The topic for tonight is the Buddhist view toward sexual ethics. In general, in Buddhism, we always try to follow a middle path, and so regarding sexuality, we want to avoid two extremes. One extreme is that of being very strict and severe. This view looks at sexuality as something dirty and, basically, bad. The Buddhist middle path that teaches an ethical approach toward sexuality avoids these two extremes. To follow it, however, we need to understand the Buddhist view of ethics.
Most religions and moral codes of the West draw a clear, bright line around marriage.
What matters is that sex is loving and consensual, which can occur both inside of and outside of marriage. Buddha never specifically addressed the topic of homosexuality. This prohibition comes from the work of a 15th-century scholar named Tsongkhapa, who probably based his ideas on earlier Tibetan texts.
The Second Noble Truth teaches that the cause of suffering is craving or thirst tanha. This is true for hate, greed and other emotions, and sexual desire is no different.
If we avoid it just because it is more difficult to integrate than anger or fear, then we are simply saying that when the chips are down we cannot follow our own practice.
This is dishonest and unhealthy. Buddhism has a lot to teach us about sexual desire. The principles in Buddhism teach us to focus on feeling love and compassion for other humans beings, and ensure our actions are aligned with these feelings. This applies to how we act from feelings of sexual desire. What matters is maintaining a feeling of detachment from the desire while ensuring that sex is undertaken with love and compassion.
Before continuing with the topic of sexual ethics, here is what I believe 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.
From a Buddhist point of view, such persons would be prompted to indulge in oral or anal sex because of boredom and dissatisfaction with vaginal sex. They could feel that vaginal sex was either an insufficient way to gain or give pleasure, or an insufficient way to show love and worldparadebooks.comr: Alexander Berzin. According to the Buddhist texts, the main result that comes from having sex with someone else's partner is that our own partner relations will become unstable. Our own partners will be unfaithful. Even if we don't have a partner now, this may happen in our future worldparadebooks.comr: Alexander Berzin. Sex is the ever-sweet and ever-present distraction. It's understandable why diminishing one's attachment to sex is helpful to keep Buddhist initiates focused on self-development. Monks and nuns have always had strict limitations on physical contact between them, and between them and laypeople.
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 cts 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 tradition 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 faith, 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 and 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 are 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 only 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 for 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 - worldparadebooks.coms: 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 ct 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. The only one we are concerned with here is the first, which deals with sexual intercourse.
Complete sexual continence is considered an essential feature of the monastic life. Intercourse of a heterosexual or homosexual character is automatically a Parajika offense. A monk who performs such an act is considered to have expelled himself from the Order, and is no longer in communion with the other monks. Any acts of a sexually unbecoming nature falling short of intercourse result in suspension and require expiation. Samaneras, or novice monks, who break their training in this respect are disrobed.
The same principle applies to the Mahayana schools and of course, to nuns in those schools where they exist.
There is no such thing as a "married monk," though in certain schools, especially in Japan, a form of "quasi-monasticism" with married teachers who retain a form of ordination is permitted under certain conditions.
But all this has no relevance to the Theravada Sangha. Before turning to our main theme, it is as well to have some idea of the sexual mores of ancient India in the Buddha's time. Gotama himself, as a prince, was brought up surrounded by concubines and dancing-girls as a matter of course.
Polygamy was common. Ambapali, the courtesan from whom the Buddha accepted gifts, was a person of some consequence.
It was not expected that young men would lead a life of much restraint, and the Buddha with his profound understanding of human nature knew well what demands to make of people in this respect. Thus we find the following formulation of what a man should avoid:.
He avoids unlawful sexual intercourse, abstains from it. He has no intercourse with girls who are still under the protection of father or mother, brother, sister, or relative; nor with married women, nor female convicts; nor lastly with betrothed girls. If a man could observe greater restraint than this, so much the better.
The Buddha's outlook on this question was, then, realistic for his age, and we should endeavor to view the subject as realistically as possible in the light of modern conditions. The third of the Five Precepts undertaken by lay Buddhists runs: Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami"I undertake the course of training in refraining from wrong-doing in respect of sensuality.
With these, too, we are not further concerned, as their position is now obvious. For the average lay person, the Third Precept is on exactly the same footing as the other four. There is, in the Buddhist view, nothing uniquely wicked about sexual offenses or failings. Those inclined to develop a guilt-complex about their sex-life should realize that failure in this respect is neither more, nor, on the other hand, less serious than failure to live up to any other precept.
In point of fact, the most difficult precept of all for nearly everybody to live up to is the fourth - to refrain from all forms of wrong speech which often includes uncharitable comments on other people's real or alleged sexual failings! What precisely, then, does the Third Precept imply for the ordinary lay Buddhist? Firstly, in common with all the other precepts, it is a rule of training.
It is not a "commandment" from God, the Buddha, or anyone else saying: "Thou shalt not It is an undertaking by you to yourself, to do your best to observe a certain type of restraint, because you understand that it is a good thing to do. This must be clearly understood. If you don't think it is a good thing to do, you should not undertake it.
If you do think it is a good thing to do, but doubt your ability to keep it, you should do your best, and probably, you can get some help and instruction to make it easier.
If you feel it is a good thing to attempt to tread the Buddhist path, you may undertake this and the other precepts, with sincerity, in this spirit. Secondly, what is the scope and purpose of this precept? The word kama means in Pali "sensual desire," which is not exclusively sexual. It is here used in a plural form which comes close to what is meant by the Biblical expression "the lusts of the flesh.
Most people who are strongly addicted to sexual indulgence are also much drawn to other sense-pleasures. Though we are here only concerned with the sexual ct, this point should be noted. For those with any grasp at all of Buddhist principles, the basic reason for such an injunction should be immediately obvious.
Our dukkha - our feeling, of frustration and dissatisfaction with life - is rooted in our desires and cravings. The more these can be brought under control, the less dukkha we shall experience. It is as simple as that. But of course, that which is simple is not necessarily easy.
Thus while there is, so to speak, a considerable overlap in the content of the Third Precept with the Jewish and Christian commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," there is a big difference in the spirit and approach.
Since most people in the West have some Christian conditioning - even if only indirectly - it is as well to be clear about this. The traditional Christian view is that sexual intercourse is permissible solely within the marriage-bond.
Even then the implication is that, except as a necessary means for the procreation of children, it is really rather a bad thing, and should be restricted as far as possible - hence the debate about "the pill" and the like. Certain things such as contraception, homosexual activity, and so on are often looked on with horror and declared "unnatural" which cannot be entirely correct since, after all, they happen!
Some of these prohibitions may today be more honored in the breach than the observance, but there is no doubt that rigid views of this sort are still widely held and officially propagated. The inevitable reaction, encouraged by some real or alleged psychological experts, is towards an attitude of total permissiveness, in which "anything goes. The one is merely an inadequate reaction against the other.
What we have to do - what Buddhism in fact teaches us to do - is to map out a sane course between the two. Reduced to essentials, the great debate about sex revolves, for many people, around the concept of sin. To the puritan, indulgence in sexual activity for the sake of pleasure is evil, wicked, or, as he tends to say, "sinful" i. To the permissivist to coin an awkward but convenient termthis is nonsense. He probably rejects the term "sin" as meaningless, and not only sees nothing evil in sexual pleasure but regards it as, highly legitimate, perhaps as the highest pleasure there is and certainly as something to which, in principle at least, everybody has a right.
Many people, coming from a more or less Christian background with at least some puritanical overtones, find the true Buddhist attitude to this problem rather difficult to see. Perhaps they have never even been given a clear explanation of it or, if they have, it may have seemed too technical for them, and they have not grd the point. The point, in fact, is of considerable importance, so it is worthwhile attempting to make it clear.
It involves a proper elementary grasp of what is meant by kamma - something which many people, who may have been "Buddhists" for years, have never had. We may, however, perhaps begin more profitably by considering the word "sin.
Buddhism on sex
This explanation is of course not wrong in terms of Christian theology, but is not applicable in Buddhism, where there are no such commandments that one can infringe. As already indicated, the so-called precepts are in fact undertakings to oneself, which is something different. They are more on a par with the instruction "Look both ways before you cross the road.
However, there is another rendering of the word sin itself which in fact though less well-known comes much closer to the Buddhist view of things. In the Bible, "sin" actually renders Hebrew and Greek words which literally mean "missing the mark," i.
The sinner, then, is like an unskillful archer who misses his aim could this be the real meaning of Zen and the Art of Archery? But this comes, surely, very close to the idea of akusala kamma or "unskilled action" in Buddhism. The Pali word kamma Sanskrit karma literally means "action" i. The results of action kamma accrue to the doer as vipaka, which is pleasant when the action was skilled, unpleasant when it was unskilled if I look before I cross the road, I shall get across safely, which is pleasant; if I don't look I may get run down, which is unpleasant.
The feelings we experience are in fact of the nature of vipaka - they are dependent on past kamma. And of course we are continually creating fresh kamma for a good part of our time.
It should therefore be noted that the feeling of pleasure sexual or otherwise is not an action, but a result.
There is, therefore, nothing either "skillful" or "unskillful" about experiencing such a feeling. We should therefore not regard it as either "virtuous" or "sinful.
Such pleasant feelings can be enjoyed with a clear conscience and no guilt feeling. If this were all, there would be no problem. The puritans would be routed and the permissivists justified. Unfortunately, there is another side to the matter.
We may recall that a few years ago there was a song "Money is the Root of all Evil" Some people pointed out that not money, but the love for money is the root of all evil well, of a lot of evil, anyway. And here is the snag. Sexual pleasure like money is not "evil" or unskilledbut attachment to sexual pleasure like the love of money is.
If we can experience the pleasure without attachment we are all right; if we become attached to it, we are not "hitting the mark. But attachment is kamma, and unskilled kamma at that. And the results of that will inevitably, according to Buddhism, be something unpleasant in the future. Many people will find this explanation novel. Some will find it puzzling. Some will undoubtedly reject it - with or without investigation - with the excuse that it is overly subtle, or arbitrary, or something of the sort.
What they mean is, of course, that they find it inconvenient. But it will repay a lot of consideration and mindful investigation. Careful study, in fact, should show that it is the key to the whole problem. The matter can also be considered in terms of the law of Dependent Origination: "Contact is the basis for the arising of feeling; feeling Thus, if we wish to adjudicate between the puritans and the permissivists, we cannot say that either side is entirely right.
We might, however, suggest that the puritans are partly right for the wrong reasons. Sexual indulgence is not wicked, but it may be in some degree inadvisable. Most people will not feel able to refrain altogether nor are they being urged tobut there is merit in moderation. Setting aside all ideas derived from other sources, other religions and philosophies of life, what is the Buddhist attitude towards marriage?
For many Buddhists, in the East or the West, there is no great problem. They live a reasonably normal married life just as do many Christians, humanists, and others.
We may say they are lucky, or enjoy the results of favorable kamma in this respect. For others, of all creeds or none, serious problems arise and must be somehow faced. In the Christian tradition, marriage is usually termed a "sacrament. Other branches of Christianity permit divorce in certain rather narrowly defined circumstances, and of course in most though by no means all countries the state permits divorce and the remarriage of divorced persons, with or without the approval of the Church.
In Buddhism, marriage is not a "sacrament," as such a concept does not exist. And it is not any part of the functions of Buddhist monks to join lay people together in holy wedlock or deadlock.
If it is occasionally done today in Japan, this is just a modern idea in conformity with a general tendency among Japanese Buddhists to imitate often perhaps unwisely Christian institutions. In the Buddhist tradition it is often the custom for bhikkhus to give their "blessing" after the civil wedding-ceremony has been performed. But even this is really more of a concession to the laity than anything else.
And if the marriage does not turn out a success, no bhikkhu has any authority to say that that marriage shall not be dissolved.
Sex, Love, and Buddhism
Divorce, like marriage, is a civil affair. Likewise, if a married couple decide to practice contraception, that is entirely their business.
The Sangha will not feel called upon to interfere or object. It must be admitted that certain bhikkhus have been heard to declare that contraception is wrong and should be banned - but that is their private opinion.
It is no part of the Buddhist teaching. Abortion is of course a different matter. Since this involves the taking of life, it contravenes the First Precept.
Jul 13, Western Buddhists tend to have fairly liberal on sex. But Buddhist tradition takes a much more conservative worldparadebooks.com: Jose Ignacio Cabezon.
It can only be condoned in cases of serious health hazards, where it may represent the lesser evil. In getting married, people obviously take on a responsibility, both towards each other and towards whatever children they have.
Any form of irresponsible behavior is clearly reprehensible by any reasonable standards, whether we call ourselves Buddhists or anything else.
In the several schools of Buddhism today, only Tibetan Buddhism specifically discourages sex between men (although not women). This prohibition comes from the work of a 15th-century scholar named Tsongkhapa, who probably based his ideas on earlier Tibetan worldparadebooks.com: Nomadrs. To the Buddhist, of course, sex is an expression - perhaps the chief expression - of that tanha or craving which brings dukkha in its train. It is therefore quite logical that we should seek to bring it under control. In a sense, that is all there is to the whole question. Aug 13, Sex inside the line is good, while sex outside the line is bad. Although monogamous marriage is ideal, Buddhism generally takes the attitude that sex between two people who love each other is moral, whether they are married or not. On the other hand, sex within marriages can be abusive, and marriage doesn't make that abuse moral.
If we bear in mind, and try to observe, all the five precepts, the chances of a successful marriage are obviously increased. Excessive drinking, for instance in breach of the Fifth Preceptis a potent source of unhappy marriages.
What, it may be asked, of "adultery," i. The short answer is that, quite obviously, this is something to be avoided. But the point should be made that Buddhism does not regard this, or any other sexual irregularities and deviations, as somehow uniquely wicked. In countries nominally Christian the special kind of horror with which such things are, or recently were, regarded can be pushed to grotesque extremes.
Not many years ago a certain politician was solemnly declared by some to be unfit to become Prime Minister because he had been the innocent partner in a divorce case! More recently still, another politician was hounded from office because of acts of adultery of which his wife forgave him!