Would like to know where Ananda stands on same sex marriage, does Ananda preform these marriages? I heard that Ananda practices discrimination against gay and lesbian people when wanting to join your communities, is this true? Ok for gay men to pay for your lessons and follow Yoganandya but not be welcomed at Ananda centers. Would like to join Ananda as a gay man but I don’t feel very welcomed. Thanks Ed O'Brien
—Edward O'Brien, USA
I feel for your dilemma and discomfort, though I want to assure you that Ananda, its leadership, and ministry does not endorse discrimination against gays. I myself (and my wife, Padma) have performed two gay weddings and attended others. All of our communities have residents who are gay, at least so far as I know, and I know for a fact that none discriminate against having gay residents.
What I would ask you to try to understand is that the emphasis of the Path of Raja (Kriya) Yoga is ego-transcendence and liberation of the soul into the Spirit. The soul, we are taught, has no gender! We have married couples; unmarried couples, and, yes, gay couples throughout our worldwide membership.
Where the issue occasionally, though rarely, arises is if a gay member wants to strongly identify with a particular sexual orientation and make a public “thing” of it. This would be analogous to a member who was actively into self-promotion or “loudly” promoting sexuality of any kind as the summum bonum of life. By contrast, the life we are striving to live is one of service to the guru’s work; to daily meditation, prayer and devotion; to humility and surrender to the divine will. If an individual is gay and works with that just as responsibly as others work with their sexual promptings or needs (meaning with maturity, commitment, respect, and love) then what difference would it make to others?
At the same time, Ananda centers and communities are not isolated from their culture or environment. Our membership in other countries may have a different level of sensitivity around homosexuality than our center in San Francisco. Ananda does not want to trademark our teachings and communities as havens for gay-ness because we are not that. We seek to be havens for Self-realization! We welcome participation by anyone who is willing to strive for Self-realization and transcend ego-oriented self-definitions (which are infinite and far beyond just sexual ones). We, like the rest of society, exist in the milieu of social norms and values. As these have evolved to accept homosexuality, it becomes easier to do so, as well. By contrast, it wasn’t long ago when the prevailing attitudes and even religious teachings (East and West) were unaccepting. Just as Jesus Christ hinted only obliquely and even side-stepped the subject of reincarnation, one can only go so far if one’s purpose is to serve the public. Some church leaders and yogis in past times denounced things like slavery or the evils of the caste system, but some also did not, either not recognizing the evil or not feeling they could afford to stand up for what is right. Courage or cowardice? Look at the original American Constitution, for example, which embedded slavery into its structure but only later had the courage to cast it off. “Timing is everything!”
So our reluctance to emphasize or take positions on such matters is because that’s not what we are focused on. The equality we “campaign for” is of the soul, not the body and personality. We are all trying our best to mature and lead God-centered lives. The fact that all of us have a myriad of tendencies and desires and fears to work on simply gives us opportunities for self-acceptance and compassion. We do not seek to endorse one another’s affirmations of limited self-identities and self-definitions out of a false notion of how to express respect, compassion, or acceptance. We understand that there are many in this world of suffering who have been hurt and discriminated against on the basis of superficial characteristics such as skin color, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. How can we not feel for their suffering? Our contribution – our way to serve them and everyone is to help all to “go within!” to seek the truth that shall make us free.
We individually strive to see the highest potential of ourselves and others, and that potential goes beyond sexual orientation which is one of an infinite number of self-definitions to be overcome. It has no more special significance than the rest.
We are not “against” anything. We are simply focused on something else. I hope this brings greater clarity, and I hope you will feel to be who you are as a seeker of truth and Self-realization among other truth-seekers drawn to the teachings and practices of meditation as brought to us by Paramhansa Yogananda. Okay?
Blessings and Joy to You!
Note: Ananda has established the Ananda Diversity & Inclusion Council to share, support, and celebrate the diversity of its worldwide community.