The Urban Dharma Newsletter... November 19, 2002


In This Issue:

1. The Problem with Sex in Buddhism... by Rev. Kusala
2. Dharma Data: Sexuality
3. Buddhist Sexual Ethics - A Rejoinder
... by Ajahn Brahmavamso and Ajahn Nanadhammo

5. SEX, CELIBACY and the SPIRITUAL LIFE ... By Simeon Alev
6. Book Review: An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics ... by Peter Harvey
7. Temple/Center of the Week: California Vipassana Center


1. The Problem With Sex in Buddhism ... by Rev. Kusala

(From a talk given at a High School in Los Angeles.)

It seems these days in Los Angeles, it's OK to do or be anything you want sexually... And if you're lucky enough to find your true sexual identity, you will be happy and fulfilled the rest of your life

Well, in this world of *Samsara it just doesn't seem to work that way.

The Buddha more than anything else was a man, who went from childhood to manhood, got married and at the age of 29 had his first child. He went through all the stages men go through sexually, and at the age of 35 ended his sexual desire forever in *Nirvana.

The big question today is... Does the desire for sex always lead to suffering? The answer is... Yes! But the reason may surprise you.

The Buddha in everything he said about sex implies... The activity of sex will never ultimately satisfy the desire for sex.

Now this is a real bummer if you think about it. You can have sex a 1000 times, and want it a 1001. You can be 90 years old... Blind and cripple... Still want to have sex and not be physically able to. You will never get rid of your sexual desire by having sex. In fact, it seems the more sex you have the more sex you want.

I think sex is a lot like hunger... And to be honest with you, I'm so tired of being hungry... I have been hungry every day of my life. I'm hungry in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening. Think of all the time and money I could save if I gave up eating!

So tomorrow, I'm going to get up real early and eat as much as I desire and anything I want. Whatever looks good I'm going to eat it and keep eating it, until I am so full and satisfied I will never want to eat again.

If I were to do that, what would happen? I would wake up the next morning and still be hungry... Sex works the same way!

You might be thinking to yourself... Well Kusala is a monk, and monks don't have sex, so maybe if I choose celibacy I won't have to suffer.

I wish life were so easy.

The people who choose a celibate lifestyle ('desire' not to have) suffer in a different way from people that choose to have sex ('desire' to have). But all people (monks too) suffer with sex if they have desire.

The only way to have sex and not suffer, is to have no desire to have sex. It sounds like a 'Zen Koan' doesn't it? To end our suffering we need to end our desire, our craving, our thirst.

When a Buddhist does end his/her desire in Nirvana, would there be any reason to have sex simply for pleasure???

The problem with sex according to Buddhism... Is not the activity of sex, but the desire for sex. The sexual desire of a human being will never be ultimately satisfied through sexual activity.


* Samsára: 'round of rebirth', lit. perpetual wandering', is a name by which is designated the stages of life ever restlessly heaving up and down, the symbol of this continuous process of ever again and again being born, growing old, suffering and dying.

* Nibbána, (Sanskrit Nirvána): lit. 'extinction' (nir + Ö va, to cease blowing, to become extinguished); according to the commentaries, 'freedom from desire' (nir+ vana). Nibbána constitutes the highest and ultimate goal of all Buddhist aspirations.

2. Dharma Data: Sexuality

* http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/dharmadata/fdd32.htm

With the exception of the Tantric tradition most Buddhist schools take a cautious attitude to all expressions of sexuality. The Buddha's teachings on the subject are summed up in the third Precept which requires one to avoid sexual misconduct (kamesu micchacara). This somewhat vague term has been interpreted differently but it is probably best to understand it to mean that one should not sexually exploit another. This would include rape, adultery (which takes advantage of a spouses trust), sex with the intellectually, economically or psychologically disadvantaged and promiscuity.

The Buddha did not teach that celibacy is necessary for enlightenment but he did see it as being very helpful. Constantly pandering to sexual desires agitates the mind, provokes frustration and can even become a preoccupation thus distracting one's energies from the spiritual quest. Clearly, his attitude to sex was not based on the idea that it is 'dirty', 'immoral' or 'evil' but on an assessment of its impact on the mind and its utility to the spiritual quest.

Tantric Buddhism, at least as it was sometimes practised in India, took a very different attitude to sex, teaching that the power of sexual passion could actually be used to attain enlightenment. Some Tantric text like the Guhyasamaja Tantra glorify the most extreme licence as proof of freedom from all conventions and discriminations.

J.I. Gabezon, (Ed) Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender. New York 1985; M. O.C. Walshe, Buddhism and Sex. Kandy, 1986.

3. Buddhist Sexual Ethics - A Rejoinder ... by Ajahn Brahmavamso and Ajahn Nanadhammo

* http://www.buddhanet.net/rejoiner.htm

Buddhism means many things to many people. To some, it offers wise and compassionate advice on how to lessen the suffering of modern lay life. To others, it is the path to Enlightenment which ends all suffering. Mr Higgins' article in the November issue of Bodhi Leaf refers to the former kind of Buddhism only. The Buddhism which leads to Enlightenment is somewhat different, as we will now show.

The place of sexuality in Buddhism is made manifestly clear in the Buddha's First Sermon in which the Great Teacher proclaimed the famous Middle Way:

"One should not pursue sensual pleasure (KÂMA-SUKHA), which is low vulgar, coarse, ignoble and unbeneficial; and one should not pursue self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble and unbeneficial. So it was said. And with reference to what was this said? The pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desire - low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble and unbeneficial - is a state beset by suffering, vexation, despair and fever, and it is the wrong way. Disengage from the pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desire - low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble and unbeneficial - is a state without suffering, vexation despair and fever, and it is the right way. The pursuit of self-mortification… is the wrong way. Disengagement from the pursuit of self-mortification… is the right way… The Middle Way discovered by the Tathàgata avoids both these extremes… it leads… to Nibbàna."

(Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Buddha's words in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, p.1080f)

The Buddha's declaration that the pursuit of sensual pleasures, which include sex, lies outside the Middle Way is reinforced many times in the Suttapitaka. For example, in the Simile of the Quail, Sutta No 66 of the Majjhima Nikàya, the Buddha declares:

"Now, Udàyin, the pleasure and joy that arises dependent on these five cords of sensual pleasure are called sensual pleasures - a filthy pleasure, a coarse pleasure, an ignoble pleasure. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should not be pursued, that it should not be developed, that it should not be cultivated, that it should be feared… (whereas the pleasure of the Four Jhànas). This is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, that it should not be feared." (ibid p.557)

Even in the time of the Buddha, some misguided people went around saying that sexual practice was not an obstruction to Enlightenment. The Buddha rebuked them strongly with the well known simile of the snake, comparing their wrong grasp of the Teachings to a man who grasps a venomous snake by the tail, out of stupidity, and suffers accordingly:

"Misguided man, in many discourses have I not stated how obstructive things are obstructive, and how they are able to obstruct one who engages in them? I have stated how sensual pleasures provide little gratification, much suffering, and much despair, and how great is the danger in them. With the simile of skeleton… with the simile of the piece of meat… with the simile of the grasstorch… with the simile of the pit of coals… with the simile of the dream… with the simile of the borrowed goods… with the simile of the tree laden with fruit… with the simile of the slaughterhouse… with the simile of the sword stake… with the simile of the snake's head, I have stated how sensual pleasures provide little gratification, much suffering, and much despair, and how great is the danger in them. But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time." (The Buddha in the simile of the Snake; ibid p.225f)

Indeed, the Buddha taught that sexual practises not only lie outside the Middle Way, but also that they are part of craving (KÂMA-TANHA, the craving for sensual pleasure) described in the Second Noble Truth as the cause of suffering, they are attachments (KÂM' UPÂDÂNA, 'the attachment to sensual pleasure'), they are a hindrance to meditation (KÂMA-CCHANDA, the first of the 5 NIVARANA), they are defilement (KILESA) of the mind, they are a fetter obstructing liberation (the fourth fetter, SAMYOJANA, is KÂMARÂGA 'lust') and they have no part in the behaviour an Enlightened being is capable of).

The Buddha realised that such Teachings would hardly be received enthusiastically by most, for He said shortly after the Enlightenment:

"The world, however, is given to pleasure, delighted with pleasure, enchanted with pleasure. Truly, such beings will hardly understand the law of conditionality, the Dependent Origination. (PATICCA-SAMUPPÂDA) of everything; incomprehensible to them will be the end of all formations, the forsaking of every substratum of rebirth, the fading away of craving, detachment, extinction, Nibbàna." (Ven. Nànatiloka's translation in the Word of the Buddha, p.2)

But then, it is better to be true than to be popular.

Ven. Ajahn Chah, the teacher under whom we both trained for many years, similarly taught that sexual practises had to be given up if one aspired for Enlightenment. For example, I remember a Westerner coming to see Ajahn Chah once and saying that he was sexually active but without being attached to the sex. Ajahn Chah completely ridiculed the statement as an impossibility, saying something like "Bah! that's like saying there can be salt which isn't salty!" Ajahn Chah taught all who came to him, monastic and lay, that sexual desire is KILESA (defilement of the mind), it is a hindrance to success in meditation and an obstruction to Enlightenment. He taught that sexual activity should be abandoned if one wants to end suffering. He would never speak in praise of sex. He would only speak in praise of letting go.

5. SEX, CELIBACY and the SPIRITUAL LIFE ... by Simeon Alev

* http://www.bhavanasociety.org/articles/bginter1.htm

Was titled "WHAT THE BUDDHA TAUGHT: An interview with Bhante Henepola Gunaratana" Reprinted with permission from "What Is Enlightenment" magazine (WIE)


In a perfect world, the opening line of this introduction would have read: "This issue of What Is Enlightenment" would not be complete without the following interview with the Buddha." This is not a perfect world, of course, but "What Is Enlightenment" always strives for perfection, and we felt certain that, as one of history's most illustrious celibates, the Buddha would have had more than a few enlightening things to tell us about the relationship between sexuality and spirituality, and no shortage of comments on the decline of celibacy and the increasing popularity of tantra in the modern spiritual world. How, we wondered, would our issue ever be complete without him?

But when we spoke with Bhante Henepola Gunaratana-or "Bhante G," as he is affectionately called by his students-he put our minds at ease. Ordained a celibate Buddhist monk at the age of twelve in Sri Lanka, the country of his birth, Bhante Gunaratana is today, at seventy, a renowned Buddhist scholar and author and the spiritual leader of the Bhavana Society, a monastic retreat center in West Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. According to the Bhante, our interview with the Buddha would have yielded no real surprises because where spirituality and sex are concerned, things haven't really changed that much since the Buddha's time. In our time there are still, relatively speaking, just a few monks, still many householders, and still-as the Bhante feels there always will be-more than a few adventurous souls who are convinced that sex, not renunciation, is going to lead them to the highest peaks of human consciousness. And the Buddha, in the course of his life, gave teachings, precepts and admonitions to address the spiritual needs of individuals in all three of these categories. What, then, were the Buddha's views on spirituality and sex? Steeped in the Dhamma [spiritual teaching] since his youth, Bhante Gunaratana answered all of our questions with a conviction that was utterly doubtless and a gentle and infectious humor that made it an unqualified pleasure to speak with him. And as the hour he had reserved for us drew to a close, he described his own lifelong experience of celibacy-its challenges and rewards-with a sweetness and enthusiasm born of the certainty that in a life of absolute renunciation there is absolutely nothing missing.


WIE: In the course of planning for this interview we were joking that if we could actually interview the Buddha himself that would be ideal, but that  speaking with you about what the Buddha taught would be the next best thing.

Bhante Gunaratana: I wish we all could meet Buddha and ask him these questions!

WIE: One fact that most everyone who is interested in Buddhism these days is aware of is that the Buddha was a monk who founded a monastic tradition; and of course it is this very tradition that you yourself have devoted so much time and energy to bringing to the West. Why did the Buddha put so much emphasis on celibacy? Why did he feel it was so important?

BG: Because those who want to attain liberation from dukkha, from suffering, have to observe certain principles. In fact, for those who want to live a monastic life, celibacy is mandatory. Because if they are engaged in all kinds of sexual activities, then they are no different from laypeople, who are engrossed in various types of problems related to sex. Also, those who are interested in monastic life want to live a very simple life-which is what all monastic traditions are set up for-because in the final analysis, it is only when we get rid of our greed, lust and craving that we can liberate ourselves from suffering. You see, if our intention is to get rid of suffering, then we have to get rid of the cause of suffering, and lust is definitely the cause of suffering. So those who want to live the monastic life have to get rid of that so that they can live a life that does not nourish the root of craving.

WIE: Would it be fair to say then that if someone was not living a monastic life, if they were a layperson, it would be much more difficult, or perhaps even impossible, for them to do that?

BG: Even laypeople have to live a disciplined life; they have to exercise a certain restraint. And that's why for laypeople there are the precepts to observe; but ordinary laypeople are not supposed to observe celibacy. Laypeople can attain certain stages of enlightenment-what we call "stream-enterer" and "once-returner"-before they have realized for themselves that there are inherent difficulties and problems involved in sexual activities. And laypeople can attain even the third stage of sainthood, which is called the "never-returner" stage. But soon after they attain that stage they themselves will decide from their own experience, from their own understanding, that involvement in sexuality is going to block the progress of their spiritual practice, and when they realize this they will voluntarily give up sexual activities. So you see, celibacy is not something that can be imposed upon us by force or command.

WIE: Could you go into a little more detail about why it is that sex itself has to be transcended in order for one to progress on the spiritual path?

BG: Because as long as you are in it, your mind will be cluttered, clouded and confused and you will get involved in jealousy, fear, hatred, tension and so forth-all the worries that arise from lust. Therefore if you want to be liberated from all of that, you first haveto get rid of lust. Actually, some people don't like the phrase "get rid of"; some people prefer words like "transcending" or "transforming." "Surely," they say, "we can transform 'lust' into 'nonlust'!"

WIE: What is the distinction between "transcending" and "getting rid of"?

BG: Some terms are a little closer to the real meaning, and others are what you call euphemistic terms, rather than very strong negative terms. These people like to say "transcending" or "transforming" rather than "getting rid of" because they need sugarcoated words that make them feel better.

WIE: But what we're actually talking about is getting rid of lust?

BG: Right. But when you say, "Get rid of it," it's so strong, so negative, that people wonder, "How can I get rid of anything?" So if you say, "Let us transform it into something else," then they can relate to it.

WIE: In the Buddha's teachings on sexuality, was sex considered inherently negative?

BG: Buddha taught that as long as one is engaged in sexual activity, one would not be interested in practicing spiritual life; these two just don't go together. But when he gave his gradual enlightenment teaching, he also said that the sensation of lust, of sexuality, has pleasure. He did not deny the pleasure. It has pleasure. But then, you see, that very pleasure turns into displeasure, and gradually, slowly, as the initial fever of lust wears out, people begin to fight. Because out of lust arises fear; out of lust arises greed; out of lust arises jealousy, anger, hatred, confusion and fighting; all these negative things arise from lust. And therefore these negative things are inherent in lust.

And if we want to see this, you know, we don't have to look any further than our own society. Just open your eyes and look around. How many millions of people are fighting? And it is only based on their lust and greed-husbands, wives; boyfriends, girlfriends; boyfriends, boyfriends; girlfriends, girlfriends-and so on, you see? Whether you are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, it doesn't matter. As long as you are in it, it is inevitable that you will have these problems-fighting, disappointment, anger, hatred, killing-all these are involved. Therefore, because he saw the inherent problem in sexuality, Buddha said that it is better to control and discipline our senses in order to have a calm and peaceful life. But one has to do this gradually, slowly, only through understanding and not abruptly. It cannot be forced. It has to be done gradually and with deep understanding. If people do not understand this and try to stop it all of a sudden, they will get more frustration, more fear and so forth. And therefore in his gradual teaching, he said that first there is the pleasure in sexual activities, and then there are the disadvantages, then there are the problems. And only when you see the problems, only then do you begin to realize that these disadvantages, this negativity, are inherent in sexuality-they are intrinsic. These troubles, these problems, are intrinsic to lust.

WIE: Especially nowadays, that would be considered a very radical view.

BG: Oh, surely. But you know, it is only when people turn away from these things, it is only when they stay away from this kind of teaching and are gone in time and space a million miles away, that when they turn back and look at the root of their problem it appears to be radical. They have turned their backs for so long, gone so far away in time and space, that when they look back they think, "Oh boy, how can I get rid of this now? I've gone so far and I'm so deeply involved in it." Therefore this appears to them to be radical. Surely it is radical!

