Friday, August 14, 2009
Buddhism in the Bedroom
It’s no good. I’ve avoided it long enough. There’s an important issue that thus far on this blog I’ve not broached, but it can’t be evaded any longer: sex! What’s sex got to do with practicing Buddhism you might well ask, and I’d reply, “Everything!” You see, if one’s to live one’s life practicing according the Dharma (Buddhist teachings), there can be no areas of living that are exempt. It’s all or nothing. So, here goes…
Sex. Most of us are at it, and those of us who aren’t live in the hope that we will soon be. (Buddhist monks and other celibates accepted, of course.) In the light of Dharma, however, what should be our approach to this thorny (no pun intended!) topic? Well, the ideal attitude in Buddhism is one of renunciation, of course, but monks, nuns, and dedicated (or very lonely) laypeople are the only ones to fulfill this extremely strict practice, however. The rest of us have to struggle on with the sexual urges, temptations and opportunities that arise (to varying degrees) in our lives. What does Buddhism actually have to say on the subject?
For laypeople, the Buddha taught that there are two approaches to sex that can be taken. One is to follow the lead of monks and nuns and abstain all together. The other way is more complicated and needs some careful reflection to be fully understood and implemented, and is based upon the third precept which states that lay Buddhists are (supposed) to refrain from ‘sexual misconduct.’ But what exactly is that? Firstly, for people like myself who are married, it means not committing adultery – that’s simple enough. Secondly, for those who haven’t got hitched, the age-old Buddhist emphasis on wisdom and compassion can to be applied. And to sleep around is neither wise nor compassionate. It’s unwise because there’s the risk of catching something nasty, getting a nasty response, or gaining a nasty reputation. Promiscuity is uncompassionate because it involves using others for our own pleasure, ignorant to their feelings and hopes: how does it feel to give oneself to somebody completely and then be rejected the very next morning? It’s also uncompassionate towards our own self, for we are creating the seeds of low self-esteem and guilt which will grow into much bigger problems further down the road. To avoid these problems, we need to find someone that we can commit to, both in body and in mind.
That’s the negative reasons for not indulging in sexual misconduct, but what are the positive ones? For starters, those issues of self-esteem and guilt are tackled head on, with a sense of honor and a guilt-free happiness being established in the heart. Contemplating how to act with compassion towards one’s lover, both in and out of the bedroom, will create a more peaceful atmosphere within which to develop the relationship as well as a way to live a mutually more satisfying life in general. Buddhism does allow for married couples (or their equivalents) to enjoy themselves, which includes enjoying each other, in every sense of the term. Not all Buddhists need give up sex, but we can do it with compassion and wisdom. Also, from the wisdom point of view, committing to a faithful, loving partnership one isn’t giving cause for unwanted diseases, confrontations or heedlessness to the way things are to arise. The last aspect noted is crucial for the Buddhist, for to develop wisdom and to understand our physical and mental functions is the path to liberation from suffering, which is the realization of true happiness. A clear, compassionate mind is the perfect tool for this purpose, and by being sensible and caring in our sexual relationships, we come to travel the road to enlightenment quite a bit further.
There, it’s over and done with for now: sex has been put to bed, so to speak. We can all sleep a bit happier tonight, knowing that giving up sex isn’t necessarily the answer for all Buddhists, but that simply being aware of the issues involved and adjusting our behavior accordingly, in the light of awareness, we can live the way the Buddha advised us to, enjoying the lay life.
The above post first appeared on the blog 'Forest Wisdom,' which was reborn as this one.