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Genuine wisdom destroys all prejudices

My brother is a transgender, but I am a devoted Buddhist and so I don’t feel comfortable with these things. Is it a sin to act like this? I feel embarrassed to be around him. How should I treat my brother? 

Confused, Thimphu

Well, first of all we don’t have a concept of sin in Buddhism. We believe in karma, which is the law of cause and effect. It is a complicated subject, but simply you can just think that thoughts, words, and deeds that are aimed at benefitting ourselves at the expense of others create negative karma, while thoughts, words, and deeds that are aimed at benefitting others create good karma. 

As for your question about transgender, well, as Buddhism is a wisdom-based religion – and genuine wisdom destroys all prejudices and fixations – being a Buddhist should make you more, not less open.  

Anyway, you say that your brother is transgender, but I think you are just stuck with the idea of a guy who dresses in female clothing. However, he is much more than a just a simple label – transgender – but also a human being with many qualities and traits. Transgender is just one aspect of his character. 

Basically, when we have strong feelings for or against another person or race of people, we are not seeing things in an open way, but instead narrowly focusing on just one aspect. In this respect, we are like a man who wears dark glasses. We see everything on mono-colour – black.

As you say that you are a devoted Buddhist, you should realize that this view is totally opposed to the teachings of Buddhism, which recognizes that everything is composed of many aspects and there is not a single thing in the universe that exists as a permanent, single entity. OK, this sounds complicated, and so let’s take a simple object like a piece of paper as an example. If we look at it superficially, we just see a thin, white object that we label as paper. However, under analysis, we realize that it is much more than that. In reality, it is made from wood, which in turn came from a tree that developed through the interaction of a seed with rain, sunlight, and soil. In this respect, paper is not a fixed, singular item, but an object that is composed of many things. 

So, how does this relate to your question? Well, as a Buddhist you should not be stuck with the concept of an independent, unchanging entity, such as transgender, addict, civil servant, etc. Instead, using the piece of paper as an example, you should understand that there is no human who can be defined by just a single, unchanging trait, such transgender, civil servant, beautiful, or ugly, but recognize that every individual possesses many characteristics that are constantly changing. Not understanding this point is actually the cause of the vast majority of human conflicts – from the person who despises his neighbor because he labels him as mean or bad to the people who are prejudiced against an entire race of people because they see them as single, unchanging entity. 

You see, if we analyze a person who we consider bad, we will not only discover that he possesses good qualities, but also realize that his negative qualities are not his original nature, but developed due to education, experiences, and family background.  Like the piece of paper, a person is not a single unchanging object, but something that possesses many characteristics that have developed as the result of various influences. When these influences change, a person’s character will also change. In this respect, we should not get stuck with an idea that someone is permanently 100% ugly, beautiful or whatever. 

Furthermore, we should understand that the label we attach to someone is just an opinion based on our own education, culture and family background. Actually, it is ok to have an opinion, but we need to realize that is just our opinion, and not an ultimate fact.       

In this respect, Buddhism has no bias with regard gender, skin colour, or race, but rather recognizes that every sentient being is made of many different aspects. Furthermore, a Buddhist recognizes that every sentient possesses Buddha nature and so has the potential to become enlightened. 

Here is a relevant comment by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche: “Your sexual orientation has got nothing to do with understanding or not understanding the truth. You could be gay. You could be a lesbian. You could be straight. We never know who will get enlightened first – probably lesbians. We never know.”        

Personally, I suggest that instead of blaming your brother for making you feel uncomfortable, you should instead investigate why you have this prejudice. I mean, so what if he prefers to wear woman’s clothes? Male/female clothing is just a convention, not a universal law.  

In addition, it would be helpful for you to consider why some people distain others of different skin colour or feel uncomfortable with people who have a different lifestyle? If people use Buddhist logic, they will discover that everyone is a just the product of their education, upbringing, karma, culture etc and that the label they stick on them is related to just one small aspect of their character. In the same way that a piece of paper is much more than just a thin white object, so a person is far greater than the one characteristic.  

In this respect, the acceptance and compassion that Buddhists are credited with possessing is not a wishy-washy concept of being nice and smiley, but is rooted in a deep understanding of how everything functions.  As I stated earlier, all the violence in the world comes from people fixating on one aspect of a person or race of people and seeing this as the entire picture.  

To sum up, I suggest that you use wisdom to view your brother’s lifestyle. This will open your mind and make you less uncomfortable with people whose lifestyle differs from yours. As a result, you will develop understanding that is genuine and unfailing.  Basically, you need to remove your dark glasses of prejudice and see things in multi-colour. Put in another way, you need to recognize that your brother is a living, human being with many characteristics, not just a guy who prefers female clothes.

Related information: http://www.lionsroar.com/what-makes-you-a-buddhist/         

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