TW: This article contains content about LGBTQ+ discrimination and conversion therapy.
The recent incident of a school counsellor at Hwa Chong Institution presenting anti-LGBTQ+ content and a video from a group promoting conversion therapy during a sexuality education lesson has led to some students sharing details of the session online.
Is it wrong to feel outraged about this?
To all those who feel affected by the incident, be it LGBTQ+ youths or allies present at the assembly or others reading about it online, I know that it may be deeply upsetting to witness this episode, alongside any hateful comments that come along with it.
As with all other beings in this world, we all suffer, because of our greed, aversion and delusions.
Judgments may arise in our minds about the counsellor and the school and with that, ill-will and anger can cloud our minds.
We may feel that justice should be served and punishment should be meted out. However, if we give in to the temptations of anger, we are nudging the mind to develop an inclination to anger in future, sowing the seeds of future occurrences. More importantly, such thoughts can hurt us further and impede us from directing our attention to caring for our friends who are impacted by this.
“This cruel thought has arisen in me. It leads to hurting myself, hurting others, and hurting both. It blocks wisdom, it’s on the side of anguish, and it doesn’t lead to extinguishment…
Whatever a monastic frequently thinks about and considers becomes their mind’s inclination.” – MN 19 Dvedhāvitakka Sutta
There is nothing wrong with the arising of anger. It is a completely natural reaction to have in the face of injustice. The key is how we act when we notice the anger. We can choose to raise our fists and bay for blood or we can choose to underscore our response based on compassion, wisdom and kindness.
What else can we do then?
To those who are concerned about how their friends may be impacted by this incident, do check in with your friends and be there for them. For people who are struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, the misinformation may reinforce unhealthy perceptions they may be having about themselves or others in the LGBTQ+ community.
While we cannot walk this journey for them, we can walk with them and support them.
Share with them open letters responding to this incident in support of the LGBTQ+ community (here, here and here)
Direct them to trusted friends/family members or community resources listed below, if needed
To the LGBTQ+ individuals who are affected by this incident, please remember that there is nothing wrong with being LGBTQ+ and that you deserve love and happiness as much as anyone else. If you are finding it challenging to cope, please reach out to a trusted friend/family member or the resources listed below.
Personally, what I gained from this episode is that we have no control over what happens in the external world, such as the things people say or do. But, we can decide what we want to do in our inner worlds, such as our practice and our choices. We can choose to send loving-kindness to not just the LGBTQ+ youth affected, but also to the counsellor involved.
He is also clouded by delusions, just like we all are, and he too wants to be happy and avoid suffering. By deepening our practice, it gives us a chance to tend our minds to compassion, kindness and wisdom and helps us to be better able to support one another through whatever life throws in our way.
Professional services available to LGBTQ+ community:
Hi there! My name is Wilson and I identify as a gay cis-male, with pronouns he/him. To celebrate Pride Month, I would like to share some personal thoughts on the topic of coming out.
However, it’s important to note that coming out is a deeply personal process and is different for everyone. Without being sensitive to this, there can be misunderstandings and unintentional discrimination even amongst the different communities under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. The incident of an actress, Rebel Wilson, being outed publicly by a gay journalist before she was ready to, is one example.
As my sharing focuses heavily on the experiences of a gay cis-male, for the benefit of other members of the LGBTQ+ community, I have included resources at the end of this article to offer other perspectives on this topic.
1. What does ‘coming out’ mean to you?
To me, ‘coming out’ is a process of ‘letting people in’. I know it sounds oxymoronic. Just imagine our house. There are some rooms that we would allow guests to enter, while some are only permitted to loved ones. Or perhaps we may choose to keep the doors closed at all times regardless of who it is.
These rooms represent different aspects of our identity, and coming out is akin to inviting others to see various sides of us. But it’s not just about letting others into these rooms. It’s also about letting ourselves in. Because coming out is part of a journey to accepting ourselves for who we are.
