When it comes to sex, Western Buddhists tend to be fairly liberal. But as scholar José Cabezón explains, Buddhist tradition takes a much more. Preface. This is the third, further revised version of the original Sangha Guide on Buddhism and Sex published by the English Sangha Trust, Dhammpadipa. The Problem With Sex in Buddhism -- by Kusala Bhikshu (From a talk given at a High School in Los Angeles.) Photo - Bob Heide. It seems these days in Los.
The Problem With Sex in Buddhism -- by Kusala Bhikshu (From a talk given at a High School in Los Angeles.) Photo - Bob Heide. It seems these days in Los. Do I need to stop having sex to live an enlightened life? How can I have rewarding, non-harming relationships? Buddhist studies professor and. It's Friday afternoon, which means we're asking questions about how people of different faiths have sex. Each week we ask the same questions.
The Problem With Sex in Buddhism -- by Kusala Bhikshu (From a talk given at a High School in Los Angeles.) Photo - Bob Heide. It seems these days in Los. Preface. This is the third, further revised version of the original Sangha Guide on Buddhism and Sex published by the English Sangha Trust, Dhammpadipa. When it comes to sex, Western Buddhists tend to be fairly liberal. But as scholar José Cabezón explains, Buddhist tradition takes a much more.
Illustration by Alejandro Sierra. I love texts. Of all the wonderful gifts my Tibetan teachers have bestowed on me, none is more dear than the training I have received in reading texts. This, I learned from my teachers, does not mean simply understanding the literal meaning, but also engaging the classic tradition critically: questioning it, using reasoning to determine whether it is valid and, if so, how, and being willing to wrestle with the great thinkers of the past in a spirit of free inquiry.
I want to make buddha case for the importance of this enterprise through a specific lens—one focusing on sexuality and sexual ethics. It is particularly useful lens because of the issues it forces us as Buddhists to grapple with.
A group of gay buddha lesbian Buddhists buddha requested the audience with His Holiness to discuss his views on homosexuality and to ask for clarifications about statements he had made, statements that the organizers saw as disconcerting. But then the discussion turned from the general to the specific—from sex is acceptable in society at large to what is acceptable in Buddhist tradition. On the other hand, it does not prohibit sex between women, or men employing the services of prostitutes, and it permits heterosexual men up to five orgasms per night.
Lest it be thought that this delineation of the boundaries between buddha and illicit sex is idiosyncratic to Tsongkhapa, I should point out that similar formulations are found in important Tibetan texts written before and after him, including works by Gampopa and Dza Patrul.
I do not have the authority to redefine these precepts since no one can make a unilateral decision or issue a decree… Such a redefinition can only come out of sangha discussions within the various Buddhist traditions. It is not unprecedented in the history of Buddhism to redefine [moral] issues, but it has to be done on the collective level.
Get even more Buddhist wisdom delivered straight to your inbox! During the course of my research I came to realize that the Tibetan position on what constitutes sexual misconduct could be understood only by first understanding what Tibetan scholars took for granted—their views of the human body, sex, and sexual desire in general. Now as important as the issue of sexuality is to the Buddhist tradition, there is no single classical work that deals with sexuality in its entirety.
While there are compilations or compendia, called samgrahaon a variety of topics in the Indian and Tibetan literature, there is nothing like a maithunasamgraha a compendium on sex.
My first task was to collect material from texts from different periods and genres. This was the fodder for my study. But understanding what the texts have to say about sexuality is only half the battle. The other half, of course, is to assess this material: to subject it to critical scrutiny. More on what I mean by that in a moment. As I was beginning to put together the pieces of the sexual puzzle in Buddhist texts, it occurred to me that contemporary Western Buddhists must already have come to some conclusions about these issues, and so I turned to that font of all knowledge, the internet, to see what people were saying about Buddhism and sexuality.
Here are three examples that illustrate what I found. The answer is short and sweet. Unlike other religions that forbid homosexuality, contracepted sex, cross-dressing, etc. In still other sources we find long lists of men and women who are to be denied Buddhist ordination on the basis of their sexual preferences, gender identity, sex sexual anatomy. So, contrary to what these bloggers think, lists there are aplenty.
I felt that they were not the true teachings that I have come to learn about Buddhism. Overall, what I found in my peregrinations through the Web was that Western Buddhists were either unaware of what the classical Indian and Tibetan tradition had to buddha about sexuality, or, when not unaware, were ready to dismiss it because it did not jibe with their preconceptions of what the Buddhist tradition is all about. As my research evolved and as I began to share my findings with audiences of nonspecialists for example, lay Western Buddhists in dharma centersI discovered a similar pattern playing itself out.
I found, first, that many people were uninformed about—or simply uninterested in—what the great texts say about sexuality. Having been written in a place and time far removed from us, many Western Buddhists, I came to realize, simply see these texts as having little relevance to our sexual lives in the here and now.
I have often asked myself why my co-religionists are so willing, and indeed keen, to adopt the minute meditation instructions of the classical masters, and so quick to slough off the advice of these same masters when it comes to matters of sex. Be that as it may, I have come to see a fundamental disconnect between what the classical Buddhist tradition has to say about sexuality and what Western Buddhists believe about the subject.
As I began to interact with Buddhist communities in the West, I found three problems that needed to be addressed: pervasive misinformation about what the traditional texts said; a tendency to dismiss the textual tradition; and, when not dismissed, accepting the tradition literally without feeling any need to engage in critical reflection.
At the center of these issues is a more fundamental problem that confronts all religions: the issue of authority. How much credence should we give to the ancient teachings of the tradition? What hold should these doctrines and tenets have on sex lives? Before continuing with sex topic of sexual ethics, here is what I buddha to be one way—my way, but I believe also a Buddhist way—of dealing with the issue of authority.
My method is simple to state, but often difficult to put into practice. It can be outlined in three basic points. First, as Buddhists, we commit ourselves to learning about dharma, about doctrine. To turn our back on this great textual tradition—either by refusing to study it or by simply dismissing what we have learned—is to turn our back on the jewel of the doctrine, the true source of refuge.
Just as important, it creates an irreconcilable rift between Western forms of Buddhism and those of Buddhist Asia, most of which use the texts as an important source of guidance.
Hiding our heads in the sand and refusing to confront the textual tradition—as difficult as this is in some cases—is not an option in my view. Nor is it an option to study the texts and then to sweep under the rug all those aspects of the textual tradition that make us uncomfortable.
When we take refuge as Buddhists, we are in a sense marrying the tradition. We are committing to this sex as a whole, with all its imperfections, the way we commit to a partner as a whole person in a relationship. This does not mean that we become blind to the imperfections of the tradition, or that we might not work for its betterment—just the contrary—but it does mean at some level accepting the tradition as a whole, for better and for worse. Second, once we find out what the tradition has to say, we must reflect critically on this.
Rather, they should subject the theological interventions of specialists to analysis, keeping theologians honest, and making them accountable both to the tradition and to reason.
The higher type of faith, by contrast, is one that begins not with immediate belief but with skepticism. It is a faith that begins in doubt and then uses the power of reason to overcome that doubt and to ascertain the truth. This higher type of buddha, unlike the former, is considered unshakeable. Nothing can destroy it. And once we have come to this unwavering kind of faith about a certain point of doctrine, then of course we must internalize the truth of the doctrine through the practice of meditation, so that our lives become seamless expressions of this truth.
Third, the process of critical reflection, as traditionally understood, is relatively narrow. I would argue that today we have at our disposal other tools, such as historical analysis buddha other concepts not found to any great extent in classical Buddhism—the concepts of justice and equality, for instance—that are just as important in the task of critically appraising the tradition.
In the end, the authority of a Buddhist doctrinal or ethical claim—whether we buddha warranted in believing something or in living our lives on the basis of a certain principle—is determined by whether it passes unscathed through the critical gauntlet.
This puts us at times in the position of arguing with our own teachers, with the great saints of India, and even with the Buddha himself. But so be it. When I sometimes find myself in disagreement with Tsongkhapa, Asanga, or Buddha, I remind myself that these great men disagreed with others who came before them, that they spoke up about what they believed, and that none asked us to follow them blindly.
Let us recall how the doctrine of sexual misconduct was formulated in its most elaborate version. Our scholastic authors tell us that sex is unethical if it involves inappropriate partners, organs, times, or places. The list of inappropriate partners explicitly excludes prostitutes or courtesans, at least so long as they are hired directly and not through an intermediary.
Part of the process of critically reflecting on such a doctrine involves paying attention to the subtleties of the text, including its gaps, what is missing.
For example, something that is not at all obvious at first blush is that the presumed audience here is men. From the language used in these texts it is clear that sex men are being addressed. The case of what constitutes sexual misconduct for women was simply not considered by classical Indian or Tibetan authors.
That in itself is a good reason why the classical formulation of sexual ethics needs to be rethought. Critical appraisal of the doctrine also involves understanding the context in which these ideas were elaborated.
For example, we cannot take for granted that the rules found here were being put forward for the same reasons that make these actions inappropriate sex us today. Rather, when a man takes a young girl or the wife of another as a sexual partner, the party whose rights have been violated are the guardians: the parents of the girl and the husband, respectively.
Today we operate under a different worldview that sees children and women as agents, a worldview that also understands the long-term effects of things like child sexual abuse. But this was not the same worldview motivating our authors, and understanding this aspect of context is an important part of the critical process.
Notice also that there are a number of morally reprehensible actions that we take for granted that are simply not mentioned in this formulation. For example, rape is not explicitly mentioned.
Once again, the ancient authors were operating under a very different set of presuppositions than those that we operate under today. The broader point is that a close reading which is open to gaps and committed to the unpacking of context is important in the process of critical reflection.
So too, of course, is historical analysis. What do we find when the doctrine of sexual misconduct is subjected to historical scrutiny? This, to my mind, is one of the most interesting results of my research. The obvious historical question then becomes this: If the early doctrine of sexual misconduct is so simple and elegant, when and why did it get so complex and restrictive?
The answer to when is simple. The answer to why requires us to think about the identity of the Indian authors who compiled the more complex versions of the doctrine.
Those authors were, first of all, celibate monks, and sex, scholastic philosophers—men who thought in terms of lists, and who wanted to cover all the bases. And why did theologians like Asanga, Vasubandhu, and others begin to elaborate lay sexual ethics precisely as they did? I believe that they sex these terms—partners, organs, orifices, times, and places—because these are the terms with which they were familiar. And why were they familiar with these categories?
Because they were the categories used to discuss the breaking of rules in the monastic code, the Vinaya. So what an historical analysis shows us is that Indian authors began to read lay sexual ethics through the buddha of monastic discipline, reading monastic norms like where penises can and cannot be inserted into lay behavioral codes. In their exuberance to elaborate, I would argue, they went overboard, on the one hand leaving behind the earlier, more elegant, and simpler formulation of sexual misconduct, and on the other inappropriately reading lay sexual ethics through the filter of monastic discipline.
The result was to make lay sexuality increasingly more restrictive and monastic-like. This obviously can take many forms. Let me give you an example so you see what I have in mind. What, we might ask, is the purpose sex the doctrine in the first place? Why should lay people refrain from engaging in sexual misconduct? The answer is probably twofold: to avoid actions that are harmful to oneself, and to avoid actions that are harmful to others. Now it is clear why an act like adultery might be considered a moral evil.
For example, monks and nuns who engage in sexual intercourse are "defeated" and are expelled automatically from the order. If a monk makes sexually suggestive comments to a woman, the community of monks must meet and address the transgression. A monk should avoid even the appearance of impropriety by being alone with a woman.
Nuns may not allow men to touch, rub, or fondle them anywhere between the collar-bone and the knees. Clerics of most schools of Buddhism in Asia continue to follow the Vinaya Pitaka , with the exception of Japan.
In the centuries after his death, the marriage of Japanese Buddhist monks may not have been the rule, but it was a not-infrequent exception. In , the Meiji government of Japan decreed that Buddhist monks and priests but not nuns should be free to marry if they choose to do so. Soon "temple families" became commonplace they had existed before the decree, but people pretended not to notice and the administration of temples and monasteries often became family businesses, handed down from fathers to sons.
In Japan today—and in schools of Buddhism imported to the West from Japan—the issue of monastic celibacy is decided differently from sect to sect and from monk to monk. Lay Buddhists—those who are not monks or nuns—must also decide for themselves whether the vague precaution against "sexual misconduct" should be interpreted as an endorsement of celibacy. People mostly take cues about what constitutes "misconduct" from their own culture, and we see this in much of Asian Buddhism.
We can all agree, without further discussion, that non-consensual or exploitative sex is "misconduct. The philosophy challenges us to think about sexual ethics very differently from how most of us have been taught. The precepts of Buddhism are not commandments.
They are followed as a personal commitment to Buddhist practice. Falling short is unskillful akusala but not sinful—after all, there is no God to sin against.
Furthermore, the precepts are principles, not rules, and it is up to individual Buddhists to decide how to apply them. This takes a greater degree of discipline and self-honesty than the legalistic, "just follow the rules and don't ask questions" approach to ethics. The Buddha said, "be a refuge unto yourself. Followers of other religions often argue that without clear, explicit rules, people will behave selfishly and do whatever they want. This sells humanity short.
Buddhism shows us that we can reduce our selfishness, greed, and attachments, that we can cultivate loving kindness and compassion—and in doing so, we can increase the amount of good in the world. A person who remains in the grip of self-centered views and who has little compassion in his heart is not a moral person, no matter how many rules he follows.
The Buddha in everything he said about sex implies The activity of sex will never ultimately satisfy the desire for sex. Now this is a real bummer if you think about it. You can have sex a times, and want it a You can be 90 years old Blind and cripple Still want to have sex, and not be physically able to.
You will never get rid of your sexual desire by having sex. In fact, it seems the more sex you have, the more sex you want. I think sex is a lot like hunger And to be honest with you, I'm so tired of being hungry. I have been hungry every day of my life. I'm hungry in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening. Think of all the time and money I could save if I gave up eating!
So what if tomorrow, I get up real early and eat as much as I desire, and anything I want. Whatever looks good, I'm going to eat it and keep eating it, until I am so full and satisfied, I will never want to eat again. Well, if I were to do that what would happen? I would wake up the next morning and still be hungry and sex works the very same way!