Wednesday, June 07, 2017
José Ignacio Cabezón has an article on Sex, that looks at it through the Gelugpa tradition. He raises a very interesting question, or rather points out a conflict. On the one hand, we don't want to just easily dismiss elements of the tradition that don't make sense to us. On the other hand, we want to not just take views uncritically and follow them, just because they are in the tradition.
The Dali Lama points to Tsongkhapa. Looking at Tsongkhapa you come up with the conclusion that heterosexuals can have sex 5 times a night, and lesbians get a free pass, but you can't be male on male gay. That somehow seems wrong. Gender and sexuality should perhaps be treated equally.
My first thought was, what about the Pali Cannon where the Buddha suggests to a fellow that it would be better to put his penis in a snakes mouth, than it would be to have sex with his wife because she wants a child before he goes off fully being a monk.
This brings up the question of monk versus lay, and I've always liked the phrase, "neither monk nor lay" because it points to an obvious duality.
My understanding of Sangharakshita's problem with monasticism, is that you couldn't really know if all 5 monks were following the vinaya, all the way back to the Buddha. Ajahn Chah got a little twisted up by it for a while too.
The literal interpretation of merit, has the lay only allowed to give stuff to the monks, when clearly there are people who don't follow the vinaya who seem to be more advanced than a rule follower, seem to do more for the propagation of Buddhism.
OK, so we won't get into the monastic versus lay trap. My understanding of Sangharakshita is that you follow the ten precepts as principles and not literally. Sexual misconduct is fairly straight forward in these times. If someone feels hurt by sexual contact, then it's not good. Infidelity, sexual abuse, rape and other forms of coercion are wrong. The whole gay and female issues from Christianity are not to be followed. Thich Nhat Hanh's thing is monogamy. Otherwise you hurt people.
There is a book that collects the recent history of Buddhist misconduct. I can't seem to find it at the moment. John Stevens, a professor in Japan, has a kind of sexy take on Buddhism, and wrote an erotic Buddhism novel. He thinks the rice milk the girl gave the Buddha after he gave up asceticism, lead to sex. You can imprint prudery or libertine thoughts to Buddhists.
I like the approach of not pretending we are there yet, being honest and authentic, and not watering down the ideals because they are hard, and not punishing ourselves with the ideals. The idea is to transcend the worldly winds, to transcend reactivity, to not build up plans to just get pleasure and push away pain, or if you do, realize the path is the best fun.
There is no exploitation of vulnerable people seeking guidance, and no shock when it turns out Buddhist leaders have clay feet. There's avoidance of the harm of making sexuality wrong, and there's no pretending that wild sexuality isn't harmful.
We are not in the summer of love, the birth control pill didn't just become available, and there is a HIV epidemic, that in part thrives on the secrecy from the shame of homosexuality.
Sangharakshita jokes that any book called Tantric Sex Magic would sell easily. I've even used it to gain traffic on my website, along with "how can I die". That feels immature now. Sanghrakshita was sick recently and he apologized for any harm her caused with his experimentation in the aftermath, because he had been reflecting while in the hospital. I know a lot of people who, in retrospect, see they have caused harm. I have caused harm. So it's an important area to keep our eyes wide open to. Take responsibility for our actions so we can own our lives and our progress through it.
If we go back to our pagan past, we see that sexuality isn't something to be avoided, it is celebrated. In ancient Rome it was against the law not to be married and have 3 children. I'm reading a book on Marcus Aurelius and read a book on ancient Rome and it's kind of refreshing to see fewer hang ups. Of course they had their rules. It wasn't OK to be homosexual for me after 18. Before that it was fine, but after it, it wasn't. I read about Lupacallia where men run around naked and whip women in the naked butt with whips made out of goat skin. Now I don't think that just because something was in the past, they were better times. I'm just saying that in the history of humanity, we have had some interesting celebrations of sexuality.
Now birth is one of the steps on the wheel of life, that leads to greed hatred and delusion. One might get the idea that a good Buddhist would not have children. They do hinder one's free time to meditate, that is for sure, but once again, if you value your practice, parenting shouldn't be a barrier. Here we are getting into a personal decision that I've made, and don't want to come down either way on this one. I've realized how important the Dharma is to me through being a parent, and I have felt a level of love that I've never felt before (A Path for Parents).
So conclusion? A complicated set of questions from monastic versus lay, to how to go about the spiritual life, and the recent history of Buddhism. As always, live the questions.