Avalokiteshvara at the Baths

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Toby Johnson's books:

Toby's books are available as ebooks from smashwords.com, the Apple iBookstore, etc.

Fing Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret IIIFINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III

Gay SpiritualityGAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

Gay Perspective

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

Secret Matter

SECRET MATTER, a sci-fi novel with wonderful "aliens" with an Afterword by Mark Jordan

Getting LifeGETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:  A Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods

The Fourth QuillTHE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

Two SpiritsTWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

charmed livesCHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers

Myth of the Great Secret

THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

In Search of God


Unpublished manuscripts

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

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  Toby has done five podcasts with Harry Faddis for The Quest of Life

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  Articles and Excerpts:

Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

Why gay people should NOT Marry

The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage

Toby and Kip Get Married

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

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Gay Consciousness

Why homosexuality is a sin

The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

The Gay Succession

Wouldn’t You Like to Be Uranian?

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Mysticism of Andrew Harvey

The upsidedown book on MSNBC

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"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

You're Not A Wave

Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

What Anatman means

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

Cutting edge realization

The Myth of the Wanderer

Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss

World Navel

What the Vows Really Mean

Manifesting from the Subtle Realms

The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse

The est Training and Personal Intention

Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven

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Gay Spirituality

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

The Mann Ranch (& Rich Gabrielson)

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Two Loves

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

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The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

Having a Church to Leave

Harold Cole on Beauty

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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Not lashed to the prayer-post

Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality

Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process

Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)

Redeem Orlando

Gay Consciousness changing the world by Shokti LoveStar

Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson

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Mystical Vision

"The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross & the Dark Night of the Soul."

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

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The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey as archetype -- GSV 2016

The  Gay Hero Journey (shortened)

You're On Your Own


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Seeing Differently

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"

Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

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The Vision

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

A  Most Remarkable Synchronicity in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

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The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby

Part 2: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Part 3: Jesus and the Resurrection

Part 4: A Course in Miracles

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The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

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Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and the modern Gay Hero-- a five part presentation on YouTube

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About Alien Abduction

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

Intersections with the movie When We Rise

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

Toby at the California Institute

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

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Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Mark Thompson

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

The Alamo Business Council

Our friend Tom Nash

Second March on Washington

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"

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Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter

The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen

War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar

The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre

Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak

A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey

Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes

The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes

Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour

In Walt We Trust by John Marsh

Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary

A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary

Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott

Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou

Internal Landscapes by John Ollom

Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks

Yes by Brad Boney

Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler

Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal

Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson

Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire

"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught

Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology

The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons

Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert

The Revotutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker

Out There by Perry Brass

The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh

The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan

It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja

ReCreations, edited by Catherine Lake

Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson

Dating the Greek Gods
by Brad Gooch

Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan

The Substance of God by Perry Brass

The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols

10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe

The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

An Interview with Ron Long

Queering Creole Spiritual Traditons by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner

Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard

Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak

Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan

Rising Up by Joe Perez

Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez

That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang

MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether

Double Cross by David Ranan

The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak

Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry

In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson

The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson

Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray

Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak

Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor

Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien

Queering Christ by Robert Goss

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage

The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato

Catland by David Garrett Izzo

Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson

Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main

Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd

Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza

What Does "Queer" Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett

Critique of Patriarchal Reasoning by Arthur Evans

Gift of the Soul by Dale Colclasure & David Jensen

Legend of the Raibow Warriors by Steven McFadden

The Liar's Prayer by Gregory Flood

Lovely are the Messengers by Daniel Plasman

The Human Core of Spirituality by Daniel Helminiak

3001: The FInal Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Religion and the Human Sciences by Daniel Helminiak

Only the Good Parts by Daniel Curzon

Four Short Reviews of Books with a Message

Life Interrupted by Michael Parise

Confessions of a Murdered Pope by Lucien Gregoire

The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny

Footprints Through the Desert by Joshua Kauffman

True Religion by J.L. Weinberg

The Mediterranean Universe by John Newmeyer

Everything is God by Jay Michaelson

Reflection by Dennis Merritt

Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson

Hard Lesson by James Gaston

God vs Gay? by Jay Michaelson

The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson

Roxie & Fred by Richard Alther

Not the Son He Expected by Tim Clausen

The 9 Realities of Stardust by Bruce P. Grether

The Afterlife Revolution by Anne & Whitley Strieber

AIDS Shaman: Queer Spirit Awakening by Shokti Lovestar

Facing the Truth of Your Life by Merle Yost

The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey J Kripal

Secret Body by Jeffrey J Kripal

In Hitler's House by Jonathan Lane

Walking on Glory by Edward Swift

The Paradox of Porn by Don Shewey

Is Heaven for Real? by Lucien Gregoire

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

Toby Johnson's Books on Gay Men's Spiritualities:

Perspective cover
Gay Perspective

Things Our [Homo]sexuality
Tells Us about the
Nature of God and
the Universe

Gay Perspective audiobook
Gay Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Matthew Whitfield. Click here

Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness

Gay Spirituality   is now available as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by John Sipple. Click here

charmed lives
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

edited by
Toby Johnson
& Steve Berman

secret matter
Secret Matter

Lammy Award Winner for Gay Science Fiction


Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance

Life in Perspective audiobook
Getting Life in Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Alex Beckham. Click here 

The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

originally published as PLAGUE

The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here

Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo

with Walter L. Williams

Two Spirits
audiobookTwo Spirits  is available as an audiobook  narrated by Arthur Raymond. Click here

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III
Finding Your Own True Myth:
What I Learned from Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Great Secret III

Search of God in the Sexual Underworld
In Search of God  in the Sexual Underworld

The Myth of the Great Secret II

The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.

This was the second edition of this book.

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Toby Johnson's titles are available in other ebook formats from Smashwords.

There are said to be Three Wonders of the Bodhisattva


Joseph Campbell--the great light and "wise old man" of Toby Johnson's spiritual journey--wrote glowingly about the myth of the Bodhisattva and the The Way of Joyful Participation inthe Sorrows of the World.

Campbell wrote: "This is the sense of the first wonder of the Bodhisattva: the androgynous character of the presence . . . the initiate learns that male and female are (as paraphrased in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) 'two halves of a split pea'. . ."

"The second wonder to be noted in the Bodhisattva myth is its annihilation of the distinction between life and release-from-life--which is symbolized . . . in the Bodhisattva's renunciation of Nirvana . . ."

"The third wonder of the Bodhisattva myth is that the first wonder (namely, the bisexual form) is symbolical of the second (the identity of eternity and time)."

Note to readers: if you came upon this webpage through a search on Buddhism or the name Avalokiteshvara, you may be surprised to discover an article on an aspect of gay men's spiritual consciousness. You might even be scandalized to read about a gay man's mystical experience.

Let me invite you to relax your expectations and read on. You may discover something about yourself--and certainly about your gay friends and compatriots in the world of samsara--that will surprise and edify you.

There are several articles on this website about the story of Avalokiteshvara, most of them not quite as "outrageous" as this one. There are links below to several of them including: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
Especially if the very idea of "gay men's spirituality" seems odd or shocking to you,
please read on and/or look at Toby Johnson's main page


Avalokitesvara at The 21st Street Baths
by Toby Johnson

(This story appears in slightly different form in the Lethe Press anthology Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling, edited by Toby Johnson and Steve Berman. And is retold, as presented here, in Finding God in the Sexual Underworld by Toby Johnson. )


One night in the late 1970s, (July 14, 1978 to be exact), I checked into the 21st Street Baths a few blocks from my San Francisco Noe Valley apartment. Within five minutes I felt I'd made a mistake. Nobody looked attractive to me and nobody seemed to find me attractive. There was only one young man I was interested in and he didn't pay any notice of me.

He was boyish-looking, with short-cropped, dusty blond hair, a round face, not really pretty but appealing in a wholesome way; he was thin, but with solid shoulders and a tight abdomen. He wasn’t exactly my type, but cute. I passed him coming out of the locker room area, then saw him again walking the long hall of mostly empty cubicles. He didn’t seem to even acknowledge I was there. That’s the way the baths are, I told myself.

I watched TV awhile, delaying departure in case somebody else showed up. In night-life time, the evening was just starting. I wondered why I’d come. Earlier I’d been feeling lonely. I really need to be touched, I told myself as I’d headed out down the backstairs and into the dark night when everybody in the building should be asleep. I could still feel that neediness all through my chest; my heart still burned with longing. It had led me here. I wasn’t ready to go back home yet.

I wandered around the place, checking out the wet area, then the hall of cubicles again and back through the TV room. Interesting, the different smells. I wasn’t sure I liked them all. I went upstairs and into one of the common rooms. A red spotlight illuminated the entrance, but otherwise the large space with cushioned platforms around the walls was pitch dark. It was impossible to tell just how big—or how small—the room really was. Of if there was anybody in there. As I made my way into the darkness, a hand reached out and touched me on the thigh. I looked, but could not see who was there. I automatically resisted. What if I were being groped by somebody unattractive?