WIE: I found myself thinking, as you were speaking, that because you spent very little time on the pleasure of sex and so much more on all the disadvantages, many people-

BG: Yes! For that little pleasure, a lot of pain, right?

WIE: Definitely.

BG: But you're right. People don't want to think about that. People always want to hear what they like to hear. But we don't want to say that! Whether the people like it or not, we want to tell the truth. And we shouldn't be afraid of telling the truth. Whether the world will accept it or not . . . now that's a different issue. What can we do?

WIE: When we were looking for a quote from the Buddha about his feelings with regard to sexuality, we came across this passage, from The Life of the Buddha: "Misguided man, it were better for you (as one gone forth) that your member should enter the mouth of a hideous, venomous viper or cobra than that it should enter a woman. It were better for you that your member should enter a pit of coals burning, blazing and glowing than that it should enter a woman. Why is that? For the former reason you would risk death or deadly suffering, but you would not, on the dissolution of the body after death, reappear in a state of privation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell." Now I think one gets a pretty clear impression from this how the Buddha felt about sex. But as you know, in the West today there are many variations of Buddhism being taught and practiced, and many Western Buddhist practitioners seem to disagree with the Buddha's assertion that lust-which as you said earlier he viewed as a manifestation of craving-must by definition be transcended in order to achieve enlightenment. In addition, the liberal climate in contemporary American society as a whole tends to regard sexuality as a very good, a very healthy, and a very natural expression of our humanity-and not only our humanity, but our spirituality. What do you think the Buddha would have to say about this?

BG: Before I say anything I want to add a little footnote to that translation. You know that when Buddha talked about celibacy he was not talking only about the celibacy of a man, but the celibacy of a woman also. So when he said, for example, that it is better to swallow a red-hot iron ball than to engage in sexual activity, that goes for women, too. We have to make that clear; otherwise women will get upset. They might think that Buddha hated women and that that is why he wanted to keep men away from women and asked men to observe celibacy. But if a woman wants to observe celibacy, then by the same token she should keep away from men. That's the first point I want to make clear. The second point is that living a household life, having a spouse and so forth-Buddha did not condemn that; a healthy sexual family life is permitted for laypeople, even though, as I said, this can never lead to full enlightenment.

But to answer your question: Not only in contemporary society, but also in Buddha's time, there were people who believed that sexuality is something holy, something noble, something sacred, something miraculous. So this is not only a modern, twentieth century social phenomenon. The mentality of people has always been the same from time immemorial, up to now, and into the future. There are always some people who think that through sexuality they can attain liberation, and that is what we call a distorted perception, distorted thinking.

WIE: This "distorted perception," as you call it, seems to be particularly prevalent nowadays, perennial though it may be. I'm referring to the increasingly popular notion that sexuality in and of itself, if it's pursued to the end, would be the very expression of enlightenment-and that because sexuality is the road to liberation, if you avoid it in any way, then you don't really have any hope of reaching the final goal. If possible I'd like to get a very clear indication of how the Buddha would have responded to that point of view.

BG: I am quite familiar with that. He said-and I am translating from Pali: "No matter what you may do or attain-you may live in a cave, in a solitary place, and you may have learned entire sutras; you may be a very erudite speaker; you may even practice morality and so forth and so on-no matter what else you do, until you get rid of your lust, your hatred, your ignorance, you will never attain enlightenment." This is the Buddha's teaching. So the more you engage in sexual activities the deeper you go in your lust, the deeper you get in your confusion, and the deeper you get in your jealousy. When a person, whether male or female, wants to get involved in sexual activities with so many different persons at the same time, then by the same token there are so many different ways that that person will suffer: from jealousy, fear, tension, worry. This is a very unhealthy, very unhealthy life. If somebody thinks of having sexual activities with all kinds of people in all different manners all the time, then that person would be dead very soon as a result of such unhealthy behavior. Now of course you have to understand at the same time that moderate, wise, healthy sexual activity is permissible. But all attaining enlightenment through sexuality means is: you go and engage in sexual activities until you die! And you will be dead before you reach that enlightenment!

WIE: How does all this play out then in the context of actual spiritual practice, for example in tantric Buddhism?

BG: I'm a Theravada Buddhist-you know that, right?

WIE: Yes, I do.

BG: Now, I'm sometimes sorry to say these things, but Theravada Buddhists don't consider tantra to be Buddhism. Nowhere in the original Buddhist literature can you find "tantric Buddhism." Tantra is a later development. There is no such thing as tantric Buddhism in original Buddhism. There's never been such a thing as tantric Buddhism. Tantra is tantra, Buddhism is Buddhism, and these two will never go together. But some people who were so engrossed in sex and so distorted in their perception wanted to glorify sex by adding Buddhism to that. And that is why they combined tantra with Buddhism. People may hate me for saying this, but still I had to say it.

WIE: We've noticed in the course of our research not only that the notion of sacred sexuality has been increasing in popularity, but also that celibacy is often viewed with a great deal of fear and suspicion by people in Western culture. Why do you think that might be?

BG: If celibacy is strictly observed, that is good only for the person observing it. You cannot open an institute of celibacy. Celibacy is not something that can be institutionalized. It cannot be organized. We cannot have a celibate society. It is a totally personal, individual practice. And therefore if people object to it, they may be objecting to the organization of celibacy.

WIE: It seems, though, that any monastic discipline would have to be organized to some extent. In fact, we were fascinated and even shocked to discover, as we were reading the Patimokkha Training Rules for Monks, that the Buddha apparently had to make a whole series of rules that prohibited his monks from engaging in sexual contact with-just to give you a few examples which I'm sure you're aware of anyway-skulls, dead bodies, animals . . . that kind of thing. Now as far as we know, this type of behavior doesn't go on today-although that isn't necessarily true, I suppose!-so we were just wondering: Was the Buddha, by making these rules, responding to things that people were actually doing?-even his own students and followers?

