Urban Dharma Newsletter... November 19, 2002
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
SEX, CELIBACY and the SPIRITUAL LIFE ... By Simeon Alev
Book Review: An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics ...
by Peter Harvey
Temple/Center of the Week: California Vipassana Center
The Problem With Sex in Buddhism ...
by Rev. Kusala
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.
in this world of *Samsara it just doesn't seem to work that
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
The Buddha in everything he said about sex implies... The
activity of sex will never ultimately satisfy the desire for
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
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!
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.
life were so easy.
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.
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.
'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.
(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.
Dharma Data: Sexuality
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.
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.
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
Gabezon, (Ed) Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender. New York 1985;
M. O.C. Walshe, Buddhism and Sex. Kandy, 1986.
Buddhist Sexual Ethics - A Rejoinder ... by Ajahn Brahmavamso
and Ajahn Nanadhammo
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
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:
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."
Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Buddha's words in The Middle
Length Discourses of the Buddha, p.1080f)
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
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)
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:
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)
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).
Buddha realised that such Teachings would hardly be received
enthusiastically by most, for He said shortly after the Enlightenment:
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,
then, it is better to be true than to be popular.
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.
SEX, CELIBACY and the SPIRITUAL LIFE ... by Simeon Alev
titled "WHAT THE BUDDHA TAUGHT: An interview with Bhante
Henepola Gunaratana" Reprinted with permission from
"What Is Enlightenment" magazine (WIE)
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?
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.
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.
Gunaratana: I wish we all could meet Buddha and ask him these
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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'
What is the distinction between "transcending" and
"getting rid of"?
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.
But what we're actually talking about is getting rid of lust?
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.
In the Buddha's teachings on sexuality, was sex considered inherently
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.
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
Especially nowadays, that would be considered a very radical
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!
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-
Yes! For that little pleasure, a lot of pain, right?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
How does all this play out then in the context of actual spiritual
practice, for example in tantric Buddhism?
I'm a Theravada Buddhist-you know that, right?
Yes, I do.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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
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
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?
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.
You've been a monk, I understand, since you were-
Twelve. And now I am seventy. Fifty-eight years I have been
in this robe!
If you were advising someone who was considering a commitment
to celibacy as a spiritual practice, what would you tell them?
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.
You have to go in with your eyes open.
And should the individual also expect to experience many challenges?
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.
You've been practicing celibacy, as you said, for fifty-eight
years. How has your experience of the practice changed or deepened
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.
An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics
... by Peter Harvey
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.
Reviewer: Stefan Detrez from Leuven, Brabant Belgium...
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.
California Vipassana Center
Box 1167; North Fork, CA 93643
559.877.4386 Fax: 559.877.4387
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.
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.
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.
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
of the CVC
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.
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.
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.
Asked Questions About Vipassana
If I have never meditated before, will I be taught how to meditate?
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.
Why is a course 10 days long?
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.
Why is the course conducted in Silence?
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
What happens when I meditate and what is the result of practicing
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.
What does a course cost?
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.
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.
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.
Goenka is a teacher of Vipassana meditation in the tradition
of the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Burma (Myanmar).
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.
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.
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
Becoming Monastic or how this all started.
Making Relationships Work - or how not to end up a monastic
On Meditation — or not-so monastic mom
The Path to Meditation — slipping off to sideroads
Family Dharma Connections
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
Becoming Monastic or how this all started.
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
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!
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!
to make life more monastic, my adjustments, and tips for
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.
monastic life is not for every one, but you might want to implement
a few of the above into your life.
Family Dharma Connections
Making Relationships Work - or how not to end up a monastic
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
thought from Monastic Mom:
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.
Family Dharma Connections
On Meditation — or not-so monastic mom
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.
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
in I know that I am breathing in, breathing out I know that
I am breathing out,
in I calm my body, breathing out I smile,
in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment
the Tibetan Om Mani Padme Hum
the Pureland Namu Amida Butsu
the Zen counting the breaths
an eclectic Buddhist afterall.
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.
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
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.
tuned for more reports on my road to meditation.
Family Dharma Connections
The Path to Meditation — slipping off to sideroads
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..
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".
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:
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...
so on and so forth.
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.
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
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.
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
Urban Dharma Newsletter Archives:
Los Angeles Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue:
Subscribe or Unsubscribe: