Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's advice on homosexuality was probably well-intentioned, if inelegantly phrased

"This too shall pass".

The story goes that once a sultan asked a sage to inscribe a sentence that would be true forever and ever, in good times and bad. The sage inscribed on a ring the words "and this, too shall pass away".

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has turned out to be the 21st Century ring-bearer of that immortal sentiment. He has told us that homosexuality too can pass, it is a tendency that could well change. The gay could become straight. The heterosexual can become homosexual. Fat can become thin. Thin can become fat. Tall can become short. Short can become talk.

OK, maybe not all that but you get the drift.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Image courtesy: srisriravishankar.org

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Image courtesy: srisriravishankar.org

When a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University asked him how he should deal with ill-treatment by his loved ones over his sexual orientation, the Art of Living guru had this to say: "You treat yourself better, doesn’t matter how others treat you. You don’t think you are sick or something’s wrong with you. If you stand up, nobody can insult you… But if you feel weak and meek, and if you feel bad about yourself, nobody can make you feel better. This is your tendency now. Just acknowledge it and accept it, and know that this tendency is not a permanent thing. It may change. I’ve seen many men who were gay, later on turn into heterosexuals, and there are those who are normal — what are called straight people — end up being gay later in life. I want to you to focus beyond the body identity."

He received a Twitter backlash for this advice. Sonam Kapur wants to know "WTF is wrong with god men?" Mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik has pointed out that "Everything, everything is temporary in this world: homosexuality, HETEROsexuality, marriage, faith, nation, caste, celibacy, kings and even gurus". He wondered why a guru would tell a gay man that "his 'tendency' is transient", and whether he would ever tell a "man/woman that his/her gender is transient".

Poor Sri Sri. It was not the most articulate way of phrasing his idea about gender and sexual orientation fluidity, but let's look on the bright side of it all before jumping all over the Art of Lilting guru.

Sri Sri knows "many men who were gay". This is a marked improvement from a certain learned judge of the Supreme Court, now retired, who upheld the criminalisation of gay sex by saying homosexuals were anyway a "minuscule fraction" and thus somehow undeserving of protection and rights under the law.

Sri Sri, unlike Baba Ramdev, did not offer to "cure" homosexuality with yoga, Patanjali potions and pranayama. He did not offer an AoL workshop gay package. He might have ruffled feathers by calling it a "tendency", but that is surely better than calling it an unnatural disease that had come from foreign shores, as Ghulam Nabi Azad suggested when he was health minister.

And it's a lot better than anything Subramanian Swamy ever calls it — a "genetic disorder", a "brain disorder", and "genetically handicapped". And worst of all, in the world according to Swamy, "Buddhu (aka Rahul Gandhi) has made being Gay a minimum qualification for Cong membership".

A "tendency" sounds relatively harmless compared to all this. Some people have a tendency towards cough and cold, some have a tendency to take selfies everywhere, others apparently have a tendency towards homosexuality.

"Accept it". While many are beating up on poor Sri Sri for calling sexuality a tendency and heterosexuals "normal", as if homosexuals are abnormal, it's worth noting he did also tell that student to "just acknowledge it and accept it". Religion is rarely very accepting of homosexuality. In the universe of godmen and homophobia, Sri Sri ranks fairly low. In a world where the Sharia law allows men to be put to death for homosexual intercourse in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia or Iran, Sri Sri's advice to "acknowledge and accept" sounds almost benign.

The Catholic church at best tends to hate the sin but love the sinner. Even the Dalai Lama, the patron saint in the West for all that's fuzzy and gentle, said that though "mutually agreeable homosexual relations" can be harmless from society's viewpoint, "from a Buddhist point of view, men-to-men and women-to-women is generally considered sexual misconduct".

And let's not forget Sri Sri did once say that to be branded a criminal for homosexuality is "absurd", and a religion where Lord Ayappa was born of Hari-Hara (Vishnu and Shiva) could not consider homosexuality a crime.

He did advice the student to treat himself better, no matter how others treat him, that if he stood up, nobody could insult him. That's easier said than done in a world that stigmatises homosexuality, but it's better than those who advise gays to take all sex out of their sexuality. One should be thankful for any godman who tells us to not feel bad about ourselves, whether gay or not.

Sri Sri offered all of us hope no matter where our ideologies lie. If the gay can become straight and the straight can become gay, sickulars can one day become bhakts and bhakts can become sickular. Temples can become mosques can become temples in Ayodhya. If everything is a tendency, even Subramanian Swamy can change his stripes. Oh wait, he's already done that many times.

But even in the reaction to Sri Sri, there's a glimmer of progress. Once upon a time, Bollywood stars would rather die than attack a religious figure over his statements about homosexuality. Sri Sri might be taken aback by Sonam Kapoor and Alia Bhatt's angry reactions but it's a sign that even in notoriously play-it-safe Bollywood, homosexuality is losing its chhi chhi-shame-shame stigma. It's still not quite safe to come out as gay, but at least it's OK to be a gay-supporter.

The world is changing and Sri Sri, one of the more urbane godmen, is not unaware of this. Even as he was advising the student at JNU, 61.6 percent of Australians voted in favour of same-sex marriage. It is a non-binding ballot, but with 7.8 million voting in support of it as opposed to 4.9 million voting against, it's a fairly overwhelming 'yes' for marriage equality.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, whose followers come from all over the world, whose sermons fill convention centres in Silicon Valley, has emerged as sort of the patron guru for the upwardly mobile Indian who is anxious that India be seen as a liberal modern democracy. They might not be ready for same-sex marriage like the Australians but they do not want Section 377 either. That's just their tendency.

I can understand those who are upset at having their orientation, their lives apparently dismissed as a "tendency". But let's take a deep breath and relax. All in all, Sri Sri's advice was probably well-intentioned if ill-elegantly phrased.

By the way, in that same interaction, when asked about students and the "anti-national" tag, he said, "Some youths have a tendency to rebel. Just because they're talking different, don't think they are anti-national."

It seems Sri Sri has a tendency towards tendency.


Published Date: Nov 15, 2017 12:44 pm | Updated Date: Nov 15, 2017 04:35 pm


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