining moral law.

      • Ritesh wrote,

        There are indeed different types of relationships, but which relationships are to be encouraged?

        I would suggest the relationships that should be encouraged are, as Bhaktivinoda Thakura says in Amara’s comment above, those that are centered on developing devotion to the Lord.

        Has exhaustive, research been done to establish this, and how has the natural baseline being arrived at?

        As Swami points out, the nature/nurture question hasn’t been fully resolved. Recently I came across a book that was a collection of photo essays about groups of siblings, many of whom were celebrities. One of the more interesting concerned identical twin brothers. These are men who are genetically identical and were raised in the same home. One is straight, and the other is gay. Their parents knew from elementary-school age that one of the twins was gay. This may be unusual, but I really doubt that it’s unique. Perhaps studies are being conducted of such twins as we speak. Stay tuned.

  5. I agree with Swami’s comments about putting “puppy love”, which I presume refers to love produced from “puppy mind”, in its proper context, particularly in a culture that places a firm emphasis on a prescribed blueprint for the stages of life, as well as on the importance of the integrity of the family unit. In that light, effectively equating attitudes towards same-sex marriage and love-inspired unions is informative.

    Let’s not forget that in the aristocracy of the West, even today, the patriarchs and matriarchs have great influence in so-called love matches. This evidence also points to a perhaps undocumented purpose for marriage among the world’s elite, namely bloodline preservation, complete with its implied ethos of wealth preservation and aggrandizement.

  6. Gay people are a very small portion of the population so I really don’t understand the fear (homophobia) that somehow they might endanger traditional heterosexual marriage or the human race as a whole. Sterile and homosexual couples can and do establish families through adoption, surrogate parenting, etc., so why not encourage them to reach their full potential in life?

    The slowing down of marriage and child-bearing in Scandanavian countries is likely due to a combination of many different modern factors but certainly not homosexuality! Indeed, marriage and divorce rates in U.S. states like Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, are significantly better than they are in southern states, where it is not.

    In regard to nuture vs. nature, decades of clinical analysis by psychologists/psychiatrists treating hundreds of thousands of homosexual patients has shown no correlation between homosexuality and upbringing, home environment, parental influence or childhood trauma. Indeed, the vast majority of homosexuals have heterosexual siblings raised in the exact same environment.

    Below are a few of my favorite verses regarding same-sex marriage in ancient India, and God-centered vs. procreative marriage:

    “One should not enter marriage with a desire to beget children, or to worship the forefathers and Prajapatis. It is favorable to bhakti to think, ‘I am only accepting this (maid)servant of Krsna so that we can assist each other in Krsna’s service and establish Krsna-centered family life together.’ Whatever one’s materially attached relatives or family priest may say, ultimately one reaps the fruit of one’s own determination.”
    (“Jaiva Dharma” by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, p. 164)

    It is important to note from the above verse that Vaishnava dharma places more emphasis on God-centeredness in marriage than the more ordinary concern of bearing progeny.

    In Vedic texts describing the art of kama or love-making, we find that homosexual relations are also acknowledged:

    “There are also third-sex [homosexual] citizens, sometimes greatly attached to each other and with complete faith in one another, who get married together.”
    (“Kama Sutra” 2.9.36)

    In his twelfth-century commentary on this verse, the learned brahmana Yashodara writes, “Citizens with this kind of [homosexual] inclination, who renounce women and can do without them willingly because they love each other, get married together, bound by a deep and trusting friendship.”

    As Ruth Vanita’s article mentions, only modern homophobia has clouded over this more traditional and humane approach toward homosexual minorities.

  7. Maharaja, what about the implications of it for the society as a whole?

    As Amara pointed out, why is there such a fear of what homosexual unions will do to society? If a same-sex couple provides a loving, stable environment for raising children what is the harm? That’s more than can be said for many heterosexual couples.

    Ritesh, you are clearly concerned with what message homosexual unions, if encouraged, will send to the greater society. How about this: that the society is wise enough and compassionate enough to make room for people of different flavors and not demonize or marginalize them? That the right to seek happiness will be honored regardless of one’s sexual orientation?

    It seems to me that if one embraces a rigid interpretation of sastra then that leaves homosexuals who want to have relationships with two choices: 1. to remain celibate while being emotionally or psychologically unsuited for it, or 2. marry someone of the opposite sex. In both cases there will be intense emotional and psychological suffering involved. Is that better than a happily married same-sex couple? I tend to think not.