It took me a long time to accept my own sexuality. Therefore, I can understand if people around me need more time to come to terms with theirs too. Also, there isn’t any fixed order of letting people in. Some prefer to be completely comfortable with their own sexuality before coming out to others. Some prefer to have their loved ones support them on this journey of coming out from the beginning. Some prefer to come out to others after they are financially stable. Some prefer not to come out to others at all. You decide what is right for you.
Most importantly, allow yourself to embrace this aspect of you completely. The kindness that you grant to yourself will triumph over any kindness that others shower on you.
2. What challenges did you face growing up as a gay cis-male?
I first guessed that I was gay at the age of 11. When I started to realise that I was different from others, I began judging myself for being “abnormal”. I was constantly worried that others would find out about my secret. I tried to develop feelings for girls but it just somehow never felt right. I once confessed my feelings to a girl, to then realise that it was not what I truly felt.
In order to avoid dealing with my sexuality, I diverted my energy to my studies. I also built a staggeringly high wall in my heart to keep my parents out. I was worried about how they would react if they were to find out I was gay.
3. How did you do it then?
At 18, I developed a crush on a male classmate who was dating a girl. When I finally came to terms that it was unrequited, I felt really heartbroken. I remember feeling really silly and before long, nothing I did brought me joy and I would tear uncontrollably at random moments. I decided to confide in a close friend over MSN Messenger. (I can already picture the quizzical looks on the faces of Gen-Zs)
I shared with him my struggles and eventually, came out to him. He told me, “That doesn’t matter to me. You are still my friend, no matter what.” Till today, I feel truly blessed to have that as my first coming out experience, one that was met with unconditional love.
I came out to my parents when I was 23. While it took them some time, both of them were accepting. To me, I was finally able to bring down a wall that separated us for such a long time. Our relationship has improved since.
Now, I feel that I’m still on a journey of coming out to myself and others, but it is one with much more support from my loved ones. A few friends at work expressed concern about me coming out to colleagues. However, I feel like this is my way of showing the people around me that my sexuality is just one aspect of me and it does not change anything about the other aspects.
4. What is the funniest reaction you received when you came out to someone?
“How can you be gay? You love watching tennis and more importantly, your dress sense is horrible.”
I burst into laughter when a friend at work who previously thought that I had a “girlfriend” exclaimed that line, in jest (I believe). While I do admit that my dress sense is far from impeccable, her words reminded me of certain stereotypes that people have about gay males.
5. Can I still be a Buddhist after I have decided to come out as LGBTQ+?
Of course you can! Being LGBTQ+ does not stop you from progressing on the Noble Eightfold Path. Enlightenment is available to everyone regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
6. Any advice for someone who is struggling with understanding their sexuality?
Please be kind to yourself and give yourself the time and space to explore your feelings! In the meantime, find people or resources that you can trust to support you on your journey. I hope that as you discover more stories of those who have walked a similar path, you would realise that you are not alone and that there are safe spaces for you to make sense of all your feelings and thoughts.
I felt that as I judged myself excessively for my sexuality in my youth, I developed a coping mechanism by looking outwards instead of looking inwards. I gave a lot to others and yearned for affirmation. At the same time, I avoided my emotions and denied myself of the care and love that I gave to others. Over the years, I have learnt to love and care for myself as well as I do so for others and to accept the different aspects of me.
7. How can I be an ally for a friend on their coming out journey?
Be a friend like how you would be with other friends who face their own struggles in different areas! Practise active listening, avoid assumptions and respect the confidentiality of what has been confided in you. As you gain more awareness about the LGBTQ+ community, you can be an ally to your friend and also to others in the community.
Being a gay cis-male has shown me that different aspects of my identity can give me privilege or cause me to be discriminated against. This prompts me to be an ally for others who face discrimination, e.g. women and people living with HIV. When we are allies for one another, we can collectively love ourselves and others much better.
Writing this article felt like another step in my coming out journey and I honestly struggled while writing it. However, I am thankful to the people in my life who have accepted me for who I am and supported me in so many ways. For me, coming out has become something that I do more often with the people I meet now and I do hope that the world will be a better place for all who are facing discrimination in one way or another, not just the LGBTQ+ community.
Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.