Well, no wonder you’re lonely, I said to myself. If anybody chooses you, you assume you wouldn’t want them. You’re caught in those webs of karma: getting rejected because you reject others.

As my eyes adjusted, I saw it was the guy I’d noticed earlier. I moved closer. We started in on the kind of impersonal play that goes on in the orgy room at a bathhouse, but then soon changed tempo. We lay down on the platform, side by side, facing each other, holding one another tenderly. Violating the stolid silence, the young man introduced himself to me as Jim. “You seem sad,” he said.

Realizing the opportunity for communication, sensing the openness on Jim’s part, and wanting more from this meeting than just sex, I told him about my earlier loneliness, my longing for love and my disappointment with the baths as any sort of remedy. Jim listened carefully.

Occasionally he murmured or squeezed me to let me know he was paying attention.

 I surprised myself talking out loud in such a place. There wasn’t anyone else in the room, so we weren’t disturbing anybody, but still… Wasn’t this a breach of bathhouse etiquette? Though wasn’t it wonderful? And I surprised myself with the depth of honesty I displayed. I started talking about my interior life. I recounted several major spiritual experiences in my life, acknowledging that I found the clash between my spirituality and my liberated gay sexuality confusing.

We lay together in an embrace that was not entirely sexual, but was not unsexual either. His body felt so good in my arms. His skin was soft and smelled slightly sweet. His chest felt supple and warm as we pressed together. We shifted in one another’s arms sliding slowly against each other, gently belly-frotting to keep renewing our arousal. I was vividly aware of his flesh, slightly electric, against my chest and of our cocks lying full but not quite hard between us.

He said he was a switchboard operator at Langley Porter, the psych hospital at U.C. San Francisco. But otherwise didn’t say much about himself—other than that he too struggled with joining his spirituality and his sexuality. He commended me on being spiritually inclined and coaxed me to talk some more.

I told him about my past as a Catholic seminarian and my conversion, by way of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, to a kind of New Age Buddhism. I told him of my effort to live a good life, to be compassionate and sensitive to other people, to participate in my culture and in my society, to pursue a right livelihood as a gay counselor, to be politically and ecologically aware, to live responsibly, and not to cause harm or pain—to discover how to be a saint as a modern gay man. I told him about the sorrow that seemed to come to me, in spite of my good efforts, instead of joy.

Almost lecturing him, assuming he wouldn’t know about such things, I explained how Buddhism teaches that all existence is sorrowful. I lamented the pang of sorrow I found in being gay—not from guilt or negativity, but from the frustration of seeing such sexual beauty all around me and feeling—on the ego level—inadequate to participate, but beyond that—on some metaphysical level—simply unable to possess it all.

“So many men, so little time,” he joked with one of the war cries of the Sexual Revolution.

“But on a much deeper level,” I replied. “It’s like I want to be everybody and know their lives from inside and feel their flesh as my own.”

I told Jim about my fascination with that particular Mahayana Buddhist myth. “The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara was this enlightened being who chose to renounce nirvana and remain within the cycles of reincarnation. Out of generosity, he vowed to take upon himself the suffering of the world in order to bring all beings to nirvana with him. He’s a world savior—a little like Jesus.

“When I first came across this myth, maybe without realizing what I was doing,” I said, “in a burst of fervor I committed myself to this story. I made the bodhisattva’s vow. Does that mean I’m doomed to suffer? And is the suffering a gay man gets these days the loneliness and isolation that comes with living in a sexually active environment, maybe getting sex but never quite finding the love, just the frustration and disappointment?”

This was before AIDS. The metaphysical suffering of the gay community had not yet become physically manifest in sorrowful deaths all around us, as it would in a few years. I was later going to see just how appropriate the bodhisattva’s willingness to take on suffering would prove. If Buddhist monks down through time had emulated this story by making the bodhisattva vow, a lot of them were certainly likely to get reincarnated in the nuclear age and as homosexuals in the days of AIDS.

“Is this a holy way to live?” I asked.

A long silence ensued. We slid against each other and roused the pleasure in our bodies again.

“That’s a pretty dismal interpretation of the story,” Jim answered finally. “Isn’t a better interpretation that since the bodhisattva took on everyone’s incarnation, he is the One Being that is reincarnating? You can rejoice that he accepted your karma. You are him. You are everybody. The Being in you is the Being in everybody else. Embracing the suffering of the world doesn’t mean being unhappy. It means deciding that everything is great just the way it is, that life is worth choosing—in spite of sorrow. That’ll actually bring happiness.

“The Bodhisattva took on the suffering of the world in order to transform it and save sentient beings from suffering, not to glorify suffering or get people to feel guilty about being happy and punish themselves. That sounds more like a Christian misinterpretation of the story than the bodhisattva wisdom.”

I was surprised by his answer. “You know about the bodhisattva?” I asked.

“Yes, I know,” Jim said and smiled enigmatically in the faint red light of the orgy room.

“You mean you know about Buddhism?”

“I mean, I know about accepting everyone’s incarnations.”

“You know about Avalokiteśvara?”

Jim looked into my eyes with a profound gaze. “I know I am Avalokiteśvara,” he said.

“You mean like we all are?”

“Like I am.”

All of a sudden, to my dismay, I understood this man to be saying not simply that, like all beings, he was a manifestation of the Central Self that in Mahayana Buddhism is mythologized in the story of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, but that he was, in a unique way, a specific incarnation of that divine being.

I felt my world whirling out of control. I was in the presence of one of my most beloved of gods—right there in the flesh: Avalokiteśvara holding me close, in the orgy room at the 21st Street Baths. A thrill of excitement, mystical wonder, bewilderment, and consolation coursed through me.

I experienced linking my soul with that of this other man, chakra by chakra. In my mind I could perceive a red-orange light surging back and forth between us, connecting us at each of the energy centers, brightest and hottest at the level of our hearts. I felt an enormous rush pouring through me—body and soul. In a certain way you could say I was falling in love and feeling love’s joy. I could feel that flame burning in my heart, but now not as longing but as bliss.

My head spun. I seemed to have entered into some truly “underworld” state in which the gods took on real flesh. I wondered if I’d gotten delusional. I wondered if we were both just playing a game with one another, spinning out the implications of a mythology we both happened to know about. Maybe he was just another stoned hippie like me carrying on with all this new age stuff.

What did it matter? Whatever was happening, it was marvelous. Far more than just having found somebody to have sex with. This wasn’t even exactly “sex,” but it was fully satisfying of the loneliness I’d felt earlier. Whoever he was, he was manifesting the bodhisattva truth. What did it matter?

As if addressing my bewilderment, Jim said, “Have faith.”

“What do you mean?”

“Faith that things are never totally true or totally false, faith that life won’t destroy us, that nothing really matters because it’s all okay.” He laughed. “Live in the present. Don’t try to possess the world, have faith in the world.

“You said you made the bodhisattva’s vow in a burst of religious fervor. I think that was transcendental memory. In your soul—in who you really are—you remembered making that vow as Avalokiteśvara. That’s how you came to be incarnated in this particular life.”


We both breathed deep and rolled over so he was on top. Squirming together, we rekindled our arousal. It was very loving. Very affectionate —maybe he kissed me on the neck. And very intense. Then we both relaxed, pulled apart and looked into each other’s eyes. He smiled. “Time for me to go.”

“Can I see you again?” I asked, already feeling bereft.

With a tone of gentleness in his voice, “Don’t cling,” he replied. It sounded more like wisdom teaching than rejection.

A pang of loss struck me, but I understood the spiritual lesson to live in the present and not to be attached, to enjoy the joy I was feeling without trying to possess and hold onto it.

After Jim disappeared into the dark of the bathhouse, I lay there on the platform with my heart beating like crazy. “Avalokiteśvara’s real,” I kept saying to myself. The longing and neediness in my chest was gone. The fire that burned was happiness. What a wonderful night!

How odd that a bathhouse would be the locale for such a deep spiritual experience. But maybe that was just perfect. What an important insight: sexuality and spirituality are really just different faces of the same affirmation of life-force, Úlan vital. In heterosexual contexts, this life-force reveals and manifests —and creates— the duality in nature and thereby procreates new life. In homosexual, it reveals and manifests —and creates— the unity of cosmic consciousness and empowers us to love the world and each other, and strive to make it a better place for all our other incarnations. For all it can be a source of love, joy and affirmation.

We just need to see things differently. There is no difference between time and eternity. This is heaven here and now. That’s the secret.


Back to main page

More about Avalokiteshvara

More about gay men as bodhisattvas

I Want to Know Them All
Here's a link to a wonderful article by L. Houston Wood
about the nature of the Bodhisattva experience

 "Kuan Yin:  Mirror of the Queer Asian Christ"
Here's an essay by gay spirituality activist Patrick Cheng on the story of the bodhisattva. The article tells several wonderful stories about the bodhisattva appearing in what we'd think of today as gay/queer incarnations.

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness. 

Johnson's book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

His  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They remain in print.

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual qualities of gay male consciousness.

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