Published on July 6th, 2015 | by Harmonist staff4
Gay Marriage in the Bhagavad Gita, Part 1
By Hari-kirtana das, see also Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
A few years ago I was a guest speaker at Joshua Greene’s Bhagavad Gita course at the Jivamukti Yoga School in New York. During our discussion Joshua asked me if I thought that gay marriage was supported in the Bhagavad Gita. I gave the question a moment of silent consideration and then, to the relief of my left-leaning, breath-holding audience, I answered ‘yes, it is’.
How is this so? According to the Gita, everyone has two natures: a temporary material nature and an eternal spiritual nature. To put it another way, we are eternal spiritual beings who have acquired temporary material identities. The practice of yoga builds a bridge from our temporary identity to our eternal identity. In order to cross that bridge we need to be peacefully situated. If we’re agitated by conflicts due to repression or oppression of our temporary nature then it will be difficult to be peaceful—to say nothing of happy—and we won’t be able to focus on the development of our spiritual life, on crossing the bridge to our eternal nature.
We can cross-reference several verses in the Gita that support this proposition, starting with chapter 3, verse 33: “Even a wise person acts according to their own tendency, for everyone follows the proclivity they have acquired due to contact with the three qualities of material nature (goodness, passion, and ignorance). What will repression accomplish?”
The Sanskrit word jnana-van in this verse means “one who has acquired knowledge”. ‘Knowledge’ in the context of the Bhagavad Gita refers to the ability to distinguish between the spiritual self and the material body, the latter of which includes the mind and all of the psychology and behavioral tendencies associated with or initiating from the mind. So here Krishna is describing a person who is simultaneously acquainted with transcendental knowledge and yet is still affected by behavioral conditioning that arises due to contact with prakrti—material nature.
If our realization of our spiritual identity is incomplete, then we’ll find ourselves straddling the gap between our material and spiritual identities. Since this can be a precarious position, we need a firm foundation underfoot to stabilize us as we attempt to cross this gap. The Gita encourages us to find that stability by acting in harmony with our material identity while we work on the practical application of transcendental knowledge that can awaken us to a complete experience of our eternal, spiritual identity. In essence, we cross the bridge to transcendence while we build it with a steady yoga practice grounded in a spiritual understanding and compassionate acceptance of our current material identity. Throughout the Gita, Krishna encourages Arjuna to act according to his nature, both spiritually and materially. Since the Gita’s teachings are universal the same must apply for any eternal spiritual being who has acquired, for the time being, a gay material identity.
By Hari-kirtana das, see also Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Dandvats Pranaam Hari-Kirtana Prabhuji,
This is a great article because I feel raising such issues is a very important part of addressing the needs of all sections of society as opposed to avoiding a discussion. As an individual, I am tolerant and disposed to accepting the rights of gay people to a large extent and accept it is like any other mental vikaar (change) that humanity is afflicted from.
However, I feel it is a step too far to assume that the Bhagavad Gita advocates institutionalizing a gay relationship into a marriage as such a ritual has no yagya(sacrifice) contained in it and therefore it is tamasic in nature.
Conversely, I think it is correct to state that the Gita does not support condemnation or persecution of minority groups, instead it offers a way, as you have stated, to move beyond such qualities in nature.
Sometimes our liberal minds can capitulate to conveying our thoughts in ways which are “widely acceptable” but it is important to stay true to the spirit of the scriptures as they are providing progressive means of thought for every epoch and all circumstances.
Your aspiring servant,
Dear Damodar Prabhu:
Pranams and thank you for your thoughtful comment. Technically, I think you are correct insofar as there is no sacrifice associated with a gay union. As such, it is understandable why devotees would not see any justification for a claim the the Gita directly supports gay marriage. In Part 2 of this essay (just now coming) I will offer an argument that points to indirect support for institutionalization by elaborating on where people classified as ‘third gender’ fall in the social order according to dharma sastra, which Krishna upholds throughout the Gita. I will also offer some thoughts on the semantics of ‘marriage’ in relationship to how the rights and protections gay couples would receive in an ideal Vedic culture are translated into modern culture. I hope you will do me the favor of offering further comments if the forthcoming post inspires you to do so.
Of course, gay marriage wont be mentioned or supported in the Gita, because most probably same-sex intercourse was illegal and punishable by death in those times. However, times have changed, so customs and mindsets and cultural acceptance has evolved and reached where we are now, which is not to discriminate between 2 (or more) consenting adults on the basis of their sexual preference. We have found out, thay hey, the sky does not fall on our heads when we do so, and that God is not “angry” or that God doesnt “hate fags”. I think, its important to realise that todays social norms, what is considered “normal” is obviously not the same as an previous times. I mean, till 1919 women weren’t even allowed to vote!
Now, what is the reason to expect that a commentary on societal evolutions is going to be written down in the Gita before they have happened?
The message of the Gita is one of timelessness, a message that never goes out of style, a message of Nishkama Ananya Bhakti that is fresh every moment for truth seekers everywhere, and also universally applicable regardless of caste or creed or sexual preference.
Its not about anything else, because everything else is material considerations.
No one goes to war these days on horses and with bows and arrows, (unless its a re-enactment of the civil war for example) and no current military discipline teaches the warriors/soldiers how to have various siddhi’s and special Astra’s and Shastra’s to conquer ones enemies on the battlefield.
Therefore its upto us, to recognize the purpose of the Gita’s instructions, and concentrate on that.
The Gita, is not some encyclopedia Britannica or some modern version of Google, that any question you ask will be found written down ans answered in black and white.
The insights that one gains from imbibing and studying and honoring the Gita and Sri Guru within ones’s heart, that insight alone can give answers to these modern questions and reconcile the past with the “now”.
I agree that studying and honoring the Gita under the guidance of a qualified teacher will provide us with the insights that allow us to reconcile timeless wisdom with modern time and circumstance. However, your speculation is mistaken: same sex relationships were neither illegal nor punishable at all at the time the Gita was spoken; such relationships are fully accounted for in the Dharma Sastras that Krishna upholds throughout the Gita, as the next installment in this series will reveal.
I think it is entirely reasonable for one to look for insights into societal evolutions and de-evolutions in the pages of the Gita. After all, it was spoken by someone who is omniscient.
Thank you for your comments and well-intentioned advice.