Pink Dot, an event that supports people’s right to love, comes and goes every year. This year is back to a physical event with many hugs exchanged and photos taken. Beyond the event, how can we show support and compassion to our LGBTQ+ friends?
1. To foster harmony and understanding, we first must drop the need to be right all the time. Here’s how
2. The ultimate guide to inclusivity in organisations (Buddhist ones included!)
To foster harmony and understanding, we first must drop the need to be right all the time. Here’s how
What’s going on here
The author shares how we can establish harmony between the divides in society. Staying silent about discrimination can make us part of the problem too. Understanding our and others’ fears can bridge the gap.
Why we like it & the key takeaway
The author gives super nice graphics on how we can react in different situations. For example, if a colleague is uncomfortable with another colleague’s sexual orientation. Or in other cases, a colleague feels discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
“A constructive approach is to educate ourselves about the opposing views in hopes that our perspectives can be shifted, and that misconceptions can be cleared. “
The ultimate guide to inclusivity in organisations (Buddhist ones included!)
What’s going on here
Rainbodhi, a spiritual friendship group for LGBTQIA+ Buddhists and an advocate for more inclusion and diversity in the broader Buddhist community, shares a simple manual for boosting inclusivity in Buddhist groups and more!
Why we like it & key takeaways
The cute comic strip helps the reader navigate the dos and don’ts in creating an inclusive practitioner circle for all. More importantly, the manual also shares perspectives on the link between Anatta & sexual identity. We love the manual as it is comprehensive in building a more inclusive organisation.
“Some Buddhists use the concept of not-self to shut down LGBTQIA+ people talking about issues that affect them, or the very real suffering that they experience.”
Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.
As more peers get married, there is sometimes a creeping sense of urgency to find a partner. How should we react to the idea of love? For those in love, how do we maintain our relationship through the tough and easy times?
1. Waiting for someone to ‘supply’ you love? Think again
2. Curiousity may kill the cat…but not your relationship
Waiting for someone to ‘supply’ you love? Think again
What’s going on here
Venerable Tenzin Palmo, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, shares why and how we should rethink the way we approach love. Most people fall in love with the idea of love and not the person. She explains, in under 4 mins, why that is a tricky approach to understanding love.
Why we like it
As we grow through the stages of life and see more friends get married…we may feel the rush to settle down. But Tenzin Palmo reminds us to chill and first understand ourselves. We have to first be fulfilled before ‘chasing’ love.
“They think that the more they hold on to someone, the more that it shows that they care about that. But it is not, they are trying to grasp at something because they are afraid that they themselves might be hurt.”
“Attachment says ‘I love you therefore i want you to make me happy’. Genuine love says ‘I love you and I want you to be happy.’ “
Reflect on our idea of love. Is it attachment or real love? The more we grasp, the more afraid we are to lose.
Curiousity may kill the cat…but not your relationship
What’s going on here
@alifecoloredamber, a therapist, shares how we can reshape the way we ask questions in our relationship to build deeper bonds.
Why we like it
This short post reminds us of actionable ways we can interact with our partners. When tough times strike us, we often resort to destructive ways of communication. Amber, the therapist, gives us ways to rewire our communication style.
“Remember, you both come to life with your own subjective experiences, and making assumptions is often damaging.”
Follow her tips for a happier and more curious relationship!
TLDR: Premarital sex, simply put, is sexual activity between people who are unmarried to each other. In contrast, abstinence and chastity are ideals that have been largely promoted in society and form a large part of our education systems, in particular when it comes to sexual education. Where did the Buddha stand on this?
But why is premarital sex such a big deal?
The idea of sex can be considered as a sacred act between people. In the Asian tradition, marriage and family are thought to be valuable and central to our society. Hence, everything that falls under the umbrella of marriage and family is viewed similarly. Remaining as a virgin until marriage can be seen as the symbol of purity, like a complete package deal to your husband/wife-to-be. This is generally the perception of the society at large when it comes to pre-marital sex.
In the Buddhist context, lay Buddhists would follow the moral code of conduct, specifically, the five precepts. Sexual acts would therefore tie in with the third of the five precepts, namely, undertaking the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
So what is misconduct in Buddhist context?
