by Phoebe Song
Amy* is one of my oldest friends. We were kids when we first met.
She had long, silky black hair with natural curls at the end and peachy cheeks that made adults coo. I was her lanky, less adorable companion.
We were both somewhat the tomboys of the class; neither of us had any patience with dresses or ribbons – we preferred climbing trees, catching frogs and scaring the koi in the neighbors’ fish pond.
When her parents bought us both Barbie dolls, she was crazy about them. I wasn’t so interested – my plastic blonde fairy spent most of its time with Amy’s ice princess.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Amy whispered one day, after putting the princess in a blue frock. “She’s so pretty, I just want to kiss her.”
My aunt saw her kissing the Barbie on the lips and thought it was a cute, 7 year old thing to do.
No one thought anything of it.
Ten years later, Amy kissed a real girl. Her name was Jessica and she looked a lot like the doll that Amy had when we were kids.
I was alarmed; in our conservative Asian neighborhood, people never discussed sexuality. In our culture, sex and sexuality were politely avoided; so taboo that parents wouldn’t talk about it to their kids. But even then, we knew girls usually kissed boys.
A few months later, Jessica’s mother found her diary and quickly figured that Amy and her weren’t just best friends. As Christians, Jessica’s family explained to their daughter that what she was feeling and doing were very, very wrong. It was a crime, a sin against God and against nature. They said she was sick and needed help.
Jessica agreed with her family, so I held Amy’s hand as she cried through her first heartbreak. It could have been the rejection from another faith that made her question her own as a Buddhist. If Jessica believed God would be angry at her for loving another girl, what about Buddha?
Suddenly, Amy became very aware of her triangle-in-a-square-hole misfit amongst the rest of society’s heterosexual normalcy. I watched her painfully slug through years of murky confusion, guilt and awkwardness. Being a teen was hard enough, being a teen who loved in secret was worse.
I’m sure Amy’s parents noticed, but they never said a word. Her mother brushed over the fact that she showed no interest in boys as “shyness” and her father pretended that nothing was out of the ordinary, though rumors began to swirl around their household. Amy was a model daughter – good grades, caring, helpful, sweet and polite. As long as she stayed that way and didn’t publically break the mold, their “face” was intact. They isolated her with a knowing silence.
Watching Amy hide in broad daylight for loving the “wrong” people jaded me. Everyone around us, regardless of what religion they were, had no room for anything other than conventional righteousness. They preached, they judged, they discriminated and then went home to sleep in their smug little beds, fantasizing about that golden plaque with their names on it, reserved in a Heaven of clouds and dove wings. The hypocrisy was blinding; the idiocy was comical.
Years later, when Amy dragged me to a Buddhist temple on a trip to the mountains, I was reluctant, though I understood why she wanted to go. Like so many others, Amy desperately sought solace from the pain that came from being “different”. She wanted to be at peace with her spirituality, but wondered if her “unnatural” sexuality allowed it. By this time, I was a hardcore science and social economics fan, so took up any opportunity to question any religious institutions about their preached concepts.
When a nun passed by us in the temple grounds, I knew she wanted to ask, but was afraid. I had enough.
“Excuse me,” I reached out.
The nun stopped and smiled. “Yes?”
She was a chubby middle aged lady with rosy cheeks and shaved head.
“I’m gay,” I said bluntly, as Amy’s mouth fell open. “I want to know if this makes me a bad person.”
The nun looked a little surprised but then her eyes crinkled up in amusement.
“Do you love someone?” she asked me.
“Does that person love you too?”
“Are you both happy? Do you treat each other with respect and genuine care?”
“Then you are both fortunate. Buddha smiles upon the two of you.”
I was surprised, almost a little disappointed at the lack of drama.
The nun peeked at Amy, who was turning red in the face.
She looked back at me and began to speak.
“Love is a beautiful thing. Our world certainly needs more of it. It doesn’t matter who you love, as long as you love without exploitation. Love should be genuine and pure. It should nurture and nourish. If the love you give and receive naturally adapts these good traits and hurts no one, it is good. Good love creates good Karma. The world does not suffer from love.”
Amy’s eyes were welling up.
“What about sex?” I pushed.
The nun thought for a moment.
“Before I came here, I was a hairdresser in the city. I have two children,” she said gently. “I felt my calling much later in life than most.”
We stayed silent.
“Sex in the name of love is also a
beautiful thing. Like love, it is meant to nourish a relationship. Unfortunately,
our world is complicated…sex and relationships are easily exploited. As
individuals we are responsible to love in a karmically healthy way, so as long
as we can uphold that quality, it is good, whether we have sex or not,” the nun
“The Buddha teaches that we are all bound equally under the same laws of Karma. It does not matter who we are. I am bound to the same karmic laws as you are, even if I have given up a normal societal existence to live here. We monks forgo sexual relationships entirely to focus on a different existence – therefore who we loved sexually beforehand does not matter to us now. If you and your partner love each other well, who am I to tell you that you are a bad person?”
Amy’s tears trickled down her face – years of conflict and guilt gushing out of her soul like little rivers. I felt a flood of relief. All those relationships I had before, the pain, the love, the passion – they weren’t perfect but I know in my heart, that I loved without cruel intent. Like most people, I secretly harbored dark little regrets that haunted me from one relationship to the next. Part of me felt guilty for the failures and the mess of heart break we all know so well, but this confirmed to me – in the end, it doesn’t matter. I loved the best I could – with good intentions, so why regret?
“Love comes in many forms,” the nun smiled to us both. “Love yourself, love your parents, love your friends, love your neighbors, love the creatures of this earth. Love them well and good Karma will flow. I hope you have found what you are looking for.”
At this, Amy burst into a sob. I bowed respectfully to the nun.
We left the temple with a knot untied.
This was how I found my peace with religion. Amy led us both to answers in one awkward, accidental journey. This is my interpretation of Buddhism. It helps me understand and shape myself, my environment and my actions towards others but it does not own me. It is a spiritual philosophy that focuses on the deeper aspects of emotional bonds, not just the physical. There is a warm solace in one’s spiritual acceptance that genuine, quality Love is not wrong. If it does not exploit, if it does not hurt anyone in the process, it is true love and it is good Karma. The world needs more good Karma. There is no guilt here.
Buddhist ideology focuses beyond most physical aspects of this world; it looks at the quality and consequences of our actions, our inner conscience and the purpose of our short, strange existence. It is a deep, complicated philosophical, metaphysical, mental study and constant search to understand the Universe. In this retrospect, homosexuality is a relatively miniscule issue. Long story short – we are all equally responsible for exercising compassion, love, forgiveness and all the beautiful things that Religion is supposed to help us nurture. What color we are, what God we pray to, how we look, who we love, our taste in partners – none of it really matters if it embodies all the above. It’s what we do, who we affect and how.
I finish this with a great example of true Buddhist mentality. This echoes across the many different schools of Buddhist teachings, but the core remains the same.
“Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much. Whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life.” Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama.
Last time I saw Amy, she was enjoying her good life.