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FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion and is indigenous to India. With approximately 900 million followers worldwide, Hinduism is the third largest religion after Christianity and Islam. Hindu teachings originate from ancient Sanskrit texts known as the Vedas and encompass a wide spectrum of tradition and philosophy. Hindus believe that everything is sacred as a part and parcel of God or Brahman; that God manifests in unlimited forms; that the soul is eternal and reincarnates until liberation, and that nonviolence and compassion are the foremost religious principles. Vaishnavism is the largest branch of Hinduism and Vaishnavas worship a personal God realized as Krsna, Rama, Vishnu, Narayana, etc.
What is Gaudiya Vaishnavism?
Gaudiya Vaishnavism is a branch of Vaishnava Hinduism originating from Gaudadesa (Bengal). Its members accept Lord Caitanya (1486-1534 A.D.) as the spiritual preceptor for this age—an incarnation of Radha and Krsna combined. Gaudiya Vaishnavas worship Radha-Krsna as the original and most intimate manifestation of Godhead. Lord Caitanya’s mission was to spread love of God throughout the world and to all people, especially the fallen and downtrodden. His specific method was to engage everyone in chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Gaudiya Vaishnavas always chant this maha-mantra while meditating on the Divine Couple in a loving mood and are commonly known in the West as the “Hare Krishnas.”
What does Hinduism teach about homosexuality?
Ancient Hindu teachings describe homosexuality as a “third sex” (tritiya-prakriti), an inborn nature combining both male and female properties. Homosexuals and transgenders were recognized for their unique nature and incorporated into Vedic society accordingly. They were not punished or persecuted under ancient Hindu law, and elaborate descriptions of homosexuality can be found in the Kama Shastra (Hindu scriptures describing the art of love).
What exactly is the Hindu third sex?
The Hindu third sex refers to people we know today as gender minorities—homosexuals, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, the intersexed—people who do not fit neatly into society’s “normal” male and female roles. Such people are sometimes described as “neither man nor woman” or “both man and woman.” In Hinduism, the universal creation is honored as unlimitedly diverse and the recognition of a third sex is simply one more aspect of this understanding. Gender-ambiguous persons were traditionally awarded a semi-divine status and their participation in religious ceremonies, especially as crossdressing temple dancers, was considered auspicious—a symbol of good luck, peace and cultural prosperity. This tradition can still be observed in India today. Many Hindus believe that people of the third sex have special powers that allow them to bless or curse others.
What are the different types of third-sex people?
1. Gay or homosexual men (who are only attracted to other men)
2. Lesbian or homosexual women (who are only attracted to other women)
3. Bisexuals (who are attracted to both sexes, either simultaneously or at different times in life)
4. Transgenders (who identify as the opposite sex)
5. Intersexed persons (who share physical traits of both sexes, to various degrees)
What is the Sanskrit word for “homosexual”?
Homosexual men are referred to in Sanskrit by several different names including kliba, napumsaka and shandha. These words are often mistranslated into English as “eunuch” but actually refer to a wide range of men who are impotent with women for various reasons. Such men formed a distinct social class in ancient India and were considered to be sexually neutral by nature. Lesbians are called svairini or nastriya in Sanskrit and were similarly impotent with men.
What are the “eunuchs” of India?
The “eunuchs” of India are perhaps more accurately described as religious crossdressers. They are typically transgender or homosexual and only certain groups, such as the hijra, actually undergo ritualized castration (a primitive form of sex-change that involves removing both the penis and testicles). It is estimated that less than ten percent of people commonly referred to as eunuchs in India are actually castrated. Other so-called eunuch groups include the aravani, jogappa and sakhi-bekhi, none of which practice castration. Modern transsexual operations are illegal in India and unaffordable for most citizens, so castration is still very appealing to many transgender Hindus. Male castration is not recommended in Vedic scriptures or considered to be a traditional Hindu practice. It was largely introduced and popularized in medieval North India during Muslim rule. Vaishnava teachings discourage bodily mutilation and for this reason many crossdressing Hindus simply bind their genitals up tightly against the groin. This traditional Hindu practice is still common among many “eunuch” communities in South India.
What are some common misconceptions about the third sex?
One of the most common misconceptions about the third sex or gender is that it only refers to intersexed people (hermaphrodites), or only to transgenders and “eunuchs,” or only to homosexuals, and so on. Another misconception is that the third gender only refers to sexually submissive partners (“bottoms”) in men or sexually dominant partners (“tops”) in women. None of these limited definitions, however, are correct by themselves. The third gender category is first and foremost defined by an inability or lack of desire to unite with the opposite sex and beget children, and this includes a very broad range of many different types of people.
What are the primary considerations in determining the third gender?
There are two primary considerations in determining the third gender—the first being social and the second, biological. The social consideration refers to whether or not a person is sexually procreative (bearing offspring in society) and the biological consideration refers to whether or not a person, by nature and birth, has both male and female characteristics. A completely third-gender person will have both of these aspects but in some instances only one may be present. For instance, a bisexual person is third gender by nature (having both male and female attractions) but if he or she unites with the opposite sex and begets children, such a person is not socially viewed as belonging to the third gender. Similarly, heterosexually potent males and fertile females who never produce offspring throughout their lives are socially viewed as third gender, even though biologically they are not.
How should Hindus and Vaishnavas treat people of the third sex?
Hindus and Vaishnavas should not discriminate against, mistreat, or exclude anyone based upon the material body. All beings should be viewed equally as spiritual entities and as parts and parcels of God. Higher qualities such as love, kindness, mercy and compassion should always be cultivated and emphasized above lower qualities like hate, cruelty, fear and suspicion. Hindus should revive their ancient tradition of accommodating the third sex into society and treat everyone with respect.
Why do some Hindus discriminate against the third sex?
Discrimination against the third sex is mostly due to ignorance and a lack of genuine spiritual advancement and insight. A person must truly care about others in order to understand them properly. In recent centuries, foreign religions such as Christianity and Islam introduced many harmful misunderstandings about homosexuality into India, and these ideas have since been incorporated into both Indian law and the modern Hindu psyche. Such misconceptions should be abandoned.
Is homosexuality inborn?
Yes. Vedic literatures are very clear about this and repeatedly state that a person’s sex as male, female or third gender is determined at the time of conception due to various biological and psychic factors. Vedic medical texts (the Ayur Shastra) especially describe how third-gender traits such as homosexual attraction, transgender identity and intersex conditions are developed in the embryo during the first two months of pregnancy and cannot be changed after that. There is no question in Hinduism that heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, transgender identity and intersex are all fixed, biologically inborn natures.
Is homosexuality a symptom of Kali Yuga?
No. This is a common myth, but Vedic texts do not refer to homosexuality as a symptom of Kali Yuga. If anything, the persecution and mistreatment of third-gender people is more likely a sign of this age of quarrel and hypocrisy. Intolerant persons filled with hate and contempt for gay and lesbian people are the true representatives of Kali Yuga.
Why recognize oneself as a gay Hindu or Vaishnava?
Ultimately, we must identify only as spiritual entities and servants of God, but this does not mean ignoring or failing to recognize our present psychophysical state. Coming to terms with one’s nature is an important step in establishing good mental health, self-esteem, and moving forward in all aspects of life. Honesty, straightforwardness, and revealing one’s mind in confidence are essential religious qualities, and people are much more likely to have a positive impression of gays if they have open and favorable dialog with them. Educating and familiarizing others through personal exchange is the best way to eliminate anti-gay prejudice in society.
Is homosexuality defined by behavior?
No. Homosexuality is defined by same-sex love and attraction. Whether or not a person is sexually active has nothing to do with his or her sexual orientation. A homosexual person may be celibate, monogamous, or promiscuous, just as any heterosexual person may be.
Should homosexuals be allowed to live in the ashrama?
Yes. Anyone should be allowed to live in the ashrama as long as they are sincere and promise to follow the rules and regulations. There are many wonderful examples of homosexual people who have been successful in celibate ashrama life, and no one should be denied this opportunity because of bodily prejudice or hate. Of course, not everyone is suited for lifelong celibacy, but even a year or two spent in the ashrama can be highly beneficial. Those unable to continue in celibate life can marry and live outside as responsible congregational members.
What about sex and marriage?
Sexuality is problematic in ascetic Hinduism since achieving liberation requires the abandonment of all material attachments and desires. Most Hindu religious texts extol abstinence and celibacy, with monogamy in marriage being a type of “second-best” concession. Gays and lesbians should similarly be encouraged to cultivate spiritual life from either a celibate status or in something analogous to a heterosexual monogamous situation, according to their ability and nature. Homosexual couples can be viewed in much the same way as infertile or sterile couples are—their need for companionship should be recognized and they can adopt children, etc. In religious married life, the foremost principle is to view one’s partner as a servant of God and encourage each other in spiritual life. As the couple matures both physically and spiritually they can gradually transcend all mundane sexuality and attachment.