Broadly, sexual misconduct can be considered as having sex with an underage person, one in spiritual training/sworn on celibacy, married, or engaged person, or any act that is prohibited by the law (e.g. rape).
The purpose of precepts is to prevent us from causing harm and pain to others driven by one’s lust and gratification.
By extension, following the precepts empower us to live a life free from guilt and remorse.
Ultimately, we got to ask ourselves what the intention and purpose of the act is. The concept of misconduct or sexual activity in itself could cascade into the poisons of suffering, as described by the Buddha (greed, hatred, and delusion). This broader definition of misconduct is relevant when we examine the relationship between pre-marital sex and Buddhist values.
So in short, up to this point, yes you can. However, nothing in this world comes easy right? Likewise, ‘T&C’ applies.
So do these definitions answer the question?
We have now defined both pre-marital sex and the relevant precepts in Buddhism. In the Buddha’s time, pre-marital sex is not an issue as women were not allowed in public without a chaperone. Hence, the third precept was meant to protect women in that period. Naturally, nothing in Buddhism that we have defined so far outright prohibits pre-marital sex. Of course, this definition is non-exhaustive, but in the most general sense of the precepts, this is what they imply.
Also in general, Buddhism is a free religion in that although there is a fixed set of principles, the practitioners are at liberty to decide if they wish to adhere to them, depending on their desire to progress further in their spiritual path of practice.
The precepts are general guidelines of not harming both oneself and others.
So at least until now, there are no direct contradictions between the precepts and the act of pre-marital sex. Nevertheless, the reality is usually not that simple because there are still many indirect consequences of any act that we do, i.e. kamma.
What are the possible consequences?
While the act of pre-marital sex itself does not directly contradict Buddhist values, it is also not an action without consequences.
One obvious unintended outcome is an unplanned pregnancy.
While the pregnancy itself is fine, an unplanned one may lead to abortion, which constitutes an act of killing in Buddhism, breaking the first of the five precepts (to abstain from taking the life of another being).
Regardless of any decisions made post-pregnancy, the pregnancy itself could lead to social stigma, and that could negatively impact one’s lifestyle, especially the emotional and mental wellness aspects.
There could also be objections from the family, leading to possible tension and in the worst-case scenario, the breaking up of a family as a new one is formed.
Depending on the stage of life in which the involved parties are in, it could also be detrimental to one’s career, both for the baby carrier and the partner. The impact on the one who is pregnant is obvious, but even for the partner, who may not have to literally carry the baby, might still have to make difficult decisions, i.e. if the individual is studying and needs to work to make ends meet.
It is important to realise that often shotgun marriages can also be a shotgun aimed at others, shattering the target and resulting in third party damage too.
There is a complexity that comes with unplanned pregnancies and can quickly cause things to spiral downhill. Both parties in a relationship need to be prepared to shoulder any responsibilities and a conversation needs to be had with regard to how comfortable everyone is with the risk.
Unplanned pregnancies are not the only possible consequence of pre-marital sex; it is simply the most commonly discussed subject matter.
Its purpose here is to inform us that while the act of pre-marital sex itself is not forbidden, chances of subsequent not-so-ideal results are high. This would contradict the Buddhists principles.
Are these consequences deal breakers?
Well, at the end of the day it depends on how comfortable each person is with the stakes involved; all hell breaks loose versus the value and pleasure of sex as part of a relationship. There are ways to mitigate these repercussions as well.
These need not be deal breakers because there are mitigating factors, like education and mutually agreed upon possible ramifications*.
*For example, in scenarios where the parties involved have communicated and are aware of the implications. As such, it will be okay if they are willing to take the risks and (possibly) responsibilities while having a comprehensive understanding of what pre-marital sex entails.
How to overcome lust?
Sexual desire is a form of craving which leads to more suffering (dukkha), and therefore needs to be minimised and extricated as a precondition for bringing dukkha to an end.
If the above factors are a “deal-breaker” for you, you can consider the following methods to rein in your biological urges or animalistic instinct.
The most common antidote taught by the Buddha for learning how to train your (inner) dragon is to contemplate on the 32 body parts and its unattractiveness during meditation.
The goal of this contemplation of the 32 body parts meditation method is to weaken your inner dragon by robbing it of reasons to find a person attractive. This allows us to see the body in a deconstructed manner, with a probing scrutiny grounded in dispassion, handicapping the dragon to regard the body as beautiful or desirable. With the right effort, infatuation can be countered.
The basis for this meditation lies in the idea that beauty is not something that one should be chasing after as the body is not permanent as we like it to be. This message is emphasised in the story of a beautiful courtesan where nobody desires her dead decaying maggot-filled corpse. Men in the kingdom would bid huge amounts for her services when she was alive but once she passed away, no one would even pay a cent to be near her body.
Alternatively, we can also examine the impermanence of the body.
This body of ours that is born is subjected to old age, sickness and eventually, death. Whatever that we viewed as appealing right now will one day change, be it whether it is due to internal or external factors.
Intricately linked to this is another story where a beauty-obsessed Queen witnessed for herself a young beautiful lady turning sickly, old and ugly and realised the valueless of the body. In the short run, we run after beauty only to be disappointed when we age.
Consequently, satisfying one’s sexual urges right now would lead to more craving, causing disappointment when the impermanent body changes.
So what does this mean in the grand scheme of things?
You are the owner and heir of your actions/kamma, it follows you like a shadow. At the end of the day, your life is your choice. The rule of thumb, if you want to uphold your precepts, is that when in doubt/scare/worried, the answer is don’t do it.
Premarital sex is a personal activity and decision, involving at least two parties. Buddhism is generally a free religion, just stay away from harming yourself and others. Avoid evil, do good, and if possible, purify your minds.
Be kind; stay safe, well and happy! Suki hontu! …
If you are in a intimate relationship (pre-marriage), have a conversation about sex with your partner to ensure you two are aware of the consequences and also the personal boundaries
Recall that while you two may be fine with it, there are ramifications beyond you two (family/school/career/social circles)
When in doubt, refrain from doing it
Want to learn how to meditate?
Check out our handy ‘Meditation 101’ guide that explores the basics of Buddhist meditation which can help us better manage stresses for a happier and a fuller life.
TLDR: Being in love with love is different from being in love with a person. Being in love with another brings sadness, excitement and passion. Being in love with love brings peace, joy and rapture.
This is a reflection piece as contemplated by the author based on the Buddha’s teachings. As such, it may not contain the truths as taught by the Buddha. The author hopes the reader takes away useful bits that may resonate and discard whatever parts (or the whole article) that make no sense without any aversion.
I have not listened to popular music for quite a long time. I wouldn’t know what are the most popular songs of the last decade. I also have not had that intense rush of passion or interest in another person for that same amount of time. Recently I decided to listen to songs of my youth. I don’t know if it is the right choice because these songs brought up particular memories for me.
It is interesting how most of my strongest memories have to do with my youth. I am guessing raging hormones of youth brought about stronger emotions that led to deeper impressions made on the mind. According to Buddhist cosmology, we have been reborn countless times–however, as the music carried my mind to the past, experiences of my youth still seem so fresh in my mind as if I’ve lived them for the first time.
What is love?
Love is too big a word for anyone to express. In Western movies, characters who express love toward one another make it seem like a big deal. But still, that is not love.
The word, “love”, is used too frivolously in our society.
We romanticise feelings for another person just as we romanticise love itself. Love in its true meaning is unconditional. Unconditional love is hard to find on earth.
The closest would be that of a mother’s love towards her child. Therefore love would have the elements of sacrifice, forgiveness, compassion, perseverance and faith.
The mother is also able to let the child go because of love. But she is readily available when the child needs help.
Attachment not love
If you are unable to wish your other half happiness and goodwill if s/he leaves you, what you have is not love but attachment.
Also, if you are unable to accept and forgive your partner’s bad habits with patience and compassion, that is not love. What we have is attachment and a sense of responsibility towards our partners.