    • Citta Hari’s points, while already raised by others, nonetheless very concisely frame the issue in a manner that makes the spiritual answer crystal clear. And sastra, being dynamic as it is, can easily be understood to support the obvious compassionate conclusion.

      But how hard it is to change! Posts like this one make it clear that those insisting that homosexuals need to change their ways need to take their own medicine and change their hearts. It is amazing how sometimes something we think is a great impediment to spiritual life, when properly understood, helps us to realize that such thinking itself is a great impediment. One needs to be flexible to tread the spiritual path.

    • I strongly agree with Citta Hari’s points above. And do we have any evidence, “scientific” or anecdotal, that such situations are generally favorable to the culture of love for Krishna? I doubt that, as well.

      Years ago I had my students in my first-semester writing courses, which focused on effective argumentation, read a letter sent out by Ed Madden to his Christian friends. Madden is an English professor in South Carolina, and he tells his own story quite well in his letter, which was written in 1999, in the wake of the controversy caused by the coming out of Ellen DeGeneris and her sitcom character.

      I think the issues he addresses in his letter are at least roughly analogous with the issues raised with regard to conservative Hindu and Hare Krishna devotees’ objections to accepting same-sex couples in our communities. And I think that Swami’s assertions above that, after all, marriage and other forms of commitment are aimed at regulating sexual activity should cause us to question the bigotry-based responses we hear too often. Because it’s a little long, I’ll post it separately.

    • An open letter to my Christian friends, and to my Harding University brothers and sisters, after reading many email messages and forwardings about “Ellen.”
      I, like many Christian men and women, grew up in a loving and warm Christian home, attended an active and devoted rural church, went to a spiritually enriching Christian college, and spent a great deal of my life devoted to the work of Christ. As a high school student I won the state Bible bowl competitions several years in a row and played an active leadership role in my church. As a college student I went on mission trips to Europe, and actively pursued study of the Bible. As a graduate student I took time to attend (and graduate from) a Christian seminary and I worked with the educational programs of my church.

      Like many young men and women, though, I also grew up knowing that I was different, realizing later that that difference was and is homosexual orientation. And I spent a great part of my life learning how to lie, how to deceive, and how to hate myself. Sexual issues were rarely discussed in my church and family, except in cases of condemnation, and homosexuality was even more rarely discussed except as something absolutely abhorrent, unspeakable, and disgusting. When you’re a little kid, and when you are beginning to sense that the difference you feel from your culture is something so hated, you learn your lessons well. Often you spend your time working for God’s favor and praying for change. Sometimes you spend your time cultivating the favor of your parents, knowing that there is something about you that they might (and often do) reject. Sometimes you cultivate asexuality, and avoid love or devotion altogether. Sometimes you date women to keep up appearances. Always you learn to be silent. Always you learn to lie, when necessary. Always you learn how to hate yourself.

      After I left Harding University, a good Christian school that was essential to my spiritual development, I decided to be honest, both with myself and others. I have known I was gay at least since I was eight years old, if not before. I spent most of my life learning to hide my feelings, or worse, learning to fake feelings I didn’t have. I tried to become engaged, in an act of desperation. I felt almost relieved when my girlfriend (wisely) broke up with me—she seemed my last hope, my last bargaining chip with God.

      I spent a great deal of time in reading and prayer, trying to understand. I do not fit the usual right-wing or pathological explanations of homosexuality. I was never abused as a child. I did not have a smothering mother, nor did I have an especially distant father. Nor did I *choose* to be gay. My orientation is a pre-conscious condition, not a willful choice or a perverse preference. I realized that being gay is not a choice; being honest is. I prayed and prayed for God to change me. He did; he changed my mind.

      I left the Church of Christ for the Methodist Church a church at least willing to discuss the issue and have compassion and understanding for gay and lesbian Christians. I may have been wrong about the Church of Christ, and your particular church may be different, but my only sense of things was that it was a church that refused to deal with the issue, a group that felt a compulsion to silence those who wished to address it, and a community that demonized those who, by no choice of their own, found themselves to be lesbian or gay. You were rejected, that is, unless you were dying of AIDS, and then you were welcomed back into the church as a prodigal son. Dying as a precondition for acceptance.

      It was also a church in which homosexuality was treated simply as a behavior, not as a condition, much less an identity. The experience of most gays and lesbians is that being gay is not something we do. It’s who we are, regardless of what we do. The failure of our community to recognize that distinction (it’s not what you do, it’s who you are) only complicates our attempts to deal with the issue as gay or lesbian Christians. Furthermore, homosexuality is more often than not treated as the worst sin, and unforgivable sin, something unspeakable. It is demonized, pathologized, and silenced. And those of us who grow up knowing we are gay or lesbian, but also knowing we are Christian, find ourselves in an impossible position. We are both part of the community, and we are its object of hatred.