BG: Right. When Buddha introduced one rule, the monks in those days soon found another way of doing the same thing. They wanted to commit sexual activities in one way or another. So when Buddha introduced one rule, they did not break that rule, but they found out some other way to commit sexual activity. And then Buddha had to introduce another rule to stop them. It's just like the police and the criminals-when there is a law, criminals will find a way to go around it and commit the crime, and then we have to introduce another law. This is what happened in the time of Buddha. When more and more people got into the Order, they started doing all sorts of things, and for all these things he had to make a rule. That is why these rules are there. It was not in anticipation of the future that he introduced these rules.

WIE: And now here we are, in the future, and because you have gone out of your way to bring the Buddha's monastic tradition to the West, I'm curious to know what your experience has been of the Westerners who come to you for teaching. How do modern Westerners take to monastic life? Do you find that they have more difficulty with it, for example, thanpeople from your own culture?

BG: You know, that's a good question. We really screen people before we accept them into monastic life. We put them under a sort of a probation for two years to find out whether or not they are really sincerely serious about getting involved. Because sometimes people come just for the fun of it, and because our place is very quiet and peaceful and so forth, they think that they might like to stay here and become monks. But then later on they will change their minds. And therefore we don't want to play some sort of game; we want to know whether they are really sincerely serious. If they are serious, we accept them. But these are only a few. Many come here, many write letters to us-and these days they even send us e-mails!- asking us to allow them to become monks and live here in the monastery. But we don't accept all of them because we know that later on they will lose interest. Still, there are some very sincere people who really do want to become monks and nuns. And this is not some new phenomenon. Even in the olden days, out of millions of people, only a very few entered the monasteries. Even today in Buddhist countries not everybody goes to the monastery. In some countries, like Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and so forth, they have in their tradition a custom: they enter the monastery for a short period of time. But of those who enter the monastery for a short period of time, most of them disrobe and go back. Only a handful of people actually stay there. In the Western countries, where there is no such tradition, those who come to the monasteries are even fewer. And of those, still fewer will actually remain in monastic life. But that is more or less true all over the world, and has been in all times. In the West, you know, more and more people are tired of society pressing in upon them-really, really tired-and so they want to get away. But only a very few of them will stay, and most will go back again to the society. But we established our Center with this understanding because this has always been the same everywhere.

WIE: I'd like to know, if possible, a little more about you and your own life as a monk. For example, how has being celibate affected your spiritual development?

BG: My friend, it gives me tremendous peace. And I'm speaking honestly, you see? Because I can live with all human beings without any problem. Not one particular woman or one particular girl, one particular boy, one particular man, because my celibacy helps me to accept all other human beings equally. And that helps me to have a peaceful mind. And I think this is what the Buddha wanted us to have-a friendly, peaceful relationship with all beings. So it affects my life so positively.

WIE: You've been a monk, I understand, since you were-

BG: Twelve. And now I am seventy. Fifty-eight years I have been in this robe!

WIE: If you were advising someone who was considering a commitment to celibacy as a spiritual practice, what would you tell them?

BG: I'd tell them, "If you honestly, sincerely want to live a peaceful life, a mindful life, a life free of trouble, a life devoted to the service of others without discrimination, then a celibate life is a very good life because when you are celibate you can really practice true loving-kindness, true compassion. You can appreciate whatever is in front of you. You can have an equanimous, unbiased state of mind. But when you are bound by one person or another, you cannot have all this. And therefore, if you are a person who honestly, sincerely wants to practice these things, then you have to think seriously about becoming celibate." But they should never accept it on faith or because somebody forces it upon them. One has to have serious understanding and think very carefully about celibacy before one gets involved in it.

WIE: You have to go in with your eyes open.

BG: Exactly.

WIE: And should the individual also expect to experience many challenges?

BG: Sure, sure. When you practice celibacy you are always facing challenges. There are so many who would like to get involved with you, so many others who would like to get close to you and break your celibacy. Because others know that you are not corrupt. You are not doing all sorts of hanky-panky things, you are not getting involved in wrong things and getting all kinds of diseases and so forth. People understand that you are a very decent person, a neat person. And some people like to be with a very neat individual, and that is a challenge. You've got to face it.

WIE: You've been practicing celibacy, as you said, for fifty-eight years. How has your experience of the practice changed or deepened over time?

BG: You know, at first it was very difficult, very difficult, especially when I was young, as a teenager and up until my late twenties. It was a real challenge. But because of the training that I received, I developed a sense of responsibility for my duties, my work, my commitment to the Dhamma and, moreover, respect for my teachers and parents. Teachers and parents, we love them very much, and we don't want to be disloyal to them, disrespectful to them. So that went on for many years until I really fully matured. And then I began to understand for myself the true meaning of celibacy.

6. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics ... by Peter Harvey


Amazon.com- Book Description

This systematic introduction to Buddhist ethics is aimed at anyone interested in Buddhism, including students, scholars and general readers. Peter Harvey is the author of the acclaimed Introduction to Buddhism (Cambridge, 1990), and his new book is written in a clear style, assuming no prior knowledge. At the same time it develops a careful, probing analysis of the nature and practical dynamics of Buddhist ethics in both its unifying themes and in the particularities of different Buddhist traditions. The book applies Buddhist ethics to a range of issues of contemporary concern: humanity's relationship with the rest of nature; economics; war and peace; euthanasia; abortion; the status of women; and homosexuality. Professor Harvey draws on texts of the main Buddhist traditions, and on historical and contemporary accounts of the behaviour of Buddhists, to describe existing Buddhist ethics, to assess different views within it, and to extend its application into new areas.