I found that in all of my relationships, I have never really loved anyone. I would do things to make myself feel better and make others feel bad in the name of love. There is an egoic possessiveness towards all of them. Looking back now, I can only feel compassion for my own ignorance and for the ones who had to suffer me.
Our obsession with love
The human race is always looking for love. This is evident from the many popular romantic and breakup songs in pop culture.
We seek happy endings in love. Many years ago, a friend’s father passed away. The only wish he had not fulfilled was finding true love. This is even after being married, begetting children and divorcing. That is because I was judging my friend’s father from my perspective. I would not marry unless I love the other. Therefore I was surprised he was still seeking true love on his deathbed.
I have not consciously looked for love with another person for the longest time. Although that thought did pop up every now and then. Listening to songs of my youth reminded me of my first love and despite it being such a long time ago, I still cherished that relationship and have goodwill towards my first love. The relationship brought up bittersweet memories. But the relationship is not something I would like to experience again.
Recently, I witnessed a friend’s misery and happiness from her attachment to her partner and it reminded me of the pitfalls of romance.
Romance brings about happiness only when the other meets our conditions and vice versa.
Being in love with love
There is a way to be in love and be happy without involving another person. That is to be in love with love itself. In all religions, from Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism to Sikhism, there are practices on the contemplation of love. Love is universal as taught by all religions, and we seem to have misunderstood love by trying to find it in another person.
Jesus and the Buddha (two of whom I am most familiar with), both taught and possessed unconditional love. These two great teachers were themselves unconditional love and so they did not need to seek it from elsewhere.
It makes sense why they need not seek love from others. If we feel that we are enough and full of love within, we will have lots of love to share and there will be no need to get it from others.
In Buddhist practice, the Buddha taught us to cultivate love in our hearts and to share it with all beings. I think the difficulty lies in cultivating love in our own hearts because we are so used to romantic love which is dependent on the sight of another. Though love itself and our ‘love’ for another differs in quality. Our “love” for another is narrow because we only can love the object of our affection and depend on this object to further grow this love in our hearts. Love, in reality, is wide and does not depend on others to do certain things or be a certain way for us to have love in our hearts.
How to cultivate love in our hearts?
Buddhist meditation teaches us various ways to develop love in our hearts. One way is to think of a person we love and respect and to pay attention to the love that arises in our hearts.
We then radiate it throughout our bodies and spread it out in all directions.
You can also spread the love by thinking of various people, animals, the earth and the universe. It helps to smile when doing this meditation because smiling relaxes oneself and helps to develop love and kindness.
Similarities between being in love with love and with another
When we are in love with another person, we can’t help but think of that person. We feel drawn to that person, we yearn to understand them and to know their secrets. We want to be united with that person, to be intimate and to relate to him or her. We also hope to be able to please our partner.
When I was doing a home retreat on loving-kindness, that was how I felt. I enjoyed thinking about love. That love in my heart contained elements of joy and lightness. I wanted to draw close to it and was not interested in others. However, I did not go deep enough to become intimate in that love or to know its secrets.
Thinking of the Buddha to cultivate love
For those who need the image of another to bring up love, you can always think of the Buddha or other religious teachers.
I thought of the Buddha’s immense love and compassion for all those around him. This exercise managed to cultivate those qualities in my mind during meditation.
However, I am not spending enough time thinking about the Buddha’s qualities of love and compassion in daily life. I wish it would occupy at least two-thirds of my mind at all times.
Being in love with love is indeed different from being in love with a person. Love that depends on a person includes elements of sadness, longing, discontentment and excitement.
One could even get depressed when ignored or rejected by the object of attraction.
But love itself is different. There is no rejection, no longing, no sadness or excitement. Love includes feelings of joy, peace and rapture.
Since it is virtually impossible to find love from another person, perhaps we can only love another when we ourselves become love by being in love with love.
Love begins from the self. To be able to love others, we have to love ourselves. Love is like a fire on a candle that lights up the room. Start to love yourself by first forgiving yourself.
Bring to your mind a living spiritual friend whom you admire and think of his or her qualities of love.
Contemplate the loving kindness, compassion and equanimity of the Buddha. Thinking of these qualities can also help to bring up these feelings within yourself.