In one of the posting in Facebook recently, someone mentioned that his mother, who is a Buddhist, said that because he is gay in the life, he will have a bad rebirth in the next life because of bad karma.
This is unfortunately not an uncommon thinking among so-called Buddhists. I said so-called Buddhists, because I believe these statements are usually made by nominal Buddhists (Buddhists by name and rituals) but not some one who actually studies and understands the Dharma. Actually, sometimes we can even hear such things from so-called learned monks and nuns! Again, you know what I means by “so-called”.
Let’s try to understand how bad rebirth and bad karma can be applied here.
BAD REBIRTH – I have heard many people talk about bad rebirth in Buddhist circles also as if they can predict what the person will be in his/her next life. Many times its a simplistic view; if you do this, you will be reborn like that. One thing for sure, most of us cannot tell what another person will be take rebirth as, so to say that a gay person will have a bad rebirth is almost like fortune-telling.
Another is that people associate being born in bad situations is related to a person past “bad” deeds. For example, if a person is born poor, he must have been not generous in previous life or something like. Actually, this is the fault of some of the texts and also I believe some monastics, who would use examples like this to make people do good. So overtime, people believe it to be real. The fact is we cannot tell what rebirth a person is going to take (us lay persons anyway), neither can we say why a person is born in a certain situation because of his/her previous deeds. Also this idea of bad rebirth is really subjective, during older times, being born a women could be bad rebirth due to their position in society. Similarly, many people will think that being born gay is a bad rebirth because of the discrimination in society, this is really subjective, because there are a lot of gay people with supportive families and societies; is that a bad rebirth?
One good example of this is the Sixth Zen Patriarch Hui Neng; he was illiterate all his life and was born in a very poor family. Could we say that because he did bad things in his previous life to be born in such poor family instead of a rich one?
BAD KARMA – This is probably the most misunderstood concept of Buddhism and people use it so freely to judge others. To put it simply, karma is intentional action. So negative karma is related to actions with negative, consequences, such as harm, to others and maybe yourself. But its really much more complex than that, but let’s just work on the simple bits. Now it is almost not possible for someone to perform bad karma just because he/she is gay, because as I explained, karma is intentional action. A man loving another men or having sex with another man is equally the same as that that is between a man and a woman; there are no distinctions. Bad karma or not, it depends on whether one does intentional harm to others via their action. So to say that being gay is bad karma is like saying someone is a thief just because he/she looks like one.
The most cited reasons for bad karma is that of sexual misconduct in one of the Buddhist precepts. The lay person’s precept is a set of guidance towards not harming or exploiting others in our action. Sexual misconduct specifically guides the lay person not to harm or exploit others in our sexual activities, like rape or forcefully taking a child bride. Over time, some Buddhists extended it to non procreative sex, which includes masturbation or any form of sex besides vaginal intercourse, this includes both man and woman. So if you look at gay sex (for men), it is definitely non-vaginal and so falls into the “sexual misconduct”. But there are no explanation as to why these activities like masturbation or oral sex will bring harm to ourselves or others as long as it is not exploitative or forced. Most of these are really cultural influenced additions to the precepts, which explains why even if you ask a monk and nun, they could not give you a rational and logic answer to those restrictions.
So if someone really tells you something like this next time, there is no need to worry over it. If you have time to explain it to them, then do so and help them understand it better. If not, you should not take up their ignorance and make it into your own fear about your situation. Buddhism if anything does not discriminates nor judge anyone for who they are and indeed who they love and simply advises us and reminds us not to bring in intentional harm to others with our actions.