Amazon.com- Reviewer: Stefan Detrez from Leuven, Brabant Belgium...

Peter Harvey, Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Sunderland, has a lot of experience in the field of Buddhist Studies and it shows. Starting with the 'Shared Foundations of Buddhist Ethics', he goes on with key 'Buddhist Values.' Then he covers the 'Mahayana emphases and adaptations,' after which he deals with the practicalities of Buddhist ethics: the Natural world, economic ethics, war and peace, suicide and euthanasia, abortion and contraception, sexual equality, and homosexuality. It is amazing how he managed to gather so much information on this area, not to mention his impressive knowledge of the texts of most traditions. This sometimes leads to too many traditions cited per chapter, making it hard for the reader to distinguish between them (unless, of course, you are familar with the sources cited.) It can be used most fruitful when critically taught.

7. California Vipassana Center

* http://www.mahavana.dhamma.org/

P.O. Box 1167; North Fork, CA 93643

Phone:  559.877.4386   Fax:  559.877.4387

Email: info@mahavana.dhamma.org

The California Vipassana Center, in North Fork, CA, is dedicated to the practice of Vipassana meditation as taught by S. N. Goenka. This technique gradually eradicates all inner suffering.

The Center is in the Sierra foothills south of Yosemite. It lies four hours from San Francisco and five from Los Angeles, with bus, rail, and air connections an hour away in Fresno.

Stands of oak, pine, cedar, and manzanita occupy the bulk of the 109-acre site, and are complemented by a tranquil pond and a broad meadow. Wildlife abounds.

 A newly constructed meditation hall allows expanded courses of 100 students or more; other recent additions include a teachers' residence and accommodations for meditators working long-term at the center. Plans are moving forward for a complex of individual meditation cells

History of the CVC

In 1990, the California Vipassana Center, which for many years had been holding regular courses at a property in northern California, moved to a new, larger location in the central part of the state. The one hundred and nine acre site is located in the rural mountain community of North Fork, half an hour south of Yosemite National Park. It is centrally located 3 1/2 hours from San Francisco, and 4 1/2 hours from Los Angeles. Fresno, California's sixth largest city, is 45 minutes away and is served by bus, rail and air transport.

The land is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 2,800 feet, and features an open meadow covered with wildflowers and orchards, a pond, seasonal streams, and wooded acres of oak, pine, cedar, and manzanita. The property is home to abundant bird and animal life. Thissetting provides an ideal and beautiful environment for a ten-day retreat.

The Center is a registered non-profit organization and is currently able to accommodate 125 students. Approximately 22 courses are now held each year. Housing is provided in dormitory-style cabins and nutritious, tasty vegetarian meals are served. A complete list of physical requirements and suggestions is provided upon registering for a course.

Commonly Asked Questions About Vipassana

Q: If I have never meditated before, will I be taught how to meditate?

Yes, all students receive thorough instruction. Each course is conducted under the guidance of a qualified teacher, and each day's progress is explained during a taped discourse by S.N. Goenka. No previous meditation experience is necessary.

Q: Why is a course 10 days long?

Even in the quiet atmosphere of a retreat, a new student requires more than a week to quiet and concentrate the mind. Ten days of sustained practice have proven to be the minimum time needed to team the essentials of Vipassana meditation.

Q: Why is the course conducted in Silence?

 All participants take a vow of silence lasting until the morning of the final meal full day of the course. Students may speak with the teacher or the course management, but not with other meditators, By minimizing distractions and maintaining a calm, quiet atmosphere, students can perform the delicate task of introspection.

Q: What happens when I meditate and what is the result of practicing meditation?

In the technique, of Vipassana meditation one begins by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind.  With a sharpened awareness, one proceeds to observe the changing nature of body and mind which manifests as sensations.  By learning to observe these bodily sensations with detachment, the meditator unties knots of tension created by the old habit of reacting in an unbalanced way to both pleasant and unpleasant situations.

Q: What does a course cost?

All courses are run, solely on a donations basis. There are no charges for the courses, not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation.

All expenses are met by donations from those who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the same opportunity.  New Vipassana students may make contributions on the last day of their first course. 

Neither the Teacher nor the assistant teachers receive remuneration; the teachers and those who serve the courses volunteer their time. Thus Vipassana is offered free from commercialization. 

S.N. Goenka

Mr. Goenka is a teacher of Vipassana meditation in the tradition of the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Burma (Myanmar).

Although Indian by descent, Mr. Goenka was born and raised in Burma. While living in Burma he had the good fortune to come into contact with U Ba Khin, and to learn the Vipassana Technique from him. After receiving training from his teacher for fourteen years, Mr. Goenka settled in India and began teaching Vipassana in 1969. In a country still sharply divided by differences of caste and religion, the courses offered by Mr. Goenka have attracted thousands of people from every part of society. In addition, many people from countries around the world have come to join courses in Vipassana meditation.

Mr. Goenka has taught tens of thousands of people in more than 300 courses in India and in other countries, East and West. In 1982 he began to appoint assistant teachers to help him to meet the growing demand for courses. Meditation centers have been established under his guidance in India, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Nepal and other countries.

The technique which S.N. Goenka teaches represents a tradition that is traced back to the Buddha. The Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma - the way to liberation - which is universal. In the same tradition, Mr. Goenka's approach is totally non-sectarian. For this reason, his teaching has a profound appeal to people of all backgrounds, of every religion and no religion, of every part of the world.


