Joel Burns: A Texas Sized Bodhisattva. (see comments for debate on homosexuality.)

Via Benjamin Riggs
on Oct 22, 2010
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“Even fear itself is frightened by the Bodhisattva’s fearlessness.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once described the energy that sustains the vow taken by a Bodhisattva as follows, “Taking the Bodhisattva vow implies that instead of holding onto our own individual territory and defending it tooth and nail, we become open to the world that we are living in… in fact, it means taking a big chance.”

I have had the good fortune to meet along my path several people who have been inspired by this very energy. They are selfless individuals or at least have the capacity to act out side of themselves in remarkable fashion. They inspire those around them, not by fancy speeches or sheer brilliance (though they may possess both of these qualities), but by personifying the immense potential available to us all. Their very being directly points out the great potential within each an every one of us. Often times these people hold no prominent position in religion, academia, or politics; they are ordinary run of the mill folks just like you and me, which makes them all the more inspiring.

The courage in these amazing people is so complete and so formidable that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche adds, “Even fear itself is frightened by the Bodhisattva’s fearlessness.” On October the 12th 2010 I have no doubt that fear trembled as Joel Burns took to the podium! Joel Burns in my opinion, though only a meager city councilman, is the most important American politician of my day. He set a precedent, but not with his speech (though it was a wonderful speech). He set a precedent in American politics by being willing to put his career in politics to death for the sake of truth. Out of compassion, an open-heart (the cornerstone of the Bodhisattva) he put aside his own ambitions and did what was right for the sake of others.

I have been out of town for two weeks, in a place that has no Internet connection or TV (yes such places do still exist), so I did not hear his speech until this morning. I suppose this is all old news to everyone else, but I wanted to post this article today anyway… Not as an opinion piece, or to write a popular article; simply to praise the courage that Joel Burns demonstrated that night, and pray that this courage is infectious.

Just in case you live under a larger rock than I do, I have posted the video below:

YouTube Preview Image


About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA and a teacher at Explore Yoga. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist and Christian spirituality on Elephant Journal, and his blog. Click here to listen to the Finding God in the Body Podcast. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


54 Responses to “Joel Burns: A Texas Sized Bodhisattva. (see comments for debate on homosexuality.)”

  1. Kendra says:

    thanks for posting, I cry everytime I watch this, he is truly brave.

  2. Another view: this is the exact opposite of the bodhisattva approach.

    These events are the realization of the Buddha's prediction that in 2500 years the Dharma would be lost. We see people holding up the opposite of the Dharma and calling it Buddhism. This is the way to prolong and deepen suffering, not the path to alleviate suffering.

    That's the bad news. The good news is that new teachings are around the corner.

    • BenRiggs says:

      What are you talking about???
      Do I understand the above correctly when I say that I take your comment to mean that Joel Burns is somehow acting outside the realm honesty and courage?

  3. Ben, he is acting outside the parameters of right action in the Buddhist sense. I am sure that his expression was honest in terms of reality at that moment for himself. And I imagine he viewed it as a courageous act. But from a Buddhist view I do not think it holds up. I do not believe his actions help those who are suffering or will suffer. There is a huge difference between sympathy and compassion—that difference is primarily one of wisdom. Let me see if I can find the video regarding the Dalai Lama's statements in this regard…

  4. elephantjournal says:

    Gonna hafta blog that one

    Just tweeted:

    See comments: apparently homosexuality is wrong—and Buddhism agrees. #not

    • Double amen. Also, I really do take with a grain of salt what a traditional monk (of any religion) says about sex, not that they are in any way lacking in wisdom or ability but can be quite disconnected with everyday life and lay-practice. Concerning the Precepts; they are guidelines to practice. Points on the path to review what we do and why we do it. In terms of skillfulness, I consider denying yourself and living a facade to be the epitome of folly.

      Although, disagreeing with the Dalai Lama, I feel it necessary now to fall upon my own knife and become a Scientologist.



      PS. Very moving video

  5. BenRiggs says:

    Re: Taminauthorgreg
    "These events are the realization of the Buddha's prediction that in 2500 years the Dharma would be lost. We see people holding up the opposite of the Dharma and calling it Buddhism. This is the way to prolong and deepen suffering, not the path to alleviate suffering… That's the bad news. The good news is that new teachings are around the corner. "

    This sounds an awful lot like some fundamentalist Christian telling me not to worry about Global Warming or the economy because the world is soon going to end… But the good news is all the believers will be raptured!

  6. Ishu says:

    In addition to that I would add HHDL does not speak for all of Buddhism. As global as he may be, he is as much a victim of his childhood cultural trapping as any of us are.

  7. Bodhipaksa says:

    " We see people holding up the opposite of the Dharma and calling it Buddhism." Yeah, but that's always happened, and in this case it seems to me that the Dalai Lama is the one who's teaching non-Dharma (his Tibetan cultural conditioning) as Dharma.

    • Not really. The Buddha himself had much to say about being attached to sensual-based identity.

      Perhaps the upset on the topic has more to do with our clinging to our bodies as our primary identity than with anything else.

  8. Kert Hubin says:

    Where are all the homos here? I can't be the only one who subscribes. I've spent my entire life fighting to be who I am in the face of judgment from all corners, including those closest to me. Until the entire straight world can join me in agreeing that being gay is a cause for CELEBRATION, and certainly untill all my brothers and sisters who identify as Buddhists can agree on that, my Boddhissatva work, my BIG NELLY GAY-ASS SODOMITE MAN-LOVING DRAG QUEEN DICK-SUCKING BODHISSATVA WORK of dispelling ignorance will continue. Sometimes, tamingauthorgreg, opinions are best kept to oneself until one has had a chance to test their validity in the real world and come to an informed decision about their helpfulness. You know… like a good Buddhist should. My life is also the Dharma.

  9. Kert Hubin says:

    We would not be giving this discussion one iota of serious thought if a Buddhist teacher had said that having blue eyes, a shitty hair-do, a cock-eye or a vagina was an example of 'acting outside the parameter of right action.' I can't believe that a serious Buddhist can give this notion of gay sex not equating to right action a lick of authentically adult consideration.

    It's impossible for me to express how much anger I'm feeling right now.

  10. Kert Hubin says:


    • When a topic raises such anger it is obviously an area to take up in meditation.

      It is obviously an area in which karmic imprints loaded with negative energy are located.

      Would it not make sense to explore that anger to see if you can locate its origin and come to a place of peace in that regard?

      Would it not be better to be able to speak to the topic without anger? Only when you are without anger is it possible to hear what others may be saying and also to discover the causes and conditions for your own thoughts.

      One of the reasons that this topic is never discussed in respectful and insightful ways has to do with the anger. And then people head off to their separate camps growling and snapping and living anything but an enlightened life. Maybe we can change that common dynamic?

  11. kendra says:

    I would like to comment on this, but well…I'm speechless. I'll just say that Burns act was completely selfless and anyone who see's it differently does not live in the same world I'm coming from.

  12. BenRiggs says:

    Where did I get spontaneity was synonymous with enlightenment? *see reply below

  13. BenRiggs says:

    Where did I get spontaneity was synonymous with enlightenment?
    Well spontaneity suggest lack of censorship, i.e. no oversight from the ego.
    The comment "In both Buddhism and Christianity the focus is on the discipline of spirit over flesh." is hellish! There is no liberation in that… It is ridiculous, and requires oversight, censorship, or the belief that "spirit" is separate" from flesh. That does not work.
    Do you see? I know you posted a huge response, but I think this is a point we have to work out before we can go on…

    • Ben, then why does the Buddha promise release from the wheel of birth and death?

      Why does he speak about cessation of attachment to the skandhas, the aggregates?

      Why does he speak of the Noble One being someone who has recalled all his former lives?

      What are those aspects of the teaching about?

  14. Brendan Burroughs says:

    I believe Joel Burns spoke emotionally, and openly, from experience. I believe he spoke with the intention to voice his concerns and in the process he seemed to have an emotional release. I think that what he spoke about was partially facts of what has happened to those teens, but also what he showed was sorrow, and it more appeared like he opened up the floor to share in those emotions. My opinion is that he spoke facts and those facts drew up emotion. Is that courageous? Perhaps it is courageous to let emotions run free when speaking on a topic that may touch upon past experience. However, those emotions can certainly have a counter-effect at the table of objectivity. I liked what he was saying, but the bottom line is we have to stop the bullying- it does not do anyone any good. Hopefully, the hurt and pain passes for him and he can re-address the issue with clarity and rejuvenation!

    • True enough. But the question is why are these teens in a situation in which they are clinging to a sexual identity at their age and why is that sexual identity the subject of public discourse such that they are bullied?

      Why do we have such an over-the-top sexualization of our young people in school? Why are young people being educated with the idea that they are their body and that body determines who they are and who they can be?

      Why are our young people devoid of compassion and wisdom? Why is the gay agenda being pushed as part of a militant movement that puts young people in adversarial positions they do not need nor are they prepared to handle?

      There are many questions that must be honestly addressed if we truly wish to help young people so they do not suffer and end up in tragic situations.

  15. BenRiggs says:

    Release from the wheel of birth and death is release not from the events we call death, but the supposed entity that passes through these events!
    Cessation of attachment to the skandhas is the discovery that these aggregates are self-arisen and self-liberating!
    The Noble One realizes that past lives shape the ego right now, and todays persona will go on to shape the egos future lives!
    That is what those teachings are about!
    Release is spontaneity!

  16. Hodo says: suffer with. Obviously this man is in the midst of suffering with his friends,family, and all members of, straight, whatever. As we all are. If anyone here has gay friends or family, then they know from direct accounts how hard it is, and what difficulties gay people have faced over the ages, and are still facing today. I'm glad he made this speech, and that it came from his heart.

    • Compassion and sympathy differ. Compassion is empathy plus wisdom. With sympathy one endorses the suffering and its continuation. With compassion one leads another toward a release from suffering, toward understanding of the sources of suffering. While Burns needs our compassion, his actions do not rise to the level of a bodhisattva who helps others; in fact, his suffering only increases the suffering of others through sympathy and not compassion. He does not offer solutions but rather endorses the suffering that exists.

  17. Randall Smith says:

    triple amen (in as non-dogmatic a way as possible).

  18. Exactly. And that, I believe, ends up giving people who are having trouble a better frame with which to work. We can help young people not become attached in ways that lead to tragic consequences.

    Imagine if one option offered in high school was to be a celibate monk for the period. Another choice that might make a statement about not getting attached to cultural traps.

  19. BenRiggs says:

    Hey man, let's move this discussion to another article… This discussion has nothing to do with homosexuality. I created a new post that deals with this topic of authentic Buddhism! Here is the link-

  20. NellaLou says:

    Here's what a few more very traditional monks have to say on the subject of homosexuality.

    HH the Dalai Lama does not speak for all of Buddhism or even for a significant majority. He speaks for one small sect of one particular branch of Buddhism which is very definitely in the minority, in terms of numbers of followers, of Buddhism world wide. And even in that his authority is contested and not absolute.

  21. NellaLou says:

    This is pretty much what the Theravada monks I linked to below have said also. Sexuality itself, regardless of the "subject of desire" if I may use that term, is where the question, and problem of misuse lies. This concords with what teachers of other schools, including Zen and Tibetan schools have stated. I could look up all the references but I don't have time right now.

  22. tamingauthor says:

    Perhaps the best clue to the idea that the Buddha was not a fan of homosexuality or uncontrolled sensuality is the story of his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. The challenges he faced give us some insight into what he would expect a student to face and what might get in the way. It is all a matter of practice, practical matters—not value judgments or putting people down. More a matter of "here is what works."

  23. tamingauthor says:

    You have hit upon the issue. The state of one's mind. That would be the focus of the practice. And it is the state of one's mind that changes in Buddhism. And some things are more conducive to change than others, some things are more conducive to awareness than others. The Buddha simply laid out a practical path.

    At some point the Buddhist student no longer says "I do what my mind tells me to do but rather the mind does what I instruct it to do." There is a move from being the robotic effect of the monkey mind to being enlightened.

    • BenRiggs says:

      I need clarification: At some point the Buddhist student no longer says "I do what my mind tells me to do but rather the mind does what I instruct it to do." What is the "I" that is telling the mind what to do?

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    But how do I make it? I do not understand it …

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  41. Perigar says:

    Burns last year opted against running for the Texas State Senate District 10 job that Davis is leaving to pursue a bid for governor.

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