Homosexuality: the Vedic perspective
Dr Vidhu Mayor
For homosexuality to be critically repudiated from the Vedic perspective it needs to be emphasised as a starting point that Vedic knowledge is of Divine authorship. In other words, the Vedas are revealed to rishis (sages) in the beginning of each cycle of creation for the guidance and benefit of mankind; as such this wisdom is eternal. Texts such us the Yajur Veda and Shatapatha Braahamana state that the Rig veda, Saama veda, Yajur veda and Atharva veda originated from God at the beginning of the creation. That great historical text, the Manu Smriti further names the four rishis (sages) to who each of the four Vedas were revealed respectively; since then this revelation has been preserved in its original pure form and passed on to us via successive human generations.
So, why has God given us the Vedic ‘dharma’? The first humans created would have needed to learn the essentials of everyday life without which their survival would have been impossible. Although, like all other creatures man has been equipped with ‘instinct’, this instinctive knowledge is limited to the basic impulse of preservation of our genes (with its three components of self-defence, self-procreation and self-perpetuation). Without additional enlightenment, man would not have been able to traverse the road to civilisation. Interestingly, it must be noted that the second and third elements of survival (firstly having children and then fiercely protecting them so that they also go on to procreate in order to perpetuate our genes) are predicated entirely on mating with someone of the opposite sex. This must be the key explanation as to why homosexual behaviour is completely absent – other than in humans – from the animal kingdom.
In this context, the concept of dharma needs further explanation. The greatest Indian rishi of recent millennia, Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824-1883) defined dharma as truthfulness in thought, word and action leading humans to practise justice. [That he is worthy of such an immense accolade is, briefly, justified by the unprecedented quality – and humility – of his interpretation and translation of the Vedas; he also had the intellectual capacity to study the works of the great etymologist, Yaska and the renowned grammarians Paanini and Patanjli to do so]. According to Dayanand dharma, ‘in a word is the practice of equitable justice and truthfulness in word, deed and thought – virtues which are in conformity with the will of God as embodied in the Vedas’. If for nothing else, humanity needs these universal dharmic truths to be comprehensible to our children and thus we must be able to differentiate right from wrong in a form that is simple enough for all to see (irrespective of age or level of basic education). In this light, the numerous modern-day ethical dilemnas (such as euthanasia, genetic modification by science to produce new foods and therapies, assisted suicide, abortion and homosexuality etc.) all need to be judged in the court of dharma. That is, they are either right or wrong (but cannot be partly both) when adjudicated by the ‘law’ of God’s word as contained in the Vedas.
It is a fact that we teach our children that certain behaviours such as throwing litter, using bad language or telling lies are unacceptable because they are – quite simply – wrong. For aeons, humankind has evolved legal systems that are founded on differentiating right from wrong; otherwise anarchy would prevail. A variant of such ‘judgmentalism’ is the concept of deviancy to describe acts such as paedophilia, transvestitism, child marriage and polygamy. Why then the nervousness, if not hypocrisy, over judging sexually deviant behaviour as being wrong? The truth is that if we are selective in our application of dharma, humanity causes itself immense trouble. For example, is there any wonder why human societies all over the world are being ravaged by adversities such as divorce and the breakdown of the family when we in the west encourage promiscuity and the premature sexualisation of children (not to mention the most recent sexually transmitted disease ‘plague’ of AIDS)?
Let us now further consider dharma as elucidated by Patanjli, one of the great maharishis of pre-historic India. In writing one of the six classics of Indian philosophy, Yoga sutra (the science of meditational yoga) Patanjali described 5 yamas (our duties to society) and 5 niyamas (one’s duties to oneself). By doing so, he effectively simplified dharma into ten ‘Vedic commandments’. Relevant to homosexuality are the three yamas of brahmcharya, ahimsa and satya as well the niyamas of shaucha, santosha and tapah.
Brahmcharya comprises the two key injunctions of celibacy and education that the Vedic Dharma imposes on human beings from birth till marriage. In simple terms, from the viewpoint of sexuality before marriage, a male should view a female as if she is his mother, sister or daughter, and vice versa. After marriage, the constraint is that sexual intercourse must be for the function of procreation, not hedonistic. Dayanand cited Mantras III,55.16 and I,178.1 of Rig veda to elaborate on this in greater detail. By implication, therefore, the Vedic dharma permits neither homosexual nor heterosexual behaviour purely for the means of seeking the gratification of pleasure (because it is not procreative). Incidentally, the Vedic Sandhyaa contains the lines Om nabhi and later Om janah punaatu nabhyam (God….creator….purify….fertility). Therefore, our daily prayer reminds us (twice a day) that our reproductive organs (nabhiyam) are there to create healthy offspring.
Ahimsa (not to hurt others whether by thoughts, words or deeds) actually takes pride of place as the first yama listed by Patanjli. It helps us to critically evaluate homophobia, a word that merits closer scrutiny. If understood to denote the hatred of and the persecution of homosexuals, then the Vedic ethic of non-violence in word (angry incitement of hatred) and aversion to physical violence incontrovertibly condemns and rejects all types of persecution or discrimination against any minority. It is also worth returning to Sandhyaa – which comprises mantras that are Vedic jewels of such quality that they are intended for humans to contemplate twice a day – to note the line yo asmaan dveshti yam vayam dwishmastam vo jambhe dadhma. This plea to God, to administer justice to those who offend us or those who we offend us – so that we strive to refrain from the self-damaging emotion of hatred, is actually repeated six times in the daily prayer.
However, the word phobia means fear (and not hatred). Thus, the word homophobia is – in the main – currently being mis-used to conflate reasoned criticism of homosexual behaviour with hatred. A critique of its immorality is signally not the ‘homophobic’ incitement to hating or villifying its exponents. However, misusers of the label ‘homophobia’ have, by their vehement opposition to such criticisms, more or less succeeded in thwarting the public airing of such misgivings.
This neatly leads us to now discuss satya (truthfulness – in thought, words and deeds, and indeed a natural proclivity for seeking out true knowledge). We all know how complex it can be to ascertain what is true or not. In theory, it most certainly is not difficult to voice the truth. However, these days political correctness militates against the type of totally frank and honest candour that follows in this paragraph; be warned that it is not reading for the faint-hearted! The satya about the word homosexuality is that it is
actually – in the main – a euphemism for the act of anal sexual intercourse. In days gone by, words such as sodomy and buggery were used to describe this utterly perverted act, irrespective of whether it is homosexual or heterosexual. In fact, the act of male orgasm taking place in the rectum (an organ nature has designed for the storage of faeces) has been ‘sanitised’ by the use of soft words such as ‘gay’, ‘queer’, ‘pink’ or ‘homosexual’ as a code to describe people who indulge in this particular activity. Such sophistry has been necessary to even allow it to be promoted to young schoolchildren that it is as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, and to silence criticism of it being carnal behaviour that from a moral viewpoint is the epitomy of depravity.
That homosexuality breaches the Yogic niyama of shaucha (hygeine – that humans have a duty to keep clean the interior and exterior of their body, as well as cleanliness of the mind and the environment) is self-evident. Proof of its dangers from a health viewpoint is that it is a scientifically accepted fact that in North America, Western Europe and Australia the highest incidence of AIDS occurs in homosexual and bisexual men.
How should we deal with the defence that homosexuality is, allegedly, an inborn urge that cannot be ‘cured’? The response from a Vedic point of view, simply, is that gays must discipline themselves to acquire the yama of celibacy and the niyama of santosha (contentment: to serenely accept one’s financial, psychological and social condition and diligently working to ameliorate it). Is this type of self-control not exactly what we expect from heterosexuals pre-maritally, as well as after marriage in asking that they do not fall prey to the temptation of adultery, and for that matter all other sins? Also necessary to avoid succumbing to base temptation is the yama of tapa (having the strength of character, courage and perseverance for our actions to conform with the dictates of dharma).
The final piece of Vedic thought offered, constructively, is that of the Law of Karma. This holds that the motive for a soul to be virtuous is that sinning is – always and without exception – accorded a proportionate punishment by God that manifests as suffering. The means of salvation of the soul from such pain are the unfailing performance of righteous deeds, the worship of god through the practice of meditational yoga and the acquisition of true knowledge; in short embracing the Vedic dharma as a way of life. Otherwise, souls will not receive the bliss and freedom of emancipation and are instead condemned to the bondage of earthly suffering.
It is appropriate to end, as we started, by quoting the words of Maharishi Dayanand from his classic book ‘Satyarth Prakash – Light of Truth’: ‘The four Vedas…. are the Word of God….They are absolutely free of error, and are an authority in themselves.’ He further likens them to the sun – God being the definitive source of all true knowledge, as the sun is the primary source of light. In conclusion, the greatest indictment of homosexuality must be the fact that this scripture, that contains the richness of over 20,000 mantras, not once mentions the act of homosexuality (or for that matter divorce), – not even proscriptively.