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.


Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Buddha Space,
I think the Buddha said a little more on the subject of sex than don’t commit adultery if your married and don’t sleep around if your unmarried because its unwise and uncompassionate. Have a look at Sexual Behavior and Pleasure on www.buddhismatoz. However, I agree with everything you say about sex, wisdom, compassion and self-respect.
Bhante Dhammika

G said...

Thank you for your comments, Bhante.

Yes, of course the Buddha said "a little" more than appeared in this pithy post; according to the Pali Canon alone, he said enough for a thousand lifetimes (metaphorically speaking).

However, if we can act - whether in the bedroom or not - out of genuine compassion & wisdom for the benefit of all beings, then we're at least heading in the right general direction.

And, looking at the state of much sexual activity in this day and age, avoiding adultery & promiscuity are a darn good place to start establishing a sound approach to how non-celibates deal with their sexual urges.

Be well in the Dharma,

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I think this idea of monogamy may actually be a reflection of your cultural upbringing. (mine as well not-coincidentally)

As most westerners, we are somewhat bred to think that "sleeping around" = "using others", when in fact, that is a reflection of what it means to sleep around in our culture.

Take many native tribes for instance. The men share women happily and still all care for one another.

This isn't to say I haven't thought the same as you on the matter before, but in reflection, it may just be that promiscuity is considered sexual misconduct for /us/ and not everybody.

Just my 2c ;-)

G said...

Thanks for your "2c", Anonymous.

Buddhism has taught the pitfalls of promiscuity in Asia for roughly two-and-a-half millennia, so it isn't only a Western thing. Also, Islam & Hinduism pretty much take the same approach to the subject; indeed, in some ways they're much stricter in their rules regarding sexual conduct than Buddhism is. Ditto Christianity, of course.

However, you are right that reflecting on the sources of our moral judgments is a wise endeavor, as part of the Buddhist Path (the Way of Awakening). And just because something is part of Buddhist tradition doesn't necessarily make it 'right', either. To assume that Buddhist scripture & tradition contain "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" would be a kind of Buddhist fundamentalism...and we all know where that particular path can lead.


G said...

Yes, wisdom regarding thoughts, words & deeds is the Path of Awakening to the way things are. Having the correct mindset for the purpose (or the correct no-mindset for the correct no-purpose!) is essential.

May we all live happy & blessed lives!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post! important insight on healing, emotional hurts and struggles with relationships. It hit home on your message here:

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.

I now understand my partner~

peace & love

G said...

Appreciate the feedback, Anonymous. Amazed to hear that you now understand your partner - I still don't understand mine! ('Understand' with the mind, that is - the heart has it's own methods of understanding the loved one...)

Be well,

G said...

Er, thank you, Tyna.

Not sure what the link has to do with the discussion here, but if one is seriously into 'latex mattress toppers' then go for it! (I'm not, so I haven't checked the link out. If anyone does and finds it's not a nice site, please let me know and I'll delete it.)