      For example, when I once worked with preteen boys on a biblical drama, a “parable project” in which we acted out parables from the gospels, those little boys made it clear to me that early on we learn in Christian families that homosexuals are people to be hated. We were modernizing the parables for them to act out (the kids wrote the scripts, planned the costumes, worked on props, and talked about the important Christian lessons being taught). We were working on the parable of the good Samaritan. My female co-teacher and I talked about the Jewish contempt for the Samaritans, and suggested that they7 come up with a modern equivalent. Since the church was a progressive urban church, the boys did not choose the obvious parallels of racism or even religious hatred. Without any prompting, they suggested two groups that people (including their parents, they said) hate or despise: homeless people and gay men. Although they chose to act out the parable using a homeless man as a good Samaritan, which was probably the wisest choice given the context, I learned the lesson that they had learned all too well: it is okay for Christians to despise and hate homosexuals. Wisdom from the mouths of children.

      (Read Bette Greene’s adolescent novel _The Drowning of Stephan Jones_, based on a true story, about teenage boys killing a gay man, and justifying that murder with the hatred they learned in their Christian families.)

      When I decided to be honest with my family, I further learned how Christian and family values are acted out when you happen to be gay. What are those family values? That honesty has a cost. That family love is conditional. That brother may reject brother. That the use of scripture is selectively enforced. (Although Jesus has a lot to say about greed, homosexuality is the condition that requires that you reject your own loved ones.) That dishonesty is a value. (I was told to that I should spend my life lying, that I should “lie to [my] grave.”) that homosexual is the worst possible thing one can be. (If only, as one family member said, I could be addicted to drugs or had murdered someone, they could deal with that.)

      My students tell me horror stories. One kid’s father asked him to leave his house when he found out that his son was gay. While this student was hurriedly packing up some things and preparing to leave, he decided to run to the hallway and grab a family photo. All the photos with him in them were gone, and his father was in the backyard destroying them. The last words he ever heard from his brother, a respected Southern Baptist minister, were: “I hope you get AIDS and die like all the other faggots.” Another kid I know had his father write to him: “Tell me if you’re ever coming home, so I can leave town.” Another man I know opened his mail in January to find that his father had returned to him all the Christmas gifts he had sent him, all of them unopened.

      The ultimate value most gay kids learn in the church is dishonesty. We learn that being dishonest, lying, is a good Christian practice. How many closeted gay men have I known who have stayed in the church, only on the condition of their own dishonesty? If they are honest, they will be rejected, stigmatized, effectively driven away if they remain closeted, they can stay in the church. They may secretly “fall” with a frequency that would appall most of their companions, they may indulge in bad sexual behavior. Or they may remain celibate and silent and perpetuate the stigma and the lie that we are not part of the Christian community. Or they may even marry to keep up appearances. They are good citizens of the church, good brethren, and good liars. Those of us who try to live with honesty and integrity, who wish to be honest about who we are, are often rejected by our families, despised and rejected by our communities, and sometimes silenced by our churches.

      I realize some gay men and lesbians may try to change, or deny and repress the deep fact of their orientation. I respect them for their decisions. But what if they were allowed to be honest?

      It is no wonder that 1/3 of teenage suicides can be tied to issues of sexual identity. Many of us know we are gay, and we imagine ourselves therefore fully deserving of hatred and rejection, even though we may have never had sex or fallen in love. We hear of the “lifestyle” we lead that deserves condemnation, even though we may never wear leather, dress in drag, or pursue anonymous or promiscuous sex. And, as the outrage about “Ellen” demonstrates, our friends and companions make it clear that discussion about or even awareness of homosexuality is something to be silenced. It is a chilling monologue, not a conversation that results: “Hate yourself!” “Shut up!” Or, more often than not, “Leave.”

      Regardless of what you think about homosexuality, please remember that you know homosexuals and lesbians, whether you are aware of them or not. Remember that most of us experience our sexual orientation as an essential part of who we are, an identity, not an isolated act or a behavioral choice. Remember that some of us found ourselves rejected by our families and our churches, and many of us have not experienced compassion or understanding from the Christian communities in which we grew up. Remember that most of us were, in fact, forced to find other communities in order to be honest people.

      Remember that there are lots of frightened gay teenagers, who are studiously learning how to hate themselves and how to lie, who have all their self-hatred and fear affirmed every time they hear messages of demonization rather than messages of compassion. Remember that lots of other teenage kids have grown up in a Christian community that taught them that it is perfectly acceptable to despise and hate gays and lesbians, even if they’re in your own family, and it is perfectly within the bounds of Christian love to reject your own brother or sister if they happen to be gay or lesbian.

      We are your invisible sons and daughters, your invisible brothers and sisters. Please at least think about that.

      In Christian love,

      • This is an amazing letter that reminds me of my own experiences and observations growing up in an evangelical Christian household as a straight young man. I found myself seeking be an authentic person as I matured outside of that environment, which I rejected out of hand. I witnessed so much phoniness. Thank you so much for posting this letter. Hare Krishna, Bahbru.

  8. We have the spiritual realm and the material realm. The material realm is a perverted reflection of the spiritual realm, an asylum for the spiritually insane, whose basic disease is self-centeredness as opposed to a God-centered, ishavasya-orientation.

    Sri Krishna, in Bhagavad-gita advises us that one with spiritual vision sees no difference between a brahmana, a dog, or a dog-eater. That is because these designations do not refer to the real person, the spirit soul who resides in these temporal material forms. It is logical to extrapolate that such vision will also include those among us who have homosexual propensities.

    We have to understand that when we are considering the relative appropriateness of beings who are inmates of the material creation, the position of the heterosexually married aristocrat is no better than that of a worm in stool, if he is not engaged in the cultivation of Krishna Consciousness, love of God.

    The goal of life is not to live up to anyone’s conception of what comprises an upright member of mundane social structure. Lord Krishna Himself advised Arjuna (and all of us) to discard all of our dharmic concerns and simply give our hearts to Him.

    Srila Rupa Goswami Prabhupada has instructed us to accept whatever helps us in our cultivation of bhakti and to reject that which will hinder that developement. Ultimately, to think of oneself as heterosexual or homosexual, from the material standpoint, are equally abhorent perspectives to one who directly percieves that we are not these material bodies. The homosexual and the heterosexual both have the same disease – false identification with the material body and mind as the self.

    At the same time, no one can falsely jump to such an elevated platform. Therefore, making the the best use of our predicament, is to associate with love and trust with others who are equally or more determined to make developement of love for Krishna the goal of our lives. This can be done from any sexual orientation, with the understanding that as we grow spiritually, none of these material considerations will have any place in our lives what-so-ever.

    Our mundane sexuality, regardless of which camp we are in, is all simply part of the same disease. Wanting to change our sexual orientation, or that of others, is like wanting to change our racial characteristics. We have to remember that the real challenge is to cultivate mature love of God, and to understand that this is best done from our present position. Krishna said this to Arjuna.

    Hare Krishna! Ishan das

  9. A few more thoughts.

    It may be helpful for Christians to recall that Jesus taught that the foremost rule is that we love God with all of our hearts. He also said that good people engaged in “good works” would not have sufficient credentials to achieve access to the spiritual kingdom.

    In the Vedic scriptures (the so-called Hindu orientation) we find the same paradigm. By observing all the tenets of dharma one can take birth on higher planets and enjoy there for some time. But when one’s pious credits are used up one has to return to places like our planet earth. As Jesus taught, the only way to achieve eternal life is through the mature cultivation of heartfelt love for the Supreme Lord.

    So dharmic considerations incur karmic reactions which chain us to the cycle of birth and death. The only loophole out of samsara (birth-death cycle) is by developing our love for God, at which point Krishna removes our karmic bondage, or endless “sewing and reaping.”

    In Bhagavad-gita Krishna takes the argument a step further in chapter 9, verses 30-31. There Krishna says that even if a person is engaged in very bad behavior, if he is engaged in worshiping Krishna with devotion, he is to be thought of as saintly. Further, Krishna promises, that such a person will become righteous and attain lasting peace, always protected by Krishna.

    But “Love of God” is not merely an official phrase. Love of God is the natural condition of the awakened soul. The symptoms of Love of God are given in the Bhagavatam as “vidya” and “vairagya”. By direct perception one understands that he or she is not this material body or material mind. This is vidya, knowledge. And as a result one experiences renunciation or detachment from all manner of mundane aspirations and desires. Such detachment is vairagya. This knowledge and detachment are not artificially self-imposed, but are the natural by-products of mature Love of God.

    So whether we are Christians or followers of the Vedic tradition, the scriptural teachings are the same. Being a good person has its rewards but will not give us eternal life. Eternal life is only achieved by those few who actually develop spontaneous feelings of love for the Supreme Being, whether we call Him Allah, Krishna or Jehovah.

    And although various moral and social standards can be helpful in bringing about a change of heart, in the ultimate issue no material qualification is imperative in order for us to incline our hearts towards God. In the New Testament, the man crucified beside Jesus was promised association with Jesus in the spiritual realm, in spite of the sinful life he had led, simply because he opened his heart to Jesus. And in the Vedic literatures, Bali Maharaj, (whose life-long effort was the opposition of the demigods, the devas, the very symbols of dharma ), surrendered himself in all respects to the Lord Who appeared before him in the form of Vamanadev, and was recognized by God as a great devoted soul.

    If Love of God, then, is our only ticket to eternal life, and material standards of dharma or morality will never qualify us, then our concern over issues like sexual orientation are simply irrelevant. As Tripurari Maharaja has tactfully pointed out, the appropriate change in heart is to be charitably disposed towards those who have different mundane orientations, and to open our hearts to the Supreme Lord.

    Regardless of our sexual orientation, we are all in the same boat, materially attached in so many ways, and for the most part completely forgetful of our relationship with God. To be an official member of one church or another will not benefit us. Our best path will simply be to wish everyone well while we earnestly go about our personal cultivation of a loving sense of communion with God, moment to moment.

    As Jesus instructed in The Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the identical instruction that we receive from the Vedic scriptures: By glorifying the Supreme Lord by chanting His Holy Name, individually and congregationally, God’s purpose will become manifest in our hearts, thereby bringing about heaven on earth. This repetition of the holy Names of God will gradually bring about feelings of love for our eternal Lord.

    Ultimately achieving that level of divine beautification of the heart, preoccupation with concerns over mundane sexual orientation will be least pressing upon us.

    Hare Krishna! Ishan das

  10. To Ishan prabhuji: Well said, thank you.

    It boils down to understanding, at some level, that we are not these bodies, that anything body-related (male-female, black-white, blue or brown eyes, homosexual-heterosexual, etc,. etc., etc.) is not us , so we can move unimpeded in the direction of self-realization and beyond with the help of Guru, Krsna, and the saintly devotees past and present.

    It is of the utmost importance that we create a nurturing and conducive environment where any efforts made toward self-realization are appreciated and supported. To create such an environment where devotees can thrive is a great responsibility. We must become fully aware of the need to provide that for others.

    • It is of the utmost importance that we create a nurturing and conducive environment where any efforts made toward self-realization are appreciated and supported

      I agree with you on this.However, these marriages are not happening in context of spiritual advancement, these are more to do with assertion of one’s rights. Can a spiritual environment be build in an atmosphere where rights triumph everything else?

      • However, these marriages are not happening in context of spiritual advancement,

        Surely they do in instances where the homosexual parties are interested in spiritual progress to the same extent that heterosexual couples are.

      • It is curious to consider that basic human rights are often born from a spiritual worldview. Oppressed people seek equal status with the privileged on the basis that what is often a material designation (here heterosexuality) should not award anyone more or less access to something considered beneficial (here spiritual practice). It would seem that all people acknowledge some aspect of spiritual equality in the human experience.

        In religion, spirituality, and many material pursuits it is very hard to argue that there should not be equal access to all participants, considering that spiritually we are all equal, while materially we may be full of variety.

        Once the spiritual path is embarked upon, protest for rights is contrary, because the path is one of grace and mercy. We will not protest our treatment by the Lord, or seek to advance ourselves by material measure.

        Confusion as to the laws of men and the love of God are unfortunately mistaken to be the same at times.

  11. It occurs to me, that some of the toughest, most ridgid, most judgemental persons are likely some of the most emotionally scarred persons, who, being out of touch with the pain they feel as recipients of the cruelty of others, then proceed to project their deeply stored self-hatred onto others, with an uncompromising intensity.

    From one generation to the next. How to break this momentum which enables us to heap every manner of inhospitality upon each other?

    But again, it is the suffering that we experience that is the major force that gradually brings us to see spiritual persuit as the answer to our predicament. And therefore ultimately, Krishna is the architect of all these anomalies. This is not to say that we should therefore perpetrate them on each other with enthusiasm, but that we should cultivate compassion for those who dole it out, those who receive it, and for ourselves (if we can get in touch with our own pain), so that we are less inclined to to be hurtful to others, by our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Hare Krishna!

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