What can a Jataka tale about a dullard novice whose brother attempts to expel him from the Buddha’s Sangha teach us about our own potential as gay practitioners? Quite a bit, it seems, as long as we persevere even when facing what seems to be the darkest of times and we allow ourselves to be guided by the calling that comes from within our own hearts rather than the admonitions and even shouts from the world around us.
The Buddha taught that how we live our present life will determine the condition and circumstances of our rebirth. The simplistic way of looking at this leads us to conclude that living a good, moral life will not only bring us happiness now, but also greater happiness in our next life. But kamma isn’t so simple, not so linear. And it’s easy for us as gay people to fall into a line of thinking that the fact we are born gay is a negative consequence for something we may have done in a previous life – that is if you accept the notion of rebirth. Not all Buddhists do.
In some instances within the Tipitika, the Buddha explicitly states that living a good life now will lead to a good or better next life, but these situations usually involve the laity and times when the Buddha crafted his teaching according to his audience. When one considers the entirety of the Tipitika, however, one sees that what the Buddha was more likely attempting to convey was that living a good moral life would bring one closer to Nibbana, to total release, with each successive rebirth, regardless of the specific circumstances one was born into each time.
Humans in general have many hang-ups regarding sex, so it stands to reason that many Buddhist teachers – even very well-respected teachers – have hang-ups not just about sex in general, but about homosexuals in particular. Many of these teachers suggest that being homosexual is a consequence of our previous lives, the results of kamma. I agree with this, but not the same way as these teachers suggest. This is because I don’t subscribe to a linear notion of kamma and rebirth, that not every successive existence is necessarily better than the last even when the prior existence was an exemplary life. And I offer the Cullaka-Setthi-Jātaka to explain this.
In this Jātaka tale, we have two brothers, Wayman and Little Wayman, who come from humble beginnings. The elder Wayman joins the Buddha’s Sangha and, finding the monastic life to be fulfilling, entices his younger brother to become a monk as well. But Little Wayman proves to be a dullard, unable to learn the teachings and fails to remember even the simplest of gathas. So Wayman takes it upon himself to expel his brother from the Sangha.
Being omniscient, the Buddha becomes aware of this and intercedes. There are some really wonderful passages in this story, but I don’t want to bog things down, so I will skip over many of the details. But the Buddha gives Little Wayman a clean cloth for the novice to wipe his face and head. When Little Wayman does this, he sees how the cloth becomes soiled and eventually comes to realize that it represents how he is removing the soil of his delusions and expelling them from his mind. This young novice was ready for this teaching and became an arahant. The Buddha explains to the others how this happened by revealing what he knows about Little Wayman’s previous lives.
In a previous life, Little Wayman was destitute and poor, but, as a young man then, he overheard a wealthy treasurer make a statement about taking an opportunity and profiting from it. That young man took that advice and within four months became extraordinarily wealthy. He returned to the wealthy treasurer (who was the Buddha in a previous life) who gave the young man a job and allowed him to marry his daughter. In this previous life, Little Wayman was no dullard, but a very apt pupil with the potential to realize great things as long as he persevered. But here’s an interesting twist.
Despite rising to be a wealthy merchant in that previous life, Little Wayman was re-born poor to parents of mixed parentage. His mother came from wealth, but she married a slave, bringing shame to her offspring. So Little Wayman was not reborn into steadily rising social circumstances; rather, he was reborn into circumstances that prepared him for his eventual enlightenment.
As homosexuals we aren’t reborn gay as a negative consequence for something that we did in a previous life. And heterosexuals aren’t reborn straight as a positive consequence. It just simply is. But the circumstance of our present life is the result of what has happened before and probably reflects our growing ability to “hear” the Dhamma with the right ears. We are where we are because of the path we took, regardless of whether we are conscious of how far we have traveled over the eons. Those who sit in a self-exalted state to proclaim they know why we were born gay are only revealing their stubborn clinging to delusion.
Little Wayman almost gave up because he believed his older brother who told him he failed. As a result, they both were about to fail by giving up not only on each other, but on themselves. The cycle of their rebirths, fortunately, brought the two of them to the Buddha who helped them see release despite their humble beginnings.
The photo with this post is not mine, and I want to express thanks for the permission to use it.
I'm a content director for a television company, guiding content on Web sites. I'm an avid listener of Frank Zappa and a practicing Buddhist who follows the Theravada vehicle. I'm an insatiable traveler who calls Chicago home.