Thursday, October 21, 2010
Buddhist Erotica out November 1st , 2010
Got an advanced copy of this little book coming out Nov. 1st 2010. It provoked a lot of thoughts.
First off, I have to note the destructive and liberating elements of sexuality. Many sanghas have been turned upside down by the power dynamics that lead to sexual expression. I also wonder whether there has been some liberating elements. Bante is his last will and testament suggested that his experiments in sexuality did not lead to anything that was useful.
Sexuality is natural, human and can lead to quite a ruckus. I think the positive ethical statement about sexuality is to lead life with "stillness, simplicity and contentment", and sexuality can certainly be the opposite of that.
Buddhists in the good ol' USA will surely have grown up in a confusing context of Christian sexual ethics, and the sexuality of materialism, where exciting body parts are used to sell merchandise, objectifying over intimacy. It's a task to shirk off the Christianity, materialism and not embrace the hedonism.
I had a patient once, who was a beautiful rising pop star. She said sarcastically, "Buddhist men haven't transcended desire!!!" She felt their lust as much as anyone else, maybe more. In away, being more mindful, you get in tune with all of yourself. And that can lead to some interesting place. My experience, like Bante's, is that sex is not really helpful to the spiritual life, but then again, not much is helpful except the sangha (sometimes) and your own pure will and effort.
I once drew a mandala of my life, and put yellow over it to mark sexuality, and while I saw it stained yellow, another person saw a rocket ship that propelled my practice along. So I think I still have some work to do shirking my Christian conditioning about sexuality.
On another level, I have read erotica, first reading it in Nicholson Baker, and then branching out. It's a kind of safe way to explore sexuality and sexual excitement. I find erotica an interesting genera. This may be reading this book in a way that it was not intended, but that happens all the time, right?!
Sangharakshita joked in Creative Symbols of Tantric Buddhism, that if you wanted to sell a book, include the following words: secret, tantric, sex and magic. I think John Steven's title includes three of them.
Often times, when I read books that feel like ethnic Buddhism, where basic Buddhism has gone by the wayside, and ethnic expressions of culture predominate, I see the book more as a cultural study than as a study on Buddhism. I am no expert of Japanese culture, but I note it has spawned many interesting sects of Buddhism. How accurate this is about a subset of a subset of Japanese culture, only John Stevens really knows. He claims in an afterword that it is based on many things.
I found the book a smooth enjoyable read, and it challenged me in some ways. To imagine the Buddha accepting rice milk from a lovely maiden after quitting the acetic practice, and then to suggest that he slept with her, well, if Buddhism believed in blasphemy that would make me wonder. But there's no such thing as blasphemy in Buddhism, Sangharakshita has expressed that clearly in one of his booklets. Who knows it was 2,500 years ago he walked this earth. It was before he transcended desire. It's hard to imagine he had the energy after coming quite close to death, but I've often been surprised at energy arising when I thought I had none.
So in the end, I really enjoyed this book, and found it thought provoking.