Part #2... The Urban Dharma Newsletter... November 19, 2002


In This Issue:

1. Becoming Monastic or how this all started.

2. Making Relationships Work - or how not to end up a monastic mom

3. On Meditation — or not-so monastic mom

4. The Path to Meditation — slipping off to sideroads


1. Family Dharma Connections

* http://www.pulelehuadesign.com/familydharma/

Monastic Mom...

In my midforties I think I finally know what I want to do when I grow up - Join a Buddhist monastery.  But as a divorced mom of two kids, I can't run off to a monastery just yet.  So I've decided to try to be as monastic in my life now as possible while raising my children who are far from monastic.  I hope to share my thoughts and stumblings along the way.  The following rambling thought do not necessarily reflect the teachings of any particular Buddhist sect nor Buddhism in general, but are my own spin on dealing with life, family, and Dharma

Monastic Mom

* Becoming Monastic or how this all started.

Some major changes in my life brought one heck of a mid-life crisis during which I've reexamined much in my life. What I've come up with is that I want to simplify my life, make my life monastic, my home like a monastery - though the kids disagree on that point. 

While traveling in the car one day, my young son asked me what he could he be when he grows up. He said he needs to make a lot of money so he can support me in my old age.  I flippantly told him, "I'd rather jump off a cliff than have you support me." His older sister said, "Wouldn't it just be easier to become a Buddhist monk?"   She definitely has her own wisdom!

My son's desire to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up fed right into my own crisis as to what I want to do with my own life. I've worked only part-time since my children were born and continued employment at my current position is tenuous at best.  So I've adopted the goal of becoming a monk once my children are grown.  I'm not attached to this goal  -  life does seem to have a way of toppling my plans! 

Things to make life more monastic,  my adjustments, and tips for others:

* Become Alcohol Free - Alcohol was the first thing I gave up.  I mostly drank fine wine or imported beer as a social thing and sort of statement saying I'm sophisticated.  Being monastic means not worrying about whether you are sophisticated.

* If you feel you need to drink to relax - try meditating more.

* Eliminate addictive foods - Cokes and chocolates were my worst addictions sometimes falling into times when the more I ate, the more I wanted them.  Now, the kids love eating all the chocolates and not sharing with me.

* If you have more than one, eliminate one at a time.

* Munch vegetable sticks when you get a craving.

* Be vegetarian - Dinner time can be a challenge when you are the only vegetarian in the house.  I do not push vegetarianism on my kids, though we do consume some non meat dinners together.

* Find vegetarian foods the kids can enjoy:  macaroni & cheese, cheese or vegetarian pizza, bean burritos

* Artificial meats can be helpful.

* Have times of solitude - Being divorced, my kids go off to be with their father every other weekend, providing me with the perfect time to experience solitude.

* Make solitude time if you don't get it otherwise.

* Use the time effectively.  Meditate, soul search, write in a journal.

* Have silent time without music, television, or other noise.

* Reduce possessions - I've cleared out and gotten rid of much of my own things, but it seems the more space I clear out, the more the kids fill it up with their own things.

* Purchase less - ask yourself if you really need an item.

* Constantly reevaluate the things you own and get rid of things you no longer need.

* Donate your excess to charities or thrift stores.

* Relationship Responsibility - For me that is being free from relationships. Not something I tried to be, but I somehow ended up this way - being divorced, middle-aged and frumpy doesn't make one the most attractive of potential mates.  Being alone also been the hardest thing for me to accept and adjust to.  It's ingrained in me to be part of a relationship.

* I do not advocate eliminating relationships. I believe a strong, solid, Dharma-based relationship is an excellent foundation for family life.

* Work hard to build and maintain a strong relationship.

* Seek counseling early on, don't let things deteriate to an unfixable level before seeking help.

* If without a relationship, don't seek out new relationships just to fill an empty space within or because you are afraid to be alone.

* It is difficult when all of society pushes relationships - recognize that and release the desire to conform.

* Learn to accept yourself and enjoy being with yourself.

* Only time can mend a broken heart (sometimes lots of time). It's a necessary and natural process - don't enter a relationship just to speed or to skip that process.

A monastic life is not for every one, but you might want to implement a few of the above into your life.

2. Family Dharma Connections


Monastic Mom...

* Making Relationships Work - or how not to end up a monastic mom

I wanted to write about what makes relationships succeed.  But being a failure at every male/female relationship in my life, I don't feel I'm in position to comment.   So I've searched elsewhere for comments.  I think the following  excerpt from The Tao of Negotiation by Joel Edelman and Mary Beth Crain is a wonderful look at what makes relationships work.


...there are three key elements to any enduring relationship that, when present, form a triangle of love.   ... the overriding difference between those relationships that work over a long period of time and those that don't has to do with the presence or absence of the following characteristics:

1. The spark.  There is usually an almost intuitive, energetic connection between two people that is unexplainable on any logical basis.  This connection can be instantaneous, or it can come with time.  It is commonly known as  “chemistry,” and it is a necessary ingredient to any long-term relationship.

2.  The intention and the willingness to be aware of  and process everything of significance.  In order for two people to live and grow together, they must be in real, active human communication with each other.  They must be willing to explore what's working and what isn't.  They must have the desire and intention to resolve any disputes, or, on the more positive side, to make life wonderful for each other.

... The “feeling” of love, of passion, of desire will quickly fade without the corresponding commitment to the growth and happiness of both the one you love and yourself.

3.  Commonality of purpose, values and interests.   In order for a love relationship to grow and deepen, certain common life themes must be shared.  These themes can involve spiritual or religious matters, a philosophy of life, marriage and family, a business or profession or creative and artistic activities.  Whatever the common ground, both parties have to till the soil, making sure that it doesn't become parched through neglect.    Shared values or activities provide the basis for years of mutual enjoyment, interaction and growth, whereas if two people are too dissimilar and come together primarily out of sexual attraction, chances are that they will eventually drift apart.

When love relationships ... get into difficulty it's usually because one or two of these three essential elements is missing.  Instead of a cohesive, committed relationship, you get two people operating from their own perspectives without joining together in a true partnership.


Additional thought from Monastic Mom:

My only personal insight into relationships is that relationships are a lot like sitting meditation.  In sitting practice if you establish a strong practice before rough times arrive, then your sitting will be there for you to see you through.  If you wait until the rough times arrive, then sitting can become a problem in itself. The same with a relationship, if you don't establish a strong relationship before rough times arrive, then the relationship may not withstand the rough waters.  Ask me I know.

3. Family Dharma Connections


Monastic Mom...

* On Meditation — or not-so monastic mom

I am often asked, "When do you find time to meditate." The answer is — I don't (at least not sitting meditation). That's the simple answer. In other parts of the world, monks meditate daily, but many of the lay people do not. The lay person's emphasis is on living not on sitting. With that in mind, I do not feel guilty about not sitting.

The more complex answer is that I don't sit and meditate, but I do stop momentarily and follow my breath or say a mantra or prayer - such as

Thich Nhat Hahn's:

Breathing in I know that I am breathing in, breathing out I know that I am breathing out,

Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile,

Living in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment

Or the Tibetan Om Mani Padme Hum

Or the Pureland Namu Amida Butsu

Or the Zen counting the breaths

I'm an eclectic Buddhist afterall.

I do these at such times as when I'm stuck in traffic, when I'm lying in bed at night before I go to sleep, when I awake in the night and can't get back to sleep, when I'm cooking dinner, in essence whenever I can. But not as often as I could. Some days pass without a meditation moment. Sometimes I'm just so busy, but other times I just forget.

But the more complex question is why don't I find time to do sitting meditation. In the past, I did find time to meditate. So why did I stop? I went through a very intense, heartbreaking, life changing time. I found I could not meditate during that time. I needed time away from the cushion. I began placing more emphasis on right living which was for me the right decision. Practice is important, but we need to practice in a manner that is right for us. And that manner changes with the times of our life.

But much time has passed. I am more busy than I have ever been, but I believe that it's time for me to return to the cushion or the seiza bench as the case may be. I am, of course, trying to be more monastic in my life. But meditation is like exercise — I know it is good for me, but it's so difficult to get myself into a routine to do it. I am, in essence, lazy.

Stay tuned for more reports on my road to meditation.

4. Family Dharma Connections


Monastic Mom...

* The Path to Meditation — slipping off to sideroads

Ahhh. Summer is here. I am, like the kids, looking forward to some time off. And hopefully, I can get back to meditating with some regularity. School time has been such a busy time with working half time, homeschooling my dyslexic son who needs one-on-one lessons, driving over 30 miles round trip to take my daughter to a private school then repeat in the afternoon to pick her up. Little time left for such things as exercising, meditating, or just strolling along the nearby ocean beach..

Of course, the best way to meditate regularly is with others such as with a sangha if you can. Or if you have someone special in your life, you can help support each other's meditation practice. Meditating with a loved one can also enrich a relationship. I once had a short relationship in which we meditated together. It was for me mediation at it's best. Even years later, I sometimes still feel the loss of that special connection during meditation — perhaps the reason I have become "sitting challenged".

Years ago, when I first started meditating, my mind was always abuzz. Counting my breaths and returning to one every time I caught my thoughts slipping away, my thoughts often went like this:

1, 2... How am I going to solve that problem at work? If I do this, .... opps, 1, 2, But then if I do that... 1, 2, 3... or else I can do this other thing... 1, but then...

and so on and so forth.

After some practice I could sometimes get all the way to ten before my mind would stray to other thoughts. And eventually I got to where the counting was a distraction in itself. I found that "counting" one breath was all that mattered 1,1,1... At those times I would feel a profound peace and an interconnection. My problems would all fade away and I just was.

I have taken time off from sitting mediation, but in the past year or so I've tried to get back into sitting meditation. I am back to where I was when I first began to meditate. Gone is the sense peaceful interconnection, all I feel now is a sense of total boredom while sitting. I need a new method of meditation and travel down some sideroads. I have begun to meditate while walking for exercise. Counting my breaths and clearing my mind as I go. I know there are some who would say that this is not meditation — I once attended a group sitting with a leader who felt the only proper way to meditation is to sit in lotus-style. But I am a maverick and often don't buy traditional wisdom. Besides my knocked knees won't do lotus no matter how hard I try.

So I walk, count my breaths and quiet my mind — re-centering and finding calmness within. And isn't this what meditation is all about? But what about enlightenment you ask?   I've always felt that enlightenment is not what meditation practice is all about, that the harder you strive for enlightenment the more elusive it becomes. I think enlightenment is something you find when you've given up trying and least expect it.

Are you sitting challenged? Here's some meditation suggestions for alternatives to "sitting". Some of these have been gleaned from the Buddhist Parent's discussion group.

* Mediate while walking, swimming, running, hiking

* Meditate while lying in bed in the morning (especially if you don't want to wake your mate by getting up)

* Meditate while soaking in the bath

* Do Tai Chi

* Mediate with the kids. They may not be able to mediate for long, but even a few moments may be helpful

* Repeat some prayers or verses

* Chant

* Garden


The Urban Dharma Newsletter Archives:



The Los Angeles Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue:



To Subscribe or Unsubscribe: